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From Jesus to Christ : the origins of the…

From Jesus to Christ : the origins of the New Testament images of Jesus (original 1988; edition 1988)

by Paula Fredriksen

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406341,778 (3.63)2
"In this book, Paula Fredriksen explains the variety of New Testament images of Jesus by exploring the ways that the new Christian communities interpreted his mission and message in light of the delay of the Kingdom he had preached. A new introduction reviews the most recent scholarship on Jesus and its implications for both history and theology."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)
Title:From Jesus to Christ : the origins of the New Testament images of Jesus
Authors:Paula Fredriksen
Info:New Haven : Yale University Press, ©1988.
Collections:Your library
Tags:Jesus Christ, Bible. New Testament -- Criticism., Jesus Christ -- History of doctrines

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From Jesus to Christ: The Origins of the New Testament Images of Christ by Paula Fredriksen (1988)



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  PAFM | Oct 19, 2019 |
As the book’s title adumbrates, Fredriksen undertakes to describe how Jesus’s identity and nature were understood (i.e., the “images” of the subtitle; there are no pictures) during three crucial stages in the development of early Christianity: Jesus’s lifetime; the “post-Resurrection” period; the composition of the earliest gospel, i.e. Mark; and the couple of decades when the later Gospels, i.e. Matthew, Luke, and John, were written. She argues and explains that the evangelists (i.e. authors of the gospels) did not write primarily to relate Jesus’s life and teachings within his own cultural context; instead, they shaped their accounts of Jesus to reflect and address conditions that prevailed in their own times and communities but did not exist during Jesus’s lifetime. Thus, the portrayals of Jesus in the gospels are essentially anachronistic; and, as Fredriksen argues in detail, they are intentionally so for specific, identifiable, and historical reasons.

Fredriksen first attempts, to the extent that the limited evidence allows, to reconstruct the actual life and teachings of the historical Jesus and to ascertain how he would have been understood by his contemporaries in light of their religious culture and expectations as first century Palestinian Jews. Fredriksen demonstrates that the historical Jesus was, above all, a prophet of “apocalyptic eschatology,” which she defines and explains as follows: “the revelation of knowledge concerning the end of time, which will bring God’s definitive, and ultimate, intervention in history.” Jesus, as an apocalyptic prophet, believed and taught specifically that God would very soon end the present, irremediably evil historical order; punish the wicked; and reward the righteous in his ideal Kingdom, where their “suffering and travail will be replaced by an everlasting peace.” He heralded God’s demand for repentance as indispensable preparation for the arrival of this Kingdom. This demand was of the utmost urgency since, as Jesus taught, the end of the present world would occur within the lifetime of some of the members of his first-century audience.

According to Fredriksen, it is certain that Jesus’s followers saw his death as a disaster; when he made his “triumphal entry” (on a donkey) into Jerusalem, his devotees expected the glorious advent of the Kingdom, not their master’s ignominious execution as a brigand. Whatever other qualities Jesus might or might not have had, they thought that he at least had to be alive to perform his redemptive work. Soon after his death, however, large groups of his adherents apparently experienced clear visitations from him over a considerable period of time, and thereby were convinced that he had been raised from the dead. Thus began the “post-Resurrection” period: as a result of Jesus’s resurrection, it became clear to his followers that he was the messiah, and that, in keeping with apocalyptic belief, he would soon return to end the present world and inaugurate the eschatological Kingdom of God/Kingdom of Heaven. It was this belief in Jesus’s resurrection and imminent parousia (Second Coming) which, for his disciples, vindicated his life, mission, message and divine status. His followers soon came to reinterpret his life, death, and resurrection as the fulfillment of the Hebrew scriptures and, accordingly, the evangelists constructed their accounts of his life and teachings so that they seemed to "fulfill" those scriptures (e.g., by presenting him as the “suffering servant” in Isaiah 53).

The earliest gospel, Mark, was composed around 70 CE. Although it was written some four decades after Jesus’s death, it is still manifestly apocalyptic: Mark’s Jesus, like the historical one, teaches and demonstrates that the parousia is imminent. After Mark, however, as time inexorably proceeded ever farther away from the period of Jesus’s life and the first generation of his followers, the Christian communities had to confront the perplexing and distressing realization that the parousia had not been imminent, and thus that Jesus’s eschatological teaching about the end of the world and the establishment of the Kingdom had proven wrong, at least as to the timing. The later evangelists shaped their accounts of Jesus so as to explain and justify the delay of the Kingdom. According to Fredriksen, they did so by increasingly de-emphasizing and attenuating the apocalyptic nature of Jesus’s teaching and actions. Thus, their presentations of Jesus’s life and teachings reflect the new understanding that the parousia would occur only in the indefinitely distant future and that the church had to re-orient itself to life in the long haul within the present world.

In addition, two other unexpected developments in the history of early Christianity required fundamental reappraisals of Jesus’s life, teaching, and mission. First, although Jesus’s audience was Jewish, and his teachings fit squarely and naturally within a Jewish framework, most Jews had rejected his message and messiahship. In response to this fact, the evangelists portrayed “the Jews” as wicked and mortal enemies of Jesus. Second, in contrast, many Gentiles had accepted Christianity, despite the fact that it was essentially alien to their prevalent beliefs and cultures. The evangelists presented Gentile acceptance of Jesus, and Jewish rejection of him, in various but closely related ways, all having to do with Jesus’s denial of salvation to the Jews for one reason or another. Fredriksen examines and documents all of these undeniably anti-semitic responses by the evangelists in extensive, and credible, detail.

I have a significant reservation about one of Fredriksen’s main themes: I have never had the impression that the later gospels distanced themselves from Mark’s apocalyptic portrait of Jesus, at least not to the extent that Fredriksen claims. Matthew and Luke have much of the same apocalyptic content as Mark, and all of their accounts seem to me quite similar in this respect. I will, however, reconsider Matthew and Luke in light of Fredriksen’s claim.

One caveat about the book’s content should be noted: i.e., the text of this “second edition” is merely an unaltered reprint of the original “edition.” The only significant difference between this printing (published in 2000) and the original one (1988) is that the former includes a rather short “Introduction to the Second Edition” in which Fredriksen identifies and disavows some of the major ideas on which she had based her original arguments. It would have been preferable if she had updated the original text to incorporate her more recent ideas; however, doing so might have been tantamount to writing a new book. Presumably, it is (at least in part) for this understandable reason that she left the text unchanged.

The amount and quality of supplementary material are excellent. There is a generous section, in paragraph form, of "Selected Reading" of recommended secondary books and articles pertaining to various broad topics treated in the book (e.g. "New Testament", "Hellenism", and "Judaism in Palestine"). There Fredriksen briefly describes the content of each source and substantially but concisely indicates its relevance for each of those topics. The bibliography is long, reflecting Fredriksen's extensive use of secondary scholarship. The only weakness of the bibliography and the suggested readings sections is that they contain no works more recent than 1987. Another feature is an index of proper names, including both personal and place names. The "subject index" is significantly more extensive, and therefore more useful, than most. Another admirable feature of the Fredriksen's work is the thorough "Index of Passages", which includes texts from both biblical books and other primary sources. In addition, there is a concise and helpful glossary of terms (e.g. "Hasmoneans", "Docetism", and "messiah").

I learned much from this book about how and why the gospels were composed in their current form. I appreciate Fredriksen's extensive and detailed discussion of these complex matters that is both challenging and accessible to interested non-experts. ( )
  ChristopherRiels | May 8, 2019 |
An interesting book about Jesus and images of him in the very earliest christian writings. The author meticulously analyzes the cultural background of christian scripture, and in some cases even scriptural authors' personal backgrounds. She makes some tentative speculations about Jesus as a historical person. Mostly the emphasis is on how little we can know for sure. It seems to me that this work is as close to the truth as anybody is ever going to get on this topic.
  thcson | Apr 13, 2011 |
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Yale University Press

2 editions of this book were published by Yale University Press.

Editions: 0300084579, 0300048645

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