Baker Academic

Monday, October 29, 2012

Interview with Paula Fredriksen (Part III)

Parts I and II of my interview with Prof. Fredriksen are here and here. My thanks to Paula for her time.

ACLD: Presumably, there were multiple apocalyptic preachers, itinerant exorcists, etc. in Israel circa first century. In your estimation, what was it about Jesus’ career that was most memorable? Or, what made him different from others of similar ilk?

PF: What made Jesus different was the impact that he had on his followers — or, more cautiously, what was different was not Jesus, but Jesus' followers. They were so convinced that he was right in his apocalyptic conviction that the Kingdom of God was at hand that (some of them? many? most?) were also convinced, despite their certainty about his death, that he was raised — itself an apocalyptic 'sign' that validated their convictions. The second distinguishing feature about Jesus is that the movement that formed around his memory and mission, within very few years, penetrated diaspora synagogues, where it encountered interested pagans (= "god-fearers"). Their subsequent willingness to relinquish their own native gods and to worship only the god of Israel was itself another confirmation/validation of the movement's message, that the Kingdom of God was at hand. In short, what distinguished Jesus from other apocalyptic teachers was how long his followers were able to continue in their conviction that his prophecy was true. By the time that that prophecy is definitively disconfirmed (say, e.g., by the time of the composition of the Gospel of Luke), it is re-interpreted rather than discredited. By constant post-mortem morphing, Jesus' message had a much longer shelf-life than that of, say, Theudas or the Egyptian.


  1. What prophecy was disconfirmed?

    1. Thanks for your question Anonymous,

      I probably shouldn't attempt to speak for Paula here, but what do I really have to lose?

      One prominent interpretation of the "Kingdom of God" is that the world (as they knew it) was about to end. If one interprets the KofG as such, and Jesus did indeed teach this, it might lead one to question whether or not Jesus was correct. Cf. Matt 24:34.

      Of course, if Paula wants to chime in to confirm or disconfirm my interpretation, that is up to her.


  2. Anthony,

    I asked because I assumed that may have been the answer. I see those type statements (Matt. 24:34) as Jesus warning the crowd hearing Him about 70 AD.

    I can imagine if folks assume that meant "the end of the world" literally then for sure it would appear Jesus was way off.

  3. I find it interesting how Jesus had such a profound impact on his followers while other teachers or messengers like the Egyptian never got close to receiving this much attention. There was something Jesus' followers saw in him that made them believe in what he was saying. There are always those certain individuals that have an ora about them that you can't seem to stop being around them because of it. I don't know how to explain why Jesus was so memorable, but I think the disciples experienced it so they decided to spread his message so that others too could experience "it."

  4. I was a little unsatisfied with her view that Jesus was not significantly different from some of his contemporaries, like Theudas the Egyptian. Do we have enough specific information other figures of the time to make that kind of judgement? Sure, there are similarities, but it seems like Jesus was also very unique in certain respects. I'm thinking of his use of parables, the fact that he made the image of God as father more central to his teaching than other Jews of the time, and his very charismatic (and at times unpredictable) behavior. Might this have played more of a role in the continuing success of his movement? Also, with regard to Jesus and the church's faith in his prophecy, I have read some scholars (Scot McKnight, Ben Witherington, R.T. France, T.J. Geddert) who have tried to show that Jesus preached judgement on the nation, and specifically the temple, within a generation. They argue that Jesus prophesied only the possible imminence of the final advent of the kingdom, following the temple's destruction. Might part of the reason for the church's faith in Jesus' prophecy be due to the fact that when the temple was destroyed in A.D. 70, the church saw this as a partial vindication of Jesus' teaching?