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Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity Hardcover – November 23, 1999

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Editorial Reviews Review

The epigraph to Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews by Paula Fredriksen includes the following observation by Matteo Ricci: "[A]ll things (including those that at last come to triumph mightily) are at their beginnings so small and faint in outline that one cannot easily convince oneself that from them will grow matters of great moment." This little thought helps to explain Fredriksen's big one, that no one during Jesus' lifetime (including the man himself) considered Jesus to be the Messiah. That interpretation of his life, Fredriksen argues, was occasioned by his death: "Jesus' crucifixion as King of the Jews had come as a shock to his core followers. Their experiences of his continued presence after his death, on the evidence of the Gospels, surprised them, too. Seeking to understand what they had witnessed, they turned to Scripture." Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews makes its argument through careful reconstruction of Jesus' historical context, and dogged attention to the details of his crucifixion and to the fates of his immediate followers. The book's surprising arguments and its lucid style make this a valuable addition to the canon of popular Historical Jesus scholarship. --Michael Joseph Gross

From Publishers Weekly

Among bookstore shelves crowded with recent biographies of Jesus of Nazareth, Fredriksen's contribution will certainly be a welcome addition. It is scholarly without being pedantic, insightful without being revolutionary. Yet the central question it asksA"Why did Jesus die the way he did?"Astrikes to the very core of the debate over the Historical Jesus. Fredriksen, Aurelio Professor of Scripture at Boston University, brings to this question enormous erudition drawn from the rabbinic writings, opening fresh ways of looking at the well-trodden Historical Jesus material. Her careful working through the serious historical issues surrounding the definition of "Gospel Truth," the nature of God and Israel in Roman antiquityAas well as the problem of Paul's renovation of the first Christians' view of JesusAare important contributions to our understanding of Jesus' life. Unlike some other new biographies of Jesus emerging from the trade press, the scholarly apparatus for this text was not shed in the hopes of making it more acceptable to the general reader. The author's notes, far from merely documenting sources, contain interesting and useful augmentations. There is much new here, something that seems unusual for territory so heavily mined. Fredriksen's Jesus of Nazareth is one of those enviable scholarly works that is both a credible scholarly effort and a very good read. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; First Edition edition (November 23, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679446753
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679446750
  • Product Dimensions: 9.6 x 6.7 x 1.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (40 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #154,875 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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183 of 195 people found the following review helpful By Loren Rosson III on December 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
Paula Fredriksen offers the best historical account of the passion. Jesus, she says, wasn't killed for black magic, Torah-disputes, parables, nor even his outrageous demonstration in the temple. As offensive as these were to many, they wouldn't have resulted in crucifixion. Authorities knew that Jesus was essentially a harmless nuisance: Antipas left him alone, because (unlike the Baptist and other prophets) he didn't convene mass rallies in the desert; and Pilate didn't move against him on account of the triumphal entry, because he'd been long aware that Jesus really posed no threat to Roman power (John's gospel correctly indicates he'd been in Jerusalem before). The demonstration in the temple, moreover, would have hardly been noticed by anyone during a festival. But during his last trip to Jerusalem, in the days between his triumphal entry and last supper, Jesus fueled alarming amounts of messianic enthusiasm. The author suggests that Jesus stepped up the apocalypse's timetable from "soon" to "now" -- proclaiming that this passover would be the last before the kingdom arrived -- with increased amounts of crowds and pilgrims acclaiming him the messianic liberator. Pilate finally acted against Jesus to set an example for the masses and prevent riots.

In many ways this book owes to E.P. Sanders' reconstruction of Jesus the eschatological prophet obedient to Torah, but while for Sanders Jesus was killed for acting against the temple, Fredriksen believes he was executed because Caiaphas was nervous about Pilate's itchy trigger-finger when dealing with popular prophets. This is a sound contribution to historical-Jesus studies and should be read by anyone remotely interested in the field.
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66 of 69 people found the following review helpful By peculiar on December 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
The words that come to mind having absorbed the arguments of Paula Fredriksen in "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews" are "common sense". In her book she has not fallen prey (like so many in historical Jesus studies) to the predatory gaze of "method" neither has she been overly waylaid along the way by a need to pander to various "audiences" either contemporary or ancient. She has done history - Jewish history - and, in my opinion, done it well. Her Jesus is "a prophet who preached the coming apocalyptic Kingdom of God." She follows this tack not least because it enables Jesus to cohere with his immediate mentor, John the Baptist, and the movement that "sprang up in his name" - the first Christians. Fredriksen believes that in many ways what Jesus preached was revolutionary only in the sense that he talked about God's kingdom NOW rather than SOON - it was a matter of TIMETABLE and not CONTENT. Thus, Fredriksen contributes another Jesus to the current round of thoroughly Jewish Jesuses.
A key and noteworthy aspect of Fredriksen's work is the insight that the itinerary of John, as against the Synoptic Gospels, may be closer to the truth. That is, Jesus was known in Judea and Galilee rather than just Galilee. This allows her to say that Jesus, being known in and around Jerusalem, could be seen as a one man threat in a sense, rather than the leader of a revolutionary movement or army. Thus, when the time came to do away with Jesus his followers were left alone since they were never perceived as the threat Jesus was.
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37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Danny Tweedy on February 18, 2000
Format: Hardcover
As far as I'm concerned Paula Fredricksen provides a fresh and convincing thesis in this work en route to capturing the historical Jesus.
To say that I was impressed with her even-handed academic approach would be a gross understatement. With the care and meticulousness of an anthropologist at dig site, Fredricksen excavates for the historical Jesus working from a premise that denies the all too obliged notions of the "apocalyptic messiah" or Gallelian sage.
It is with this approach that she acquires the foundation for a clear and bias-free perspective( or at least as bias-free as it it possible to get). She treats the historic record with the exacting precision and care of a surgeon, and arrives at the historical Jesus not through the prizm of the narratives (the Gospels) or through that of his proverbs, but through the seemingly inexplicable occasion of his death.
Frederiksen is perhaps most to be complimented on her evaluation of the variations of Jesus depicted between the Gospels; not using these inconguencies to dismiss them, but offering them as items to be used to juxtapose against other documents that reflect the 1st century Jesus (the dead sea scroll for example). This is an impressive technique, which has the result of more accurately capturing the historical Jesus.
Above all of this, the book is very cogent and not a difficult read. This is perhaps its best quality.
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22 of 23 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on July 23, 2003
Format: Paperback
The book is so extraordinary as to be almost unique among the Quest for the Historical Jesus literature. Whatever one may think of its conclusions, it is powerfully written and exquisitely argued. But its strongest accomplishment for me was that it recreates the Jewish milieu of the First Century with cinematic power. The grandeur of Herod's enlarged Temple, the multitudes in Jerusalem for the various feasts, the impact of ritual and sacrifice upon the life of Jews not only in Palestine but throughout the Roman Empire -- all of this is beautifully described. Of course Jesus is placed within it, and our sense of him as part of this complex Jewish world is greatly increased and deepened. The bibliography is rich. The ideas are challenging. I don't personally agreed with the conclusions at the end, but I keep the book nearby, checking it on any number of questions as to purity laws, customs, etc. I actually check other biblical scholars against it. I hope Fredriksen gives us more books. Her gifts are great. Is this still brief? Ah, well, it's a rave. I was true on that score. Anne Rice, New Orleans, La.
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