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Sin: The Early History of an Idea Hardcover

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (June 10, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691128901
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691128900
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.8 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #601,077 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


"Paula Fredriksen's vivid little book is calculated to make even the most inert churchgoer sit up."--Peter Brown, New York Review of Books

"In her characteristically brisk and engaging prose, Fredriksen explores the evolution of the idea of sin in the first four centuries of Christianity, asking hard questions about what various ideas of sin tell us about the corresponding ideas of God and humanity. . . . Fredriksen's eloquent study traces the early development of the idea of sin, illustrating the intricate patterns woven by the many colorful threads of culture and religion and the ways that those patterns influence contemporary Christian religion."--Publishers Weekly

"[I]ncisive and pellucid . . ."--Robert A. Segal, Times Higher Education

"[E]legant. . . . Fredriksen recomplicates the relationship between early Christianity and Judaism, and offers sharp close readings of the Gospels, the Gnostics et al. She draws out the profound differences between Augustine (who created an 'inscrutable and angry god') and Origen (for whom God loves even 'the rational soul of Satan')."--Steven Poole, Guardian

"[A] concise and elegantly written history of how the early church understood the sinful character of humanity and the solutions it provided."--Gary A. Anderson, Jewish Review of Books

"[Sin] is an erudite study of related ideas of sin, salvation, human destiny, the messianic role, and the influence of worldview and political context on conceptual ideas that those who ponder or teach such matters may well find rewarding."--Library Journal

"For something referred to so often by Christians of every stripe, 'sin' is a remarkably changeable and debatable concept. Religious historian and author Paula Fredriksen (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews and Augustine and the Jews, among other distinguished titles) traces the frequent and often bewildering shifts in the meaning of 'sin' in the four centuries between Jesus and Augustine, especially the enormous change from the belief that sin is something one does to the belief that sin is something one is born into. The journey takes her from John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul of Tarsus to the Gnostics, Origen and Augustine. It amounts to an original and entertaining history of early Christianity."--Globe & Mail

"Paula Fredriksen . . . has provided readers with a fascinating history of the idea of sin. . . . Sin is a lively and engaging study. It interacts with almost everything that has anything to do with sin (sacrifice, atonement, forgiveness, salvation, God). . . . It is well worth reading . . ."--Craig A. Evans,

"Fredriksen, an eminent American religious scholar, notes that Jesus announced good news to his world: God was about to redeem it. Yet 350 years later, the Church founded in his name proclaimed that the greater part of humanity was condemned for all eternity. Sin is Fredriksen's take on how Christianity got from one pole to the other."--Brian Bethune, Maclean's

"The author's talent lies in expressing complex theological concepts in everyday language . . ."--Dawn Eden, Weekly Standard

"This is an informative text on the development of the Christian concept of sin, and a valuable source of juxtaposition for Jewish scholars seeking the root of the two faiths' different philosophies."--Rabbi Dr Charles H Middleburgh, Charles Middleburgh Blog

"Though this book is short . . . and directed towards an audience of general, well-educated readers, it re-reads a topic that many had previously assumed to be a monolith. As a result, Fredriksen's work offers an invaluable addition to the scholarly discourse about sin during the early centuries of Christianity, not only because she underscores the Jewish roots of this concept, but also, and more significantly, because she emphasizes the diversity present in early Christian circles in relation to the idea of sin."--Deborah Forger, Reviews of the Enoch Seminar

"Fredriksen covers a huge amount of ground in a compact book which provides swift initial orientation for the newcomer and is also sufficiently provocative to stimulate those who know the subject well."--Timothy Carter, Journal for the Study of the New Testament

From the Inside Flap

"Paula Fredriksen's new book offers a masterfully clear and readable exposition of complex issues, showing how traditional Jewish views of sin were transmuted by the Christian theologians Origen and Augustine in nearly opposite ways, to create startlingly different views of human nature."--Elaine Pagels, author of The Origin of Satan

"Paula Fredriksen's Sin is a gripping book on an immense theme. Fredriksen makes us realize that what is at stake is not simply 'sin' (as we usually think of it) but what it is to be human, to live in a material universe, and to expect redemption from a God of many faces. To follow the idea of sin from figures such as John the Baptist, Jesus of Nazareth, and Paul of Tarsus, through the Gnostics to Origen and Augustine is to travel along the high peaks of religious thought in the ancient world. It is a magnificent ride."--Peter Brown, Princeton University

"In Sin, Paula Fredriksen takes readers on a lively trip through the early Christian theological landscape, making strategic stops that clarify divergent convictions about sin and redemption. This is a book that offers surprises as well as startling illumination."--Karen L. King, author of The Secret Revelation of John

"Writing with verve and flair, Fredriksen makes a complex subject accessible to general readers. Few scholars are able to handle both New Testament and early Christian sources as clearly and effectively as Fredriksen."--Anne McGuire, Haverford College

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 30 people found the following review helpful By N. Brasfield on June 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Fredriksen is one of my favorite scholars. Her writing is lucid, engaging, and authoritative in its assertions. I was already familiar with the material in this book from the lectures that preceded it, the 2007 Spencer Trask lectures at Princeton University. Videos of these fine lectures are available online.

This book is not what you would expect, however. Though the book art includes the theme of the bitten apple and the Eden snake, this is an atypical of the discussion of sin. You won't come away with a robust biblical understanding of sin, necessarily, but you will come away having been guided through some of the thought processes of early Christianity's theologians as they flesh out themes such as cosmology, flesh, death, ancient monotheism, conversion, etc. What Fredriksen is able to offer here are some of the key observations she has made about these topics in a scholarly career spanning from Jesus to Paul to Augustine. Though I strongly disagree with her at points (particularly on her reading of Romans), what she does here is truly fascinating.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Maxwell Grant on June 9, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
O.k., so let me start out by saying that it was the first Amazon review of this book that got me to buy it--no offense to anyone, but I felt like there just had to be more to it, and judging after a paragraph or two didn't sit right with me.

There was.

I thought it was a terrific book--very well-written, and technical in its way without requiring a master's degree to decipher.

Fredriksen's Prologue begins:

"Jesus of Nazareth announced the good news that God was about to redeem the world. Some 350 years later, the church taught that the far greater part of humanity was eternally condemned. The earliest community began by preserving the memory and the message of Jesus; within decades after his death, some Christians asserted that Jesus had never had a fleshly human body at all....What accounts for this great variety in ancient Christian teachings? The short answer is: dramatic mutations in Christian ideas about sin. As these ideas grew and changed in the turbulence of Christianity's first four centuries, so too did others: ideas about God, about the physical universe, about the soul's relation to the body, about eternity's relation to time; ideas about Christ the Redeemer--and, thus, ideas about what people are redeemed from."

Fredriksen takes the reader through the words of Jesus and Paul, then second-century thinkers including Valentius, Marcion, and Justin Martyr, and culminating brilliantly in a comparison of the thought of Origen and Augustine.

"Uh...o.k., who?" you might be saying as you see some of those names.

They're some of the important historical voices in a wide-ranging debate spanning centuries on the topic of sin. Some of their views became important to the teaching and understanding of the church.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By R. Hardy HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWER on September 1, 2012
Format: Hardcover
"Yes, sir," says Deputy Sheriff Barney Fife to the minister as he is coming out of church and others, too, are complimenting the minister on his sermon. "That's just one subject you just can't talk enough about. Sin." Barney must have been asleep, for that wasn't the minister's subject, but it was a good guess. Sin has been a point of concern before the beginning of Christianity. In _Sin: The Early History of an Idea_ (Princeton University Press), Paula Fredriksen considers seven important figures in the early church and reveals that sin was a foundational concept for all but that it was as well different for all. In addition, the ideas about how God could have created imperfect beings, and how they can be saved, and when they would be saved, all changed between the thinkers during the first four Christian centuries. Fredriksen, a professor who is regarded as an expert on early Christianity, here provides what she says is "an aerial survey of the idea of sin" during that period. It is a pithy, enjoyable tour of a concept that even in the beginning was malleable depending upon circumstances. Fredriksen's book is also useful for showing us how even in the earliest formation of ideas about sin, it was what "those other people" do.

Naturally, the first teacher Fredriksen takes up is Jesus. He emphasized the sins as understood in his Jewish culture; he knew the audience to whom he was speaking. Sin was, especially, breaking the ten commandments. Paul delivered his message on sin mostly to gentiles who lived among the Jewish diaspora, and his concept of sin was aimed at them. Paul was horrified by the sin of pagan idolatry and the fornication connected with it; give up those sins, he taught, and enter God's imminent kingdom though baptism courtesy of God's son.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By peobus on February 5, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Fredriksen presents a wonderful introduction to some of early Christianity's important theologians. I wish more historical background was provided concerning the lives of these men. She might also have included some examples of the communities which adhered to these various religious philosophies.
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