When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation by Paula Fredriksen (review)

When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation by Paula Fredriksen (New Haven, CTYale University Press, 2018), 272 pp.

BY NATURAL DISPOSITION, I am inclined to follow the (now not so) New Criticism, but Paula Fredriksen has written a book that begs for a good old-fashioned Freudian reading: When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation. The title hides an autobiographical interest, for Fredriksen is herself a Jew who was a Christian. Still more: she is a former-Catholic Jewish historian of early Jewish Christians, who on her last page rejects her own catchy title as a distorting anachronism. “Christians” did not yet exist in that far-away first generation, she confesses, only misguided Jews who thought that they would be history’s last. In the meantime, of course, when the world did not end, these misguided Jews somehow turned into misguided Christians, and the book ends as an ethical thrust aimed at “one of the West’s most sustained fonts of anti-Judaism” (183), namely Christianity, a faith built on layer upon layer of illusion. Lamentable as Christian anti-Judaism surely is, one wonders if a moralizing font of vulgarized ex-Christian “Jewish” anti-Christianism, dispensing seductively packaged speculative historical reconstructions, is what better Christian–Jewish relations really needed.


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