New essay published in The Los Angeles Review of Books: "Enter Paul"

I have a new essay published this morning over in The Los Angeles Review of Books, titled "Enter Paul," on Paula Fredriksen's two latest books, Paul: The Pagans' Apostle and When Christians Were Jews: The First Generation (both from Yale University Press). Here's a sample:

"Put it this way: an itinerant rabbi from the Galilee — the backwaters of Palestine — leads a popular movement among the Jews, one that comes to an ignominious end when he is executed for sedition by the Roman authorities. Some of his followers form a small community in Jerusalem, proclaiming that not only was this rabbi and prophet the longed-for Messiah of Israel, but he is alive, in glory with God, vested with impregnable power and heavenly authority. These messianic Jews share goods in common and worship daily at the temple, praying and waiting eagerly for Jesus’s imminent return, when he will drive out the pagan occupiers and restore his people’s fortunes.

"Pause the frame there. Nothing about this picture offers even a hint that this same community — one defined by exclusive loyalty to Jesus, Israel’s Messiah and Lord — will, centuries hence, find itself filling the Roman Empire, legalized and endorsed by that same empire, dominated by gentiles, not Jews, and led by men like Aurelius Augustinus Hipponensis.

"How did this happen? Why did it happen? To answer, we need to leave Augustine behind and follow Fredriksen into the world of the eastern Mediterranean in the first century of the common era, specifically Jewish life under the thumb of the Roman Empire."

Read the rest.

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