Sin: The Early History of an Idea

Overview

"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...

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Overview

"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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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"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, ChristianityToday.com

"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

Publishers Weekly
In her characteristically brisk and engaging prose, Fredriksen (Augustine and the Jews) 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. Focusing on seven figures—Jesus, Paul, Marcion, Justin, Valentinus, Origen, and Augustine—she examines the ways that these bearers or writers of the early Christian message answered such questions as who is saved from sin, and how, as well as the ways that sin defines redemption. For Jesus and his hearers, sin is “Jewish” sin, such as breaking the commandments, and Jesus teaches that repentance, especially as practiced in the ideal teachings in the Sermon on the Mount, restores Jews to good relationships with their neighbors and with God. For Valentinus and Justin, though in different ways, sin is a function of ignorance; sinners sin because they do not know God’s will, both a cause and effect of not reading scripture with spiritual insight. 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. (July)
Jewish Review of Books
[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
Maclean's
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
Globe & Mail
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.
Times Higher Education
[I]ncisive and pellucid . . .
— Robert A. Segal
Guardian
[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
ChristianityToday.com
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
Weekly Standard
The author's talent lies in expressing complex theological concepts in everyday language . . .
— Dawn Eden
New York Review of Books
Paula Fredriksen's vivid little book is calculated to make even the most inert churchgoer sit up.
— Peter Brown
New York Review of Books - Peter Brown
Paula Fredriksen's vivid little book is calculated to make even the most inert churchgoer sit up.
Jewish Review of Books - Gary A. Anderson
[A] concise and elegantly written history of how the early church understood the sinful character of humanity and the solutions it provided.
Maclean's - Brian Bethune
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.
Times Higher Education - Robert A. Segal
[I]ncisive and pellucid . . .
Guardian - Steven Poole
[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').
ChristianityToday.com - Craig A. Evans
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 . . .
Weekly Standard - Dawn Eden
The author's talent lies in expressing complex theological concepts in everyday language . . .
Charles Middleburgh Blog - Charles H Middleburgh
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.
Charles Middleburgh Blog - Rabbi Dr Charles H Middleburgh
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, Doctor; Charles Middleburgh Blog - Charles H. Middleburgh
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.
Reviews of the Enoch Seminar - Deborah Forger
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.
Library Journal
Fredriksen (Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion, Hebrew Univ., Jerusalem; From Jesus to Christ) traces the concept of sin through seven "evolutionary jumps" from the teachings of Jesus and Paul in the first century C.E., to Valentinus, Marcion, and Justin Martyr in the second century, to Origen of Alexandria and Augustine of Hippo in the third to fifth centuries. Her carefully nuanced discussion emphasizes the different "worlds" or mental frameworks that influenced these thinkers, e.g., the Jewish world of Jesus as distinct from the Roman world of Paul, a diaspora Jew, and Jesus's expectation of the imminent in-breaking of God's kingdom compared with the canonical writers who knew that the kingdom was delayed. Sin as a violation of purity codes, of tables of piety toward God and justice toward "men," yielded to sin as "flesh" or an inherited condition. Origen and Augustine take decidedly different views of human natural goodness or lack thereof. VERDICT This 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.—Carolyn M. Craft, emerita, Longwood Univ., Farmville, VA
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780691160900
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication date: 2/23/2014
  • Edition description: New in Paper
  • Pages: 220
  • Sales rank: 600,740
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Paula Fredriksen is the author of "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews", which won the National Jewish Book Award. She is also the author of "Augustine and the Jews" and "From Jesus to Christ". The Aurelio Professor Emerita at Boston University, she now teaches as Distinguished Visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

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Table of Contents

Prologue 1
Chapter 1: God, Blood, and the Temple: Jesus and Paul on Sin 6
Chapter 2: Flesh and the Devil: Sin in the Second Century 50
Chapter 3: A Rivalry of Genius: Sin and Its Consequences in Origen and Augustine 93
Epilogue 135
Timeline 151
Acknowledgments 153
Notes 155
Glossary 181
Works Cited 185
Index Locorum 193
General Index 201

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