Paula Fredriksen is professor at Boston University. Her book From Jesus to Christ summarizes her beliefs about the development of Christian doctrine from the historical Jesus of 1st century Palestine to the Christ of early Christianity.
– At times, Fredriksen articulates Christian doctrine very accurately
– Fredriksen’s contorted theories often made me appreciate, by contrast, the simplicity and coherence of a straightforward view of the text as basically historically accurate.
– Although I have few positive things to say about this book, it wasn’t exceptionally bad. But very little stood out as good.
– Very slow read. Whether it was the font size, the line spacing, the unnecessarily repetitive structure (it felt like every subject was treated at least four times), or the dry, pedantic style, this book took forever to finish
– Self-contradictory. Not merely a large scale, from chapter to chapter, but from paragraph to paragraph or sentence to sentence. (Towards the end, Fredriksen even began using phrases like “both profoundly similar and profoundly different” (p. 205) and “contrasts most sharply but also corresponds most profoundly” (p. 202)) It’s extremely hard to see how Fredriksen thinks her narrative fits together in any coherent fashion.
– Insufficiently argued. Fredriksen often makes claims with little supporting evidence and few citations. Especially frustrating is her lack of acknowledgment of contradictory data. If you throw out enough data points, you can draw any line you want.
– On occasion, Fredriksen makes claims that are plainly false, some of which I’ve highlighted in previous posts. The fact that a respected NT scholar can make such gaffes does not give me great confidence in the field’s health.
– This book may highlight the fundamental problems with historical scholarship even better than the Jesus Seminar’s The Five Gospels. Fredriksen’s entire work rests on one underlying assumption: the gospels are largely fictional accounts, written not to record the life of Jesus but to justify the theological beliefs of the early Christians communities which produced them. All of her narrative is based on this unquestioned assumption and would crumble without it. Yet she never explains why we should believe that this assumption is correct.
To give one example of how this plays out, Fredriksen’s “reconstruction” of the motivation behind all four gospels depends crucially on the dates of their composition. What evidence is adduced to support the dates she provides? None. Literally none. Not once does she explain why she assigns certain dates to the gospels’ composition (expect to note that the dates of composition are contested!) Shouldn’t she provide a bit more support for a claim that is so crucial to her theories?
Even worse, her claims often becomes viciously circular because the gospels themselves are the only source of information about the community that supposedly produced them! So we’re left with arguments like “Mark’s community wrote story X to defend their theological belief Y. And we know they had theological Y because they wrote story X.”
When I complain about the New Testament scholarship I’m reading, my wife always says “No one wants to hear that Shakespeare wrote Shakespeare.” In other words, it’s what’s sensational rather than what’s true, that gets books sold, dissertations passed, and articles published. I think that critique is right on target.