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Historical Jesus Theories: Paula Fredriksen

The purpose of this web page is to explain and explore some of the theories offered up by contemporary scholars on the historical Jesus and the origins of the Christian religion. Issues include the nature of the historical Jesus, the nature of the early Christian documents, and the origins of the Christian faith in a risen Jesus Christ.

Paula Fredriksen

Fredriksen summarizes her position in three paragraphs (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, pp. 266-267):

From Jesus to Christ:  Buy at! The Jesus encountered in the present reconstruction is a prophet who preached the coming apocalyptic Kingdom of God. His message coheres both with that of his predecessor and mentor, John the Baptizer, and with that of the movement that sprang up in his name. This Jesus thus is not primarily a social reformer with a revolutionary message; nor is he a religious innovator radically redefining the traditional ideas and practices of his native religion. His urgent message had not the present so much as the near future in view.

Further, what distinguished Jesus' prophetic message from those of others was primarily its timetable, not its content. Like John the Baptizer, he emphasized his own authority to preach the coming Kingdom; like Theudas, the Egyptian, the signs prophets, and again like the Baptizer, he expected its arrival soon. But the vibrant conviction of his followers even decades after the Crucifixion, together with the unprecedented phenomenon of the mission to Israel and the inclusion of Gentiles, suggests that Jesus had stepped up the Kingdom's timetable from soon to now. By actually naming the day or date of the Kingdom's coming, perhaps even for that very same Passover that proved to be his last, Jesus galvanized crowds gathered in Jerusalem who were not socialized to his mission - its pacifist tenor, its emphasis on divine rather than human action - and who in praising the approaching Kingdom proclaimed him Son of David and Messiah. It was this combustible mix of factors - the excited popular acclaim, in Jerusalem at its most densely populated pilgrim festival, when Pilate was in town specifically to keep his eye on the crowd - not his teaching as such, nor his arguments with other Jews on the meaning of Sabbath, Temple, purity, or some other aspect of Torah, that led directly to Jesus' execution as King of the Jews.

Finally, a Jesus whose itinerary is sketched primarily not from the Synoptics but from John - a Jesus, that is, whose mission extended routinely not only to the Galilee but also to Judea, and specifically Jerusalem - can speak to the anomaly that has propelled this investigation, namely, that Jesus alone was killed as an insurrectionist on that Passover, but none of his disciples were. A repeated mission in Jerusalem, especially during the pilgrimage holidays when the prefect, too, of necessity, was there, explains how Caiaphas and Pilate would both already know who Jesus was and what he preached, and thus know as well that he was not in any first-order way dangerous. Just as the crowd's enthusiasm for Jesus as messiah accounts for the specific manner of his death, so Jesus' dual focus - Judea, especially Jerusalem in and around the Temple, as well as the Galilee - accounts for the high priest's and the prefect's familiarity with his mission, and thus explains why Jesus was the sole focus of their action.

Although Fredriksen does not make an argument for its authenticity, the authenticity of the saying in Mark 14:25 as defended by Lüdemann and Meier would support Fredriksen's contention that Jesus expected the end to come immediately, a contention which Fredriksen defends as the best explanation for the fact that Jesus was crucified. For, as Fredriksen argues, the point of the crucifixion as a mode of execution was the display for the crowds, and the eschatological fervor surrounding a specific prediction of immediate cataclysm would have been enough for Jesus to excite the imagination of the crowds. Fredriksen maintains that Jesus did not present himself as the Messiah but that such a claim was made for Jesus by the crowds in Jerusalem, which led to the expedient of Pilate to contain the situation by crucifixion.

Please enjoy exploring the varied Historical Jesus Theories offered by these authors through the links below.

Jesus the Myth: Heavenly Christ

Jesus the Myth: Man of the Indefinite Past

Jesus the Hellenistic Hero

Jesus the Revolutionary

Jesus the Wisdom Sage

Jesus the Man of the Spirit

Jesus the Prophet of Social Change

Jesus the Apocalyptic Prophet

Jesus the Savior

For more information on the debate over the historical Jesus, visit the Christian Origins web site.

Go to the Chronological List of all Early Christian Writings

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Early Christian Writings is copyright © Peter Kirby <E-Mail>.

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Kirby, Peter. "Historical Jesus Theories." Early Christian Writings. <>.