Bible Review 16:4, August 2000

Bible Books

The Jewish Savior

Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews: A Jewish Life and the Emergence of Christianity

Paula Fredriksen (New York: Knopf, 1999) xxi + 327 pp., $26.00

Reading this book prompted a flashback. Ten years ago, the Jesus Seminar heard a paper entitled “John the Purifier,” which argued that ritual immersion was routine within first-century C.E. Judaism. Controversy over how to achieve ritual purity is also very well attested in first-century sources, both literary and archaeological. John the Baptist stepped into that controversy, the argument went; so did Jesus, initially as John’s disciple, and then without reference to the practice of immersion.

I am sure the paper (I must admit it was my own)1 was hard for my seminar colleagues to deal with, because it moved in the opposite direction from the then fashionable view (especially in the Jesus Seminar) that Jesus was more of a Hellenistic philosopher than a Jew concerned with ritual purity laws.

Now Paula Fredriksen of Boston University asserts: “Given the strong association of immersions with the Baptizer’s mission, we could equally well think of him as ‘John the Purifier.’”

Just so.

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