Ancient Christians invoked sin to account for an astonishing range of things, from the death of God's son to the politics of the Roman Empire that worshipped him. In Sin: The Early History of an Idea, award-winning historian of religion Paula Fredriksen tells the surprising story of early Christian concepts of sin, exploring the ways that sin came to shape ideas about God no less than about humanity.
Long before Christianity, of course, cultures had articulated the idea that human wrongdoing violated relations with the divine. But Sin tells how, in the fevered atmosphere of the four centuries between Jesus and Augustine, singular new Christian ideas about sin emerged in rapid and vigorous variety, including the momentous shift from the belief that sin is something one does to something that one is born into.
As the original defining circumstances of their movement quickly collapsed, early Christians were left to debate the causes, manifestations, and remedies of sin. This is a powerful and original account of the early history of an idea that has centrally shaped Christianity and left a deep impression on the secular world as well.
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.
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.
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.
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 figuresJesus, Paul, Marcion, Justin, Valentinus, Origen, and Augustineshe 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 Gods will, both a cause and effect of not reading scripture with spiritual insight. Fredriksens 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) 2012 Reed Business Information
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