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 this book, 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 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.
"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
Table of Contents:
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
Works Cited 185
Index Locorum 193
General Index 201