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Jesus and the People of God: Reconfiguring Ethnic Identity


How did the Jesus movement —a messianic sectarian version of Palestinian Judaism —transcend its Judaean origins and ultimately establish itself in the Roman East as the multi-ethnic socio-religious experiment we know as early Christianity?

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SKU: 978-1-906055-21-9

How did the Jesus movement —a messianic sectarian version of Palestinian Judaism —transcend its Judaean origins and ultimately establish itself in the Roman East as the multi-ethnic socio-religious experiment we know as early Christianity?

In this major work, Hellerman, drawing upon his background as a social historian, proposes that a clue to the success of the Christian movement lay in Jesus’ own conception of the people of God, and in how he reconfigured its identity from that of ethnos to that of family.

Pointing first to Jesus’ critique of sabbath-keeping, the Jerusalem temple, and Jewish dietary laws —practices central to the preservation of Judaean social identity —he argues that Jesus’ intention was to destabilize the idea of God’s people as a localized ethnos. In its place he conceived the social identity of the people of God as a surrogate family or kinship group, a social entity based not on common ancestry but on a shared commitment to his kingdom programme.

Jesus of Nazareth thus functioned as a kind of ethnic entrepreneur, breaking down the boundaries of ethnic Judaism and providing an ideological foundation and symbolic framework for the wider expansion of the Jesus movement.

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  1. Kelly Iverson, Journal for the Study of the New Testament.

    This monograph is a welcome addition to the ever-burgeoning field of Gospel studies, and the author makes a compelling argument that facilitates an understanding of the complex social history that spans the Second Temple to the early church. Hellerman proves to be a careful social historian who examines a body of historical data in a fresh and creative manner … Jesus and the People of God offers a reasoned and insightful examination of Christian origins.

  2. Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, and author of Jesus and his Contemporaries.

    Joseph Hellerman’s Jesus and the People of God takes a whole new approach to understanding the social dynamic at work in Jesus’ public teaching and ministry. His suggestion that Jesus was attempting to redefine the people of God in terms of commitment to his understanding of God’s rule, rather than ancestry or ethnicity, represents an important breakthrough in Jesus research. This substantial work deserves a careful hearing.

  3. Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary, and author of Jesus and the Gospels.

    After centuries of not adequately recognizing the Jewishness of Jesus of Nazareth, recent scholarship has more than amply redressed this faux pas. But has the recent phase of the quest of the historical Jesus properly stressed those ways in which Jesus broke from the prevailing nationalism of his day? James Dunn and others have rightly stressed the centrality of the ‘badges of national righteousness’ for first-century Judaism but arguably missed how radically Jesus contested their significance. Hellerman puts it all together, offering a compelling portrait of the Jewish Jesus who nevertheless saw the fulfillment of Sabbath and festivals, temple and purity laws in him. This book thus offers a crucial counterbalance to all those who think that Christianity supports identification with contemporary nationalist agendas of any country or ethnic group.

  4. Vernon Robbins, Review of Biblical Literature.

    As a book at the level of an introduction to the New Testament, where the interest is to show cultural-ideological movements that resulted in the first-century Christian Gospels, this is an interesting, well-researched, and well-organized book.

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Book information

Joseph H. Hellerman
List Price
£50 / $95 / €75
Hebrew Bible Monographs, 21
Scholars' Price
£25 / $47.50 / €37.50
ISBN 13 hardback
Paperback price
£19.50 / $27.50 / €22.50
ISBN 13 Paperback
Hardback / Paperback
Page Extent
xii + 385
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