Jesus and the People of God: Reconfiguring Ethnic Identity

by Joseph H. Hellerman

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. 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 . an important breakthrough in Jesus research . [that] deserves a careful hearing. - Craig A. Evans, Payzant Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Acadia Divinity College, and author of Jesus and his Contemporaries. 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? 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. - Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary, and author of Jesus and the Gospels.

Purchase this book.

Faculty Member