Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What is Paula Fredriksen reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Paula Fredriksen, author of Sin: The Early History of an Idea.

Her entry begins:
I usually read several books at once. Two that I recently finished are by Carlo Levi and by Sebastian Junger.

A dear friend, for my birthday, surprised me with a new copy of Christ Stopped at Eboli, by Carlo Levi. I had first read it as a college undergraduate, years ago. Now, after decades of historical work in ancient Mediterranean culture, I was able to savor this memoir of political exile so much more. Levi’s clear and beautiful writing, lyrically translated by Frances Frenaye, captures everything. The sight and smells of this isolated southern Italian landscape. The social pretensions and varying degrees of desperation that structure lives lived too close together in a tiny, impoverished town near the Gulf of Taranto. The way that skinny goats and half-starved dogs move in the airless heat. The silver-green of ancient olive trees, the smell of dust and lemons. Stone houses; stone walls; stone earth. And, most heartbreakingly of all, stone people: the ancient, patient, bitterly poor peasants upon whose stooped backs the town’s tiny bourgeoisie rests. Like shadows, their silent presence haunts the town (and the book) as they labor continually, dragged down and defeated, dressed always in black as if mourning their own lives.

The name of this town is not Eboli, a fact that...[read on]
About Sin: The Early History of an Idea, from the publisher:
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.
Learn more about Sin: The Early History of an Idea at the Princeton University Press website.

Fredriksen is an historian of ancient Christianity who works as well on the social relations between pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Roman Empire. Among her books are From Jesus to Christ; Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews; and Augustine and the Jews: A Christian Defense of Jews and Judaism.

The Page 99 Test: Sin: The Early History of an Idea.

Writers Read: Paula Fredriksen.

--Marshal Zeringue