Daniel Boyarin- new book The Jewish Gospels

Daniel Boyarin just published a new book The Jewish Gospels: the Story of the Jewish Christ, an attempt at a popularization of his thought. Boyarin professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California, Berkeley is influential on the current generation of scholars and is only now beginning to filter down to the clergy level. Boyarin has written on early Jewish–Christian relations and emphasizes that in the early centuries, there was no clear border between the two faiths. Both groups were figuring out their identity based on and in contrast to the other group. One of his earlier books, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity, was part of the new wave of Pauline scholarship showing that Paul did not reject Judaism but he rather sought to create a universal religion for the gentiles.

In this new book, The Jewish Gospels: the Story of the Jewish Christ, he draws the conclusions of his prior work Border Lines and present them in clear layman’s term. The book was meant to be a popular summery of his ideas. In short, every idea in early Christianity is to be found in the variety of Judiasms of the first century. There were Jewish groups who built their Judaism on Daniel, on Isaiah, and the ideas of Qumran. The Pseudepigrapha was not just a funky alternative to our midrashic narratives, rather they were people’s lived version of Torah

Boyarin looks at the first and second centuries where you have some Jews focusing on the book of Daniel and expecting a mediator figure as redeemer, some even expecting the mediator to be the suffering servant. There was widespread bi-theism or binitarianism within Judaism where Jews perceived God as an unknown God and a lower logos of God. The ideas of a complex godhead (a God with two or three persons) have their origins in the Judaism of Jesus’ time and before him. Many, perhaps most, Jews were expecting a Redeemer who was an anthropomorphic divine being, known as the Son of Man.

Boyarin follows the scholarship on the historic Jesus and rejects the popular view that thinks that the Gospels speak of Jesus as abrogating and setting aside the Torah, Boyarin proposes that the Jesus of Mark defended the Torah, and that Jesus, himself, was portrayed as keeping the Sabbath and the kosher rules. Many hold it was the suffering and dying of Jesus that caused a break with traditional Judaism, Boyarin shows that the idea of a suffering Messiah was not foreign to Judaism even beyond the Jesus movement. Boyarin calls on Jews to stop vilifying Christian ideas about God as simply a collection of “unJewish,” perhaps pagan ideas; Jews should stop seeing Christian ideas as bizarre and see them as paths not taken.

Much of the fluid location of division centers on what Boyarin calls Jewish Binitarianism in which there is a lower entity below God that still bears many of the elements of God or is God’s manifestation on earth. Second Temple literature is replete with forms of bitheism, including the philonic logos and the Ezekiel traditions of an Angel of God in the image of a man appearing on the throne. Even rabbinic liturgical terminology, such as the Alenu hymn, speaks of “The Lord of All” as distinct from the “Creator of Bereshit.” (A compete treatment of the topic of bi-theism by Boyarin- here in pdf.)

For Jews, the two powers are one and a person does not worship one without the other. Most Jews are no longer aware of this bitheism and the rabbinic polemics against considering them two entities. Yet by the time we are done with the book, or actually from the very first pages of the volume, the Trinity is a Jewish concept

Boyarin thinks that many of the theological concepts, which earlier scholarship, such as Rudolf Bultmann, had credited to a Hellenistic break from Judaism are actually antecedent to rabbinic Judaism as part of second Temple Judaism. Bultmann in the 1920s declared that the wisdom traditions of the logos were not a living force in Judaism. For Boyarin, the logos is ever present as the site of God’s presence in the world in the targumim, in Philo of Alexandria, in Ben Sira, and then later in the midrashim.

This is not at all like the ill-informed gibberish of Boteach who lacked any research skilled. Yet, I don’t know how this will play out among ordinary non-academic Jews. Boyarin does not accept Kosher Jesus and thinks that Rabbinic Judaism in its definition rejected it. This rejection of a “second power” by rabbinic Jews, begins a “heresiological” process in Christianity and Judaism. Polemics created the nascent borders, yet it was intellectual “smugglers who transported discourses [. . .] in both directions across the abstract frontier of the two groups.” In non-technical terms, Boyarin assumes that these positions were slowly rejected in the first centuries though self-definitions and polemics. They were no longer kosher by the end of the process.

In contrast, the academic field won’t accept all of Boyarin’s conclusions; however, they will embrace the book because he pushes the limit on questioning our essentialism and fixed boundaries of the first century.

5 responses to “Daniel Boyarin- new book The Jewish Gospels

  1. There seems to be something of a publishing trend.  Preceding this release, has been “The Jewish Annotated New Testament” (to which Boyarin contributed) and also Elaine Pagels’ latest book, whose Jewish angles are highlighted in Gopnik’s review in last week’s New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/03/05/120305crbo_books_gopnik?currentPage=all

    While I’m writing, the just released paperback of “American Grace” includes a new epilogue with updated data collected in 2011.

  2. steven t. lewandowski

    Look4: Two Powers in Heaven by Alan Segal
    View online much of Dr. Michael Heiser’s work concerning early Jewish
    Binitarinism online at michaelsheiser.com also on YouTube

  3. (A compete treatment of the topic of bi-theism by Boyarin- here in pdf.)
    The link mentioned here is broken; anti-virus program advises to stay out of it. Can you help?

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