Monday, November 7, 2016

Boyarin's The Jewish Gospels

AP: I wrote about Daniel Boyarin's book The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ (New York: The New Press, 2012) back when it first came out. Now that we are translating some of the original posts from my personal blog in Spanish, this one jumped out at me as one that you might find interesting, especially since the book is in English. One scholar has written that it is the most groundbreaking book on a Christian subjects that he has ever read. Well, that might be just a tad exaggerated (maybe more than a tad, if you ask me), but it certainly packs a lot of information into a very small volume. And that can be pretty impactful. The book has since been translated into Spanish and published by Editorial Promoteo. The title in Spanish is Los Evangelios judíos. La historia del Cristo judío.

In his introduction Boyarin prepares the reader for what comes next. Our author is repetitive in stating his main ideas. The main theme of the book is to show that one of the main nuclei of Christianity, the idea of ​​a divine and human messiah at the same time, was by no means foreign to first-century Judea, in which lived Jesus, Paul, and the very first Christians. For a Jew in that day and time, the question was not "Is a divine messiah going to come to earth?", but rather "Is Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth, that divine human messiah we have been waiting for?"

The author argues that Judaism was never a "religion" of an inflexible ideology or dogma, nor is it in the present day. It never was nor is it now even a religion. It is rather an ethnic-religious entity, a people chosen by God, with whom he made an covenant, which has rules for living and remaining within that covenant allowing them to participate in the future world when it comes. In this ethnic-religious entity lived elements of an absolutely disparate theological mentality, such as the Essenes and Sadducees, whose beliefs on the afterlife, for example, did not coincide in almost anything. And they were both one-hundred percent Jewish.

Boyarin provides many examples. For example, after the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70, many Jews wanted the sanctuary rebuilt; others, equally Jewish, abhorred the sacrifices; some Jews stood for super-strict monotheism, while others thought that God manifested himself outwardly through entities or emissaries, such as Wisdom, or even that he could have a sort of "son," superior to the angels, who could act as an intermediary between the supreme divinity and men.

Even what would later develop as a trinitarian and seemingly strictly Christian thought could find refuge in the polyvalent Judaism of the first century, and without much effort at all. Thus, according to Boyarin, concepts like a "good Jesus" (the historical Jesus, Jewish) and an "anointed/Christ alien to Judaism" (Paul's heavenly Christ and his followers), according to many, coming ideologically from the Greek world and not that of the Jews, made no sense in the first century (nor did it before in Israel's history). Actually it was not the rabbis, but the experts in the Law, who discussed almost everything. That is why there was such an immense variety of ideas. All these notions of a human and at the same time celestial messiah (without any influence of Hellenism!) was certainly not ordinary. But it was at least an ideology that was defended by some Jewish religious group. In other words, the central notions of the christology of Christianity about the Christ and his heavenly nature, his essence as the son of God, and his human-divine nature are not properly borrowed from the Greek world, where the gods have children with humans, but something that was totally Jewish for centuries.

During the first and second centuries it was possible to live without issue, according to Boyarin, at least for many Jews, for Christians and Jews to coexist. To believe in a divine messiah and to be an observer of the law of Moses was not problematic at all. Only during the course of the second to fourth centuries or even the fifth, the authorities, both by Christians and Jews, were those who showed a real interest, for reasons of social control of the religious group, in drawing the lines between Judaism and Christianity . . . which up until then had been relatively fuzzy.

This presupposes, among other things, that the intended Council of Jamnia, around A.D. 90, in north-western Israel, near Jaffa, where it is said that the foundations of Judaism to this day were laid on a Pharisee foundation, is a Talmudic legend of the fifth or sixth centuries, a little jewel that projects back towards the end of the first century, but actually only reproduced in truth only the state of what was at that time, some four or five centuries later.

And he supposes that the councils of Nicaea (A.D. 325), of Constantinople (A.D. 381), and of Chalcedon (A.D. 451) marked differences between Judaism and Christianity that were partly artificial, for on both sides there were people who believed in a sort of trinity already and at the same time were faithful to the law of Moses. It was during those years that what was common came to an end. Boyarin thinks that the second-century Gospel of the Nazarenes, which was still around in the fourth and fifth centuries, criticized by St. Jerome and then St. Augustine, whose existence at the end of the fourth century is evident, shows that there were observant Jews who believed in Jesus as the Messiah, who was born of the virgin Mary, who had suffered under Pontius Pilate and was then resurrected and was at the right hand of the Father and at the same time observed the Mosaic Law. However, for both St. Jerome and St. Augustine, such believers were neither Jews nor Christians. Both wanted the borders to be clearly marked to know who belonged to each group in an irreconcilable way.

In general terms, this thesis is largely exaggerated, but at the same time very suggestive, since they contain a part of the truth, even if it is tangential and exaggerated in its projection of the Empire of the time. The problem is, then, this excessive generalization. Boyarin argues that one should not seek out what ideas make a Jew or a Christian, but rather those border spaces of family equality that constitute the Judeo-Christian family, namely, the belief that the Hebrew Bible is equally sacred to both groups, and that faith, typically Christian in appearance, in the "Son of Man" was equally characteristic of the Jews. All this can be proved, he argues, by analyzing some of the Gospel passages, for example Mark 2, which shows that the Christian Gospels are primarily Jewish Gospels.

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