Saturday, December 17, 2016

Making Jesus Into God: Four Reviews (Part 6)

For the previous parts in this series, see the following:  Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4, and Part 5.

AP: The fourth book under consideration is Daniel Boyarin's Espacios fronterizos. Judaísmo y cristianismo en la Antigüedad tardía (Madrid: Trotta, 2013). The original version––in English––is titled Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. Daniel Boyarin, professor of Talmudic Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, does not focus on the process of deification of Jesus as an end in itself. Instead his aim is to investigate the formation of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism, two different religions, in general, trying to determine when these religions were consolidated and fully constituted as such. According to Boyarin, the full divinization of Jesus is one of the key factors, but not the only one. It is one among a number of factors (e.g., hermeneutical pluralism, deterritorialization with respect to the ethnic territoriality of the religious fact, strengthening of the orthodoxy/heterodoxy device with respect to its final rejection, etc. Boyarin raises in this important book the question of the legitimacy and the use of binitarianism as a key factor in the consolidation of these two religious phenomena, Christianity and rabbinic Judaism, which are of extreme importance in the world, at least in the West. Undoubtedly, the author argues, binitarianism will precipitate and guide the process, but it does not explain everything.

One of the central ideas of the book is to show the footsteps of Alain Le Boulluec's study La notion d'hérésie dans la littérature grecque, IIe-IIIe siècles (1985), which, with both Judaism as well as Christianity, held that the notion of heresy/orthodoxy with respect to the nature of Jesus (whether he was the Logos of God and, if so, in what sense?) was the key interpretative issue. The author argues that the process of consolidating the two religions was very long. It begins in the middle of the second century, or perhaps earlier, and does not end until the fifth century. Now, in this slow development, theology concerning divine mediators, especially the Logos/Wisdom, plays a very important role, as does the acceptance or rejection of Jesus as the Word of God.

The central thesis of Boyarin's book is as follows: The theology of the Logos was born in the Jewish context of the Hellenistic period, before the Christian era, and can be seen in purely Jewish speculations on the creative Word of God (Genesis 1) and divine Wisdom as the agent of that creation (Proverbs 8). With various nuances, such speculations hold that between God and the world there is a second divine entity. This doctrine was defended by numerous pre-Christian Jews and contemporaries, including Philo of Alexandria (first century of the common era). Boyarin insists again and again that this doctrine is purely Jewish, although he recognizes its undoubtedly Greek and Platonic background, since he defends that there is no Judaism in the final epoch of the Second Temple that was not Hellenized.

At the end of the first century, the prologue to the Gospel of John applied these Jewish notions of the Logos to a concrete and historical person: Jesus of Nazareth. This was a human being in whom that Word/Wisdom had been incarnated. An attentive intertextual reading of this famous text reveals that it is not––as the vast majority of researchers think––a "hymn" to Christ, but only a purely Jewish midrash on creation (Genesis 1) and how it was created by God not directly, but through his Word/Wisdom. The Judeo-Christian author of the Fourth Gospel takes a previous Jewish composition on the Word/Wisdom––the text of Genesis 1 was read in light of Proverbs 8, though without ever mentioning it. The result was a transposition of the two texts with certain changes that tied the texts to Jesus.

More specifically, the Gospel of John (1:1–5) is a Jewish paraphrase, in Greek, of Gen. 1:1–5, while the rest of the prologue is but an amplification of this paraphrase in three parts: (1) vv. 6–8; (2) 9–13; (3) 14–18 (others think that the division should be vv. 1–5 + 6–8 + 9–18). There are those who maintain that the prologue was the creation of the Judeo-Christian author in these last three sections in which the content seems already Christian, because it alludes to John the Baptist and to Jesus. Boyarin specifically admits the insertion of the Baptist (vv. 6–8), but he strongly argues that the Christian part begins in v. 14 with "And the Word was made flesh," and that, except for the addition of the Precursor, refers to the various descents of the Logos/Wisdom to the earth––one before Abraham; another with Abraham, and another with Moses at Sinai.

Since the composition of the dialogue between Justin Martyr and Rabbi Tarfon/Tryphon, written in the mid-second century, it has been seen how the positions of the contenders are antagonistic: a Christian who accepts this application of the Jewish doctrine of the Logos to Jesus vs. and a Jew who does not admit it. The Jew accuses the Christian of ditheism and Justin says that such he is not. The fact that the divine, the Yahweh of the common Bible shared by the two persons involved, employs an agent, or "helper," to preserve both its transcendence and its specific immanence to the world, constitutes a wealth of monotheism, not an idolatrous heresy. So argues Justin.

The next point of Boyarin is to show that––albeit unbelievable, given the commonly held idea of ​​rabbinic Judaism, and today's successor as a monotheist––the binitarianism advocated by Justin Martyr was spread much more among non-Christian Jews than we suppose. It is not only very visible in Philo of Alexandria, but later in the synagogical, non-rabbinic compositions of the first and second centuries, the Targums, such as the Targum of Palestine, or the Targum Neophyte 1. In these translations/paraphrases of the Bible, the divine Word performs the same functions as the Christian Word/Savior. He comes to the aid of creation; he speak to humans; he reveals himself; he punishes the wicked in judgment; he saves and redeems. According to Boyarin, this interpretation of the Word is clearly binitarianism and originates in a Jewish matrix.

Thus, well into the Christian era, Jewish binomialism continues with force. It is clearly seen in the mystical speculations of the second century AD. around the throne of God (denominated "Merkaba" or "Carro," from there the mystique of the Merkaba that will culminate in the Cabala), in the composition of works of the cycle of Enoch (books of the Parables of Enoch; Hebrew and Slavic Enoch––available in Spanish in the Apocryphal collection of the Old Testament (published by Cristiandad), whom the Jews call Metatron ("the one that is behind//or next to] the throne" of God) and presently sitting on a smaller throne, identified as a "minor Yahweh." Likewise, such Jewish binary conceptions are clearly manifested in sufficient passages of the Mishnayot and Talmidim. We find in them remnants of these theological conceptions and their more or less fierce criticism. Rabbi Aquiva, one of the wisest scholars of all Judaism, was said to have defended this binitarianism or, as the rabbis called it, the "two powers in heaven."

At the same time, starting in the middle of the second century, this so-called binomialism begins to be considered heresy by the rabbis precisely because most Christians accept it along the same lines as the Fourth Gospel. And so this dispute will continue during the third, fourth, and fifth centuries, until the Council of Chalcedon in A.D. 451, where the nature of the Word is already defined with precision, but the nature of the Holy Spirit and the internal relations of the Word (Trinity). In Boyarin's opinion, about this time, it is necessary to view the total consolidation of Christianity and, on the other hand, that of Judaism.

It is curious, Boyarin argues, how the rejection or acceptance of the doctrine about the Logos forms a sort of field, or mirror, in which roles are reversed: what might be more or less orthodox within Judaism, even for certain rabbis, becomes heterodox; and what was unorthodox for the more primitive Judeo-Christianity, for example of the mother church of Jerusalem, namely, to consider Jesus a fully divine being, will become orthodox.

What is most interesting for the present essay is that Boyarin's work defends, at least implicitly but quite clearly, the thesis of Jewish binitarianism as the basis and the way of divinization of a human being, specifically Jesus of Nazareth. This divinization along the path of a Jewish binitarianism is not entirely clear in Paul of Tarsus, despite his remarkable reinterpretation of the Jesus of history as the heavenly Christ, but very clearly in the Fourth Gospel, as we have shown above: That prologue, which is quite Jewish, only acquires a marked character of Christian proclamation in verse 14: "And the Word became flesh and tabernacled among us."

The readers of this essay will ask about the divinization of Jesus, whether Boyarin deals in his work with the "rabbi" of Nazareth and Paul of Tarsus. Our author is not interested in them directly, because his book begins when "Christianity" already has a certain existence in the middle of the second century. When Jesus and Paul were alive, Christianity did not yet exist. Neither could Jesus be the founder of Christianity nor the apostle Paul, although it must be acknowledged that the first offers certain fundamentals and the latter brings to the future of this religion its main intellectual scaffold.

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