There are few books that really challenge my thinking anymore. The Jewish Gospels by Daniel Boyarin is one. And I mean challenge in a good sense. Boyarin is Professor of Talmud at the UC, Berkeley. In the Intro, Jack Miles calls him “one of two or three greatest rabbinic scholars in the world.” Boyarin thinks Judaism and Christianity are compatible, and his goal is to help Christians and Jews to stop vilifying each other. He doesn’t follow Jesus and isn’t asking fellow Jews to do so, but he demolishes the idea that Christian devotion to Jesus is contradictory to Judaism or that Christianity is anything other than a Judaism to which mostly non-Jews have been drawn. Jews in the time of Jesus were looking, he says, for a divine messiah, and Jesus’ earliest followers were kosher Jews. The sad separation and enmity of Judaism and Christianity is something to get beyond, not something to perpetuate.
Among the themes of the book are some truly startling claims which turn on its head the idea that Judaism and Christianity are separate and incompatible ideas about God and faith. Consider the following 12 theses that he advances:
1. Jews in the time of Jesus were expecting a divine-man Messiah figure.
2. Many Jews already believed in something very much like what Christians call the Son and Father.
3. Some accepted Jesus as divine-man and some did not; both groups were Jews; one of these groups we now call Christianity and the other Judaism.
4. It is not just that Jesus is a Jew, but Christ, the exalted and divine figure, is also a Jew.
5. The doctrinal police represented by some rabbis and church fathers are the ones who sought to make Judaism and Christianity incompatible (he gives the specific example of Jerome who rejected people with orthodox faith who wished to remain Jews, saying they had to renounce Jewishness to be true Christians).
6. Early Messianic Jews (Christian Jews) called Nazarenes must have been a sizable group even in the fourth century.
7. “Son of God” originally meant the human Davidic ruler; “Son of Man” originally was a divine figure equal with God though submitted to him.
8. The Similitudes of Enoch (part of 1 Enoch) give the lie to the notion that Judaism rejected a divine redeemer who is a God-man.
9. Yeshua and his early followers were kosher (he documents how Mark 7 and the “all foods clean” passage have been misunderstood).
10. There was a history of faith in a suffering Messiah (Isaiah 53 style) before Jesus and the usual debate about whether Isaiah 53 concerns Israel or Messiah is a moot argument.
11. The liberal Christian notion that the church developed the suffering Messiah idea by misinterpreting the Hebrew Bible is false.
12. The Gospels are a conservative return to an earlier idea of a Second Divine Figure, who represents the Immanent Aspect of God.
More to come - tomorrow, or when I finish the book!