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Jewish Scholarship on Paul

July 15, 2010

A few days ago someone asked me about Daniel Boyarin’s book, Borderlines. Boyarin and I exchanged some emails about a year or so ago after he kindly sent me a copy.  It’s articulate and an energetic discussion.  But I think his handling of the key questions is flawed (seriously) in the curious assumptions that he makes that frame his whole study.  Why, for example did he think that Logos-christology was the first, key development of a “divine christology”?  And how on earth did he come to think that serious tensions between Jewish Jesus-believers and other Jews really only erupted in the fourth century CE?  A blog site isn’t the place to go into details at sufficient length, but the work in my view is flawed.

Also, he was really working on questions different from those I’ve pursued.  He was after when and how “Judaism” and “Christianity” became fully and mutually exclusive entities.  This certainly involved a process, and not a single event, and it likely proceeded at a different pace in different locations over time.

My questions have been when and how Jesus-devotion (especially Jesus as in some sense bearing “divine” significance) appeared and manifested itself, and what historical relationship there might be to the Jewish religious matrix in which it first appeared.  I don’t agree that Boyarin has shown valid precedents or analogies in Jewish tradition, largely because he doesn’t really grasp the phenomena for which we require analogies/precedents.  Boyarin (bizarrely to my mind) minimizes the significance of worship and devotional practice, whereas to my mind the most crucial issue for ancient Jews, most cruciallly distinguishing them in their religious environment, and most sensitive in their own tradition was worship, specifically who/what you worship, from the Maccabean martyrs onward.

For another critical appraisal, see the interesting essay by Alan F. Segal, “Paul’s Religious Experience in the Eyes of Jewish Scholars,” in Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children:  Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity, ed. D. B. Capes, A. D. DeConick, H. K. Bond, T. A. Miller (Waco:  Baylor University Press, 2007), 321-43 (esp. 334-41 on Boyarin’s work).

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