Daniel Boyarin’s address last week ended with an opportunity for questions from the audience.
There were certainly many more questions wanting to be asked than there was time to ask. Boyarin’s presentation had stimulated a considerable energy that did not dissipate easily.
A questions and answer period is certainly the most difficult part of a presentation to record. Below is my best attempt to capture the conversation as it unfolded following Boyarin’s formal presentation.
Q - You suggest that the Jews long ago had a concept of a dual God. How does this idea fit with Exodus 20:3 -
you shall have no other gods before me.
A – I don’t think monotheism is threatened by the notion of a subordinate God. It is only after the impact of Aristotle that the idea of monotheism as being only absolutely one divine figure comes in. When it says don’t have any God’s beyond me, it means don’t have any that are more important than me.
Q – Is the missing verse that is Mark 7:16 present in the earliest Greek texts?
A – There is only one family of manuscripts in which verse 16 is not found. Scholars argue that this verse was brought in from other contexts; it was a scribal error. But I have not seen any compelling textual reasons for leaving it out.
Q – Where does the Holy Spirit fit in to the Gospel?
A – For the first three centuries of Christian tradition the focus was on the Father and the Son. It was only in the fourth century that Basil the Great insisted that the Holy Spirit is of equal dignity to the Father and the Son, generating the doctrine of the Trinity. But the insistence that God is not just a Father and Son/logos only comes in in the fourth century. The idea comes from the Gospel of Matthew when Jesus baptizes in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. But this verse does not imply that they are necessarily equal or the same.
Q – What do you think of Jesus’ encounter with the Syrophenician woman?
A – It is a remarkable story. Jesus is getting educated as to the full extent of his mission. There is no doubt in my mind that in Mark in particular there is a significant religious move towards inclusion of all people in the salvation story that is central to the meaning of the Gospel, in that way similar to Paul. I am saying, including everyone, for Mark’s Jesus does not involve abrogation of Torah but rather inviting everyone in to the Torah.
When I was teaching Protestant ministers at VST 10 years ago, I was asked, “What’s the difference between you and Jews for Jesus” I said the problem is not believing in Jesus. Its fine to believe in Jesus but you have to start keeping the Sabbath and eating kosher as well.
Q – You make a strong argument that Jesus rejected Pharisaism which is recognized as the direct antecedent of Rabbinic Judaism. But in the Gospels we still have a Jesus rejecting the Pharisees.
A – You can’t hae a problem with Jesus rejecting something that was only later going to be normative. It is not true that in the Mishnah that the Rabbis claimed Pharisaism as their direct antecedent. In fact there is a curse on the Pharisees in the Mishnaic tradition.
Q – But the Pharisees who represented the oral law which becomes normative. But here you have a teacher who is opposed to the articulation of an oral law.
A – That was the big battle in 1st century Judaism.
Q – But in other ways isn’t Jesus much more one of the Pharisees than any other group?
A – Yes Jesus believed in resurrection as did the Pharisees. But on the question of oral law Jesus is on the side of the priestly or Galilean tradition.
Q – What is the relation of the Book of Enoch to the Torah?
A. – One Enoch is part of the Bible in the Ethiopian Orthodox tradition. It circulated among the Jews as a collection of apocalyptic books accepted more or less by some Jews as holy books.
Q – What do you think of baptism?
A – Baptism was a common Jewish practice. There were groups of Jews called baptists because they baptized themselves every morning. John the Baptist was baptizing people before Jesus; the Qumran community baptized people regularly. This traditional practice was given a new meaning in the messianic end time as a once for all cleansing.
Q – Recently a scholar has written that in The Book of Revelation, when it speaks of Jews who are not Jews that they are a synagogue of Satan, it is referring to Paul. They are not Jews because they are not keeping Torah.
A – Revelation is a book of the New Testament that is on the side of James. It is an anachronism to talk of the Christian church in the first century. We have a lot of Jews fighting with each other.
Q – But Jews were persecuting Christians.
A – Were they? I just think you are wrong.
Q – For any of us trained in seminary a lot of what you are saying is tearing down some walls that have been erected. How have your books where you talk about Judaism and Christianity and their origins been received by the academic community?
A – Yesterday I saw a review in the New Republic. It said this book has good things in it and new things in it, what is good is not new and what is new is not good.
Some people love the work and some people hate it. What I cherish most is people who take it seriously and engage with the work and move forward.
My reading of Paul has more or less been completely rejected by most people including by me by now.
Q – The Jewish concept of Wisdom was an early presence in the New Testament and the idea eventually contested with logos and logos won out. Wisdom is sometimes affirmed as a feminine divinity.
A – There is no question in Greek and Hebrew Wisdom is a feminine form. In Proverbs 8 wisdom is portrayed as a lady who is with God from the very beginning. This is one of the factors that fed into the Jesus tradition in the Gospel of John. I prefer to see it as that tradition merging with the logos tradition and that the Wisdom tradition remains very much alive including the feminine aspect.
Q – How do Jews see themselves after they die because Christians have hope?
A – Pretty much the same as Christians – heaven hell, the whole bit. A lot of people tell me Jews don’t believe in hell; a lot of Jews don’t believe in God. Jewish literature certainly portrays hell. The correct generalization is that there doesn’t seem to be an idea of eternal damnation in Rabbinic Judaism. The understanding is more like purgatory where the soul is purified through suffering until eventually it is taken into heaven.
Q – About the vision of Peter in Acts.
A – This is about inclusion of all the peoples, of Gentiles being included into salvation. It has nothing to do with food.