Professor Peter Schäfer’s nose is out of joint.
Dr. Schäfer is the Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton University. He has been reading Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels. His reading seems to have left the professor feeling “irritated and sad”.
In his recent review article titled “The Jew Who Would Be God”, at The New Republic http://www.tnr.com/article/103373/books-and-arts/magazine/jewish-gospels-christ-boyarin, Schäfer goes to some lengths to articulate his antagonism to Boyarin’s book.
He offers a curious argument.
I am completely unqualified to judge the merits of Schäfer and Boyarin’s disagreement over the esoteric ancient manuscripts they sight in support of their arguments. But, it is curious that Schäfer finds Boyarin to be “wildly speculative and highly idiosyncrtaic.” As far as I can tell, from having read Schäfer’s review and Boyarin’s book, the two scholars seem to agree in most of their conclusions.
Schäfer sounds as if he is summing up the thesis of Professor Boyarin’s book when he states,
Second Temple Judaism offers a much more complex and multifaceted fabric of ideas and thoughts than many Christians and Jews today are prepared to acknowledge.
There can be no doubt that the Christianity that was emerging as one Jewish faction among others was part and parcel of this process, struggling to define itself within a highly complex power game of competing groups of thought….
we need to stay away from the dogmatic notion of two firmly established religions, the one defined by its ultimate triumph over Judaism after it became the religion of the Christian state—with all its horrible consequences for the Jews—and the other defined by the victory of the rabbis over their enemies from within and from without. In doing so, we will discover that there is no single line or single point in the first centuries of the Christian era that distinguished Judaism and Christianity once and forever. There are several lines and several points.
I am sure, both men would agree with Schäfer’s contention that,
Some clear-cut and neat distinctions between Judaism and Christianity are being destroyed by contemporary research into the New Testament and rabbinic Judaism.
So what is Schäfer’s problem with Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels?
Schäfer’s review of Boyarin’s book is 4,110 words long. Of those 4,000 plus words, 1,250 deal with chapter one of The Jewish Gospels where Boyarin offers his exegesis of Daniel Chapter Seven. Shafer is convinced that Boyarin’s interpretation will leave “the informed reader puzzled.”
I suppose we are to assume that Professor Schäfer is hoping to protect the rest of us who are less “informed” from the danger of falling prey to Boyarin’s seduction. But the ill-informed reader might be forgiven for finding Schäfer’s exegesis of Daniel 7 at least as puzzling as Boyarin’s.
Schäfer’s problem with Boyain’s reading of Daniel 7 rests on Boyarin’s assumption that there are only two thrones in Daniel 7:9. Boyarin uses this assumption to suggest that the “one like a human being” who comes in Daniel 7:12 with “the clouds of heaven”, is a second divine figure divine figure with whom Jesus will come to identify himself. But, the possibility of more than two thrones, does not negate Boyarin’s point that there may be a plurality of divine beings in Daniel’s heavenly vision.
The really curious thing in Schäfer’s argument is that, while rejecting Boyarin’s suggestion of a divine Messiah figure in Daniel, he goes on himself to suggest that “the Son of Man is the archangel Michael”. This is at least as “puzzling” as anything Boyarin suggests. In fact, the puzzle may not lie so much with either Boyarin or Schäfer as with the author of Daniel himself. The text is obscure and difficult. But, Boyarin’s suggestion that the text may allow for the possibility of some plurality in the ancient Jewish vision of God, does not seem at all an outrageous stretch of the text.
Regardless of Schäfer’s problems with the minutiae of Boyarin’s exegesis, it is hard to deny that Boyarin has helped generate an important discussion in popular Christian circles that has the potential to diminish the barriers that have long separated Jew and Christian. It is difficult to see how this could be a bad thing.
nb: anyone living in the Victoria area is welcome to attend a gathering this evening starting at 7:00 p.m. at St. Philip Anglican Church, 2928 Eastdowne Rd. where Old Testament scholar Dr. William Morrow and New Testament scholar Dr. Daniel Fraikin will host a discussion on Boyarin’s ideas.