Tuesday June 5, 2012 – Dr. William Morrow and Dr. Daniel Fraikin discuss Dr. Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels: The Story of the Jewish Christ at St. Philip Oak Bay.
It is important to recognize Boyarin’s book has a context. There has been interest among Jewish scholar about Jesus for some time, sparking interesting and important books.
What is going on?
We are seeing the fruit of a conversation between Christians and Jews that has been going on since the Second World War attempting to deal with the antaognism between Christians and Jews.
Boyarin’s book asks is it possible for Jews and Christians to regard each other with other than suspicious eyes where we view each other as fraudulent faiths that have taken a Bible that properly belongs to the other.
We have to account for the fact that the story of he church’s relationship with Judaism has been tainted with persecution and hostility. Is there another way forward to talk about Jesus and his Jewish background without falling into the trap of setting up Jews as some kind of anti-Jesus group characterized by narrow minded legalistic hostility to the truth.
When we find a book like Boyarin’s we are plunged into a debate that is not just academic but has to do with real people living n the real world.
Boyarin addresses three main topics:
1. Son of Man imagery
2. Jesus and food laws – He portrays Jesus as a conservative defending one version of purity thinking
I found Boyarin’s thinking on purity thinking puzzling. Mark 7 does not tell the whole story. Boyarin represented Jesus as defending an older view that it was possible to eat food without contacting ritual purity. There are indications even in the OT that food can communicate impurity.
As we go through the Gospel we notice Jesus sometimes seems to observe purity rules but at other times he seems to ignore them or consider them of little importance. Jesus will touch a corpse; he is not offended when someone suffering a discharge touches him.
Rabbinic Judaism struggles with what will be the Torah in the messianic era. There is some rabbinic opinion that when the Messiah comes a new Torah will be given, with new laws and the abrogation of some old laws.
what do we think of Jesus’ willingness to redefine Torah sometimes in concert with Jewish practice and sometimes in contradiction of it.
3. The way Judaism allows for belief in a Messiah who could suffer and die on a cross.
Dr. Daniel Fraikin
I was intrigued by this book. His understanding of the Son of Man is not entirely original but is well pleaded for.
The Son of Man feature is one of the most difficult features of the NT. The expression makes no sense in Greek, Hebrew, or possibly even in Aramaic.
This expression is only ever used by Jesus. The expression does not become famous in Christianity. Paul does not talk about the Son of Man. It disappears. There is a new book about it every two years but there is still no agreement on how it is to be understood.
There are three options usually offered:
1. The Son of Man in Aramaic means and Jesus used it to avoid saying “I”. The problem with this is that Jesus does use “I”.
2. It is suggested that the expression Son of Man is taken from book of Daniel chapter 7. But many scholars think it is not credible that Jesus would have used this expression of himself because it is an eschatological expression. It is therefore thought that the early church put this expression into the mouth of Jesus. But the fact is that early Christians were not interested in the term, so it seems unlikely they would put it in Jesus’ mouth.
3. The most credible thing is that Jesus used the expression. The difficult is in understanding why.
Boyarin argues it comes from the Book of Daniel. The phrase from Daniel “someone like a son of man” became popular and became “the” Son of Man which started a story of divine being. So, Boyarin suggests Jews at the time of Jesus had developed this idea that there is a second God in God. As in Canaan you had the primary God and a secondary God. There is in Judaism YHWH and the secondary God who does the work of YHWH. This merges with the Messiah idea. Those two things are so well established in Judaism that when Jesus used the expression, people were not so surprised. This is not an initiative of Christians or even of Jesus to invent a new story. This Son of Man story was already there for Jesus to pick up. What is unusual for Jesus is to use this expression of himself, applying it to his own person. This is the improbable part.
Anyone who was part of Judaism would say sure, fine, he identifies himself as the Son of Man and that explains why it appears in the Gospels. It was replaced later by the expression Son of God an expression better known in antiquity.
The issue for Jews and Christians is what about that claim. Jesus claims a position in the scheme of things which is well known but he claims that he is it. The parting of the ways between Jews and Christians is how we respond to that claim.
Boyarin drives us to focus again on the claim Jesus made. Do we accept it?
How can this man claim to be the Son of Man and does it fit with the cross? Paul thought the cross was the main problem of accepting Jesus as Son of Man.
Boyarin is correct in placing the Son of Man in the picture so it could be picked up by Jesus.
In Mark when Jesus asks his disciples, who do people think the Son of Man is, the answer is he is the Messiah.
Q – When did the disciples start to think of Jesus as divine and human?
A – That dualism was not the first concern of Christians. The earliest Christians thought of Jesus as Messiah and were less worried about his divinity. They may well have thought of Jesus as Messiah anointed by God but not necessarily divine. Adoptionism was a common position initially but was eventually turned down by the church.
Q - The term “bar” is used only for an elevated title so one does not have to think it about it as divinity as compared to “ben” which does not have to be elevated. When thinking of ben Adam can’t you think of that as Son of the soil ie. a partriot? But looking at “bar” wouldn’t it only be a title of elevation without needing to include the concept of divinity?
We are mixing apples and oranges when we talk about Jesus as Son of Man. Where does it take any of this stuff when we take the Gospels figuratively?
A – “Ben” in Hebrew means “son of” (member of class or group). Ezekiel is addressed by God as Ben Adam a member of the human race.
“Bar” is Aramaic – the exact equivalent of “ben”. If we look at examples of the way in which “bar” is used to designate kinship relationships in the Gospels, “bar” does not always have the connotation of an exalted group. The distinction between “bar” and “ben” does not hold up.
The difference between thinking about Gospels literally and figuratively. Where are you going with that?
Q – The person of Jesus in Boyarin’s mind seems to be an actual person who walked upon the earth. If we accept this assumption, then we are led to one set of conclusions. But if we take these as figurative stories, Boyarin’s points may not have the importance they appear to be driven to by a literal Jesus.
The definitive article “the” is usually not there in the Greek Gospels in “the” Son of Man. It could just as well be this was “a” Son of Man.
A – In most cases it is “the” Son of Man. What would it mean to say “a” Son of Man is the Lord of the Sabbath?
You seem to be suggesting we should be viewing the Gospels as ideological literature. This is an important concern. The Gospel writers don’t speak with a single voice. They do have various agendas. At the end of the day, as some scholars argue, it is true that the Gospels are very highly charged ideologically. But we are still left with the problem that there is another group, Rabbinic Judaism, takes another ideological perspective. These two are at odds with each other.
Q – Why don’t we all become Jewish if Jesus was just following Torah? He was the authentic Torah-doer. So we shouldn’t eat sausages.
A – There is no reason to think that Jesus did not follow Torah like every other Jew of his time. But he did not follow oral Torah.
Boyarin’s approach is a little bit problematic and disingenuous. If you read his book, you end up with a picture of a clash between the Pharisees and the Jews in a Galilean context. Could we not see the Jesus group and the Pharisee group as different reformers in Judaism, clashing about how to reshape their religious heritage.
In the Second Temple period there was a question whether the Temple was necessary. The Dead Sea Scroll sect is living without any relationship to the Temple, although they dream of a day when there will be a third Temple, but until that day they have developed a form of life that does not require the sacrificial system.
Q – What would it take to reconcile Christiainty and Judaism?
A – Can we recognize Judaism is Messianic every bit as much as Christianity and respect their working out of their messianic commitments as much as Christians need to work out ours?
Q – Did we forget that God’s blessing through Abraham was for everyone?
A – There are pepole who are working on finding common ground through Abraham on the Abrahamic faiths. We are here with a paradox that is not easily resolved. One of the real virtues of Judaism in our society has always been to insist on the right to be different. Coming out of our European background we have always wanted a uniformity. But Jews have always claimed the right to be different and still be respected as contributing members of society. How do we respect difference? How do we allow for the fact that not everyone has to do things the same way? Even in Christianity we have a lot of problems with that. We tend to think the church should be a homogenized institution.
Can we hold on to sameness and difference at the same time?
Q – Standard teaching was that there was Judaism and Christianity which were together until after 50 years they just broke away. But, Boyarin is pointing out that they were much closer until Constantine.
Boyarin re-situates Jesus back into his Jewish context. So, we can find ideas like the Trinity in the Jewish binitarianism.
Boyarin was trained as a Talmudic scholar, to what extent is he reading his Talmudic expectations back into the Jewish NT texts so that everything looks like a Talmudic debate?
What are the implications for us who still call ourselves Christians? Do we have to start keeping kosher? or do we have to struggle with supersessionist theology?
A – The desire to make your position precise was represented by dogmatic theology volumes with everything in its proper place. I have the feeling this has collapsed now because people are aware of different approaches. Does this allow for greater acceptance of differences, I don’t know. Each religious group if you adopt the acceptance of diversity as a basic principle, you can still do it from your perspective. How do we rationalize something we know we need, accepting the other. I thought Paul was a good way to do that.
For Paul the church is the Body of Christ, but the whole world is the people of God. The church is those who are instrumental in propagating the deeds of Jesus.
Q – It seems we have held a belief that Judaism and Christianity came into the world as homogenous monolithic belief systems that, while there may have been small differences within those systems, were basically uniform. Boyarin is popularizing the awareness that this is not an entirely accurate picture. In fact there was always greater diversity within Judaism and Christianity than had been popularly understood. This is an important awareness to raise up for we who live in an increasingly pluralistic culture. But, how much diversity can we embrace in the interests of honouring the truth present in other faith traditions? Where do we draw the lines on the playing field?
A – This is the big question that never really gets dealt with in these discussions. And, of course I do not have the answer. But I am struck by the fact that, in the story of Jacob and Esau, after Jacob has cheated Esau out of their father’s blessing, Esau asks one of the most plaintive questions in the whole Bible. Esau asks Isaac, “Have you only one blessing father?” (Genesis 27:38) This is the question we need to be willing to ask as Jews, Christians and as Muslims.
Q – On the concept of differences – we are wired to think in terms of tribal differences. We now know that we tend to not want to think slow. We want to form quick opinions. Is the awareness that we need to think more slowly and to perceive differences beginning to infiltrate theological thinking?
A – Yes. Civilization is really quite recent. We have mostly lived in groups of no more than 200 and we are hard-wired to relate to and trust a small group of relationships. There is a tendency for any ideological group to present itself as being more homogenous than it actually is. Living with diversity is something Jews and Christians have to struggle with.
Our tribalistic tendencies and how to arrest those from becoming viral is a significant issue.
Q – Why can’t the Son of Man just be what Jesus said, which is just the product of man. He is grounding himself in that I am the product of man.
A – Look for Walter Wink The Human One.
Q – In discussions finding similarities between Jews and Christians, it seems to me there is a part that is missing – the Muslim people. Just looking at Judaism and Christianity leaves a big gap. There is so much we could learn by looking at all three together.
A - We should always include Islam. It is the simplest of all the traditional monotheistic religions. I am not surprised it attracts so many people. It is the responsibility of Islamic scholars to push the part of the Koran that encourages respect of other religions.
Q – In the introduction to Boyarin’s book, I found it fascinating to remember that Judaism is an ethnicity and Christianity is not. It is important to keep in mind the difference between a race and a faith.
A – Christianity and Judaism are not necessarily the same phonomenon. There are different ways of conceiving belongingness. Israel is a polyvalent term referring to a set of religious commitments, to an ethnic community, and to a political entity. Word Israel is not always used with all of those values equally attached to it. There are different ways of conceiving of belongingness. I would not claim that Christianity is always used without ethnic content. There are places in the world where it is very much used with ethnic identity.