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on March 18, 2012
Daniel Boyarin is one of the world's great scholars of Jewish Theology. In this book, Boyarin argues that the concept of the Trinity, which has always been considered the great original contribution of Christianity, is really derived from ideas that were common in Jewish thought before the time of Christ. He also demonstrates with great learning that the irreconcilable schism between Jews and Christians did not really come about until several hundred years after Christ. Boyarin demonstrates how there were Jews who believed in Jesus and Jews who didn't, but they were all part of the Jewish identity.

I imagine that this book is going to generate some very heated debate. It won't be popular with Jews who think of themselves as the first and longest standing monotheistic religion. And it is certain to make Christians uncomfortable, because he argues with great learning that the idea of a God who is both father and son is not original to Christianity.

I think that the conversation evoked by this book will be heated, but very interesting, indeed.
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on April 17, 2012
Daniel Boyarin has done a great service for the Body of Christ and especially for those who are involved in the study of the Jewish Roots of Christianity.

Over the past few decades it has become increasing clear that to understand more fully the New Testament writings we need to have a greater, more in-depth understanding of the conceptual and cultural world in which these texts were written...and this is primarily the world of Judaism.

Understanding the Jewish conceptual and cultural world in which Jesus, the disciples and writers of the New Testament lived and moved in has open up the richness of Scripture and given it greater clarity in innumerable ways.
One area that has now been greatly enriched by understanding the Jewish Background involves the Deity of Jesus.

Boyarin's work deftly demonstrates through the use of various streams of Jewish thought and literary works that the idea of a Divine Messiah was not foreign to Jewish thought and belief....and was even expected. He lays out the various beliefs about the Messiah down through the centuries before and during the time of Jesus using texts such as Daniel 7:13-14, the Similitudes of Enoch, First Ezra as well as insights from the Talmud and other rabbinic literature that may reflect earlier Jewish thought on this subject.

Boyarin view is that the seeds of the concept of a divine Messiah were present in Judaism before and during the time of Jesus. This is important for three reasons :
1. It explains how the first century disciples and followers of Jesus could believe that Jesus is God/deity. Boyarin's work demonstrates pretty well that such a belief and concept was NOT outside the scope of Jewish belief within the First century

2. It helps present day believer in Jesus, who also study the Jewish roots of the faith to see that there is no contradiction between Jewish Monotheism and belief in the deity of Jesus. This has become an increasing problem and a source of cognitive dissonance for some within the "Jewish Roots" movement and Messianic Judaism. "Would first century, observant Jews who hold that there is but one God also hold to a belief that the Man Jesus is also God? How does this fit with Jewish/rabbinic belief in monotheism?"

This has led some to deny the deity of Jesus while holding to his Messiah-ship as they are seeking to be faithful to their understanding of Judaism of the First Century and of the Bible. Hopefully Boyarin's book will help many to see that if they take into account that there are different and various views concerning the Messiah within early Jewish thought itself (and not just within the Talmud) then they will see that Jesus as a "divine messiah" is not a contradiction at all but rather is in harmony with different streams of Jewish thought in the First century Jewish World.

3. It locates Jesus divinity in his Identification of Himself as The Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14; This helps us to see that Jesus view of Himself was NOT shaped by later Christians borrowing these ideas from the Roman concept of Cesar as the divine son of god (or borrowing the concept from other pagan sources concerning a god-man)

This work is also important because it helps to clarify Paul's presentation of Jesus in his epistle's as a cosmic, transcendent Being. Boyarin's work does not directly or specifically focus on Paul or his portrayal of Jesus but it does help to give an understanding as to how Paul may have come to his view of Jesus. Paul's view of Jesus is the Jewish View of the Divine Messiah/Son of Man.

What I would like to have seen in the book is more development of some of Boyarin's ideas in detail. But what is written is enough to motivate myself and others to do further research on this fascinating subject by seeking out at my local theological library the numerous scholarly articles and books listed in his footnotes.

Another great aspect of the book is chapter three "Jesus kept kosher" . Here Boyarin demonstrates that Jesus, far from doing away with the laws of Kashrut was actually Kosher himself and was giving his halakha on a question concerning the rules of clean and unclean. I had read David Biven's synopsis of Yair Furstenberg's article (Defilement Penetrating the Body: A New Understanding of Contamination in Mark 7:15 in New Testament Studies #54, 2008) in a Jerusalem Perspective online article a few years ago and then later read the full article by Furstenberg himself. Boyarin does a great job of simplifying and clarifying what was really going on in Mark 7:1-15. I especially liked the distinction he makes between the categories of clean and unclean and permitted and prohibited -with Mark 7 being about clean and unclean and Kashrut being about what foods are permitted and not permitted (or prohibited for food) -an important distinction that has been missed by many Christian commentaries on Mark 7:1-15 , leading to a misinterpretation of the meaning of the entire passage.

Boyarin s not a Christian nor a Messianic believer in Jesus. The book is thus not an attempt to try and win Jews over to a belief in Jesus and his divinity. Boyarin stated goals early in the book (pages 6-7) are to change the vilifying dialogue between Jews and Christians that has gone on for centuires and to foster a better understanding of each other; and also to offer a challenge (and I would say critique) of liberal Christian scholars who see the idea of a divine, suffering Messiah as having been invented by the later Christians leaders who foisted these ideas upon the church. Boyarin again shows throughout the book that these ideas pre-date the time of Jesus and are found within Judaism itself.

The book is an easy read and one that I feel further advances the understanding of the Jewish Roots of Christianity. I thought the book important enough that I bought a copy for a friend of mine and plan to re-read it myself. This is a book I highly recommend.
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on March 29, 2012
This short but sweet book challenges the assumption that Jesus and his earliest Jewish followers had a theology which was completely at odds with the New Testament and orthodox "gentile" Christianity. Daniel Boyarin is a Jewish scholar looking at Christianity from a Jewish perspective. He is not a fundamentalist Christian trying to defend his faith. I would also recommend his other outstanding book, "A Radical Jew, Paul and the Politics of Identity". In this book, he clearly demonstrates that the core doctrines of orthodox Christianity such as the incarnation, the trinity, and the vicarious suffering of the messiah/redeemer were ideas which originated in Judaism and which were firmly rooted in the Jewish faith in the time of Jesus. These doctrines were neither Hellenistic ideas nor were they elements of pagan mystery religions which were foisted upon the Christian faith by the early Greek church fathers or the Romans.

This book challenges theories put forth by modern liberal Christian apologists who draw a distinction between a "good Jesus" and a "bad Christ". In other words, we can no longer see the historical figure of Jesus as merely an ethical sage who, under the influence of Hellenism, was promoted to a divine status. The conviction that Jesus was elevated to a divine status as the "Son of Man" goes back to Jesus' earliest Jewish followers and was probably planted in their minds by Jesus himself. The charges of blasphemy leveled against Jesus can only be the result of his identifying himself as the future Son of Man and using the term "I Am" as a self designation. I would add that according to Hegesippus, an early Palestinian Jewish Christian, James was charged with heresy for making the same claims about his brother, Jesus. As another Jewish scholar, Hugh Schonfield, wrote, Jesus didn't just read the prophets, he read himself into the prophets. Boyarin clearly demonstrates that the idea of a divine redeemer figure goes back to a much earlier strata of Judaism.

The author shows how Judaism in Jesus' day was more diverse than it is today. The idea of Yahweh being a second manifestation of the highest god was present in Israel long before Jesus and was the precursor for what later became the doctrine of the trinity. Rabbinic Judaism later condemned the idea of a dual godhead or two powers in heaven as a heresy. I highly recommend Margaret Barker's book, "The Great Angel" for anyone who wants to explore this further.

Many Jews in Jesus' day were expecting a saviour or messiah. To some, this redeemer figure would be an earthly Davidic king adopted as the Son of God. To others, the redeemer would be a divine preexistant heavenly being known as The Son of Man who would be given authority by the highest god "The Ancient of Days" to have dominion over the earth. Boyarin makes his case by citing the book of Daniel written in the second century BCE and the Similitudes of Enoch and Fourth Ezra which were independent Jewish writings contemporaneous with the gospel of Mark written in the first century CE. The only thing that distinuished the followers of Jesus among their fellow Jews was that they identified the redeemer figure as Jesus. With Jesus, the Davidic Messiah Son of God was merged with the divine Son of Man. These ideas came from apocalyptic Judaism, not Hellenism.

Using independent sources, Boyarin demonstrates that the two biblical figures identified with Jesus by his earliest followers, Daniel's Son of Man and the "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah 53, were originally interpreted as individual messianic/redeemer figures and not as allegories for the nation of Israel.

Boyarin states that there were divergences of Christology even among Jewish Christian groups. Some Jewsih Christians believed that Jesus was God's son by adoption. Others , known as the Nazarenes, believed in the tenets of the Nicene creed. To the Nazarenes, there never was a conflict between their high Christology and Judaism. They continued to worship in the synagogue and kept the sabbath and kosher food laws. Tragically they were rejected by both Rabbinic Judaism and a newly institutionalized Christendom. Ray Pritz's "Nazarene Jewish Christianity" goes into greater depth regarding the Nazarene Jewish Christians.

Boyarin focuses on the Gospel of Mark as the earliest gospel which portrays Jesus as a thoroughly Jewish messiah. Jesus never disputed the Torah itself but only the Pharisaic innovations to the Torah known as the "Oral Law". In some respects, Jesus was more of a purist than his Pharisaic counterparts.

This book effectively refutes the artificial wedge that has been placed between Jesus and his earliest followers and the New Testament. I would add that much of what has been published in regard to original Jewish Christianity versus "Pauline" or gentile Christianity is a bogus attempt to discredit the Christian faith. Don't throw out your New Testaments.
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on August 26, 2012
A conundrum that periodically puzzles me is how easily it seems that the Jewish followers of Jesus accepted "new" gods - or a "new" definition of God that postulated other divine beings sharing the glory of the One God.

Think about this - the conventional view of pre-Christian Judaism is that it was rigorously monotheist, and, yet, by the middle to end of the First Christian Century, we see the formula of "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" is being used as the baptismal formula in Matthew. I often think that it is strange that Jews - who only knew of one God - accepting two other divine characters without wondering where they came from and why God hadn't bothered to mention them previously.

Boyarin's answer is simple, straightforward and logical; the Jewish tradition included a germ or type of the incarnation and "trinitarianism" long before the First Century C.E., and, in a way, the answer is obvious to anyone who is familiar with the Bible.

Boyarin argues that there was a "binitarian" tradition in ancient Judaism that can be found in Daniel 7, notwithstanding the effort of the author to obscure its binitarian implications, which introduces the "Son of man" and the "Ancient of Days." Under Boyarin's guidance, it seems clear that Daniel 7 can be understood as introducing two divine beings, an older divine being who invests the younger with suzerainty over the world. Boyarin explains that there were several ways in which Israel's messiah was understood. One tradition was that the Messiah who was to be an heir of David who would institute a reign under which all nations would bow to Israel and Israel's God. This tradition - the very traditional contemporary understanding of "messiah" - was fused with that of Daniel, in which the person to whom all nations would bow was a divine being who had the form of a human being.

There was another tradition, moreover, in which a real human being became "exalted" to divine status. Boyarin points to the books of Enoch, which treat the mysterious biblical patriarch Enoch, who it was said was taken by God and was no more. Boyarin uses the books of Enoch, which are part of the Ethiopian canon, to good effect in showing that there was a Judaism that didn't hermetically seal off the spheres of humanity and the divine.

The conclusion of this slim and accessible book is that the Christian idea of the Incarnation and the Trinity was gestured at, or foreshadowed, or contained in germ form, in the Jewish writings and therefore were available for development as Jewish concepts within a Jewish framework. This conclusion answers my question; Jewish followers of Jesus accepted his incarnational and "Trinitarian" - perhaps only "binitarian" - claims because they were within the permissible options of orthodox First Century Judaism.

This insight neatly resolves other conundrums. For example, although there is tendency among most people to view the development of Christian theology from a "low Christology" to a "high Christology," there is the conundrum of the Kenosis Hymn of Philippians, which, as A Hymn of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11 in Recent Interpretation & in the Setting of Early Christian Worship documents in rigorous detail, is indisputably early, and is equally indisputably a "high Christology." A lot of scholars, such as Bart Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, seem eager to ignore or explain away the Kenosis Hymn because they think that the idea that Jesus was divine has to be a "myth" or post hoc belief that could only develop over an extended period. Yet, if Boyarin is right, then the idea of the incarnation was already a part of the intellectual background of the followers of Jesus, and, so, it is not surprising that a High Christology is an early development.

Boyarin's insight is consistent with that of other authors who agree that the idea of the Incarnation is not a pagan idea, no matter how many times mythicists, the History Channel or Bart Ehrman say it is. Oscar Skarsaune's excellent In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity also supports the argument that whereas pagans found the idea of a god becoming human "disgusting," Jewish Wisdom literature long carried a germ of an incarnational theology.

Boyarin also tackles the issue of whether Jesus kept kosher. This question is used as an opportunity to examine the issue Jesus' dialogue with the Pharisees about keeping purity regulations from the perspective of Jews which existed prior to the destruction of the Temple. More important, than the particular resolution of this issue, I think the real value of Boyarin's approach is that it illustrates how essential it is to read the New Testament as if it was written by Jews and for Jews, rather than as treating the New Testament as a kind of intentional rupture with Judaism.

In Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, Donald H. Akenson makes the point that the destruction of the Temple put an end to the wild diversity that existed in Israel. Boyarin's book indicates how wildly diverse Judaism could have been prior to the destruction of the Temple, in that it could have accommodated a Trinitarian and incarnational strain that would have been as Jewish as the rabbinical Judaism we are familiar with today.

This is a slim book. It really only tackles a few cases. I think it is worth reading as one brick in the wall of our knowledge. At this point, though, I am interested in N.T. Wright's writings, including , which I understand treat Christian themes as "mutations" which did not exist within Judaism.

I'd also point out that Boyarin's book is a challenge to Michael O. Wise's The First Messiah, who argues that the idea of "messiah" didn't exist until the late First Century B.C.E. Boyarin's book, in contrast, shows a development of several strains of idea of "messiah" over the Second and Third centuries B.C.E.
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on April 23, 2013
His descriptions of how the Jews interpreted scriptures to point to the coming messiah and the fact that the messiah they were waiting for very closely fits the Christians' understanding is very interesting. If you listen to Christians they will tell you the Jews were waiting for a kind of statesman leader type who would free them from the Romans and restore their earthly kingdom and prestige. But it wasn't like that. The Jews were waiting for a divine messiah who would suffer and die to save them. They were waiting for spiritual restoration. All this stuff that is said to be new with Christianity isn't. And as a new Christian who is Jewish by birth, that was very reassuring for me. The only complaint I have with this book is that the author does not believe the messiah is real. He thinks the early Christians saw and experienced what they did because they were expecting it and their expectations colored their experience. Because the Jews were expecting the Christ that is represented in the New Testament, he thinks the early Christians saw him based on that expectation. It is so condescending to all those people in the first century to basically say they were all hallucinating. That's what turned me off about this book, but if you can get past that, it's a most edifying book. Because basically Christianity is not a new religion, it's just the fulfillment and continuation of Judaism. And it's true the Christians already believe that. But the point of this book is that you can be a Jew and also understand that.
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on September 5, 2012
Just when you think you've got it all figured out, along comes Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic Culture and Rhetoric at the University of California.

You think Christianity's unique contribution to Judaism was the introduction of a god-man? Wrong. Could it be the idea of a suffering savior? Wrong again. Maybe that Jesus rejected Jewish dietary laws and Sabbath restrictions, freeing us from the Law? Hardly; Boyarin paints a very Jewish Jesus in his reading of the Gospels, certainly a Jesus who keeps kosher.

Christianity's one claim to fame may be the insistence that the Messiah had already arrived, but that's about the extent of its uniqueness. Otherwise, Christianity is a very Jewish offshoot of a Jewish religion. Boyarin draws from texts like the Book of Daniel and 1st Enoch to explain the title Son of Man (which, it turns out, is a much more exalted title than Son of God) and in turn to expose the expectation of many first-century Jews of just such a divine savior.

This is a fascinating, controversial book presenting a very different look at Jesus as one who defended Torah from wayward Judaic sects (the Pharisees), rather than vice versa. I don't think the arguments are fully developed yet, but certainly Boyarin introduces "reasonable doubt" against traditional scholarship. Let the arguing begin.
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on February 6, 2013
I love reading books that give me just a little novel insight into the mind of Jesus. "The Jewish Gospels," by Daniel Boyarin, is the latest. Boyarin, a Jewish scholar, argues that 1st century Judaism had a few strange and prominent threads that led directly to the world of Jesus and his disciples, and affected later Christianity in surprising ways. A reading of the book of Esdras, along with the book of Daniel, suggests a couple of things. More familiarly, Daniel gives us the figure of the Son of Man, a semi-divine figure expected at the end of days. But a close reading of Esdras amplifies the notion of the Son of Man, seeing him as a second divine figure, not a human being. This figure is younger than the Ancient of Days, an older, divine figure identified with YHWH. The younger Son of Man is given power and dominion over the Earth, and takes a throne alongside the older deity.

If this resonates with the Father-Son component of the Christian Trinity, that is precisely Boyarin's point.

Further, he goes on to argue that the Jewish Messiah was seen, at least by some, as a divine-human figure. And that this figure would take on the sins of the people. If this thesis is correct, it goes a long way to making the strangeness of Jesus's claims of messiahship and divine sonship less jarring. They fit right in with what some people thought the Messiah would be.

Boyarin's final chapters were the most interesting, from the point of view of one wanting to understand the world and mind of Jesus. Jesus, in Boyarin's view, was a religious conservative. He was defending a version of Judaism that had been temporized by groups like the Pharisees, who were adjusting the ancient texts. This conservatism is most commonly seen in Jesus's teaching on divorce. To his mind, the words of Genesis 2 ("for that reason, a man shall leave his home and cleave to his wife") were the original and unshakable understanding of God's stance toward marriage. It was the Pharisees who sought to make the teaching more lenient, allowing divorce.

Boyarin also gives a new reading to Jesus's supposed lack of interest in dietary laws. As Mark's gospel states, the Pharisees practiced the washing of hands before eating, something that the religiously conservative Jesus, and his disciples, choose not to to adopt. But behind this difference in customs lay a significant difference in the understanding of uncleanness. To Jesus, and to Torah conservatives, one was made unclean by what came out of the body -- blood, semen, discharge -- not what went into it. By washing their hands, the Pharisees were suggesting that it was also what went into one's body -- dirt, etc. -- that could make one unclean. Jesus took a conservative approach to the matter by rejecting the Pharisee's practice -- not because it was fussy, but because it was, in effect, unbiblical. Yet Jesus extended the Torah's approach (being made unclean by the products of one's body) by suggesting that one could be made unclean by the products of one's heart -- immorality, theft, murder, and the rest. Jesus rejected theological innovation, yet deepened the reach of the law in line with a conservative understanding of the Law.

I have to let the ideas of "The Jewish Gospel" sit with me for a while. But I was so impressed by its arguments that I took out my camera phone to snap images of certain pages. To those who are not afraid to imagine Jesus as a mainstream Jew of his time, albeit one whose ideas don't mesh well with ours, the book is a wonder. Boyarin has produced a thoughtful and well-argued claim for a Jesus who was fully part of his time and place. And yet, a Jesus who continues to challenge our own assumptions and practices.
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on June 6, 2012
The Forward

Jack Miles opens The Jewish Gospels by quoting an anonymous Conservative rabbi to the effect that Boyarin is "perhaps the greatest" Talmud scholar in the world. I would guess that this anonymous Conservative rabbi didn't read Boyarin's previous work: Borderlines. If he would have read that book he would have found that Boyarin's grasp of the Talmud leaves much to be desired.
A central pillar of Boyarin's thesis in the book "Borderlines" is the postulate that the religious leaders of Judaism cared only about the extent of their authority and that they were not motivated by a desire to preserve the teachings with which they were entrusted.
In order to substantiate this judgment against the religious leadership of Israel, Boyarin misrepresents the Talmud. In order to appreciate the magnitude of Boyarin's mistake we need to study some Talmud from the tractate Nidda which deals with the impurity spoken of in Leviticus 15:19-30. The Bible divides the ritual impurity of a menstruating woman into two distinct categories. In the one category (described in verses 19 thru 24), the woman needs to count 7 days from when she begins menstruating, including, of-course the days that she is menstruating, and at the end of the 7 day count -- she can purify herself (assuming that she stopped menstruating by then). In the second category (described in verses 25 thru 30), the procedure for purification is much stricter. The woman needs to wait until the flow of blood has completely ceased, and she then counts 7 clean days. Only after she has experienced 7 days without any flow of blood can she purify herself.
In the context of the first category of impurity, the Talmud comments that the Sadducee women cannot be counted as properly purified. This decision is based on the idea that the Sadducee women would begin counting the 7 days too soon, thus bringing their count to a premature conclusion. Their purification rite would then be performed after the fifth or sixth day as opposed to the Biblically mandated seventh day.
In a different context, the Talmud records a custom in which women from the rabbinic community took upon themselves to count 7 clean days regardless of which category of impurity they experienced and regardless of the degree of the flow of blood. The Talmud praises this custom which prevents confusion and inadvertent violation of Biblical law.
Boyarin claims that the custom of the Sadducee women (of beginning their count too soon) and the custom of the women from the rabbinic community are practically the same. In his words these two customs "produce precisely the same results" (Borderlines; Pg. 63). Boyarin sees no reason why the one custom (that of the Sadducee women) should be castigated and the other praised, instead he concludes that: "the issue is authority".
If Boyarin's reading of the Talmud would be accurate, this would represent an accusation not only against the redactors of the Talmud, but against all who have studied the Talmud since then. How could people revere a book that is so blatantly hypocritical? Boyarin's criticism would be directed at all who follow the custom of the women from the rabbinic community -- as do all Orthodox Jews from that time until today. How could these people follow a teaching that is so thoroughly corrupt?
But Boyarin's reading of the Talmud is so obviously flawed that it is hard to imagine any serious reader of the Talmud, even a novice, making such a terrible mistake. Boyarin has confused the two categories of impurity which form the heart of this tractate. In the case of the Sadducee women, they were counting the days of the menstruation as part of the 7 days. In that situation, it is important to determine the point in time from which it is appropriate to begin counting. If the counting begins too early, the entire purification process will be done on the wrong day. In sharp contrast, the women from the rabbinic community only began counting the 7 days after the menstruation had completely ceased. In this case, the purification process will never be performed too early. The two customs are as almost as far apart from each other as the Nicene creed is from the Shema.
For Boyarin to confuse these two concepts is inexcusable. For Miles to claim that Boyarin is a top Talmud scholar with such a glaring error on his record is an insult to the intended readership of "The Jewish Gospels".

Scriptural Gymnastics

In "The Jewish Gospels", Boyarin tries his hand at some Scriptural interpretation. He attempts to "prove" that the concept of a divine Messiah is present in the Jewish Scriptures long before Jesus was born.
According to Boyarin, when Jesus is called the "Son of Man", it refers to his alleged divinity (The Jewish Gospels, pg. 26). Boyarin bases this on his reading of Daniel 7:13 and 14 where one like the "Son of Man" comes with the clouds towards the Ancient of Days and is granted dominion and glory. Boyarin contends that this passage in Daniel is referring to a youthful god who will be worshiped by all of mankind. The obvious problem with Boyarin's rendition is that the Book of Daniel itself offers a different interpretation. According to the Book of Daniel (7:18,22,27), the one like the "son of man" is a symbol of the people of Israel who will dominate the earth as predicted by Isaiah (60:12).
Boyarin deals with this "weakness" in his interpretation by positing that this passage in the Book of Daniel was written by two different authors. Verses 13 and 14 were part of an ancient (Canaanite) tradition, while the rest of the chapter was written by an Israelite who sought to adhere to a purer monotheism (The Jewish Gospels, pg. 43).
The "solution" that Boyarin has proposed undermines his entire position. Did Jesus believe that the Book of Daniel was written by two authors? Did Jesus' Galilean audience study Bible-criticism in the liberal universities so that when Jesus quoted this passage they immediately "knew" that he was taking the side of the "Canaanite author" of verses 13 and 14? If we will apply the modern approach to the Jewish Scripture to the mind-set of first century Jews, we might as well attribute the variations in the four Gospels to the different texting habits of those listening to Jesus' sermons.
The entire basis of Boyarin's argument is riddled with errors. Boyarin claims that the term "son" (as in "Son of Man") is a reference to youth (The Jewish Gospels, pg. 33). But the term "son of" in the Aramaic language has nothing to do with youth. It is merely identifying the species of the entity described. In contrast with the first four figures, which are depicted as various beasts, the fifth figure is identified as a human. The term "son of" is no indication of the age of the figure it is merely an indication of his nature.
Boyarin quotes Emerton''s argument which posits that aside from God no one else is portrayed in the Jewish Scriptures as "riding on the clouds" (The Jewish Gospels, pg. 40). The conclusion Boyarin attempts to arrive at is that the "son of man", who rides on the clouds in Daniel 7:13, must be divine. The obvious problem with this argument is that the son of man is not riding on the clouds in Daniel''s vision; he is coming with the clouds (not on the clouds). The association with the clouds is a metaphor that the Scriptures use to speak of armies of Gentile kings (Jeremiah 4:13; Ezekiel 38:9,16), hardly "divine beings".
Furthermore, the entire content of the passage indicates that this figure represents, not a man, but a nation. The figure like the son of man is preceded by four beasts, each representing a different nation. The obvious follow-up would have a fifth nation arriving on to the scene. Why would the prophet switch his focus from national entities to a single individual without any textual indication that this shift in focus is taking place? The parallel passage (Daniel 2:31-45) also presents a vision about five kingdoms (note the wording on verse 44, with the emphasis on "kingdom", "nation" and the female pronoun "she" -- all obviously referring to a nation and not to an individual). There is no reason to see these two verses as standing apart from the rest of the flow of the chapter and apart from the rest of the book.
As if this weren't incredible enough, Boyarin takes his argument one step further. In his analysis of Isaiah 53 Boyarin takes the position that the suffering of the servant described in Isaiah is parallel to the suffering of the "saintly exalted ones" described in Daniel 7:25 (The Jewish Gospels, pg. 144). At first this would seem to undercut his entire hypothesis which attempts to posit that the Isaiah servant is the individual Messiah and not the nation, while Daniel clearly refers to the suffering of the nation. Boyarin postulates that the passage in Daniel was read as a reference to an individual despite the plural terminology that the prophet uses. This faulty argument in and of itself is enough to discredit Boyarin's position, but there is more to it. The prophet actually describes the suffering as an attempt by the enemies of the holy exalted ones to "alter the seasons and the law" -- a fitting description of the religious persecution of the Jewish people which attempted to abolish observance of the appointed holy days. These metaphors can in no way be read as a description of Jesus' suffering. Boyarin does not bother to explain how the details of Daniel's prophecy harmonize with his interpretation.
Boyarin's Gospels
Of all of the ancient texts that Boyarin deals with in his book, it is the Christian Scripture that he treats with the most respect. He doesn't attribute malicious motives to its authors as he does to the authors of the Talmud, and in contrast to his analysis of the Jewish Bible, he doesn't find any evidence for conflict in the editing process of the gospels. Still and all, his approach to this text is no less frivolous than his approach to the texts revered by the Jewish people.
Boyarin presents us with an analysis of the hand-washing incident described in the seventh chapter of the book of Mark (The Jewish Gospels, pgs. 106-127). Boyarin concludes that, contrary to popular Christian opinion, this incident does not teach that Jesus abolished the dietary laws altogether. Rather, Jesus was opposed to the specific rabbinical enactment of hand-washing, which stands apart from the general dietary laws.
I find myself in agreement with Boyarin on this point. Reading the book of Mark with an understanding of Jewish law one recognizes that there is a distinction between the purity laws, which Jesus was contesting, and the general dietary laws, which Jesus does not mention. Boyarin however does not stop there. Boyarin goes on to argue that Jesus stood against all Pharisaic innovations and additions to the Law. This position is not supported by the Christian Scriptures, the only source we have for Jesus and his teachings.
Boyarin has ignored a significant piece of evidence in this discussion. The Talmud records that there was an inner-Pharisaic conflict concerning the hand-washing enactment, and that this conflict was still unresolved in the generation of Jesus (Shabbat 14b). In other words by taking a stance against the hand-washing enactment, Jesus is not standing outside of the Pharisaic community. Instead he was taking part in an inter-Pharisaic debate.
This is corroborated by Jesus' teaching as recorded by Matthew: "the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you." (23:2,3). Although Jesus goes on to malign the Pharisees for hypocritical behavior, but he does not take issue with their authority or their interpretation of the Law. In fact some of the laws he mentions and upholds in his subsequent diatribe (such as the tithing of spices) are of rabbinic origin.
Jesus is described as observing the Passover Seder according to rabbinic tradition (Luke 22:18-20). When Jesus is accused of breaking the Sabbath law, an accusation that only makes sense according to the Pharisaic understanding of the Law, he never exonerates himself by arguing against the Pharisaic definition of the Law. Jesus' defense always assumes that the Pharisaic definition of the Law is correct, it is only the application of the Law in those particular instances (i.e. for the purpose of healing) that Jesus takes issue with.
Many of Jesus' followers considered themselves Pharisees long after Jesus had died (Acts 15:5). These people were prominent figures in the community of Jesus followers and their opinion was taken seriously. A comparison between the debate described in Acts 15 and Paul''s dispute with Peter recorded in Galatians 2:14 shows that Peter, the prime disciple of Jesus, was of the "Pharisee party". Paul accuses Peter of "compelling the Gentiles to live as do the Jews". This was the opinion of the Pharisaic segment of the early Christian community as recorded in Acts 15 and Paul attributes this outlook to Peter. A straightforward reading gives us to understand that Peter himself belonged to this group.
If, as Boyarin claims, Jesus took a clear stance against the Pharisee approach to the Law, why would his followers accept this very approach that he discredited? It is clear that Jesus did not reject the Pharisee approach to the Law as a whole it was only certain details of the Pharisaic application, details that were being disputed within the Pharisee community itself, that Jesus was rejecting.
In the book of Mark (7:8-13) we do indeed find Jesus striking out at the general concept of the traditions. He rebukes the "Pharisees and all the Jews" (Mark 7:3) for using the traditions to make the Law of God null and void. However, the example that Jesus uses to demonstrate how the Jews were using the traditions to nullify the Law of God, is perplexing. Mark's Jesus accuses the Jews of using the law of taking vows as a method of avoiding honoring their parents. The technical aspects of this accusation are confusing enough (the laws of taking vows are Biblical in nature (Numbers 30:3) and not a part of the traditions as Mark's Jesus seems to believe). But what is really difficult to understand is that in all of the rabbinic writings, there is not one statement that can be taken as an encouragement to avoid honoring one's parents. The consistent position of Pharisaic Judaism, according to every historical record, places the honor of parents on the highest pedestal. In sharp contrast, the Gospels leave us with several statements that seem to go against the spirit of the Fifth Commandment (Matthew 10:37; 12:48; 19:29; Mark 3:33; Luke 14:26). The targets of Jesus' invective left us a literature that is far more extensive than the 4 books of the Gospels, yet nothing equivalent is to be found in their writings.
This would lead us to one of two conclusion; either the group that Jesus was castigating was a fringe sect that never left their mark on mainstream Judaism, or we can conclude that the redactors of the Gospels put this anti-Pharisaic tirade into their book long after Jesus died and were not familiar with the ways of the Jews. Either way, Boyarin's conclusion that Jesus was anti-Pharisaic cannot be substantiated from this enigmatic passage, especially in light of the totality of the available evidence.

Straw in the Water

It is hard to see any positive contribution to the pool of human knowledge emerge from a book so riddled with errors. The author's approach to the ancient texts is so frivolous and irresponsible that it is hard to take anything he says seriously.
The Messianic community seems to sharply disagree with my analysis of "The Jewish Gospels", hailing it as a brilliant contribution to the study of the origins of Christianity. I cannot imagine that these Messianic Jews failed to notice that Boyarin believes that the authors of the Jewish Bible picked up their ideas about God from the ancient Canaanite culture. These Messianics must have realized that Boyarin does not hesitate to slice up a chapter in the Bible and attribute different verses to authors who subscribed to two conflicting theologies. These "methods" of Scriptural interpretation would never be accepted by this Bible-believing community had the conclusions not concurred with their agenda.
The fact that the Messianic community grasps so excitedly at this straw extended to them by the liberal academic society could mean only one thing. They have found nothing else to grab hold of.

This review was prepared by Rabbi Yisroel Blumenthal
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on April 5, 2014
The Jewish Gospels seeks to bring again the commonality of first century Judaism (which wasn't called that yet) together with the tenents of early Christianity. In that Boyarin succeeds very well. Christianity wasn't birthed in a vacuum and neither did it borrow from pagan myths as the new atheists would have people believe. The Jewish believers in Jesus as their long awaited Messiah were well within the bounds of what we think of as the "Judaism" of their day. Christianity was a natural extension of the Messianic expectations within the Jewish communities of the first century, as well as before that even, and Boyarin gives concrete evidence which illuminates his claims. I wish he'd gone even further and expounded on the numerous verses from the First Testament which further establish the truth of the matter. His focus lies in Daniel 7:13-14 concerning the "Son of Man" and rightly so as that is the clearest portrait of the divine Messiah and it's the one which is the most hotly contested today. Boyarin does a fine job of laying out the Messianic ideologies as found in the writings of the Rabbi's together with extra-Biblical narratives in circulation within the Jewish communities both before and during the time of Christ.

Seeing as Boyarin is a Talmudic scholar and religious historian and "not yet" a believer in Messiah, I'll allow him a more liberal interpretation of the New Testament claims. :>) All things considered, his honesty is commendable and his respect is evident throughout the book. His research leads him to conclude that Jesus as the divine "Son of Man" certainly fits the Messianic expectations of the Jews of His day.

Boyarin is a pleasure to read--weighty enough to be very interesting without being overbearing or tedious. His approach is scholarly and diplomatic and he gives no place for stirring up animosity between the two differing belief systems of our modern era. In fact, I think he inadvertently (?) built a much needed bridge on which we can meet again! Kudos for that!

I'm happily recommending this book to non-believing Jew and Christian alike. In fact, it would be wonderful if atheists would also read it! While I previously understood the Jewish roots of what became known as Christianity, and of Messiah as outlined in First Testament Scripture, I hadn't yet found many of the gems hidden in various other places that further illuminates that fact. Boyarin shows we once had much more in common than most of us have been led to believe.

The book actually bolstered my faith and I pray it's a blessing to many others as well!
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on August 30, 2013
"'Daniel Boyarin,' a prominent conservative rabbi, confided in me not long ago, `is one of the two or three greatest rabbinic scholars in the world,' and--dropping his voice a notch--`possibly even the greatest.' The observation was given in confidence because, quite clearly, it troubled the rabbi. . . . As a Christian, let me confide that his views can equally be troubling for Christians who appreciate the equally grounded originality of his reading of our New Testament.' So begins the fourteen-page Foreword by Jack Miles.

The "prominent conservative rabbi," in four chapters, cogently argues his case for an incipient binitarianism in the Hebrew Scriptures and certain pieces of Inter-testamental literature. More surprising is his thesis that the title Son of God, particularly in the Gospel of Mark, is more associated with the humanity of the Christ, and Son of Man His deity (pp. 26, 31-31). Boyarin writes, "Jesus, when he came, came in a form that many, many Jews were expecting: a second divine figure incarnated in a human. The question was not `Is a divine Messiah coming?' but only `Is this carpenter from Nazareth the One we are expecting?'" For Boyarin, all four Gospels are essentially Jewish, even that of the Third Gospel.

The book is well documented with a useful general index. It also has in my estimation the best explanation of the `parting of the way' (Jews and Christians), whose origins are traced to the Councils of Nicaea and Constantinople (AD 318 and 381, respectively).

But Boyarin's best contribution in this little book is his bold focus on Christology in such a way as to leave both Jews and Christians in his debt. As the title suggests, the author limits his investigation to the canonical Gospels within the context of pre- and Second Temple discourse. One wonders the kind of contribution the author would make if his purview was the entire NT and/the Hebrew Bible (HB). For example, it appears that the HB and the NT employ the concept of sonship in the following ways: 1) Adam (Luke 3); angels (Job 1-2, 38); godly line of Seth? (Gen 6); Israel (Hosea 11); Davidic monarchy (Psa 2); and Christians (Rom 8).

The Sonship of Christ is unique and is used to designate His Messianic humanity (Mark 1), royalty (Acts 4), and deity (Hebrews 1). One would also wish to see how the author would treat intriguing texts like Prov 30:4b (". . . what's His name, what's His son's name?"), Eccl 12:1 ("Remember your Creators . . ."; literal translation), and the Elohim of Genesis 1, along with the plural pronouns.
With these wishes aside, I rest my case.
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