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Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture) Paperback – November 1, 1999
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"Daniel Boyarin has done it again. With this book . . . he has again provoked, challenged, and enlightened us. With his usual clear, crisp, and sometimes sharp-edged writing, with his consistently critical engagement of ancient primary and modern and postmodern secondary interpretive texts and theories, Boyarin has forced us to think again and in some respects in radically different ways and on radically different terms about. . .the 'making' of Christianity and Judiasm." (Journal of the American Academy of Religion)
"This is a rich, stimulating and compelling work. Boyarin's writing is complex and full fo irony and humor. . . . It is fascinating and, like a good drama, draws the reader in as if to solve a mystery. . . . Even those how are not in the field of ancient Judiasm . . . will find much of interest in this book." (Hebrew Studies)
"Boyarin's exciting book has shown us that the parting of the ways between Christianity and Judaism never really occurred, at least not in the way scholars have imagined." (History of Religions)
"This volume highlights new developments in understanding Christian and Jewish origins. It is intended to be the beginning of a new investigation of the religious histories of rabbinic Jews and Christians in late antiquity. It is, according to Boyarin, to be read more as a series of hypotheses than as a series of conclusions. Nevertheless it is a very exciting publication. . . . I find the central thesis compelling, even astonishing, but quite exhilirating. We are much indebted to someone who has the vision to see the past in ways most of us never fully envisaged." (Journal of Beliefs & Values)
"Boyarin tells this story with grace and impressive erudition. Previously unnoticed connections are established that shed rich light on the developments under study. Boyarin has placed the separation of Judaism and Christianity into the historical context of real people attempting to understand themselves and one another, and the once-familiar story will never again look the same. He is to be congratulated for a valuable contribution." (The Jewish Quarterly Review)
" . . . [This] book is especially worthwhile for anyone interested in the evolution of Christian and Jewish self-understanding in Late Antiquity." (Religious Studies Review)
From the Inside Flap
In this book, the author develops a revised understanding of the interactions between nascent Christianity and nascent Judaism in late antiquity, interpreting the two “new” religions as intensely and complexly intertwined throughout this period. Although the “officials” of the eventual winners in both communities—the Rabbis in Judaism and the orthodox leaders in Christianity—sought to deny it, until the end of late antiquity many people remained both Christians and Jews. This resulted, among other things, in much shared religious innovation that affected the respective orthodoxies as well.
Dying for God aims to establish this model as a realistic one through close and comparative readings of contemporary Christian texts and Talmudic narratives that thematize the connections and differences between Christians and Jews as these emerged around the issue of martyrdom. The author argues that, in the end, the developing discourse of martyrology involved the circulation and exchange of cultural and religious innovations between the two communities as they moved toward sharper self-definition.
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some issues in the kindle edition with the end-notes.
I found Boyarin's historical/cultural analysis less convincing, at least in part because his goal seems to shift. At some points in the book, he seems to be saying only that nascent Judaism and nascent Christianity were not always in utter opposition to each other, did not always view the other as "heresy," and that in fact they were often quite in sympathy, as they worshipped the same God and refused the hegemony of the pagan Roman state. There may have been (and likely were) "sects" that borrowed from both religions but which both religions would (in their "final" orthodox form) disavow. (As acknowledged in a footnote, the historical evidence for this "middle ground" is barely touched on in this volume, however. (202, n.89)) I have no quarrel with this conclusion, and indeed it is amply demonstrated throughout the book.
At times, however, Boyarin seems to want to go farther, suggesting that through the third (or, at times, even the fourth) century, Judaism and Christianity "were not yet at all clearly differentiated from each other." (17) This does not seem consistent with the fact that he cites texts from the third and even the second century as being peculiarly Christian or peculiarly Jewish, nor with his insistence that while something called "Christianity" was persecuted by the Romans, something called "Judaism" was not (although certain of its practices were forbidden). If Boyarin's point is simply that boundaries between cultural groups are fuzzy, that seems to me to be almost a truism. There are Jews for Jesus today, but that does not mean that Judaism and Christianity are not clearly differentiated.
This is a scholarly work intended for scholars, although it can be read and appreciated by a reasonably well-educated non-scholar with some basic knowledge of late antiquity, early Christianity and early Judaism (like me). Half of the book is endnotes and bibliography, which can be a terrible distraction from the main text (particularly on the many pages with 5 or 6 footnotes). Although I was not persuaded by all of his arguments, Boyarin writes well and clearly and lays out the evidence for the reader to evaluate for himself. Although this is not a history of martyrdom (or even a history of how Christianity and Judaism used their discussions of martyrdom to differentiate themselves), it will be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about this early, formative period of two of the great modern religions.