In this book, I’m going to tell a very different historical story, a story of a time...in which the question of the difference between Judaism and Christianity just didn’t exist as it does now (p. 1).
A Concise Overview: Not a Review
Boyarin’s book gets to the core of the historical relationship between “Jews” and “Christians,” and graciously challenges many of our false assumptions, anachronistic terms and understandings, biases and wrongheadedness, as well as the millennia-old habit of bearing false witness against one another. It’s a must read that must evoke a much awaited response! If not now, when?
In the introduction, we find a clarion call for “Jews” and “Christians” to stop vilifying one another! On the one hand, throughout the book, those who call themselves “Christians” will be compelled to acknowledge the Jewish heritage and essence of their faith. Many if not most of the ideas that Christians hold as distinctives are shown to have rich Jewish precedents. Perhaps to the surprise of many, this includes the notions of a divine and suffering Messiah, the incarnation, and even the unity and triunity of God. “Christians” will also be compelled to reckon with historical realities that dispel many myths about “Jews.” In fact, Boyarin contends that “Christians will no longer be able to claim that Jews willfully, as a body, rejected Jesus as God.” That’s because “many ancient Jews accepted Jesus as God, and they did so because their beliefs and expectations had led them there.” Most importantly, as Boyarin rightly emphasizes, the long, deep, painful, and bloody history of Christian anti-Judaism must come to an end! To this I am compelled to respond: May this be so in our lifetime and during our days, and within the entire Community of Yeshua-Followers, speedily and soon; and say, Amen!
On the other hand, throughout the book, those who call themselves “Jews” will be compelled to acknowledge their fellow “Christian Jews” (Boyarin’s term) as Jews, as was normative in the first century. “Jews” will also have to stop vilifying “Christian” ideas about God as “simply a collection of ‘un-Jewish,’ perhaps pagan, and in any case bizarre fantasies.”
"God in a human body indeed! Recognizing these ideas as deeply rooted in the ancient complex of Jewish religious ideas may not lead us Jews to accept them but should certainly help us realize that [these] Christian ideas are not alien to us; they are our own offspring and sometimes, perhaps, among the most ancient of all Israelite-Jewish ideas." (p. 7)
Most importantly, as Boyarin rightly emphasizes, when it comes to Jesus, “it won’t be possible any longer to think of some ethical religious teacher who was later promoted to divinity under the influence of alien Greek notions, with his so-called original message being distorted and lost; the idea of Jesus as divine-human Messiah goes back to the very beginning of the Christian movement, to Jesus himself, and even before that.” To this I am compelled to respond: May this be so in our lifetime and during our days, and within the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon; and say, Amen!
All who read this book with an open mind will learn much about the Messiah Son of God as Human King; the Son of Man as Divine Redeemer; How the Jews came to believe that Jesus was God; The importance of all the Jewish Literatures from the Hebrew Scriptures to the Talmud to our understanding of many “Christian” ideas, practices, and foundational texts (e.g., the Gospels); The fact that Jesus kept kosher and that most, if not all, of the ideas and practices of the Jesus movement of the first century and the beginning of the second century – and even later – can be safely understood as part of the ideas and practices that we understand to be the “Judaism” of this period; The Suffering Messiah as a midrash on Daniel; Isaiah’s “Suffering Servant” as Messiah in Jewish traditions; and just how Jewish the “New Testament” Scriptures, particularly the Gospels, really are.
No matter what disagreements “Jews” and “Christians” may have with Boyarin’s analyses or conclusions, a proper engagement of this book should inspire us to effect the historical reversal of the so-called “parting of the ways” in our lifetime and during our days.
– Henri Louis Goulet