Monday, February 24, 2014

Jews for Jesus for Jews

The Jewish Gospels puts forth the outrageous idea that Jesus and all of his followers were -- wait for it -- Jews!

Actually, it's not as simple as that, because the words "Christian" and "Jew" have very different meanings today than they did in antiquity.

In fact, Christians were Jews, albeit a specific kind. However, there have always been different kinds of Judaism; or, to put it conversely, there has never been one way to be Jewish.

Indeed, there are even atheist Jews, and not just secular ones -- just google atheist rabbi. I'm not sure how they manage that, but in practical terms, the majority of (ethnic) Jews can't be (religious) Jews, or they wouldn't support the Democratic Party. The majority of seriously religious Jews naturally tend to be conservative, and are aware of the fact that liberalism has become a substitute religion for their irreligious fellows. Which only violates the first two Commandments. Not to mention the the sixth through tenth.

In addition to liberalism, the other thing that unites secular Jews is their anti-Christian attitude. Given their traumatic history (albeit in Europe, not here), it frankly isn't difficult to understand this, for the same reason it isn't hard to understand why blacks would despise the party of slavery, Jim Crow and segregation, i.e., the Democrats. Oh, wait...

Actually, the cases aren't that dissimilar, for just as a minority of blacks understand that conservatives are their greatest friends, a minority of Jews understand that Christians are their most staunch and devoted allies. Conversely, virtually all of the wholesale anti-Semitism in the world comes from the international left (and from Islam, of course).

Thus, although Boyarin seems to think that his findings will be equally unsettling to Christian and Jew, relatively few Christians will be disturbed to learn they are even more Jewish than they had realized, whereas the only thing many secular Jews know about their religion is that it is not Christianity.

But the opposition between the two only occurred over time. Instead of being two types of Judaism -- i.e., bound by their commonality -- they eventually began to define themselves by their differences. It's analogous to a bunch of chess pieces initially defining themselves as pawns, knights, rooks, et al, but then deciding to define themselves as black or white. The pieces haven't changed, only the self-identification.

Me? I love the idea that what Christians consider unique about the Christian revelation actually has deep roots in Jewish scripture, most controversially, trinity and incarnation. I guess Jews are supposed to get all farklemt or farmisht about these commonalities, but it's right there in their scripture.

Boyarin goes straight to Daniel -- coincidentally (?) the last book of the OT in the Orthodox Study Bible -- where we read of (what else to call it?) two Gods, the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man. The latter is an odd designation, but it is precisely the one Jesus most often applies to himself.

Daniel 7:9 describes a second divine throne, and in 7:14 it speaks of how the Ancient of Days transfers to the Son of Man "dominion, honor, and the kingdom." "His authority is an everlasting authority" and "his kingdom shall not be destroyed."

So there's that interesting little item. I've also always been intrigued by Genesis, where God is quoted as saying "let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness"; and to those passages of Proverbs which speak of the eternal pre-existence of wisdom, e.g., 8:27-30, "When He prepared the heavens, I was there, When He drew a circle on the face of the deep.... I was beside him as a master craftsman."

For Boyarin, it is not possible to regard Jesus as some sort of aberration from the mainstream -- or at least one of the main streams -- of Judaism. For example, "many Israelites at the time of Jesus were expecting a Messiah who would be divine and come to earth in the form of a human." Thus, it is no longer possible "to think of some ethical religious teacher who was later promoted to divinity under the influence of alien Greek notions...."

During the first few centuries of "Christianity," there were many people who were unproblematically both "Jewish" and "Christian." However, they would have identified themselves as simply Jewish. That is, they continued to follow Jewish dietary law but also believed in Christ as son of God.

In point of fact, the definitive break didn't come until the fourth century, when Constantine called for the first ecumenical council in order to clarify just what Christianity is. Thus, oddly enough, you could say that the Council of Nicaea simultaneously created both Christians and Jews, for the Council emerged with "the establishment of a Christianity that was completely separated from Judaism."

But before this, "no one... had the authority to tell folks that they were not Jewish or Christian, and many had chosen to be both." Only afterwords were these Christian Jews or Jewish Christians "written right out of Christianity."

It reminds me a little bit of how I am the same liberal I've always been, except that the left has now written classical liberals out of their script(ure). If you're not a leftist, you're somehow illiberal.

Back to the Son of Man business. I've only just started the book, but again, Jesus most often refers to himself by this title, so what does it mean?

Interestingly, Boyarin suggests that we have things backwards -- that Son of Man is a divine title, whereas Son of God is a human one. To support this thesis, he points out that "Son of God" is all through the OT, referring to how earthly Kings such as David were ritually anointed with oil and became "sons of God."

But what could Son of Man refer to? I have always considered it to mean something like Mankind v2.0. In other words, if you believe that humans are descended from apes, you could in a sense say that human beings are Sons of Apes. Analogously, Jesus represents another evolutionary leap, making him the Son of Man.

Boyarin suggests something similar, as if Adam is indeed mankind v1.0 and Jesus is mankind The Sequel. But that's about as far as I've gotten in the book. I'm up to page 40, where Boyarin notes that the two divinities referenced above -- the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man -- "in the course of time, would end up being the first two persons of the Trinity."

So it seems that Christian theology may not be quite as meshuge as many Jews believe. And that those anti-Semitic liberal Christian denominations need to stop boycotting themselves, i.e., Israel.


Blogger Rick said...

This Son of God/Son of Man business. I bought this up a few years ago and a drive by commenter "Knight Templar" or something said there's nothing to it. This bothered me because Jesus Himself I believe uses both titles within about 5 sentences of each other in the NT if not the same paragraph. He's not one for casual non-precise language. At the time, and still do, I thought that He switches between titles depending from which "position" He is speaking from.
Example: I speak to my father from the position of son, and to my son from the position of father. To wife, from husband. 'cetera.

2/24/2014 10:28:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Me? I love the idea that what Christians consider unique about the Christian revelation actually has deep roots in Jewish scripture, most controversially, trinity and incarnation.

Yes, exactly. Growing up, I never really how Jewish Christ was. In fact, I don't think I really picked up on it until I had been a reader here for a while. For instance, the significance of Passover and the Last Supper; a connection with deep meaning and significance, which nobody ever explained in any detail beyond saying that it was Passover when they had the Last Supper.

In my experience, most of the portrayals of Christ are essentially "cleansed" of any Jewishness. Which is terrible, because it destroys so much of the depth and meaning, and without those I don't know that it is possible to properly gain any understanding of Who he is.

2/24/2014 10:36:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Bob, not to veer too far off topic but are you reading the Noble Savages book yet? I've not read it, but seen some bits and pieces. Very eye-opening. And part of why, though I think a lot of the Paleo advice is good advice, I still take it with a grain of salt. There is a strong tendency in civilized people to romanticize the "simple" lives of primitives.

2/24/2014 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

No, haven't started it yet. Working on the two Jewish selections first before traveling all the way back to ground zero.

2/24/2014 11:18:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Good point about paleos: if their moral advice is crazy, why assume their dietary advice isn't?

2/24/2014 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

Yeah. And considering how important bread and wine was to Christ and the Jews, I have a hard time believing either one is as terrible as the Paleos tend to think.

Somehow, I doubt that the full depth of Jewish history could have been expressed by a tribe of hunter-gatherers who never learned to cultivate the land or practice animal husbandry...

2/24/2014 11:27:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Interesting thoughts.

I am not sure, however, that Boyarin is entirely trustworthy. He has rather queer and peculiar ideas about a number of aspects of Jewish psychology and theology, and he seems to think that the Jews in Israel would be better advised to submit to the Muslim yoke than to defend their lives, their nation, and their religion.

2/24/2014 11:28:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

True. I have to read the whole thing. But I guess the ultra-orthodox have similar "anti-Zionist" ideas, or at least used to...

2/24/2014 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

Boyarin esteems what he considers to be the essential passivity of what he considers to be essential Jewishness. He favors the "galut mentality" Jew who was beaten down by centuries of oppression, rather than the active warriors who conquered the land and came closer than any other "barbarian" nation to toppling the Roman Empire from within. Thus his mixed feelings about the modern Jewish state. Some of the ultra-orthodox feel that Jewish sovereignty over the Land should await the coming of the Messiah, and that the Jews should not attempt to establish a pre-messianic sovereignty. Not necessarily the same thing that Boyarin feels. He exalts the nebbishy, weak, over-intellectualizing weakling. But Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but with a sword. That actually seems far more essentially Jewish to me. When you think that, if memory serves, 4 of the 7 classical generals whose statues ornament the West Point campus were Jews. Joshua, David, Gideon, and Judah Maccabeus. I think.

2/24/2014 12:33:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Somebody once said that Zionism is macho Judaism.

Don Rickles would no doubt call Boyarin "one of those voodoo-Jews."

2/24/2014 12:40:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...

"But Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but with a sword."

I take this to mean: that He would not/could not mince words. The Truth, even if it hurts. To separate the good from the bad (of thoughts, acts, and understanding of The Law). Since He never literally carries a sword, it seems to be meant to be understood as metaphor.

2/24/2014 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

The Jewish tradition is actually much broader than many observers outside and within it might expect. The teachings of Jesus, as portrayed in the Gospels, are in my opinion well within the mainstream of historical Jewish belief. The two major precepts that Jesus explicitly taught, to love God and to love one's neighbor, were both quotes from Jewish scripture. I find nothing in the Sermon on the Mount that a mainstream Jewish preacher would not be comfortable preaching to a Jewish audience. Which is not surprising, really, since the Sermon on the Mount was preached by a Jewish preacher to a Jewish audience. That being said, at least some of those who have considered themselves followers of Jesus, have expressed hostility towards the mainstream of the Jewish tradition. I am thinking, for example, of St John Chrystostom. I think that although even the Roman Catholic Church is moving slowly away from supercessionism, the notion that the Church replaces Israel is also a stumbling block for many.

2/24/2014 04:17:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Yes, John Paul very much wanted to atone for some of those historical wrongs.

Over the weekend I read that the Talmud apparently contains some derogatory things about Christianity. If true, it wouldn't surprise me, since it seems somewhat natural to at least partly define oneself by what one isn't -- especially as the two hardened into mutually exclusive camps.

I suppose many Christians were angry or threatened over the idea that the continuing existence of Jews was a kind of living refutation of their faith. Therefore, if they could herd them into ghettos, oppress them, or worse, they could at least convince themselves that they were getting what they deserved.

2/24/2014 04:36:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

I'm still digesting that Jews never called God, "Father."None of the names for God was "Father." Abraham is their father, and on that lineage alone their identification as "Jewish" rested.

So now, when I pray as Jesus taught his disciples to pray, I realize just how radical Jesus was as a Jew when he spoke of His Father as "Our Father." To embrace that as a disciple was to become a child of God, a change of lineage, and... oh, it's all right there in Romans. Good stuff.

2/24/2014 06:34:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

Boyarin writes on p. 44 that "the idea of a second God as viceroy to God the Father is one of the oldest theological ideas in Israel."

Me? I have no idea.

2/24/2014 06:54:00 PM  
Blogger Joan of Argghh! said...

That's just the thing. I heard it from someone who doesn't lightly repeat something not researched more thoroughly. So, I'm thinking it was presented more in the sense that God was Israel's father, but that individual prayers to him in that sense were unlikely. "This is why the Jews sought all the more to kill him, because he . . . called God his Father, making him equal with God."" seems strange b/c now that I search more, there are many references to God as Father in the OT: "Jer.3: 19 "`I thought how I would set you among my sons, and give you a pleasant land, a heritage most beauteous of all nations. And I thought you would call me, My Father,
and would not turn from following me.”

I used to be better at my bible drills!

2/24/2014 07:19:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

That might be correct: that in the OT, God is the father of Israel, not the individual. However, Boyarin might say that that's just what Jewish theologians want you to believe, so as to preserve the uniqueness of Judaism and distinguish it from Christianity.

Who knows?

2/24/2014 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

On questions for which only opinion is possible, it seems to me that a strong opinion is never warranted.

2/24/2014 07:27:00 PM  
Blogger Rick said...


2/25/2014 03:07:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

Hi Bob,

I think there are many statements in the Jewish scripture to support the idea that the Creator is the Father of all Creation, certainly all mankind, not just the Father of Israel. The Jews certainly refer to God as Father repeatedly. In the time of the Patriarchs, perhaps, they were more likely to refer to God directly by His Name. And though there may be derogatory accounts of Christianity in the Talmud, bear in mind that the Talmud is the digest of 500 years of discussions in the academies of Babylonia, and contains viewpoints that were rejected by the sages, and by susbsequent tradition, as well as viewpoints that are part of the tradition of revelation.

2/25/2014 03:32:00 AM  
Blogger mushroom said...

Wish I had had time to get to this yesterday.

2/25/2014 06:39:00 AM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

What Gandalin says about the God of Israel being the Father of all creation is obviously correct. However, rumor has it that Jesus' use of the word "abba" connotes a different level of intimacy with the Father -- analogous to "daddy."

As always, I have no idea.

2/25/2014 07:25:00 AM  
Blogger julie said...

I like "Abba" as a form of prayer; it's very comforting.

2/25/2014 07:33:00 AM  
Blogger Gandalin said...

The Chassidim refer to god as "tateh" - an even more endearing diminiutive than "abba." But then Yiddish has a genius for endearing diminiutives.

2/25/2014 02:13:00 PM  
Blogger Big Rick said...

"Hear, O Israel: the LORD our God, the LORD is one", found in Deuteronomy 6:4,

Very central to Judaism. One. Not Two. Not Three. If Three, why not 17?

Prophets are called "Son of Man" all over the place. See Ezekiel. And see this Wikipedia discussion.

3/05/2014 04:22:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

As to the Son of Man, I'm just citing Boyarin, who is a Jewish scholar, so you'll have to take it up with him.

And yes God is one -- as I said in this post or the next, three must not be thought of in quantitative but qualitative terms.

3/05/2014 04:55:00 PM  
Blogger Big Rick said...

A reference on the Shema Yisroel from Deuteronomy 6:4.

One God.

3/05/2014 04:57:00 PM  
Blogger Gagdad Bob said...

I am the last to pretend there's anything I can say in response to such proof.

3/05/2014 06:49:00 PM  

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