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The Jewish Gospels by Daniel Boyarin is a book that should be on most required-reading lists for Christian seminaries. It is an excellent explanation of the background of Jesus and the New Testament writers that most pastors and other ministers are never taught, and this omission subsequently leads them into a path where the bible is misapplied, primarily due to eisegesis. The loss of the Jewish backgrounds of Jesus, his Apostles and all of the New Testament writers in Christian history over the last two millennia has resulted in a group of people claiming belief in the Jesus of the Bible, yet not knowing very much about Him.
Cultural studies over the last 40 years have resulted in a new paradigm for reading and interpreting the New Testament. Starting in 1965, during Vatican II, a new dialogue between Christians and Jews has emerged. It is within this dialogue, as well as expanded archaeological finds and theological scholarship led by both Christians and Jews who are talking to one another, that the near overthrow has emerged of old and anti-Semitic views of the Jewish people and their role as God’s chosen people. Christians must know this and apply the paradigm of a Jewish New Testament to their existing ministry education.
Daniel Boyarin, Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, writes to the well-read person. He doesn’t address scholars in particular but the material he covers is certainly fodder for new research. His views, albeit not those of a Christian, have much to offer in this book. Why? Because he is a historian of religion, and regardless of your religious views his work should be recognized for its historical value and then applied to one’s religious practice where relevant, and should be used as historical backgrounds when trying to interpret biblical texts.
Some of the topics that Boyarin addressed as uniquely Hebraic are concepts such as ‘the Son of Man’ and the ‘suffering Servant’, both ideas, he shows, which are not uniquely Christian. He also helps to parse out the borderlines of the Judaisms of the Second-Temple period that reveal our current idea of Judaism as a monolithic religious system, did not exist during Jesus’ time; nor did Christianity. There were, Boyarin posits, Judaisms – several communities holding ideas and practices that were diverse, both ideologically and geographically. Christians, or really Messianics, were another sect of those who followed the God of Israel.
John Miles’ Introduction helps to set the stage for the entire book. He discusses the current understanding of the separation of Jews and Christians as two separate religious systems, which is not as clear-cut as once thought. He shows the muddy waters from which both Judaism and Christianity emerged, primarily in trying to self-identify against the other, rather than establishment of a core identity based on its own commonly held beliefs and those that differed from each other.
Chapter One discusses the ideas of the Son of God and the Son of Man, and outlines the unique Jewishness of both terms, and shows how those titles were co-opted by the Church Fathers later – some accurately and some not. The history, at least for most Christians, will be eye opening and enlightening.
Chapter Two discusses the idea of Messiah and Son of Man in the first-century apocryphal writings. It shows outside sources confirming the Jewish ideas and offers insight into the ways the terms were used to express leadership and royalty.
Chapter Three could be life changing, depending on how you read Jesus. Boyarin clearly shows that Jesus kept Kosher and shows how the Gospel text even explicitly shows that Jesus did not come to abrogate Torah but rather to establish it. For many who do not know Jesus as a Torah observant Jew who did not come to start a new religion or discourage people from adopting a Torah-observant life, this chapter may be shocking. However, once one understands Jesus within His own context and culture, Boyarin gives clarity and makes absolute sense.
In Chapter Four, Boyarin dissects the idea of a Suffering Servant as a midrash on Daniel 7. His insight is very useful in clarifying some of Jesus’ remarks in the Gospel of Mark, and others. When one sees Jesus in His role of the Jewish Messiah rather than the Christian Christ, new eyes are opened and the Word takes on depth and color like never before.
Finally, Boyarin concludes by saying that if his interpretations are right then the “New Testament is much more deeply embedded within Second-Temple Jewish life and thought than many have imagined”. Boyarin clearly demonstrates that he is right. The conclusions he draws brings to the surface the buried implications that a Christ believing reader must ultimately deal with in his or her faith expression.
This book is for anyone interested in the New Testament context, and those who are looking to find a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God through the agency of Jesus the Messiah of Israel. The historical context of the Bible, so long ignored by theologians, develops the richness of the text not found in any other way.
To purchase “The Jewish Gospels” click here