DANIEL BOYARIN — THE JEWISH GOSPELS, THE STORY OF THE JEWISH CHRIST — 2012
This small book is essential if you want to understand what Judaism and Christianity are all about, and what the connections between the two are.
The first fundamental element is the method. The author takes the gospels, along with other documents, in chronological order of their writing dates, so Mark first and then Matthew and Luke, but not so much John though he was the youngest apostle when Jesus was crucified. But the fundamental element is that he uses the basic methodological principle of Robert Eisenman who is behind the complete methodological re-designing of Biblical studies. Boyarin takes into account all written elements we have from the period going from the first century BCE to the second and third centuries AD. He also founds his work on the Book of Daniel and on some older Biblical prophets, visions, and many apocryphal documents that are not included in the Bible, Old or New Testaments alike.
The second fundamental methodological element is that he does not take words and their standard interpretations, even linguistic common meanings. He takes the words, the phrases, and some passages in a wider approach that was used particularly by Kenneth Burke: a word, a symbol, a phrase, any linguistic element is taken as part of a network of similar elements and the meaning of each one comes from this network, hence from the relationships these elements entertain with one another within the network. This leads the author to find out the meaning of the various crucial elements, and that leads us to understand that many of the supposedly uniquely Christian concepts are in fact in line with older concepts from the Old Testament and
around, hence from the Jewish way of thinking.
I will let you discover the details of what I am going to say now, otherwise, I would have to write the whole book all over again.
The first element the author proves is that in old Jewish documents the Jewish God is not conceived as a single being but as a dual being, one older man and one younger man. In fact, his demonstration which is very clear is based on visions from different Old Testament books, old prophets, visions that can be apocalyptic, having to do with either the end of the world or with the world after this end, the divine world for the saved righteous people. In fact, here the author misses a vast and original duality that he does not quote. In the very first verses of Genesis, “God and his spirit” are floating or flying over the immensity of a completely dark watery place. And these God and his spirit will create the world we know by a long series of cutting up the outside universe into dual elements, even to the point of reducing the luminaries in the sky to the sun and the moon, with a side addendum for the stars, proving that the duality of this world created by God and his spirit is, in fact, a rejection of the basic pagan, non-Jewish, approach with is ternary all over the world in all cultures in existence before the writing of the Old Testament, or nearly all, even Buddhism that has no divine entities.
Judaism is a basically dual but unitary vision of the divine world and of the real world. So yes the couple “father + son” existed in Judaism before Jesus Christ and Christianity, but in fact, if he had taken into account the duality of Genesis he would have reached very easily the Christian Trinity of “father + son + holy spirit” and that is a shortcoming in his approach: he should have explored the Old Testament and other ancient Jewish documents to find this ternary vision, if it exists beyond the bringing together of two binary visions.
The next concept is that of “Son of God” applied to kings of Israel, particularly for example to David. It is the title a king gets when he is anointed with the special “chrism” whose recipe goes back to Moses and has been the object of a debate as for it integrating some cannabis oil or not. When a king is thus anointed, he is the Son of God. But that is not that important except it means the King is a direct representative of God on earth and that gives him the divine power he needs to rule the real world. This “anointed-ness” is the basic linguistic meaning of Messiah (in Aramaic for example) or Christ (in Greek).
Then this ruling side of the king is covered by a first meaning of “Son of Man.” He is responsible for the lasting and sustainable existence of Israel and the People of Israel, responsible for it in front of God himself since he is the Son of God. This meaning is rather superficial for Daniel Boyarin, but the phrase “Son of Man” is a lot more than a title for kings. He is systematically associated to the younger character of apocalyptic visions in which there are two thrones, two characters, an old one generally called “the Head of Days” and a younger “one who looks like a Son of Man.” And that is this meaning that is central for the author. The characteristics of this Son of Man are the following:
“He is divine.
He is in human form.
He may very well be portrayed as a younger-appearing divinity than the Ancient of Days.
He will be enthroned on high.
He is given power and dominion, even sovereignty on earth.” (page 33)
The whole discussion then is to know whether this Son of Man is the Redeemer announced in Jewish documents, the Davidic Messiah, and thus if Jesus is this Messiah, this Son of Man, this Redeemer. The author’s answers yes. Jesus is entirely contained in this definition of the Son of Man in Jewish documents, including the Old Testament. After a discussion of whether the Redeemer or the Messiah have to suffer and even be sacrificed in order to perform his redeeming mission, he concludes that the answer is yes and thus Jesus’ passion is contained in Judaism as a possibility for the Messiah.
This being said, we can see that the old Jewish documents used by Daniel Boyarin enable us to trace a trinity, or ternary vision in the Jewish tradition.
1- The old divinity, abstract, the Head of Days, or the Ancient of days. He represents wisdom and the Father figure.
2- The younger divinity, abstract, the one who looks like a Son of Man. He represents courage in the war, struggle, fight against evil forces. He is the Son and wins in the end by fulfilling his mission.
3- The spirit of God that represents the positive in life, creativity, inspiration, innovation. He can even be seen as the resurrected Jesus
The concept of the redeemer or Messiah being sacrificed, dying in his human flesh to be resuscitated as a divine figure of the Son is also widened into another resuscitation which is in Spirit, hence as the Holy Spirit, the dove that comes down from the sky as the representative of the Spirit of God, since God himself can hardly be seen or named. That’s probably the real innovation of Christianity: Jesus is crucified and dies on the cross to be resuscitated as the Son of God, and as such be enthroned and crowned in heaven; and at the same time as the Holy Spirit, or at least as enabling people to get in touch with God and his Spirit through the virtual resuscitated Jesus, the redeeming Son. Of course, Christians believe Jesus Christ, anointed by his passion and sacrifice, resuscitated three days later, is a real character and one identity of ternary and yet unitary God.
Daniel Boyarin does not discuss this article of faith, because it is an article of faith, but he is clear about the deep and old roots Jesus finds in Jewish Old Testament and other documents, particularly all sorts of apocalyptic documents that he discusses at length.
I will regret that he does not explore the third side of these texts: the fact that God will become one and only one character in Islam that is rooted in Abraham through his son Ishmael. Is there a unitary conception of God in the Old Testament? Maybe simply in the fact that Abraham sends his first son and the Arab slave mother of this son into the desert to die there, and they are saved by God’s intervention according to Islam. The dual vision of God is thus cut up into two unitary visions: the Christian vision keeps the dual and builds the ternary vision of this unity, whereas Islam only keeps this divine unity, this Jewish quasi-sacrifice of one, and only one.
Enjoy the details and do check the numerous references to Jewish documents.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU