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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Yoder and Boyarin: The Jewish-Christian Border Lines

Yoder's argument subsequently moves into the next significant concept by way of correcting modern ideas of normative Judaism and the double-rejection of Jesus towards Judaism, and Judaism towards Jesus. He contends that Judaism was not itself singular - that is, there was no 'normative' Judaism at the time of Jesus - and that neither Jesus nor Judaism rejected the other (neither did Paul reject Judaism, nor vice-versa).9 The important underlying thought here is the caution against reading present-day ideas back into past time periods - ideas which may not necessarily have existed until recently. That being said, Yoder strives here - and throughout the book - to restore and maintain the Jewish nature and origins of Christianity, asserting that '[t]o be a Jew and to be a follower of Jesus were not alternatives.'10 Such an argument must highlight the fact of Jesus' complete immersion and basis in Judaism, concomitantly proving that the belief of Jesus as meshiach is indeed compatible with the rest of the Jewish theological system.

This Yoder sets out to do, presenting the argument that '[t]here was nothing wrong . . . with thinking that some particular person was an anointed one or even the Anointed One - claimants of Bar Kochba's messianic position prove this point, as they were not perceived as any less Jewish for their erroneous assertions;'11 likewise, it was not blasphemy - not un-Jewish - to profess a man as the Son of God, given that for the Jew, according to Yoder, such a title merely would offend those who did not wish Jesus as king.12 Certainly, Yoder raises a good point in highlighting the fact that any given 'human community is marked by internal conflict as well as by conflict with the outside' - and Judaism is no exception (indeed, Christianity certainly is no exception either).13 Both the admissions of Jesus as Messiah and as Son of God therefore may very well have been mistaken notions, but they were not necessarily heresy.14

Thus, if it indeed was 'theologically undeniable . . . that a person could at the same time be a fully faithful Jew and a believer in Jesus of Nazareth as the Anointed,'15 the question still lingers: What caused the Messianic Jews to no longer be accepted as Jews? The query of time is inexorably linked with this problem, and Yoder is convinced that the schism occurred after 135 BCE, believing the Jewish-Christian divorce to be possible only from diasporic Judaism and out of the rabbinic innovation.16 But, if Jesus is an 'interpreter of Torah,' which indeed is rightly so though '[c]enturies of bias have predisposed us to read Jesus as setting aside the Law when he was fulfilling it,'17 why are his followers, generations later, being fashioned as one increasingly detaching side of a religious dichotomy - why are Jesus-Jews and non-Jesus-Jews segregating from one another across a theological chasm?

Daniel Boyarin explores this question in his book, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. Speaking from the opposite side of the divide than Yoder, Boyarin's argument is one based largely upon identity formation - and the interplay between 'heresy' and 'orthodoxy' becomes an integral ingredient. For early Jesus-followers, the question of categorisation may in fact have been troublesome. With the increasing number of Gentile converts, Christians in the second century may no longer have been prepared 'to think of themselves as Jews,' and therefore seriously considered the problem: 'Since we are no longer "Greeks" and not "Jews," to what kind of group do we belong?'18 According to Boyarin, a sub-group of Christians, following the works of one Justin Martyr, began to perceive Christianity as novum, therefore unconnected from either Greeks or Jews, and it began to be defined by fidelity to a particular set of beliefs and practices, as opposed to ethnicity.19 For early Jesus-followers, both Greeks and Jews stood as a threat to Christian doctrine, but it was predominantly Judaism which possessed the potential of proving Christianity false.20 This alone is a significant point, but it may not have been enough to set the two apart; the establishment of 'correct' and 'incorrect' doctrine - orthodoxy and heresy - for Boyarin, played a major role since it determined who was 'in' and who was 'out.'21 Heresiology, therefore, is Boyarin's word of the day, for both the budding Rabbinism as well as nascent Christianity.

Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho holds a central spot in Border Lines' thesis. It is this document which allegedly instigates the design of heresiology for not only the Christian movement, but also the Rabbinic one. Boyarin argues that Justin in his Dialogue was not interacting with any specific form of Judaism, but instead he was in fact 'engaged in constructing' a normative Judaic system.22 It was in the moments of Christian self-definition that Judaism became an 'other;' while Christianity developed concepts of orthodox belief and heretical beliefs, at the impetus of the Dialogue, the category of 'religion' emerged - and 'Christianity, in its constitution as a religion, therefore needed religious difference, needed Judaism to be its other - the religion that is false.'23 Simultaneously, the Rabbis, in 'a crucial moment in history . . . adopted a similar answer and a similar technique for answering - namely, heresiology.'24 Thus, Boyarin contends, the framing of Christianity as a doctrinally-led 'religion' resulted in post-Second Temple Judaism distinguishing the minim ('heretics') from its ranks during the shift to Rabbinism - it was the innovation of 'religion as separable from "ethnicity"' that Boyarin argues 'produced a powerful corresponding effect in Judaism.'25 Thus, it was in the moments of Jewish self-definition that Christianity became 'other.'

  1. Ibid., 44.
  2. Ibid., 47-51.
  3. Ibid., 51.
  4. Ibid., 54.
  5. Ibid., 55.
  6. Ibid., 56.
  7. Ibid., 55.
  8. Ibid., 53.
  9. Ibid., 59.
  10. Ibid., 140.
  11. Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), 16-17.
  12. Ibid., 17.
  13. Robert L Wilken, John Chrysostom and the Jews: Rhetoric and Reality in the Late 4th Century (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1983), 159.
  14. Boyarin, Border Lines, 17.
  15. Ibid., 28.
  16. Ibid., 11.
  17. Ibid., 17.
  18. Ibid., 29, 45.