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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Yoder and Boyarin: The Jewish-Christian Border Lines

The major theological factor for Boyarin is that of the Logos, the Memra. In the three chapters of his book's second section, Boyarin sets out to prove that

Logos theology is not an essential or aboriginal distinguishing mark of Christianity as opposed to Judaism but rather a common theological inheritance that was construed and constructed as such a distinguishing mark via a virtual conspiracy of orthodox theologians on both sides of the new border line.26

The idea of Logos is not foreign to Jewish thought, and is biblically tied to ideas of Wisdom and Sophia through passages of the books of Proverbs, Baruch and the Wisdom of Solomon.27 Boyarin contends that the author of the Gospel of John, in the opening verses of his book, utilises said Logos theology in a hymnic parallel to the Wisdom Hymns of the Tanakh, only the author re-interprets it according to his belief regarding Jesus of Nazareth.28 Furthermore, Boyarin proposes the Johannine Prologue as perhaps an exegesis of the Genesis creation story, where the Logos of God is the key character. 29

It is nothing new for Jews to accept God's agency as enacted through an intermediary such as the Memra or Sophia;30 Philo, the Jewish philosopher, intimates the Logos is one with God while simultaneously separate from Him31 - a belief of which Christianity clearly, even if inadvertently, parallels. Moreover, the Logos was commonly held to be 'an eternal notion in the mind of the Creator and the organ of his work in time and space,' thereby regularly being personified with titles such as Son, King, and Priest. Where Christianity does differ from Judaism, however, is in the 'combination of Jewish messianic soteriology with equally Jewish Logos theology in the figure of Jesus of Nazareth.'33 While Wisdom is often identified with, if not somewhat 'incarnated' in, Torah - such as in Baruch 3:14-4:1 where Wisdom is nowhere to be found save for in 'the book of the commandments of God' (4:1)34 - the breaking point, for Boyarin, is the Christian principle of the Logos being incarnated in a man.

The problem lies in the concept of the Two Powers of Heaven, which, as its label implies, posits a secondary divinity next to God. This of course is blasphemous to the general population of Jews, for God is the only divinity that exists. Indeed, many believe statements made in the Mishnah condemn the view of the Two Powers as minut ('heresy'), not solely on the basis of such a view increasing the potential for Jews to worship a divinity other than Yahweh.35 Though it was believed by many Jews the Messiah would somehow personify the Memra, it was deemed minut to worship the Logos in the flesh of Jesus - more so than worshiping the Logos itself.36 The leading dispute, however, comes at the conviction of the death and resurrection of the Logos and Boyarin alleges a split between Jesus-Jews and non-Jesus-Jews to be conceivably on this basis.37

It is safe to assume that Boyarin would agree with the timing of the Jewish-Christian divorce that Yoder suggests. If the split began to occur at the time of serious and profound self-definition, such a break would then certainly be occurring around the time of and past the Jewish-Roman war concerning Bar Kochba in 135 BCE. Both scholars contend that in the first century, 'Christianity' was merely a subgroup within the broader system of Judaism. Indeed, Yoder asserts that '"Christians" did not differ at the point of keeping the law, because as we can tell from the writings of Paul they did keep the law, although with their own understanding of why' - '"Christians" were Jews and the "Christian" community was part of the Jewish community,' even into the post-Kochba period.38 Likewise, Boyarin notes 'the recognition that what is later presented as a battle between an "us" and a "them" is as often as not the later consequence of what was once a disagreement among "us" ourselves.'39 There is undeniable consensus then regarding Christianity's birth as a movement of Jewish Jesus-followers.

The Dialogue with Trypho plays a significant role in both books' theses. Yoder explicitly states that Justin Martyr drove 'his wedge' between Christians and Judaism;40 indeed, he is alleged to be the one who began the fracture between those who 'invest in keeping the border between [Christians] and Jews open' and those who 'turn their back on the Jews in the interest of making more sense to the Gentiles.'41 Moreover, Yoder suggests if Justin had not sought to make the Christian system so readily accessible to the goyim ('the people'), the Rabbinic movement would not have pushed back.42 Likewise, as we have noted above, Boyarin relies heavily on Justin's Christian-definition for the formation of the orthodoxy/heresy blueprint both sides of the border line would individually formulate - and, in the same way as Yoder's assertion, it is Justin's interpretation of haireses that leads to the Rabbinic response of minut. Thus, it is in Justin Martyr, Yoder proposes, that the schism takes a doctrinal approach.43

  1. Ibid, 29.
  2. Ibid., 93-96.
  3. Ibid., 93, 104.
  4. Ibid., 94.
  5. Ibid., 92.
  6. Ibid., 114.
  7. Ibid., 114-115.
  8. Ibid., 105.
  9. And interestingly, it is Wisdom through Torah that provides somewhat of a salvific function: 'All who hold her fast will live, and those who forsake her will die' (4:1), which is in fact a common theme throughout the Tanakh, especially found in the Psalms.
  10. Boyarin, Border Lines, 123-124.
  11. Ibid., 124.
  12. Ibid., 125.
  13. Yoder, Schism, 59.
  14. Boyarin, Border Lines, 64.
  15. Yoder, Schism, 61.
  16. Ibid., 54.
  17. Ibid., 61.
  18. Ibid., 54.