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Sermon : Sodom and Gomorrah

Yoder and Boyarin: The Jewish-Christian Border Lines

Yet, doctrine is only a single aspect of the nearly two century-long breaking. Practise as well as, more directly, self-definition played a dominant role in Justin's conception of haireses and the 'in' versus 'out' mentality he creates therewith leads to the creation of the category religio. For Boyarin this is a major point of contention, arguing that Jews passively retaliated against the Christian's pigeonholing them into such a category as 'religion.'44 The creation of religion is intertwined with the creation of Christianity insofar as religio has become solely defined by doctrine and not ethnicity; Christianity then became something completely novel when it separated itself from any ethnic boundary and connection.45 It is on this aspect Judaism finds issue, for it became their conviction that an Israelite is an Israelite no matter what may happen - even should he or she sin.46 Though heresiology would hold a profound place in a particular moment of developing Rabbinism, Boyarin maintains such debates ended with the solidifying of the border between Jews and Christians, thereby abandoning any labelling of 'religion' on the Jewish people.47 Instead of religio, Judaism preferred to return to the self-definition of 'a people.' Yoder adds to this by portraying the divergence of Christian practise from its original Jewish context: Judaism, post-70 BCE, became a community which required neither priest nor Temple, maintained by the gathering around of the Scriptures; Christianity began with this form but - and it is difficult not to pick-up at least a hint of regret from Yoder - slid into 'sacerdotally validated ritual,' organising gatherings more and more 'around image and ceremony' and 'less and less around the Scriptures.'48 Of course, such a view is idealised, but it nevertheless portrays the different turns each group took - primarily, and generally, the focus of community/people versus ritual/doctrine is adequately emphasised.

While at times it was difficult to sift through the myriad information Boyarin provides throughout his chapters, Border Lines is a read most beneficial in diving into the theological self-defining moments of Rabbinic Judaism. The discussion of heresiology was well presented and added profoundly to the understanding of not only Christianity's move toward a more Gentile-oriented faith-system and eventual abandonment of Judaic lifestyle, but also Judaism's response to rising doctrinal differences among its child-movement, Christianity. That being said, it is evident that Yoder feels a sort of sympathy toward Jewish-Christians, insofar as he adamantly advocates the Jewish nature of Jesus of Nazareth's theology, practise and teachings thereof. Though it is true the Jesus-movement, as a movement following after meshiach, was to be for all nations, it remains a Biblical conviction that all nations will flock to Jerusalem. Certainly, Jesus of Nazareth, as Messiah, was an exemplar of the true and perfect Torah-observant life, one that did not give-in to complicated and superfluous rituals derived from later commentaries, be it oral or written, but instead one that followed Torah as God originally intended; but Jesus of Nazareth also, as Messiah, inaugurated the epoch of reconciliation where all the goyim of the earth are invited into the people of God via Himself, the Son.

Moreover, Yoder's implied tertium quid perhaps may be the Jewish-Christian hybrid historically known as the nozrim, or Nazoreans, which continued the Torah way of life while simultaneously accepting Jesus as meshiach - that is, 'the third way' for Yoder may very well be a Judaism according to Jesus' interpretation of it, though perhaps this is putting too many words in Yoder's mouth. Boyarin, on the other hand, at times intimates the necessary dichotomy despite the common heritage - although early on in his book, he claims a forced partition instead of a natural parting - not once exuding a vibe of any alternative path either movement could have taken. 'Religion' as Christianity's wider contribution, Boyarin ostensibly argues, prevents itself from being anything more than merely a marginalised Judaism which became so disfigured in its eagerness to branch out into the surrounding culture that it considered itself novum. Even so Boyarin does not deny the fact that Jesus' nature and teachings were Jewish - even emphasising the point of the Gospel of John's own Jewish theology precisely. One cannot help but get the sense that should Justin Martyr not have gained the upper hand theologically among the Christian movement, a schism would not have occurred - but the appeal to the Gentiles and the conversion appear to have been too high for the Jewish-Christians to compete, and so instead they continued as a marginalised minority, unfortunately connected with the rising Gentile Christians, until their eventual demise. Indeed, for Yoder to say that the Jewish-Christian divorce 'did not have to be' is to imply that the two should never have become binary, and taking into consideration the Jewish ministry of Jesus, this certainly seems to be the case and there are various current groups which have adopted this line of thinking. At the least, the recognition of the 'spiritual patrimony' between Jews and Christians - and the profound idea that, had things turned out slightly differently, Judaism and Christianity would be much closer relatives - unquestionably opens doors to dialogue, and each has much to learn from the other.

  1. Boyarin, Border Lines, 10-12.
  2. Ibid., 11.
  3. Ibid., 10.
  4. Ibid., 11.
  5. Yoder, Schism, 78.