Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity

Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity

Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity

Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity


The historical separation between Judaism and Christianity is often figured as a clearly defined break of a single entity into two separate religions. Following this model, there would have been one religion known as Judaism before the birth of Christ, which then took on a hybrid identity. Even before its subsequent division, certain beliefs and practices of this composite would have been identifiable as Christian or Jewish.In Border Lines, however, Daniel Boyarin makes a striking case for a very different way of thinking about the historical development that is the partition of Judaeo-Christianity.

There were no characteristics or features that could be described as uniquely Jewish or Christian in late antiquity, Boyarin argues. Rather, Jesus-following Jews and Jews who did not follow Jesus lived on a cultural map in which beliefs, such as that in a second divine being, and practices, such as keeping kosher or maintaining the Sabbath, were widely and variably distributed. The ultimate distinctions between Judaism and Christianity were imposed from above by "border-makers," heresiologists anxious to construct a discrete identity for Christianity. By defining some beliefs and practices as Christian and others as Jewish or heretical, they moved ideas, behaviors, and people to one side or another of an artificial border--and, Boyarin significantly contends, invented the very notion of religion.


As long as I can remember I have been in love with some manifestations of Christianity (not always ones that my Christian friends would themselves love or even approve). Tennessee Ernie Ford singing on television the hymn “The Garden” moved me to tears when I was a child. For an oddly gendered teenager, St. Francis, the Sissy, proved an incredibly tantalizing figure of a man. Later on it was medieval Christian art and architecture, the cathedrals of Europe, the spirituality of Meister Eckhart and Jakob Böhme. Still later, and most significantly, it has been the writings of the Fathers of the Church (and their excluded others, the Christian heretics) that have been most riveting for me, pulling me into a world so close to that of my own beloved Rabbis of late antiquity and yet so foreign as well, a world in which oceans of ink (and rivers of blood) could be spilt on questions of detail in the description of the precise relationships between the posited persons of a complex godhead, a world, as well, in which massive numbers of men and women could choose freely and enthusiastically to live lives without the pleasures of sex and the joys of family. I find this world endlessly moving and alluring, even when at its most bizarre to me. For the last decade or so I have devoted much of my time and spirit to learning the languages of and understanding something of the inner and outer worlds of those early Christian men and women who wrote such texts and lived such lives.

Some Jews, it seems, are destined by fate, psychology, or personal history to be drawn to Christianity. This book won’t let me be done with it, or so it seems, until I come clean and confess that I am one of those Jews. I cannot, of course, deny the problematic aspects of that desire; desire is frequently unruly and problematic. Christians, of course, have been bloody rotten to Jews through much of our histories, and Jews, when occasionally given the chance, have taken their turn at being rotten to Christians. This desire seems sometimes to be not entirely unlike the “love” that binds an abusive couple to each other. Nevertheless, it is there. The question is, then, what creative use can be made of problematic desire—not only what pleasures can it engender but also what utile can it be in the world?

Some Jews who are so absorbed by Christianity have been induced by that . . .

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