Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity

By Kulp, Joshua | Shofar, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity


Kulp, Joshua, Shofar


Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity, by Daniel Boyarin. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004. 374 pp. $38.50.

In his latest book, Daniel Boyarin proposes that by constructing the categories of religious orthodoxy and heresy second-century Gentile Christians created the concept of religion which pervades the western world to this day. Rabbis of the same period shared these constructions of religion, working in response and in a certain sense in tandem with their Christian counterparts. These reciprocal definitions of orthodoxy and heresy revolved around the acceptance or denial of Logos theology, the idea of a "second divine entity . . . who mediates between the fully transcendent Godhead and the material world" (p. 30). Later in antiquity, by anathematizing perceived "hybrids" between the two religions the Church tacitly sanctioned and even defined Jewish orthodoxy. In contrast, later Babylonian rabbis denied such constructions of religion, preferring a complex of genealogy, practice, belief, and ethnicity as Jewish identity markers. The end result was that according to rabbinic Judaism a Jew cannot stop being a Jew, an idea encapsulated by the late amoraic principle, "an Israelite, even though he sinned, remains an Israelite" (bSan 44a).

The book begins by focusing on the nearly simultaneous creation of the categories of orthodoxy and heresy by second-century Christian heresiologists, specifically Justin Martyr, and the rabbis of the Mishnah. The fact that some Jews in an earlier period followed Jesus and some did nor would not have been a salient enough difference to fully distinguish between these groups, as other practices and beliefs cut across the groups. Rather than speak of an alleged "parting of the ways" as a separation between groups which were growing to be fundamentally distinct, we would do better to consider the construction by Gentile Christians and by Rabbis of borders which would carve out the identity of groups that may have looked (in their eyes and in those of the larger populace) all too similar.

Boyarin notes an epistemic shift from the sectarianism of the Second Temple period to the orthodoxy/heresy constructs of "Christian and nonChristian Jews" (Boyarin's preferred terminology) of the second century. While the sectarian presents his group as having separated from the larger group due to the latter's corruption, or as a result of a new revelation offered only to the separating sect, the orthodox church/rabbis present apostolic succession to prove their antiquity and legitimacy.

Boyarin also notes the shift in arena of dispute. For the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls the minutiae of halakhah caused their rift with the remainder of Judaism. In contrast, the Mishnah notes that despite deep halakhic differences the Houses of Shammai and Hillel continued to intermarry. At the same time the Mishnah excludes from Israel those with improper theological views, terming them "minim", which according to Boyarin need not refer to any specific group. This effort is mirrored by those of Christian heresiologists who define and label heresies.

The picture which Boyarin paints of the legendary gathering in Yavneh contrasts with the prevalent conception that Yavneh was a pluralistic attempt to end the pervasive sectarianism which had previously plagued Judaism. In Boyarin's portrayal, Yavneh (as constructed in the second century) was an attempt by the rabbis to invent an idea of "orthodox" Judaism defined by theological beliefs. While Boyarin succeeds in bringing considerable textual evidence to question Shaye Cohen's characterization of the Yavnean period, he is somewhat less successful in determining whether rabbis were responding to the ground-breaking Christian religious foundation of orthodoxy/heresy or whether shared cultural forces (Greco-Roman influence) and historical circumstances (loss of Temple) were operating on both sides.

After demonstrating that the twin notions of heresy and orthodoxy were used in identity construction by both rabbis and Gentile Christians, the second half of the book examines the pivotal orthodoxy/heresy, Logos theology, our of which these two "religions" were created. …

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