In the introduction to his Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture), Daniel Boyarin reviews the history of the history of Christianity and Judaism, criticizing the common older view that Christianity is the “daughter” of Judaism. Recent scholars tell a different story: “if we are to speak of families at all, we need to speak of a twin birth of Christianity and rabbinic Judaism as two forms of Judaism, and not as a genealogy in which one – Judaism – is parent to the other – Christianity.” The labor that produced these twin daughters was the travail of AD 70: “After the destruction of the Temple, the current story goes, two ‘daughter’ religions were born out of this congeries, rabbinic Judaism and Christianity. . . . As a figure for this simultaneous birth of Christianity and Judaism, Alan Segal mobilized the verse: ‘And G-d said to her: there are two peoples in your womb’” (pp. 3-4). Not two daughters but two sons.
For Jewish writers, of course, Judaism is Jacob, Christianity Esau. As Boyarin points out, this creates tensions in Jewish interpretations, since Esau was the older brother. Boyarin’s book is about “the ways that rabbinic Judaism has been influenced by its slightly older brother, Christianity” (5). Boyarin doesn’t agree with this way of stating the issue. He insists that the twins continued “jostling” in the womb throughout late antiquity, and thinks it may go on forever. In fact, he suggests abandoning organic family metaphors for something closer to Wittgenstein’s logical notion of “family resemblance.”
Still, this stimulating mediation has large implications in several directions.
First, as a historical matter, it helps to support the preterist readings of the New Testament. What happens in the destruction of Jerusalem is not a mere local catastrophe but a massive reordering of ancient religious order. It gives historical support to the theological view that Christianity was born from the whole complex of Jesus’ cross and resurrection and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem.
Second, it gives concrete historical expression to the notion that the church is the older/younger or younger/older brother of Judaism, fulfilling the figures of Genesis and the entire Old Testament concerning the younger son’s elevation.
Third, it has important implications for the claims sometimes made by messianic Jews. Their claims to tap into the pre-Christian roots of Christianity are thrown into question.
Finally, the notion that the church is the “older” brother, that Christianity was emerging before Judaism in its post-temple form took shape, gives historical specificity to the Christian claim to be the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel. In Boyarin’s construction, Rabbinic Judaism looks like a sect splitting off from Israel rather than a continuation of what was before.
posted by Peter J. Leithart on Wednesday, October 3, 2012 at 5:23 am
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