A Review of the Jewish Gospels by Daniel Boyarin
The Jewish Gospels by Daniel Boyarin is an excellent explanation of the background of Jesus and the New Testament writers that many pastors and other ministers are never taught, and this omission subsequently leads them into a path where the bible is misapplied, primarily due to eisegesis. The loss of the Jewish backgrounds of Jesus, his Apostles and all of the New Testament writers in Christian history over the last two millennia has resulted in a group of people claiming belief in the Jesus of the Bible, yet not knowing very much about Him.
First Century cultural studies over the last 40 years have resulted in a new paradigm for reading and interpreting the New Testament. Since Vatican II in 1965 a new dialogue between Christians and Jews has emerged. It is within this dialogue, as well as expanded archaeological finds and theological scholarship led by both Christians and Jews who are talking to one another, that the near overthrow has emerged of old and anti-Semitic views of the Jewish people and their role as God’s chosen people. Christians must know this and apply the paradigm of a Jewish New Testament to their existing ministry education.
Daniel Boyarin, Hermann P. and Sophia Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture, writes to the well-read person. He doesn’t address scholars in particular but the material he covers is certainly fodder for new research. His views, albeit not those of a Christian, have much to offer in this book. Why? Because he is a historian of religion, and regardless of your religious views his work should be recognized for its historical value and then applied to one’s religious practice where relevant, and should be used as historical backgrounds when trying to interpret biblical texts.
Some of the topics that Boyarin addressed as uniquely Hebraic are concepts such as ‘the Son of Man’ and the ‘suffering Servant’, both ideas, he shows, which are not uniquely Christian. He also helps to parse out the borderlines of the Judaisms of the Second-Temple period that reveal our current idea of Judaism as a monolithic religious system, did not exist during Jesus’ time; nor did Christianity. There were, Boyarin posits, Judaisms – several communities holding ideas and practices that were diverse, both ideologically and geographically. Christians, or really Messianics, were another sect of those who followed the God of Israel.
John Miles’ Introduction helps to set the stage for the entire book. He discusses the current understanding of the separation of Jews and Christians as two separate religious systems, which is not as clear-cut as once thought. He shows the muddy waters from which both Judaism and Christianity emerged, primarily in trying to self-identify against the other, rather than establishment of a core identity based on its own commonly held beliefs and those that differed from each other.
This book is for anyone interested in the New Testament context, and those who are looking to find a deeper, more meaningful relationship with God through the agency of Jesus the Messiah of Israel. The historical context of the Bible, so long ignored by theologians, develops the richness of the text not found in any other way.
Cheryl Durham, Ph.D.
Cheryl is the Executive Director at Living Truth. She is also currently Dean of Students and Professor of New Testament Culture and History at Master's International University of Divinity. She holds a Bachelor and Master's Degree in Biblical Counseling, a Doctor of Biblical Studies in Worldview and a Ph.D. in New Testament History and Culture.