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Errantry: Novak's Journal
...Words to cast/My feelings into sculpted thoughts/To make some wisdom last
Theological Notebook: Starting to Read Daniel Boyarin's "Border Lines" 
21st-Sep-2006 01:23 am
Chagall/White Crucifixion
I don't know that I've ever been so deeply moved by an academic text as I have been this evening by the Preface to Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity by Daniel Boyarin, the Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture in the Departments of Near Eastern Studies and Rhetoric at the University of California, Berkeley. (A big thanks to Dan Lloyd who currently has it out from the library for his doctoral exams, but loaned it to me for a few weeks, after telling me about it.) I'm not sure that I can explain it, exactly, other than a deep sympathy of vision. I've always been attracted to the Jewishness of Christianity, even before I had developed any academic strength in this area.

Even as a freshman, as I was being adopted by ancient historian Marvin Powell, I was aware of having an affinity for Hebrews in the New Testament that I didn't have as strongly for the Letter to the Romans, despite Romans' making up the core of a lot of students' Christianities. But it was from the passages in Romans dealing with Jewish-Christians' and Gentile Christians' mutual understanding that I drew the most, to the point where I was in utter disbelief in my Western History survey courses to hear for the first time that there was a heritage of bigotry toward Jews among some Christians in the medieval period. This couldn't be true, I thought: Paul so clearly forbade anything of the sort. And yet, so it turned out.

So in Professor Boyarin I am currently finding that directness that I so appreciate: that fundamental lack of fear in saying exactly what one's position is on the crucial questions, and not needing to avoid telling the other what you think is incorrect in their belief – in this case, an Orthodox Jew's denial of Jesus of Nazareth as Messiah, much less as part of the Godhead. To my mind, only when you can say that, can you really start to live with or even love the other. The weak substitution of bloodless "tolerance" and a mutual watering-down of our identities in order to be accommodating to one another is simply weak-minded self-destruction. We saw this particularly in this last week, where the last thing in the world that should surprise any reasonable person or any reasonable Muslim is that the Roman Catholic Pope would think Islam incorrect in some aspect of its belief. And we were all treated to the bitter irony of a critical reflection being made about religious violence, only to result in religious violence, and the odd spectacle of the bulk of Western media (reflexively?) lining up against the papacy, and against the very rights of unrestricted inquiry and self-expression of which those media outlets think themselves the champions.

There was a deep honesty here, and inquiry without fear, it seemed, of the other, and a deep appreciation of the mutual core Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity share, and that has often been obscured. I'll likely have to write him. I'm digging particularly into his work – this being a recent publication I didn't use for my doctoral exams – on the rise of Christian Logos theology, since I'm resurrecting (so to speak) my exam material on the Jewish mystical roots of the Prologue to the Gospel of John. As I mentioned earlier, I'll be speaking on that next month to the Seminar on the Jewish Roots of Eastern Christian Mysticism.
2nd-Oct-2006 05:17 pm (UTC) - Daniel Boyarin
Wow, so I'm not the only one who had this experience! I too was very much moved (that is exactly the right word) by Daniel Boyarin's preface to 'Borderlines'. Before, I had read his book 'Dying for God,' and his article 'Semantic differences' for an essay I was writing on the growth of Christianity. The article was instrumental in throwing apart all my preconceived ideas about religion, by questioning the seemingly obvious. I had been wondering about Boyarin's personal stance on several contemporary religious and political issues.

The preface of 'Borderlines' impressed me not only by the nuanced position Boyarin takes on those issues, but especially by how far he dares to expose himself, and not only on academical issues. His 'deep honesty,' if you like.

Unfortunately I haven't had time to read the remainder of 'Borderlines' yet - did you read it yet? I wonder what your impression is. I'll keep an eye on your journal.


5th-Oct-2006 07:35 am (UTC) - Re: Daniel Boyarin
No, not the only one at all. I've jumped right to the middle of Border Lines, to deal with his material on Logos Theology in pre-Christian Judaism, as well as afterward, just because those Jewish mystical roots to the Prologue to John is a particular research and reading interest of mine, and I'm presenting on it on Friday to the ongoing Seminar on the Jewish Roots of Eastern Chirstian Mysticism that I've mentioned here in my journal. I wouldn't want to give too much of a review yet, having read such a limited selection, but I remain as impressed with his scholarship and his careful, well-explained reading of the relevant texts as I was with his personal introduction. I think you'll be pleased when you get to it!

And welcome! I wish I could easily link your journal to the LJ system!
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