Last week, I had several guests post whilst I was away. I had asked Krista Dalton to send me something, and she did — but it got lost in the emailosphere. So I’m happy to post it this week. Krista has become one of my favorite bloggers of late. She’s currently doing graduate work at Jewish Theological Seminary, and she’ll be starting her PhD studies at Columbia University in the fall.
Everyone is familiar with the Christian origin story. The Ancient Jewish religion births the fledgling Christian child, and the two diverge upon separate paths. Now, depending on your religious bias, this divergence can be perceived a few ways. To a Jewish audience, the Christian child goes rogue, abandoning its cultural traditions and embracing a wholly other religious form. To a Christian audience, the Christian child surpasses its flawed mother and fulfills divine will in the glorious establishment of the Church.
However, Daniel Boyarin, esteemed scholar of Early Jewish and Christian origins, insists this is an artificially constructed myth. At the time of Jesus, “normative” rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity were hundreds of years in the coming. He explains, “In other words, in order to imagine a single mother religion that could give birth to a daughter religion, we have to find some way of reducing the diversity of Jewish religious life in the pre-Christian era to a single object that we can then designate as Judaism.”
Some scholars have sought to modify the genealogical relationship, instead suggesting the image of two twin brothers struggling for dominance. However, Boyarin notes that this metaphor is problematic. Esau, who becomes associated with Christianity in rabbinic writings, is the elder brother, denoting that Christianity is the elder and Judaism the younger.
Rather than subjecting the diverse entities of Judaism and Christianity to mere kinship metaphors, Boyarin insists we should consider them as planes of shared and “crisscrossing lines of history and religious development.” The first and second centuries were a complex time of religious negotiation between a variety of different sects; a heterogeneous space modern religious categories fail to linguistically capture.
I passionately believe this complicating of the religious world of Jesus is important to modern Christian perceptions of both Christianity and Judaism. First, we must recognize that Jesus was neither Christian nor Jewish according to our modern religious categories. Second, we must move past historical “supersessionist” arguments that miss the interconnected space of Jewish and Christian normative origins that happen simultaneously. Finally, in our efforts to achieve successful interreligious dialogue, enslaving ourselves to the “Judeo-Christian” myth is not necessary.
As I write in a similarly themed post on my blog, “Minimizing the fluidity of religious experience into romantic artificial categories does little to encourage dialogue; we do not need to invent a “common origin” to insist on the importance of inter-religious discourse.” In approaching the convoluted religious world of Late Antiquity, we do better to embrace the fact that the earliest followers of Jesus believed and ascribed to a variety of diverse sects and philosophies, concurrently forgoing our simplistic religious assumptions of normative “Christian” and “Jewish” origins.
Tony piping in here: Did you read that, Rob Bell and Ray Vanderlaan?