Sunday, December 16, 2007

Boyarin on the definition of "Gentile Christianity"

We have been discussing the definition of Jewish Christianity and perhaps looking at it from the opposite direction may offer a further clarification of the term Jewish Christian. To this end, we appeal to D. Boyarin’s definition in his recent book Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity (see side bar for the book).[1]

While we will have occasion later to discuss the important arguments of this book in greater detail, I focus here on his definition of “Gentile Christianity” in the introduction. In orienting the reader to his argument, Boyarin presents one of the basic assertions of the book: the early rabbinic writings developed in response to burgeoning Gentile Christianity represented by figures like Justin Martyr. He believes that the rabbis sought to “set the bounds” of who is in and who is out of Judaism as they understood it in reaction to the claims of Gentile Christianity. Thus, within this discussion Boyarin defines the object of rabbis’ attention, Gentile Christianity, by stating:

[Gentile Christianity] refer[s] to Christian converts from among non-Jews (and their descendants) who have neither a sense of genealogical attachment to the historical, physical people of Israel (Israel according to the flesh), nor an attachment (and frequently the exact opposite one) to the fleshly practices of that historical community”[2]

What is noticeable in Boyarin’s definition are the converse elements of description to what Skarsuane has defined as Jewish Christian.

Jewish Christian Gentile Christian
Attachment to historical, physical people of Israel No attachment
Attachment to physical practices of Jewish community No attachment to Jewish practices

Two points are noteworthy. First, similar to Skarsaune, Boyarin seems to implicitly stress the Jewish community’s role in determining Jewish identity. One could perhaps amplify his last point: “nor an attachment to the concrete practices recognized and preformed by a historical Jewish community”. The formulation suggests that it is the historic community that determines Jewish identity as Skarsaune has argued. Second, ethnicity and practice are key factors in defining not only who is or isn’t a Jewish Christian, but conversely who is a Gentile Christian.

[1] Boyarin 2004.
[2] Boyarin 2004:29, emphasis added.

Works Cited
Boyarin, Daniel. 2004. Border Lines: The Partition of Judaeo-Christianity. Divinations. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.


Geoff Hudson said...

I doubt it. May be after the war, the original 'Christians' (Jews) tried to cling onto what they could of their old prophetic beliefs. This was in spite of the their newly arrived Flavian masters who imposed their re-invented brand of Christianity for the Gentiles of the empire. They also made sure that the re-invented Judaism met with their approval - no more prophets and no more messianic priests at each other's throats. The key influences were political.

Patrick George McCullough said...

Hi Joel, I'm really interested in this series of yours. I'm hoping to review Skarsaune's book myself. I wanted to link to your series of reviews, but noticed that your tag is misspelled on some of the posts, but spelled correctly on others. The difference is "tiy" instead of "ity" at the end of "Christianity."

I would love it if this were updated, just so I could point to all the posts together. If not, that's okay, just thought I'd mention it. Thanks for the good thoughts!