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Beyond Judaisms: Meṭ aṭ ron and the Divine Polymorphy of Ancient Judaism


D. Boyarin / Journal for the Study of Judaism 41 (2010) 323-365
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discover which of the heretical groups were actually called ‘two powers in
heaven’ by the earliest tannaitic sages.”3 Following, however, some bril-
liant rethinking of method in the study of Christian heresiology, in which
the matter has been shifted from the histories of alleged heresies to the
history of the episteme (in the Foucauldian sense) of heresy itself and its
functions in the formation of an orthodox Church,4 we can shift our own
attention from the development of “Two Powers” as a heresy “out there”
to the discursive work that its naming as such does in order to define and
identify rabbinic orthodoxy. Moreover, in some of the best work on the
use of heresiology to produce orthodoxy among Christians, it has been
shown that almost always the so-called “heresy” is not a new invader from
outside but an integral and usually more ancient version of the religious
tradition that is now being displaced by a newer set of conceptions, por-
traying the relations almost mystifyingly in the direct opposite of the
observed chronologies.5 We can accordingly reconfigure the study of the
relations among such entities as the apocalyptic literature (especially in
this case the Enoch texts), the Gospels, the texts of late-ancient para-
rabbinic mysticism, known as the Merkabah mysticism (the Hekhalot
texts and their congeners), and classical rabbinic literature, including
especially the Talmud, in the same vein, namely, as the history of the
invention of a heresy, of the displacement of a religious conception for-
merly held by many Jews by a new-fangled orthodoxy. To forestall one
kind of objection to this thesis, let me hasten to clarify that I am not
arguing that the idea of a single and singular godhead is the invention of
the Rabbis, nor that there was no contention on this question before
them, but I do assert that the evidence suggests that the issue was by no
means settled in biblical times nor yet even in the Middle Ages and that,
therefore, the notion of a polyform Judaism (rather than orthodoxy/her-
esy or “Judaisms”) has quite substantial legs to stand on. It is the purpose
of this case study to show how the genealogy of rabbinic Judaism can be
shown to be in some measure a product of such a development of a
“notion of heresy,” in which a rabbinic orthodoxy (not nearly, to be sure,
as detailed or as precise as that of Christian orthodoxy) was formed out of
3) Segal, Powers, 89.
4) A. Le Boulluec, La notion d’hérésie dans la littérature grecque IIe-IIIe siècles (Paris: Études
Augustiniennes, 1985).
5) C. Kannengiesser, “Alexander and Arius of Alexandria: he Last Ante-Nicene heologians,”
Comp 35 (1990): 391-403.
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