The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John by Daniel Boyarin - HTML preview

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The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish

Binitarianism and the Prologue to John

Daniel Boyarín1

University of California, Berkeley

For Elizabeth Busky, with gratitude

Most Christian and Jewish scholars have been heavily invested in asserting the

radical difference and total separation of Christianity from Judaism at a very early

period. Thus we find the following view expressed by one of the leading historians

of dogma in our time, Basil Studer:

From the socio-political point of view Christianity fairly soon broke away

from Judaism. Already by about 130 the final break had been effected.

This certainly contributed to an even greater openness towards religious

and cultural influences from the Greco-Roman environment. Not without

reason, then, it is exactly at that time that the rise of antijudaistic and

hellenophile gnostic trends is alleged. Christian theology began gradually

!I wish to thank the following colleagues and friends who have commented on earlier

versions of this paper and contributed much to whatever success its final form bears: Daniel

Abrams, Carlin Barton, François Bovon, Virginia Burrus, Harvey Cox, Richard Hays, Karen

King, Catherine Keller, Helmut Koester, Moshe Idei, Stephen D. Moore, Maren Niehoff,

Birger Pearson, Dina Stein, Krister Stendahl, Rob Wall, and Azzan Yadin, as well as the

graduate students in my seminar on the Fourth Gospel at Harvard Divinity School in the spring

of 2000. A shorter version was delivered as a public lecture at HDS, 24 April 2000. In addition

to the above-mentioned colleagues, others asked good and useful questions at this lecture, too.

Virginia Burrus was also, as frequently in the last several years, a vital conversation partner

in the generation of these ideas. I alone take responsibility in the end for both ideas and form.

Gratitude as well to Asi, Tsahi, Hila, and NaDama for making a stay in Jerusalem while I was

completing this essay incomparably more pleasant.

HTR 94:3 (2001 ) 243-84


2 4 4 H A R V A R D T H E O L O G I C A L REVIEW

to draw away from Judaic tendencies. . . . In the course of separation from

the Synagogue and of rapprochement with the pagan world, theology itself

became more open towards the thinking of antiquity with its scientific

methods. This is particularly evident in the exegesis of Holy Scripture in

which the chasm separating it from rabbinic methods broadened and deep-

ened, whereas the ancient art of interpretation as it was exercised especially

in Alexandria gained the upper hand.2

Studer's picture is a fairly typical one. Even as sophisticated a commentator as

James D. G. Dunn, who realizes that "the parting of the ways, if we can already so

speak, was at this point also as much a parting of the ways within the new move-

ment as between Christianity and Judaism, or better, as within Judaism,"3 still

feels moved to insist that "after the second revolt [132-135] the separation of the

main bodies of Christianity and Judaism was clear-cut and final, whatever interac-

tion there continued to be at the margins."4 Nor is this view confined to Christian

scholars, of course. One of the leading Israeli historians has put it thus: "With the

Bar Kokhba rising the final rift between Judaism and Christianity was complete."5

One of the clearest symbols of this separation at the theological level has been

the centrality of Logos theology in Christianity from a very early date, a Logos

theology that has been considered to have very little to do with "authentic" or

"proper" Palestinian Judaism. The name of Rudolf Bultmann has been emblem-

2Basil Studer, Trinity and Incarnation: The Faith of the Early Church (ed. Andrew Louth;

trans. Matthias Westerhoff; Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1993) 14.

3James D. G. Dunn, The Partings of the Ways Between Christianity and Judaism and Their

Significance for the Character of Christianity (London: SCM; Philadelphia: Trinity, 1991) 135.

Since for Dunn, and I think quite compellingly so, the major departure from anything like the

Jewish Koine of any first-century "Christian" is Paul's rejection of the Law (for my defense of

this interpretation of Paul, see Daniel Boyarín, A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity

[Contraversions: Critical Studies in Jewish Literature, Culture, and Society; Berkeley: Univer-

sity of California Press, 1994]), the primary gap would be between "Christian" and "Christian,"

not between "Christian" and "Jew." Not surprisingly, in Paul's own works his conflicts with

other Jewish Christians are much more marked than his conflicts with "Jews."

4Dunn, Partings, 238.

5Yitzhaq Baer, "Israel, the Christian Church, and the Roman Empire from the Time of

Septimius Severus to the Edict of Toleration of A.D. 313," in Studies in History (ed. Alexander Fuks and Israel Halpern; Scripta Hierosolymitana 7; Jerusalem: Magnes, 1961) 82. It should

be emphasized that a new generation of Israeli scholars, including as a representative sample

Galit Hasan-Rokem, "Narratives in Dialogue: A Folk Literary Perspective on Interreligious

Contacts in the Holy Land in Rabbinic Literature of Late Antiquity," in Sharing the Sacred:

Religious Contacts and Conflicts in the Holy Land: First-Fifteenth Centuries CE (ed. Guy

Stroumsa and Arieh Kofsky; Jerusalem: Yad Ben Zvi, 1998) 109-29 and Israel Jacob Yuval,

"Jews and Christians in the Middle Ages: Shared Myths, Common Language," in Demonizing

the Other: Antisemitism, Racism, and Xenophobia (ed. Robert S. Wistrich; Studies in Antisemitism

4; Chur: Harwood Academic Publishers, 1999) 88-107, among others, are changing this pic-