The Jewish Gospels

The Jewish Gospels

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by Daniel Boyarin

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In July 2008 a front-page story in the New York Times reported on the discovery of an ancient Hebrew tablet, dating from before the birth of Jesus, which predicted a Messiah who would rise from the dead after three days. Commenting on this startling discovery at the time, noted Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin argued that “some Christians will find it…  See more details below


In July 2008 a front-page story in the New York Times reported on the discovery of an ancient Hebrew tablet, dating from before the birth of Jesus, which predicted a Messiah who would rise from the dead after three days. Commenting on this startling discovery at the time, noted Talmud scholar Daniel Boyarin argued that “some Christians will find it shocking—a challenge to the uniqueness of their theology.”

Guiding us through a rich tapestry of new discoveries and ancient scriptures, The Jewish Gospels makes the powerful case that our conventional understandings of Jesus and of the origins of Christianity are wrong. In Boyarin’s scrupulously illustrated account, the coming of the Messiah was fully imagined in the ancient Jewish texts. Jesus, moreover, was embraced by many Jews as this person, and his core teachings were not at all a break from Jewish beliefs and teachings. Jesus and his followers, Boyarin shows, were simply Jewish. What came to be known as Christianity came much later, as religious and political leaders sought to impose a new religious orthodoxy that was not present at the time of Jesus’s life.

In the vein of Elaine Pagels’s The Gnostic Gospels, here is a brilliant new work that will break open some of our culture’s most cherished assumptions.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This little book claims to pack a big punch, yet Boyarin (A Radical Jew), professor of Talmudic studies and rhetoric at University of California, Berkeley, may not surprise as many readers as he (or his publisher) hoped he would. The author explains that his goal is to counter a popular assumption: that Jesus brought about a radical change in the theological imagination to include ideas alien and abhorrent to Judaism. Such assumptions indeed exist; but within mainstream biblical scholarship, the Jewishness of Jesus is no longer a source of contention. General readers will appreciate Boyarin’s discussion of passages from Daniel and early Jewish Enoch showing how they anticipate ideas of the Messiah that Jesus represents in the gospels. And Boyarin’s rereading of Mark for its kosher-keeping Jesus is compelling in the best midrashic ways. That the New Testament isn’t simply “a misappropriation of the Old” is also a welcome corrective. The best part of the book, though, is the foreword by Pulitzer Prize–winning writer Jack Miles. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

"If Boyarin is right, the consequences go beyond making a few adjustments to our understanding of the past. As the Pulitzer Prize–winning author Jack Miles writes in his foreword to The Jewish Gospels, Jews and Christians will have to radically rethink their identities and relationship to each other."

"Boyarin proposes that by constructing the categories of religious orthodoxy and heresy,second-century Gentile Christians created the concept of religion which pervades the Western world to this day . . . intensely provocative and innovative."

"A brilliant and momentous book."
—Karen L. King, Harvard Divinity School

"Raises profound questions . . . this provocative book will change the way we think of the Gospels in their Jewish context."
—John J. Collins, Yale Divinity School

"It’s certainly noteworthy when one of the world’s leading Jewish scholars publishes a book about Jesus . . . extremely stimulating."
—Daniel C. Peterson, The Deseret News

"[A] fascinating recasting of the story of Jesus."
—Elliot Wolfson, New York University

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New Press, The
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The Jewish Gospels 3.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
LAKHN More than 1 year ago
A MUST READ for both the goyim (non-Jewish) community, but more importantly, for all mishpucha! This work of discovery will make you laugh and cry, and I cannot recommend it enough!!! It's not what you think. You might learn something (translation: you will); I can't stop thinking about it. I'm telling all my friends (and enemies, too) about it. Rabbi Boyarin speaks as one who's looked deeper, farther, more closely and contextually, than you have, take my word for it. WARNING: [Not for the faint of heart] THE BEST BOOK I'VE READ IN YEARS!!!!!! MAZEL TOV, professor Boyarin, for calling us to attention (and not missing the most important things in the Tanakh and the gospels). And we thought all this time, we knew Him (the Nazarene)!!! Oy........
LeonZitzer More than 1 year ago
I was going to begin this way: This book is good as far as it goes, but it does not go very far. Now that I’ve digested it, I cannot even say that. Boyarin trivializes ancient Jewish culture and subjects it to Christian categories. I say that even if he is right on all his major points. I will explain. This very short book covers only two issues: Messianic ideas in Jewish apocalyptic literature (the bulk of the book) and one chapter on Jesus keeping kosher (I agree that he did). Ordinarily, I don’t believe it is right to criticize an author or artist for failing to do something he or she had no intention of doing. If Boyarin wants to write a book on Messianism in ancient Judaism, that is his prerogative. But he chose to add another chapter on kashrut. Why that? Of all the immensely important and fascinating things about Jewish culture and Jesus’ Jewishness, why pick that? The introduction is the only place where Boyarin even attempts to discuss variety in ancient Jewish culture. He brings up observing Shabbat, eating kosher, and circumcision (8, 10) and the Temple which he refers to as at one time “the core of Jewish identity” (12). That’s about it. This is his version of “the varieties of Jewish religious experience” (20). He has done what Christian theology has always done. He has reduced Jewish culture to rituals and Messianic speculations, which he later calls “the fulfillment of the highest and most powerful aspirations of the Jewish people” (94). What a distortion. Boyarin continues what every other scholar, whether Christian or Jewish, in NT studies or historical Jesus scholarship does. He has assembled some of the most trivial items of ancient Jewish culture and called that Judaism, while erasing its more important features. These are the categories that Christian theology has long dictated for Judaism and Boyarin falls right in step with it instead of letting ancient Jewish voices speak for themselves and their culture. I don’t know any ancient Jew who would reduce his culture to these categories. The main reason why most Jews will never take an interest in scholarship on the Gospels or the historical Jesus is that every such book, including Boyarin’s, leaves you with a negative or at least a cheap impression of ancient Jewish identity. No Jew will feel proud of their historical culture after reading any of these books because none of them give us accurate historical truth. Here are a few better ideas. Why not discuss the Pharisaic and rabbinic fight for constitutional government? We are not ruled by men — not by kings, priests, or even a Messiah — but by the Constitution or Torah. God gave us a Constitution so that we can rule ourselves and find the truth through debate. For Pharisees and rabbis, the main principle was not “May the best man (or Messiah) win”, but “May the best argument win.” Even God has told us that he acquiesces to discovery through rational argument. You can see this Jewishness too in Jesus in the Gospels and it is far more important than anything else scholars discuss. For Pharisees and rabbis, the big questions were not what are the qualities of the Messiah and does Jesus fit the bill (which seems to be what Boyarin thinks) but who cares. It does not matter who the Messiah is because no one is above the Constitution and if the Messiah makes constitutional errors, we will dispute him. Or why not delve into the Pharisaic and rabbinic dedication to justice and peace? This tells us a lot more about who ancient Jews were than the rules of kashrut. Or why not discuss Jesus’ devotion to oral Torah? Or his teachings like that of other rabbis that chutzpah (a good Aramaic word) towards God is a valuable way to approach him. All these things will give us more insight into Jesus’ Jewishness than anything in Boyarin’s book. Boyarin is an expert on rabbinic lit, yet he does an effective job of erasing some of the most vital aspects of ancient Jewish culture. Maybe it takes an expert to do that. If you believe that any ancient Jewish voices which contradict scholarly ideology should be silenced, then this book is for you. If you believe that ancient Jews should be allowed to speak for themselves, then look elsewhere. Leon Zitzer