On the “Jewishness” of Early Christology

In reading Boyarin’s article “Enoch, Ezra, and the Jewishness of ‘High Christology’”, which I quoted in part the other day, I note something that I think is somewhat misguided. Boyarin is interested in the varied beliefs of Jews during the Second Temple period to the point that he focuses a lot of attention on the “out-takes” (i.e., pseudepigraphical literature) of Judaism, to borrow his colorful expression. In the article Boyarin seems convinced that the Gospels do not base their presentation of Jesus on 1 Enoch (and he’s surely correct on that point), but that 1 Enoch and the Gospels each present an interpretation of the Danielic Son of Man passage that have striking similarities.

The point, of course, is that these two disparate traditions, which have strong similarities while remaining distinct/unique, show that Jews of the period thought along similar lines without any necessary dependence. Good and well. But it also seems to me that inherent in this type of argument is the idea that because non-Christian Jews thought similarly to Christian Jews, that somehow makes the Christian Jewish views more Jewish. In other words, had there been no similar speculation from (a) group(s) that didn’t reverence Jesus as Messiah (or divine, or whatever) then the views about Jesus presented in the NT could be written off as Gentile, much in the manner that Maurice Casey argues in From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God.

But the NT documents are without question Jewish literature and represent a strand of first century Jewish theology. Early Christology, however conceived, is Jewish through and through. It amazes me how often this point seems to be overlooked in discussions on the topic. It also amazes me that some, recognizing the Jewishness of the NT texts, attempt to deny a divine Christology in the NT on the basis of such a concept being un-Jewish as if it has decided beforehand what the Jews writing the NT were and were not allowed to think or say about Jesus. In effect, this presupposition renders the NT un-Jewish by default.

B”H

2 thoughts on “On the “Jewishness” of Early Christology

  1. Hi Nick-

    You said:

    “It also amazes me that some, recognizing the Jewishness of the NT texts, attempt to deny a divine Christology in the NT on the basis of such a concept being un-Jewish as if it has decided beforehand what the Jews writing the NT were and were not allowed to think or say about Jesus. In effect, this presupposition renders the NT un-Jewish by default.”

    What i’m going to ask isn’t necessarily a challenge from me, but what I might anticipate from someone else: doesn’t this argument swing both ways? That is, you bring in a certain perspective of monotheism (i.e. relational monotheism specifically), and suggest that a particular view (i.e. Arianism) would violate this monotheism if it were true that only YHWH is to be devoted/related to in this unique fashion. With that said, why wouldn’t the NT Jewish writers be allowed to think or say what they want about Jesus if indeed they viewed him as YHWH’s most highly exalted creature?

    Hopefully, my devil’s advocate question made sense.

  2. Mike: I think the point is that whatever the NT writers said would be Jewish because they were Jews. Philo certainly didn’t represent the mainstream beliefs of Jews living in Palestine during the first century and yet he still represents a particular strand of Jewish belief because he was a Jew.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s