Friday, June 17, 2005
A reader directs me to a review of Boyarin's book in Commentary from 1995. (The article is only available to archive subscribers.) The reviewer (Jay Harris) reads Boyarin's patent anti-Zionism back into the remainder of his book, and gives it a very negative review. I think Boyarin is, to an extent, asking for this, inasmuch as he included that ridiculous last chapter in the first place. But I think his arguments in the remainder of the book need to stand and fall on their own merits, and not merely because Boyarin's motivations may be suspect.
Harris makes one key point that I failed to make in my little book review, though it occurred to me as well. Boyarin makes much of Paul's desire to transcend difference, and grounds his objection to Jewish law in the fact that this law is mightily concerned with preserving difference. As I noted in my review, I think there are much deeper and more important reasons why Paul rejects observance of the law - to whit, such observance is, for a Jew, about salvation, not about quaint ethnic customs, and so observance implies a rejection, or at least doubt, about the comprehensive salvific power of faith in Christ. But Harris makes another valid point in his review: that Paul's exclusivism is no less exclusive than rabbinic Judaism's (only Christians are saved), and his universalism no less universal (you can convert to Judaism, after all). The important differences relate to the "carnality" of Judaism (Jews and Christians alike practice immersion as part of conversion, but Jews practice circumcision for males - converts or born Jews - whereas Christianity has no similar physical sign, and doesn't "transmit" by blood, so even the children of Christians need to be baptised), and to the timeline for the achievement of universality (Judaism defers the unification of the world at God's holy mountain until the Messianic Era, while Paul and Christianity sought/seek to convert the world now).
Anyhow, as I say, this occurred to me as well, and it's a vital point that undermines Boyarin's thesis. But there's still other interesting stuff in the book, I'd say, and I don't think everything Boyarin says is "tainted" by his (manifestly idiotic) political ideology.
But, like I said, I'm still eager to hear from someone reasonably fluent in Pauline scholarship to tell me if Boyarin if full of it, because this is not my area of expertise.