Daniel Boyarin's The Jewish Gospels

Darrell L. Bock's picture

Daniel Boyarin's study of the New Testament gospels will be a controversial book, not because of what it says but because of who says it. Boyarin is Professor of Talmudic Culture and rhetoric at the University of California at Berkeley.

His book, The Jewish Gospels, argues that the ideas that there is a second divine power in heaven, that Jesus kept kosher and that there is a suffering Messiah are ideas that resonated in some circles of Second Temple Judaism. He says this as a Jewish historical scholar. Moreover, he argues against some more skeptical NT scholars that these ideas reflect what Jesus said and taught and are not later products ot early church's theology.

As such, Jesus presented his teaching to reflect an effort to speak to Judaism from within Judaism. Those who work in New Testament Christology or in Second Temple Jewish studies will not be so surprised by what is said or the texts he notes for these themes. That a world renowned talmudic scholar would say it is surprising. 

Boyarin works both with Hebrew Scripture texts and with Second temple texts. So for the second power idea, he goes to texts like the Exagoge of Ezekiel, 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra. He works with Mark 7 in discussing Jesus and the idea he kept kosher, even arguing how Jesus' argument fits a halakic and midrashing appraoch that worked in Judaism. He sees Isaiah 53 in individualistic and Messianic terms as fitting within Judaism, noting how such a reading was common in Judaism until recently.

This is an interesting book. There are spots where he overargues the case. He does not note how the Exagoge is a midrash on Exodus 7:1, so it does not teach the deity of Moses as he claims. He may also overreaches on the text where Jesus is said to keep kosher. Jesus appears to have deemphszied this area enough that later the church would not remain concerned about keeping such practices. (But he must have done enough that the Jerusalem church appears ot have been very law abiding as a community) I am not convinced that Jesus' reply of "I am" is a formal violation of blasphemy that matches the standard in the Mishnah. It seem to be a simply affirmatiive response. Still, despite these questions, the book is often quite right in what it points out and highlights-- and in tis general thesis, muhc of what Jesus taught had a backdrop in current Jewish thinking. So this is a volume worth reading to get oriented to the context of the early church's theology. Judaism and Jesus are its sources. 


Hey Dr. Bock,

I'd like to add you to my RSS feed but your there is something wrong with your feed. It won't add when I press the button. It just changes the page to a bunch of weird html script. I thought you'd like to know that. You'd probably have more readers if that worked.

Joey Cochran

Brian Seagraves's picture

Hi Joey, What you are seeing is exactly what an RSS feed is. Most browsers display this in a pretty / well-formatted display, but It seems that your's isn't. I'm guessing you use an older version of safari or IE - Even the most recent version of Chrome doesn't display feed well. (There is an extension that fixes this).

All you need to do is copy the feed url into a feed reader, like Google Reader.



Darrell L. Bock's picture

Thanks. We are checking this out.

Thanks Brian for the tip. You're right, I was using Chrome. When I tried to do the same thing in Firefox I was able to add the RSS feed to google reader the way it normally functions. From now on when a site displays it weird I'll just try to do the same thing with a different browser. If that does not work I'll try the copy-paste method. Thanks again!

It is undeniable interesting that Boyarin emphasizes that the Son of Man in Mark is understood as connoting the divinity of Jesus (and not as it just have been understood in a typical Christian reading; that the Son of God connoted his divinity).

Another aspect of interest is his acknowledging of first century jewish expectation of a divine messiah figure among some circles of the Jews. For instance, Boyarin seems to go against much of the third quest in seeing Jesus condemned by the Jewish authorities of blasphemy in confessing that he was the messiah and mentioning of the Son of Man comming on the clouds. I know that N. T. Wright and others downplay the divine aspect of Jesus's mentioning of the Son of Man comming on the clouds - as meaning only that Israel is being vindicated (or something like that) by this metaphorical allusion.. Others downright denies that the hearing by the Jewish authorities ever took place (given the season of passover); and/or that the phrases comming from the mouth of Jesus; are likely to be a Christian insertion of confessional nature into the Jesus narrative.

What's your take on the Son of Man-usage by Jesus or the author of Mark? Does it connote his humanity or is it a clear parallel to Daniel 7 i. e. as a second divine power? For my part; I can not understand N. T. Wright's position on the Son of Man how many times I even read through his arguments: it does not make sense given the Markan usage and the reaction of the High Priest.

Sincerely Magnus Nordlund, Sweden

Darrell L. Bock's picture



I have written on this in a major monograph: Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and the Jewish Examination of Jesus, also in a chapter in Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus. My main point is that Son of Man has both human and divine elements in it in Daniel, but any doubt is removed by Jesus' claim God will vindicate him by bringing him to sit at God's right hand. This strongly points to a role as a divine figure. That was the point that made Jesus' remark appear as blasphemy to those who rejected his claim.

I just rediscovered your books and blog via Bill Mounce's Koinoniablog.net blog tour of the Theology of Luke and Acts. This thread on the Jewish Gospels and the tangential comments on blasphemy are pertinent to my current study of Luke's Gospel--in which I (presumptuously) find the commentaries I've checked  (not yours) to be almost clueless about what Luke is telling us through his narrative of Jesus ministry. I intend to read all your books soon and validate my pet interpretations, but this question of blasphemy and the Jewish take on messianic ideas grabs my immediate attention.

I perceive in Luke 4-5 and later that Jesus is controlling the reaction of the Jewish leaders (all parties) and that his emphasis is not on his deity or issues related to blasphemy but is more focused on ecclessiology. He seems to be probing their commitment to institutions rather than God. Jesus quote of Isaiah 61 stopping before the phrase mentioning the day of vengeance serves not so much to distance his reference from dispensational data regarding the second coming but to highlight the missing element. The next time vengeance occurs in Isaiah is in chapter 63 (still part of the chapter 61 discourse theme) where Isaiah explicitly describes the rebellion of Israel and rejection of the salvation that He himself would bring (especially Isaiah 63:8 and 10). In other words, Jesus highlights exactly and explicitly what God thinks of what the current Pharisees and Scribes and even Sadducees are doing at the exact moment that he is sitting before them reading scripture.

It seems Jesus wanted these leaders to "remember" the whole discourse in Isaiah and see that Jesus was preaching not about His Messianic character (which was already fully established in his prior preaching throughout Galilee and His miracles) but He was preaching about the Jewish leaders' unbelief and announcing that He (and God) were now going to become their "enemy". Jesus (in Luke) preached this by simply leaving out the phrase that he wanted them to be "hearing" in their heads while he read the passage--and stopped.

So the issue (in this case) really doesn't seem to be blasphemy. Their rush to kill Jesus in Nazareth had little to do with blasphemy but was exactly the reaction Jesus deliberately provoked them to have.

Furthermore, we tend to give too much credit to these Jewish leaders as being sincere followers of the Torah. They weren't (and aren't today). Jesus never regarded them as having the slightest interest in following God. They were pure establishment functionaries (possibly even despising the God of Moses who had so long abandoned them).

These charges of blasphemy (whenever they come up) are just rhetoric and not serious. They don't even "argue" (provide support for) this charge. They don't discuss the scriptures on blasphemy or try to teach the people about blasphemy or discuss the harm Jesus claims do to "sound doctrine". They don't in any way even appear to believe their own charges against Jesus in this regard.

Not having read all the Talmudic or Jewish glosses on this I may be missing much. But I did read that one Talmudic interpretation of Isaiah 61 re "freedom for the captives" said this meant that people would be free to find their own cross-references when interpreting scripture and thus be freed from the rabbinical traditions that "limit" the believers to only examining authoritative commentaries. Since Jesus went on in Luke to make two fresh cross-references to Elijah and Elisha during his sermon following the reading, might we infer that Jesus was more interested in teaching that the people would now be "free" from their leaders' traditional theologies?

(I don't expect an in depth follow-up from you. I'm just glad to have a venue that stimulates me to attempt to discuss these things. I expect that reading your books and exploring Boyarin more fully will fill in a lot. I used to "talk back" to Dallas's Kindred Spirit magazine (before blogs allowed real interaction) which I received after considering attending Dallas in the 70's before being diverted to Western instead and studying Hebrew in Jerusalem and then getting even more diverted into a career as a Middle East intelligence analyst for the Air Force. (Ugh, what a sentence.) I'm now writing a textbook on hermeneutics to use while I help teach a class through Moody. I therefore understand that my discussion above is full of hermeneutical gaps and possible innovations. Thanks for your hard work and your intense specialization. I look forward to "really" reading your works.)

Phil Faris

Darrell L. Bock's picture


This is best examined through a special monograph study (See my Blasphemy and Exaltation in Judaism and the Jewish Examination of Jesus, also in my chapter on the Jewish examination in Key Events in the Life of the Historical Jesus. They have th details. The issue IS blasphemy at the Jewish examination of Jesus. This is why the leaders tore their robes at Jesus' reply. They do discuss this issue (see John 5) and what they see (incorrectly) as an affront to the unique glory of God. Jesus' response ot them is that God's act of vindication on his behlaf shows God is not offended by Jesus' claims and acts (such as to forgive sin).

Darrell L. Bock's picture



Thank you for this. It is an interesting discussion. Not sure I buy it, but worth discussing.

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