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Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism (Figurae: Reading Mediaeval Culture) (Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture) [Paperback]

Daniel Boyarin

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Book Description

31 Oct 1999 Figurae: Reading Medieval Culture
Not long ago, everyone knew that Judaism came before Christianity. More recently, scholars have begun to recognize that the historical picture is quite a bit more complicated than that. In the Jewish world of the first century, many sects competed for the name of the true Israel and the true interpreter of the Torah - the Talmud itself speaks of seventy - and the form of Judaism that was to be the seedbed of what eventually became the Christian Church was but one of these many sects. Scholars have come to realize that we can and need to speak of a twin birth of Christianity and Judaism, not a genealogy in which one is parent to the other. In this book, the author develops a revised understanding of the interactions between nascent Christianity and nascent Judaism in late antiquity, interpreting the two "new" religions as intensely and complexly intertwined throughout this period. Although the "officials" of the eventual winners in both communities - the Rabbis in Judaism and the orthodox leaders in Christianity - sought to deny it, until the end of late antiquity many people remained both Christians and Jews. This resulted, among other things, in much shared religious innovation that affected the respective orthodoxies as well. Dying for God aims to establish this model as a realistic one through close and comparative readings of contemporary Christian texts and Talmudic narratives that thematize the connections and differences between Christians and Jews as these emerged around the issue of martyrdom. The author argues that, in the end, the developing discourse of martyrology involved the circulation and exchange of cultural and religious innovations between the two communities as they moved toward sharper self-definition.

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"Daniel Boyarin has done it again. With this book ... he has again provoked, challenged, and enlightened us. With his usual clear, crisp, and sometimes sharp-edged writing, with his consistently critical engagement of ancient primary and modern and postmodern secondary interpretive texts and theories, Boyarin has forced us to think again and in some respects in radically different ways and on radically different terms about...the 'making' of Christianity and Judiasm." - Journal of the American Academy of Religion "This is a rich, stimulating and compelling work. Boyarin's writing is complex and full fo irony and humor... It is fascinating and, like a good drama, draws the reader in as if to solve a mystery... Even those how are not in the field of ancient Judiasm ... will find much of interest in this book." - Hebrew Studies "This volume highlights new developments in understanding Christian and Jewish origins. It is intended to be the beginning of a new investigation of the religious histories of rabbinic Jews and Christians in late antiquity. It is, according to Boyarin, to be read more as a series of hypotheses than as a series of conclusions. Nevertheless it is a very exciting publication... I find the central thesis compelling, even astonishing, but quite exhilirating. We are much indebted to someone who has the vision to see the past in ways most of us never fully envisaged." - Journal of Beliefs & Values " ... [This] book is especially worthwhile for anyone interested in the evolution of Christian and Jewish self-understanding in Late Antiquity." - Religious Studies Review "Boyarin tells this story with grace and impressive erudition. Previously unnoticed connections are established that shed rich light on the developments under study. Boyarin has placed the separation of Judaism and Christianity into the historical context of real people attempting to understand themselves and one another, and the once-familiar story will never again look the same. He is to be congratulated for a valuable contribution." - The Jewish Quarterly Review

About the Author

Daniel Boyarin is Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of several books, most recently "Unheroic Conduct: The Rise of Heterosexuality and the Invention of the Jewish Man."

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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Discourses of Martyrdom in Early Judaism and Christianity 8 Sep 2002
By "krchicago" - Published on Amazon.com
As a literary analysis of the discourses of martyrdom in early Rabbinic Judaism and Christianity, "Dying for God" is a complete success. Boyarin does a masterful job of exploring and contrasting significant martyr texts from both traditions, showing the various ways in which they deal with the question of whether martyrdom should be avoided, accepted, celebrated or even actively sought out, how they define and talk about martyrdom, how this discourse changes over time (from stoic acceptance of death as preferable to transgressing a commandment, to positive joy at fulfilling a commandment to love God with all one's soul), and the various motifs and themes that are sometimes shared between the two traditions. Boyarin convincingly demonstrates that the two developing orthodoxies were in greater contact with each other during the early centuries of the common era than either would later care to admit.
I found Boyarin's historical/cultural analysis less convincing, at least in part because his goal seems to shift. At some points in the book, he seems to be saying only that nascent Judaism and nascent Christianity were not always in utter opposition to each other, did not always view the other as "heresy," and that in fact they were often quite in sympathy, as they worshipped the same God and refused the hegemony of the pagan Roman state. There may have been (and likely were) "sects" that borrowed from both religions but which both religions would (in their "final" orthodox form) disavow. (As acknowledged in a footnote, the historical evidence for this "middle ground" is barely touched on in this volume, however. (202, n.89)) I have no quarrel with this conclusion, and indeed it is amply demonstrated throughout the book.
At times, however, Boyarin seems to want to go farther, suggesting that through the third (or, at times, even the fourth) century, Judaism and Christianity "were not yet at all clearly differentiated from each other." (17) This does not seem consistent with the fact that he cites texts from the third and even the second century as being peculiarly Christian or peculiarly Jewish, nor with his insistence that while something called "Christianity" was persecuted by the Romans, something called "Judaism" was not (although certain of its practices were forbidden). If Boyarin's point is simply that boundaries between cultural groups are fuzzy, that seems to me to be almost a truism. There are Jews for Jesus today, but that does not mean that Judaism and Christianity are not clearly differentiated.
This is a scholarly work intended for scholars, although it can be read and appreciated by a reasonably well-educated non-scholar with some basic knowledge of late antiquity, early Christianity and early Judaism (like me). Half of the book is endnotes and bibliography, which can be a terrible distraction from the main text (particularly on the many pages with 5 or 6 footnotes). Although I was not persuaded by all of his arguments, Boyarin writes well and clearly and lays out the evidence for the reader to evaluate for himself. Although this is not a history of martyrdom (or even a history of how Christianity and Judaism used their discussions of martyrdom to differentiate themselves), it will be of interest to anyone who wants to know more about this early, formative period of two of the great modern religions.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating thesis in need of support 4 Feb 2004
By Joshua Edwards - Published on Amazon.com
As background, I am a MA student in Religions of Western Antiquity, and I read this book as part of a class exploring Rabbinic Judaism. In the main, I would agree with the opinions of the reviewer immediately below this, although I would more heavily emphasize the advanced nature of this work. I would say that you need to have at least some exposure to early Christian history and literature as well as Rabbinics before approaching this book, in order to get some meaning out of it. First, I would note that this book is, unfortunately, a collection of thematically related essays rather than a single exposition. In the first chapter, Boyarin argues that we cannot properly speak of "Judaism" and "Christianity," as such, for the first three centuries of the Common Era. He offers, in my opinion, some pretty marginal evidence, although highly interesting. In short, he asserts more than he can sustain. In the following, he employs various en vogue cultural theories to look at virginity and martyrdom in "Christian" and "Jewish" literature, and essentially argues that this genre of literature acts as a liminal space in which these nascent groups can work out their identities. While I found some of his modern feminist cultural theory a bit anachronistic for, say, 3rd century religious texts, on the whole his thesis is interesting, if not totally supportable. This book will get you thinking; he's definitely on to something.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Creating religious identities and institutions 27 May 2000
By R. Lester - Published on Amazon.com
It is tempting to project the contemporary boundaries between Judaism and Christianity onto the first century BCE, but Dying for God clearly and convincingly explores the ways in which Judaism and Christianity were not discrete beliefs or practices not only during the life of Jesus but also for the generation after the death of Jesus . Not only was the line not clear between the two so-called sibling religions, each was forming a sense of identity out of a relationship with the other and the stories of martyrs is an especially telling tale of how such suffering and death was invoked and retold to shape communities understandings of themselves, the meaning of life and the meaning of death.
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