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Jewish Gospels, The Paperback – 11 Jul 2013

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Product details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: THE NEW PRESS; Reprint edition (11 July 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1595588787
  • ISBN-13: 978-1595588784
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 12.7 x 18.4 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 90,881 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By pastor Sam on 7 May 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A few gems of gold along the way, this book is well worth reading. The only down side is on mythical figures in one chapter regarding baal etc, but it is good revealing of the (idols/gods) of Cannan. This book is definitely insightful.
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Robert Feather on 25 April 2013
Format: Hardcover
Daniel Boyarin's 'The Jewish Gospels', is far from a new exposé. The apparently explosive contention that the concept of a divine messiah was not an alien import but part of classical Judaism is well known. The key phrase 'Son of God', which was previously thought to be indicative of Jesus in the New Testament, was, as has been pointed out in 'The Secret Initiation of Jesus at Qumran', already in one of the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q246). These texts, that pre-date Jesus, are much more demonstrative than the Book of Daniel (who Boyarin cites) for pre-existent Jewish ideas on messianism that find their way into Christianity.

In fact the `Yahad' at Qumran were waiting for two messiahs - one kingly and one priestly and close analysis of their attributes shows that these were incorporated into the character and teachings of Jesus.

This latter finding is not surprising as there is now strong evidence that Jesus was a member of the Jewish Qumran 'Yahad' from the age of about 12 to 30. Even the previous Pope has written about Jesus' membership of this so-called Essene community. The idea that Christianity came out of Judaism is nothing new and has been written about by many previous authors.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Cjbevan on 25 Aug. 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Boyarin can always be counted upon for brilliant and idiosyncratic analysis. I do not always agree with him, but he is never dull, and have found his unique perspectives stimulating and exciting to read. It is hardly the last word on the small amount of text covered, but I have never read anything quite like it elsewhere, and it is a great complement to other material on Mark and the Gospels.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 82 reviews
111 of 117 people found the following review helpful
A Brilliant and Original View of the Origins of Christian Theology 18 Mar. 2012
By Prufrock - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Daniel Boyarin is one of the world's great scholars of Jewish Theology. In this book, Boyarin argues that the concept of the Trinity, which has always been considered the great original contribution of Christianity, is really derived from ideas that were common in Jewish thought before the time of Christ. He also demonstrates with great learning that the irreconcilable schism between Jews and Christians did not really come about until several hundred years after Christ. Boyarin demonstrates how there were Jews who believed in Jesus and Jews who didn't, but they were all part of the Jewish identity.

I imagine that this book is going to generate some very heated debate. It won't be popular with Jews who think of themselves as the first and longest standing monotheistic religion. And it is certain to make Christians uncomfortable, because he argues with great learning that the idea of a God who is both father and son is not original to Christianity.

I think that the conversation evoked by this book will be heated, but very interesting, indeed.
68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
A book all serious students of the New Testament and the Jewish Roots of Christianity cannot do without. 17 April 2012
By Mike Davis Th.D - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Daniel Boyarin has done a great service for the Body of Christ and especially for those who are involved in the study of the Jewish Roots of Christianity.

Over the past few decades it has become increasing clear that to understand more fully the New Testament writings we need to have a greater, more in-depth understanding of the conceptual and cultural world in which these texts were written...and this is primarily the world of Judaism.

Understanding the Jewish conceptual and cultural world in which Jesus, the disciples and writers of the New Testament lived and moved in has open up the richness of Scripture and given it greater clarity in innumerable ways.
One area that has now been greatly enriched by understanding the Jewish Background involves the Deity of Jesus.

Boyarin's work deftly demonstrates through the use of various streams of Jewish thought and literary works that the idea of a Divine Messiah was not foreign to Jewish thought and belief....and was even expected. He lays out the various beliefs about the Messiah down through the centuries before and during the time of Jesus using texts such as Daniel 7:13-14, the Similitudes of Enoch, First Ezra as well as insights from the Talmud and other rabbinic literature that may reflect earlier Jewish thought on this subject.

Boyarin view is that the seeds of the concept of a divine Messiah were present in Judaism before and during the time of Jesus. This is important for three reasons :
1. It explains how the first century disciples and followers of Jesus could believe that Jesus is God/deity. Boyarin's work demonstrates pretty well that such a belief and concept was NOT outside the scope of Jewish belief within the First century

2. It helps present day believer in Jesus, who also study the Jewish roots of the faith to see that there is no contradiction between Jewish Monotheism and belief in the deity of Jesus. This has become an increasing problem and a source of cognitive dissonance for some within the "Jewish Roots" movement and Messianic Judaism. "Would first century, observant Jews who hold that there is but one God also hold to a belief that the Man Jesus is also God? How does this fit with Jewish/rabbinic belief in monotheism?"

This has led some to deny the deity of Jesus while holding to his Messiah-ship as they are seeking to be faithful to their understanding of Judaism of the First Century and of the Bible. Hopefully Boyarin's book will help many to see that if they take into account that there are different and various views concerning the Messiah within early Jewish thought itself (and not just within the Talmud) then they will see that Jesus as a "divine messiah" is not a contradiction at all but rather is in harmony with different streams of Jewish thought in the First century Jewish World.

3. It locates Jesus divinity in his Identification of Himself as The Son of Man from Daniel 7:13-14; This helps us to see that Jesus view of Himself was NOT shaped by later Christians borrowing these ideas from the Roman concept of Cesar as the divine son of god (or borrowing the concept from other pagan sources concerning a god-man)

This work is also important because it helps to clarify Paul's presentation of Jesus in his epistle's as a cosmic, transcendent Being. Boyarin's work does not directly or specifically focus on Paul or his portrayal of Jesus but it does help to give an understanding as to how Paul may have come to his view of Jesus. Paul's view of Jesus is the Jewish View of the Divine Messiah/Son of Man.

What I would like to have seen in the book is more development of some of Boyarin's ideas in detail. But what is written is enough to motivate myself and others to do further research on this fascinating subject by seeking out at my local theological library the numerous scholarly articles and books listed in his footnotes.

Another great aspect of the book is chapter three "Jesus kept kosher" . Here Boyarin demonstrates that Jesus, far from doing away with the laws of Kashrut was actually Kosher himself and was giving his halakha on a question concerning the rules of clean and unclean. I had read David Biven's synopsis of Yair Furstenberg's article (Defilement Penetrating the Body: A New Understanding of Contamination in Mark 7:15 in New Testament Studies #54, 2008) in a Jerusalem Perspective online article a few years ago and then later read the full article by Furstenberg himself. Boyarin does a great job of simplifying and clarifying what was really going on in Mark 7:1-15. I especially liked the distinction he makes between the categories of clean and unclean and permitted and prohibited -with Mark 7 being about clean and unclean and Kashrut being about what foods are permitted and not permitted (or prohibited for food) -an important distinction that has been missed by many Christian commentaries on Mark 7:1-15 , leading to a misinterpretation of the meaning of the entire passage.

Boyarin s not a Christian nor a Messianic believer in Jesus. The book is thus not an attempt to try and win Jews over to a belief in Jesus and his divinity. Boyarin stated goals early in the book (pages 6-7) are to change the vilifying dialogue between Jews and Christians that has gone on for centuires and to foster a better understanding of each other; and also to offer a challenge (and I would say critique) of liberal Christian scholars who see the idea of a divine, suffering Messiah as having been invented by the later Christians leaders who foisted these ideas upon the church. Boyarin again shows throughout the book that these ideas pre-date the time of Jesus and are found within Judaism itself.

The book is an easy read and one that I feel further advances the understanding of the Jewish Roots of Christianity. I thought the book important enough that I bought a copy for a friend of mine and plan to re-read it myself. This is a book I highly recommend.
47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
Don't Throw Out Your New Testament 29 Mar. 2012
By S. E. Moore - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This short but sweet book challenges the assumption that Jesus and his earliest Jewish followers had a theology which was completely at odds with the New Testament and orthodox "gentile" Christianity. Daniel Boyarin is a Jewish scholar looking at Christianity from a Jewish perspective. He is not a fundamentalist Christian trying to defend his faith. I would also recommend his other outstanding book, "A Radical Jew, Paul and the Politics of Identity". In this book, he clearly demonstrates that the core doctrines of orthodox Christianity such as the incarnation, the trinity, and the vicarious suffering of the messiah/redeemer were ideas which originated in Judaism and which were firmly rooted in the Jewish faith in the time of Jesus. These doctrines were neither Hellenistic ideas nor were they elements of pagan mystery religions which were foisted upon the Christian faith by the early Greek church fathers or the Romans.

This book challenges theories put forth by modern liberal Christian apologists who draw a distinction between a "good Jesus" and a "bad Christ". In other words, we can no longer see the historical figure of Jesus as merely an ethical sage who, under the influence of Hellenism, was promoted to a divine status. The conviction that Jesus was elevated to a divine status as the "Son of Man" goes back to Jesus' earliest Jewish followers and was probably planted in their minds by Jesus himself. The charges of blasphemy leveled against Jesus can only be the result of his identifying himself as the future Son of Man and using the term "I Am" as a self designation. I would add that according to Hegesippus, an early Palestinian Jewish Christian, James was charged with heresy for making the same claims about his brother, Jesus. As another Jewish scholar, Hugh Schonfield, wrote, Jesus didn't just read the prophets, he read himself into the prophets. Boyarin clearly demonstrates that the idea of a divine redeemer figure goes back to a much earlier strata of Judaism.

The author shows how Judaism in Jesus' day was more diverse than it is today. The idea of Yahweh being a second manifestation of the highest god was present in Israel long before Jesus and was the precursor for what later became the doctrine of the trinity. Rabbinic Judaism later condemned the idea of a dual godhead or two powers in heaven as a heresy. I highly recommend Margaret Barker's book, "The Great Angel" for anyone who wants to explore this further.

Many Jews in Jesus' day were expecting a saviour or messiah. To some, this redeemer figure would be an earthly Davidic king adopted as the Son of God. To others, the redeemer would be a divine preexistant heavenly being known as The Son of Man who would be given authority by the highest god "The Ancient of Days" to have dominion over the earth. Boyarin makes his case by citing the book of Daniel written in the second century BCE and the Similitudes of Enoch and Fourth Ezra which were independent Jewish writings contemporaneous with the gospel of Mark written in the first century CE. The only thing that distinuished the followers of Jesus among their fellow Jews was that they identified the redeemer figure as Jesus. With Jesus, the Davidic Messiah Son of God was merged with the divine Son of Man. These ideas came from apocalyptic Judaism, not Hellenism.

Using independent sources, Boyarin demonstrates that the two biblical figures identified with Jesus by his earliest followers, Daniel's Son of Man and the "Suffering Servant" of Isaiah 53, were originally interpreted as individual messianic/redeemer figures and not as allegories for the nation of Israel.

Boyarin states that there were divergences of Christology even among Jewish Christian groups. Some Jewsih Christians believed that Jesus was God's son by adoption. Others , known as the Nazarenes, believed in the tenets of the Nicene creed. To the Nazarenes, there never was a conflict between their high Christology and Judaism. They continued to worship in the synagogue and kept the sabbath and kosher food laws. Tragically they were rejected by both Rabbinic Judaism and a newly institutionalized Christendom. Ray Pritz's "Nazarene Jewish Christianity" goes into greater depth regarding the Nazarene Jewish Christians.

Boyarin focuses on the Gospel of Mark as the earliest gospel which portrays Jesus as a thoroughly Jewish messiah. Jesus never disputed the Torah itself but only the Pharisaic innovations to the Torah known as the "Oral Law". In some respects, Jesus was more of a purist than his Pharisaic counterparts.

This book effectively refutes the artificial wedge that has been placed between Jesus and his earliest followers and the New Testament. I would add that much of what has been published in regard to original Jewish Christianity versus "Pauline" or gentile Christianity is a bogus attempt to discredit the Christian faith. Don't throw out your New Testaments.
20 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A slim and insightful argument in favor of treating Jesus and his followers as Jews who lived in a Jewish culture 27 Aug. 2012
By Peter S. Bradley - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
A conundrum that periodically puzzles me is how easily it seems that the Jewish followers of Jesus accepted "new" gods - or a "new" definition of God that postulated other divine beings sharing the glory of the One God.

Think about this - the conventional view of pre-Christian Judaism is that it was rigorously monotheist, and, yet, by the middle to end of the First Christian Century, we see the formula of "the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit" is being used as the baptismal formula in Matthew. I often think that it is strange that Jews - who only knew of one God - accepting two other divine characters without wondering where they came from and why God hadn't bothered to mention them previously.

Boyarin's answer is simple, straightforward and logical; the Jewish tradition included a germ or type of the incarnation and "trinitarianism" long before the First Century C.E., and, in a way, the answer is obvious to anyone who is familiar with the Bible.

Boyarin argues that there was a "binitarian" tradition in ancient Judaism that can be found in Daniel 7, notwithstanding the effort of the author to obscure its binitarian implications, which introduces the "Son of man" and the "Ancient of Days." Under Boyarin's guidance, it seems clear that Daniel 7 can be understood as introducing two divine beings, an older divine being who invests the younger with suzerainty over the world. Boyarin explains that there were several ways in which Israel's messiah was understood. One tradition was that the Messiah who was to be an heir of David who would institute a reign under which all nations would bow to Israel and Israel's God. This tradition - the very traditional contemporary understanding of "messiah" - was fused with that of Daniel, in which the person to whom all nations would bow was a divine being who had the form of a human being.

There was another tradition, moreover, in which a real human being became "exalted" to divine status. Boyarin points to the books of Enoch, which treat the mysterious biblical patriarch Enoch, who it was said was taken by God and was no more. Boyarin uses the books of Enoch, which are part of the Ethiopian canon, to good effect in showing that there was a Judaism that didn't hermetically seal off the spheres of humanity and the divine.

The conclusion of this slim and accessible book is that the Christian idea of the Incarnation and the Trinity was gestured at, or foreshadowed, or contained in germ form, in the Jewish writings and therefore were available for development as Jewish concepts within a Jewish framework. This conclusion answers my question; Jewish followers of Jesus accepted his incarnational and "Trinitarian" - perhaps only "binitarian" - claims because they were within the permissible options of orthodox First Century Judaism.

This insight neatly resolves other conundrums. For example, although there is tendency among most people to view the development of Christian theology from a "low Christology" to a "high Christology," there is the conundrum of the Kenosis Hymn of Philippians, which, as A Hymn of Christ: Philippians 2:5-11 in Recent Interpretation & in the Setting of Early Christian Worship documents in rigorous detail, is indisputably early, and is equally indisputably a "high Christology." A lot of scholars, such as Bart Ehrman in Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth, seem eager to ignore or explain away the Kenosis Hymn because they think that the idea that Jesus was divine has to be a "myth" or post hoc belief that could only develop over an extended period. Yet, if Boyarin is right, then the idea of the incarnation was already a part of the intellectual background of the followers of Jesus, and, so, it is not surprising that a High Christology is an early development.

Boyarin's insight is consistent with that of other authors who agree that the idea of the Incarnation is not a pagan idea, no matter how many times mythicists, the History Channel or Bart Ehrman say it is. Oscar Skarsaune's excellent In the Shadow of the Temple: Jewish Influences on Early Christianity also supports the argument that whereas pagans found the idea of a god becoming human "disgusting," Jewish Wisdom literature long carried a germ of an incarnational theology.

Boyarin also tackles the issue of whether Jesus kept kosher. This question is used as an opportunity to examine the issue Jesus' dialogue with the Pharisees about keeping purity regulations from the perspective of Jews which existed prior to the destruction of the Temple. More important, than the particular resolution of this issue, I think the real value of Boyarin's approach is that it illustrates how essential it is to read the New Testament as if it was written by Jews and for Jews, rather than as treating the New Testament as a kind of intentional rupture with Judaism.

In Saint Saul: A Skeleton Key to the Historical Jesus, Donald H. Akenson makes the point that the destruction of the Temple put an end to the wild diversity that existed in Israel. Boyarin's book indicates how wildly diverse Judaism could have been prior to the destruction of the Temple, in that it could have accommodated a Trinitarian and incarnational strain that would have been as Jewish as the rabbinical Judaism we are familiar with today.

This is a slim book. It really only tackles a few cases. I think it is worth reading as one brick in the wall of our knowledge. At this point, though, I am interested in N.T. Wright's writings, including , which I understand treat Christian themes as "mutations" which did not exist within Judaism.

I'd also point out that Boyarin's book is a challenge to Michael O. Wise's The First Messiah, who argues that the idea of "messiah" didn't exist until the late First Century B.C.E. Boyarin's book, in contrast, shows a development of several strains of idea of "messiah" over the Second and Third centuries B.C.E.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
A Dubious Disciple Book Review 5 Sept. 2012
By Dubious Disciple - Published on
Format: Hardcover
Just when you think you've got it all figured out, along comes Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic Culture and Rhetoric at the University of California.

You think Christianity's unique contribution to Judaism was the introduction of a god-man? Wrong. Could it be the idea of a suffering savior? Wrong again. Maybe that Jesus rejected Jewish dietary laws and Sabbath restrictions, freeing us from the Law? Hardly; Boyarin paints a very Jewish Jesus in his reading of the Gospels, certainly a Jesus who keeps kosher.

Christianity's one claim to fame may be the insistence that the Messiah had already arrived, but that's about the extent of its uniqueness. Otherwise, Christianity is a very Jewish offshoot of a Jewish religion. Boyarin draws from texts like the Book of Daniel and 1st Enoch to explain the title Son of Man (which, it turns out, is a much more exalted title than Son of God) and in turn to expose the expectation of many first-century Jews of just such a divine savior.

This is a fascinating, controversial book presenting a very different look at Jesus as one who defended Torah from wayward Judaic sects (the Pharisees), rather than vice versa. I don't think the arguments are fully developed yet, but certainly Boyarin introduces "reasonable doubt" against traditional scholarship. Let the arguing begin.
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