Jesus Kept Kosher (Boyarin, Pt. 3)

Did Jesus say that it doesn’t matter what people eat?

Did he say, in effect, that people can eat pig and shrimp, that Jewish food laws are no longer binding?

In what I found to be the freshest part of Daniel Boyarin’s The Jewish Gospels, he argues no. Unlike the interpretation he offered of Daniel 7, Boyarin makes his claim based on the interpretation of the biblical text as it currently stands.

Here’s the passage in question:

14 Then Jesus called the crowd again and said, “ Listen to me, all of you, and understand. 15 Nothing outside of a person can enter and contaminate a person in God’s sight; rather, the things that come out of a person contaminate the person. ” k

17 After leaving the crowd, he entered a house where his disciples asked him about that riddle. 18 He said to them, “ Don’t you understand either? Don’t you know that nothing from the outside that enters a person has the power to contaminate? 19 That’s because it doesn’t enter into the heart but into the stomach, and it goes out into the sewer. ” By saying this, Jesus declared that no food could contaminate a person in God’s sight. (Mark 7, CEB).

The traditional interpretation is this: Mark is telling us that Jesus just overturned the whole system of food laws–food can’t make you unclean before God, not even pig or shrimp.

Contextually there is one particularly problematic feature of such an argument: Jesus had just condemned the Pharisees for abolishing the commandments of God in favor of their own tradition. Could Jesus really, then, turn around and abolish the law of God in favor of a new tradition?

Boyarin follows the argument of Yair Furstenberg in saying no.

He distinguishes between laws of impurity and laws of kosher food.

Food laws tend to be about certain foods that are always off limits, or situations that differentiate between kosher and non-kosher foods.

Purity laws are about contagion that comes from different sources: often from the body itself (through sores, through menstruation, through ejaculation), sometimes through circumstances such as death.

Boyarin’s point is this: the kosher laws are not purity laws.

What Jesus and the Pharisees are arguing about is not whether certain foods are kosher, but whether certain ways of handling foods could make them impure.

In this context, the Pharisees have created an additional tradition: even kosher foods can be rendered unclean if eaten with defiled hands.

Jesus, according to Boyarin, is arguing against this “liberalizing” of the tradition, arguing for a more “conservative” reading of the law. Jesus disagrees that purity or impurity is transferred to and through food. You can still transgress the law if you choose to eat a detestable thing. However, eating kosher food with impure hands or that has overshadowed a corpse is not going to make you impure.

Thus, for Boyarin, this is an intramural Jewish debate, among kosher Jews, about an innovation in the food laws added by the Pharisees.

He extends his argument by focusing on things coming out of the body as the typical sources of impurity (fluids, for example). Jesus says that things going in don’t make you impure, but instead, things coming out.

The one point where I would have liked to see a bit more concession from Boyarin is that here Jesus’ “what comes out of a person” is not body fluids, but instead actions that spring from the heart.

It’s a point that needs to be addressed, because it seems that Jesus’ definition of what makes impure does not, in fact, uphold the law as such. If he is refusing the Pharisees’ redefinition of “impure,” he is still creating his own new definition when we does not revert to fluids but instead to the actions that spring from the heart.

I need to do more research on OT laws, and see what folks more versed in them, and Jewish traditions, than I think about this argument. But it is the one thing that I’ve read so far where I’ve stepped back and thought that Boyarin might be presenting something that truly has the potential to transform how we read a crucial text.

Selling Sex

There is a sex industry because people are willing to pay for it. There is a sex industry because men (mostly) want to have sex, yes, but also because we want to be aroused by it.

Last night I attended a screening of Nefarious: Merchant of Souls, a Christian documentary about the sex industry. It focuses on the lack of freedom that the women and children have who are servicing the “Johns.”

They are entrapped. They are enslaved. They are held there through physical and psychological coercion.

There were two bright spots in the film, one of them in the progress that Sweden is making in cutting down on its sex industry.

Sweden criminalizes the hiring of a prostitute at the level of what would be a felony in the U.S.

And the prostitutes? They are treated as people who need social services, counseling, protection, and rehabilitation in order to escape the industry, recover their dignity, and reenter society.

The chief enforcement officer of Sweden’s sex industry policies demonstrated what it takes to institute these kinds of laws. Here’s the mentality behind them:

Every act of prostitution is a degradation of a woman.
Every act of prostitution is an exploitation of a woman.
Prostitution is not sex, it is a man masturbating inside of a woman.

Sweden’s laws are undergirded by a cultural shift in understanding of how to think about sex for money.

In America, we are in no place to institute such laws because all of us, all day long, are paying for sex.

Every time we buy our clothes at Abercrombie and Fitch, we are paying for the sexual titillation they have offered us through their hyper sexualized ads.

As Julie Clawson was lamenting earlier this week, NBC won’t even try to sell us Olympic sports where women are large athletes or compete fully clothed or covered.

And we’re not even talking about the $13 billion dollar per year porn industry. (In the U.S., that is.)

There is a sex trade industry because there is a market for it, a market that does not contain solid borders from which those of us who have never paid a sex worker are hermetically sealed. It is a market whose black fades to grey in the everyday purchasing of sex that drives our marketing- and consumer-dollar economy.

Men want sex. A lot. And we pay for it in various ways, even when sexual intercourse is not the actual product we’re buying. (The year that I worked in a restaurant, women servers typically made more money than men; men typically were paying the bill.)

The point in this is that treating women as sex objects, and exploiting that deep seated tendency, is a deeply seated disposition in our hearts and in our culture.

Behind the terrible stories of girls being kidnapped, of mob bosses paying for safe border crossings, of terrified children huddled in out of the way apartments–behind all of this is a market. Men who want sex. Men who will pay for it. Men who are paying for it every day even when we’re not soliciting prostitutes.

As I reflect on my week–watching the Chick-fil-A dust-up, reading Julie’s article on the Olympics, watching a little Olympic coverage here and there, and now screening this film, I’m humbled by a couple of things.

First, most of us are complicit in the selling and buying of sex. And I might say that all of us men are so complicit.

But second, I’m struck afresh by the message that the Church has been sending in the latest wave of our culture wars. We are acting as though the most egregious thing a man can do sexually is to desire and have sex with another man.

While all the time there is this multi-billion dollar sex industry, representing one of the gravest human slavery industries in the modern world, being driven, mostly, by men’s insatiable desire for women.

If only we could redirect our righteous indignation here, against the objectification of women that runs right through the middle of not only the dark alleys but our own living rooms. If only we could agree that the selling of women for sex is degradation and exploitation–and see, also, how we’re all complicit.

Apocalyptic Flying Humans

Is the “Son of Man” God?

Daniel Boyarin suggests that Daniel 7 (rightly deconstructed) provides us with a first affirmative answer, and then moves on to demonstrate that this affirmation is echoed in other early Jewish texts.

Chapter two of The Jewish Gospels provides his reading of the Son of Man in First Enoch and Fourth Ezra.

The material from First Enoch provides a much stronger basis for arguing that the “son of man” was considered some sort of divinity in early Judaism than Daniel does, in my opinion. This figure is clearly preexistent, one who becomes incarnate at a particular time in order to be messiah, redeemer, savior.

One indication that this figure is divine comes from the statement that his name is known before creation came to be:

Even before the sun and the constellations were created,
Before the stars of heaven were made,
His name was named before the Lord of Spirits. (cited from Boyarin, 78)

In addition to this figure’s preexistence, at the end (in what is perhaps a later addition to the vision), Enoch is revealed to be the son of man.

Boyarin reads the text as a whole, indicating, first, that Enoch on earth was an incarnation of this eternal son of man, and that he is then deified in his ascent into heaven.

Presumably, this means that Enoch will return in order to fill the role on earth of the Son of Man who is the saving messiah.

But this presumption raises a question for me: Is the text that precedes Enoch’s exaltation a description of Enoch before he comes to earth as Enoch? Or is it, instead, a description of the heavenly Enoch after his exaltation to heaven, who will come again as Messiah?

The idea that someone’s name is known from all eternity need not entail their actual existence. Compare Revelation, where people’s names are known and written in the books from all eternity.

Moreover, a significant theme of First Enoch is that the name of this son of man is revealed to God’s people–a revelation that happens at the end, when we discover that he is none other than Enoch.

Finally, there is the repeated use of “son of man.” This word means “human.” I want to see more from Boyarin about why this figure is called “human being” if he is not, in fact, human being throughout most of the apocalypse?

This ties into another general question I have, both from last time and this: to what extent does the fact that this is apocalyptic literature–literature that depicts earthly realities using heavenly visions, literature that is highly symbolic and stylized–influence how we read these descriptions? If sometimes feel that Boyarin is reading too literally.

In this case, however, most scholars agree with Boyarin that the Son of Man in 1 Enoch is a preexistent deity and not simply an exalted Enoch who comes back as a messiah. Here there is some good fodder for discussing the presence of a preexistent, perhaps even divine, messiah figure as present in non-Christian Judaism.

In the discussions of both 1 Enoch and 4 Ezra, however, I have a larger problem with Boyarin’s work. It’s not that there are not parallels between Jesus as son of man and these early figures. There certainly are. Even important dynamics of their life such as receiving worship are entailed across different texts.

But Boyarin has adopted Richard Bauckham’s heuristic of “divine identity Christology” as a measure for saying “here is a figure who is being described as God.” This is problematic.

Receiving worship does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Solomon was God (1 Chro 29:20).

Controlling the waters of the sea does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Moses is God (Exod 14).

Ruling the world does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, Adam is God (Gen 1).

Being called Lord does not make someone God. Not even in Judaism. Unless, of course, David is God (Ps 2).

I agree wholeheartedly with Boyarin that the Jesus tradition is participating in a larger Jewish tradition of exalted son of man figures redeeming, saving, coming as David’s seed, receiving worship, and riding on the clouds.

Where I am not yet convinced is that all of this entails divinity, as such, for an early Jewish audience. There is a whole tangle of unexplored possible implications that swirl around a very different possibility.

Perhaps “son of man” really intends to connote “human one.” Perhaps rather than a divine christology, this is all part of a larger Adam Christology in which the early Jewish people are envisioning human beings, or a Human Being, restored to the primal place of ‘adam: God’s son, ruling the world on God’s behalf.

There Is No They

There is no they, only us.

I got a reminder of this today, an uncomfortable reminder that I probably needed to hear.

There is no “they.”

This is what I told the guy at the hardware store. More specifically, I told him, “YOU ARE True Value.”

I bought a hose storage unit at my local hardware store about a month ago. It worked well, for about two weeks. Then it started leaking.

Today was the day. I walked the half block, defective implement in hand, to ask for an exchange.

One guy said no, not before we try to fix it. He tried. It’s in worse condition now.

The other guy told me to send it back to the company, that they would replace it. “But I bought it here. How about we exchange it, and you send it back?”

“True Value won’t do that.”

“You’re True Value.”

There is no mystical “them” who is responsible. When you have a True Value store, you are True Value.

When you are part of a church, especially in leadership (but not only then), there is no “they” who will or will not do something.

In those moments when what needs to be done butts up against the policy, or when what they’ve done embarrasses us, deferring to “them” is not going to convince the person in front of you that you are not part of that “them.” That person will only be convinced that you are different when you act, when you do what is right.

I regularly need reminding of this. There is no “them” who is the church, or my employer, or my family, someone else to blame in that organization I’m a part of when I’m as frustrated as the outsider.

But probably the place where I need the reminder most is in dealing with Christians en mass. There is no “they” who are doing those things that drive me bat-poop crazy, only an “us.”

I can’t control “us,” but I can own us. I can take responsibility for how we are engaging, offending, alienating the person in front of me. I can take responsibility for apologizing for our brokenness and striving to rectify messed up situations.

Badmouthing “them,” or blaming “them” rings hollow when we are they. The person standing in front of us, or reading our blog post or our article or our book or our Facebook status knows that we are they, even though we’d like to distance ourselves and conveniently forget.

I need to realize it, too.

Divine Son of Man? (Boyarin review, part 1)

Daniel Boyarin has come out with a short, readable book arguing a provocative thesis.

The Jewish Gospels, The Story of the Jewish Christ sets out to demonstrate that early Christian ideas about Jesus are all Jewish ideas about a coming messiah figure.

Many Jews, argues Boyarin, believed that a divine being would come to rescue them. This is not a development of the later church, an explanation of what had just happened with Jesus, but a thoroughly Jewish idea.

This, says Boyarin, is what we find in texts looking for a coming Son of Man. This is a title indicating divinity.

Furthermore, early Jewish people were looking for a coming a king, a messiah. This is what “son of God” means: a human being anointed by God.

Today, I want to engage his chapter on Jesus as son of man.

Boyarin’s argument is this: the son of man in Daniel 7 is God. Therefore, early Christian depictions of Jesus as son of man indicate that the Gospel writers saw Jesus filling this role, expected by many Jews.

This leads Boyarin to make a couple of exegetical moves that I think are important: interpreting Mark 2, he says that Jesus is claiming to be the son of man figure from Daniel, the one who rules the world for God.

Yes!

But I take considerable issue with Boyarin’s reading of Daniel 7. He argues that the son of man in Daniel 7 is “part of God” (p. 26), or a second God. A divine figure.

It is crucial that we realize what the reader has to agree to in order to arrive at such a conclusion. Three pillars uphold his argument.

First, Boyarin recognizes that his interpretation runs counter to the interpretation given by the author of Daniel. In Daniel, the explanation of the vision of the son of man is that the human figure represents the holy ones of the most high, or, the people of the holy ones of the most high–in context, the Maccabean martyrs.

Boyarin sees this interpretation as a later interpretation by the author of Daniel in which the redactor is attempting to silence the clear meaning of the vision by giving a contradictory meaning. Thus, for Boyarin, Daniel 7 itself embodies the question of whether a redeemer figure can be God or not as an intramural Jewish debate.

The idea that the visions and the explanation are from different redactional layers strikes me as special pleading. It is quite common in apocalyptic literature to have a confusion vision explained to the seer. Was this particular apocalyptic vision not interpreted in some non-extant older strand?

Questions of apocalyptic genre and the age of the vision persist in the other two planks of Boyarin’s argument.

Boyarin says that the human one being divine, and the interpretation being secondary, represent the clear and obvious reading of the vision as it stands.

But this is apocalyptic literature. In apocalyptic literature, the “clear” reading is a clear picture that points to something else.

Are we to assume that Daniel 7 teaches that the world is or has been run by lions with wings, man-eating bears, flying leopards, and iron-toothed monsters?

The son of man figure is the last in a series of rulers, of kingdoms, that exercise power over the earth, and over God’s people in particular.

Does all of this end when we get to the Son of Man and the vision suddenly shift into a “clear” vision telling us literally what happens? Such an argument depends upon a genre mistake, akin to many that Christians make in attempting to make sense of Revelation.

Third, Boyarin argues that we have here the remnants of an ancient Canaanite tradition in which there were two gods ruling the earth: El and Ba’al, who came into Israelite religion as El and YHWH before the latter two were joined into one.

Without questioning the evolutionary picture outlined by Boyarin, are we still to believe that a second century, post-exilic, post-Josianic, apocalyptic text reflects a genealogical antecedent from which it was separated by hundreds of years? This seems highly unlikely. What year would Daniel’s vision have had to be written to make such a Canaanite influence viable?

It is important for readers of Boyarin’s argument to recognize that the argument concerning Dan 7 is not an interpretation of the passage, but an interpretation of an alleged prehistory of the passage that stands in direct tension with Dan 7 as it now stands. Moreover, it is worthy of scrutiny even as offered.

To claim that the Gospels depict Jesus as the Danielic Son of Man is important. And, it is important for showing that Jesus occupies a special place of authority not generically given to all people. Boyarin makes these points well.

But the argument as offered in ch. 1 does not go very far toward demonstrating that Jewish people were looking for a divine messiah, and that this is the claim of the Gospels.

The book suffers from a bit of equivocation in terms of what Boyarin intends to demonstrate with respect to the son of man’s divinity. In a curious footnote, Boyarin says that one might distinguish between functional divinity–someone exercising divine activities such as ruling or judging human begins at the end times– and ontological divinity.

After exerting 55 pages of ink affirming Jewish people’s expectation of something that could only be construed as the latter, Boyarin inexplicably indicates in this note that he intends the former: functional divinity is what he means by someone “being” God. The remainder of the chapter is spent discussing how, in light of Daniel 7, we know some Jews anticipated a divine messiah.

Throughout, Boyain does not mean someone like Adam, ruling the world on God’s behalf (a functional divine christology) but someone like the early Christian confessions indicate: a preexistent God (ontological christology).

The early Jewish usage of the son of man figure might be more to Boyarin’s point than his reading of Daniel 7. We’ll discuss that next time.

Who Am I?

As a Christian, who am I? As Christians, who are we?

Lots of different answers are given to this one, many of which we don’t speak out loud, but simple assume.

Other answers are spoken out loud, at times, but perhaps they do not seep in deeply enough to come to the point of “unspoken assumption,” a bedrock presupposition that drives our lives without our knowing it.

A storied theology that places the story of the cross at the center of our story as God’s people should tell us some things about ourselves. We know these things. At least, we know many of them, but too many are allowed to fall away.

The cross is a story that tells us, among other things, that the world is in need of transformation in order to attain to the beauty and perfection that God wants for it.

It’s a story that tells us the way into God’s kingdom is through a self-renunciation, a receipt of forgiveness, a being set free.

But in the process, we discover that there is a beloved “I” who is engaged in this transformation. We are not a despised people who have to become someone else in order to be beloved of God. Instead, we are beloved people who are made more truly ourselves as we come to God in Jesus Christ.

But we don’t believe it.

In the Presbyterian liturgy there is a refrain I have, at times, found myself repeating every week:

Friends, believe the good news of the gospel.

In Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Thanks be to God!

At this moment, we have denied the economy by which most of us live our lives.

We offer an idea. We put ourselves out there. It is ours. And so when someone disagrees, it crushes us.

We get in a fight with our spouse, our friend, our sister, our brother. We believe that we were right. We feel that to let go of that, to admit that we were wrong, would be death. We have wrapped ourselves into what we have done.

And we’re right.

To admit we’re wrong would be death.

But it’s the death of those whose stories are defined by the cross of Christ–a death that resolves in resurrection.

In that moment, when we must. have. our. own. way. in that moment, we have left aside the fact that our defining narrative is the narrative of the cross. We have forgotten that who we are at the core of our being is not defined by our being right, awesome, powerful, amazing.

But, paradoxically, who we are most truly, the way in which we have found life, is not by clinging to the life we had, but in giving it up. In dying. In asking for forgiveness.

“I believe in the forgiveness of sins.”

This is not something that is to be lived out in vague generalities.

Because we are the cross people, we are the forgiveness people: embodying the equally difficult tasks of asking for forgiveness and of extending it to the people around us.

It feels like death to admit when we’re wrong. And, it probably is death, because we are wrapped up in the things we’ve done, the things we’ve said–they are part of our defining narrative.

But a greater narrative provides a greater definition. It is the narrative of the cross that says to all those things I either can’t or won’t or don’t want to turn from: These, too, are forgiven. Yours is a better story.

Thanks be to God.

Corporate Election

There is no election of individuals outside of the community. God has a chosen people, and chosen persons are part of that people.

This chosen people is, itself, the body of Jesus Christ, the elect one.

So Barth has moved in his exposition of election from election in Jesus Christ (§33) to election of the community (§34). I’ve been working on this section for a few weeks, holding off on blogging about it until I had gotten a bit deeper in. I’m experiencing the section simultaneously as some of the most insightful and the most troubling of the Church Dogmatics.

First, the good stuff.

Barth’s movement from the election of Christ to election of the community resonates with me deeply. To be in Christ is to be part of Christ’s body. There is no such thing as a person isolated in relationship to God. To be in relationship to God is to be part of the family of God, which is to be God’s child as one is in the Son.

This kept bringing back the kind of note I kept writing in the margins the first time I read Richard Hays’ Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul: Hays was arguing for an ecclesiocentric hermeneutic—that the community was the interpretive end of Paul’s use of scripture. But I kept wanting to say that this was only so because the community is in Christ. Thus, it is truly a Christological reading of scripture, first and foremost, with the communal dimension being the necessary consequence.

I think my critique of Hays was rather Barthian, now. (And I’m not sure but that Hays would agree to a certain extent with what I’ve said above.)

The heart of Barth’s discussion of the election of the community is his small-print exposition of Romans 9 and 10. Keeping in view the big question of Israel as a people, Barth works through Rom 9 with a recurring manta that the differentiations God makes are all about the election of a people.

Pressing against the notion of double-predestination, Barth wants to focus on the positive purpose of all the differentiations: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Israel, the remnant—any rejection is subordinate to the purpose of election and salvation of Israel as a people.

But the chapter was also troubling.

Perhaps I’m only now coming to be as troubled by Paul’s argument as I should always have been, feeling the weight of his assessment of ethnic Israel’s place in the story. Or, perhaps, Barth speaks with a directness that sets of the radar of a politically-correct era.

But I kept wincing at Barth’s differentiation among who is “in” and who is “out.” He speaks of the church as those who respond in obedience to the message, the synagogue as those who reject it, and Israel as this elect people whose rejection of the message can be overcome when they join with the church in confessing Christ.

I wondered, often, if Barth was losing sight of the fact that we gentiles, who by and large populate the church, are participating in the salvation narrative of Israel?

Throughout this section, Barth develops more of the notion that people might reject the election that is theirs in Christ. I think that this is in line with what we see in scripture, especially with respect to Israel, but it then raises the question of what good it is to lay out the argument he does in the previous section.

If the whole point of focusing election on Christ is so that we have a certain hope of our standing before God, but then he can go on to say that our election may be rejected, has he really accomplished the pastoral purpose of assuring people of God’s favor?

Perhaps it’s that last line that’s the key. We always have God’s favor. In Christ. As the overflow of the promise to Israel. As part of the church.

Ne’er Blooming

I love magnolia trees.

I owe this to my North Carolina connections generally, but to my two years at Wake Forest in particular.

There’s nothing quite like a tree that soars 50 feet (or more) into the air, with the prefect branch system for climbing and making mischief.

So, of course, I plant them at every opportunity.

I planted two at the first house we owned, in Durham, NC. And I planted one out front there in San Francisco.

Now, San Francisco is its own animal. We live close to the ocean, a foggy part of town. San Francisco is also basically desert, getting just a smidgeon too much water each year to officially rate as desert (from what I hear: circa 24 inches per year compared to deserts which typically get less than 16).

Thus, one must choose one’s flora with care.

I asked diligently after the fate of a magnolia tree in the Sunset District. I was assured that it would do just fine.

And it has.

Just as long as by “fine” we mean that it hasn’t died, has thickened up in the trunk, and has stayed green.

But then there’s the other part. Those promising buds.

I can keep the tree well watered. I can give it all the nutrients available in the leftover grain husks et al from my beer brewing. (Read: It’s well fertilized.)

But the one thing I can’t do is give it more sunlight.

And so, those buds arrive, full of promise. And then, eventually, they turn brown and fall off, failing to fulfill their beautiful potential.

Being objectively awesome isn’t enough.

Being well tended isn’t enough.

A magnolia tree has to be in the right place or it simply will not bloom.

Abba Chicken, Abba Egg

It is often asserted that Jesus’ cry abba, father, reflects the memory of the early church. This is how Jesus prayed.

Not only this, but several people have followed the line of argument that Jesus prayed like this not once, but every time he addressed God as “father”–referring to him as abba.

The prayer recurs in Paul. Twice.

Thus, the idea is that Paul’s churches participate in this historical memory, themselves participating in the unique form of prayer that Jesus himself taught.

But it strikes me that the opposite may explain the data just as well.

Jesus only says abba once in the Gospels. It’s in Mark. And, it’s in a context where there is no other character around to hear him. In other words, this is one of the least likely places in the Gospel for a historical remembrance to be informing the story.

What if, rather than abba father being a historical remembrance that influenced the Pauline churches, the practice of the Pauline churches influenced how Jesus is depicted as praying in Mark 14?

I have no doubt that Jesus addressed God as “Father” before Paul came on the scene. There is the Lord’s prayer, after all, and other examples of Jesus so addressing God.

But in my study of the abba prayer, I have some concern that too much historical weight is being placed on a passage that can’t bear it. Is abba Jesus’ way of praying? Well, it is in the garden of Gethsemane, and it is in those who are being renewed after the image of this suffering son (Rom 8).

Thoughts?

Telling the story of the story-bound God