I bought and read the Italian edition of the book “The Jewish Gospels.The story of the Jewish Christ”, written by Daniel Boyarin, a professor of Talmudic culture at the University of Berkeley. I was struck by the fact that Boyarin, while claiming to be an orthodox Jew, argues that the figure of "one like a son of man" mentioned in Daniel's book has been interpreted in ancient Jewish exegesis, or at least in a significant part of it, as proving the divine nature of the Messiah, who would be subordinate to HaShem, but would share his deity to some extent. Therefore, according to Boyarin, the idea of a celestial and divine Messiah incarnate in Jesus the Nazarene would not be out of the Jewish tradition, for many Jews believed in the Messiah as being divine and supernatural. Boyarin also argues that the "servant suffering" of Isaiah 53 represents the Messiah for an authoritative and ancient part of Jewish tradition.

I am a Noah's son and not a Christian, so I do not believe in Christian dogmas. The reading of this book has puzzled me, because, for what I know, the Jewish tradition interprets both Daniel 7 and Isaiah 53 as images of the people of Israel, and not as steps referring to the Messiah; moreover, in the teaching of the Masters of Israel, the Messiah is a human and not divine being, save my mistake. In support of his thesis, Boyarin cites a few textual sources, which, in my ignorance, seem to me to be dubious.

On Daniel 7 as the image of the Divine Messiah, in addition to generally arguing that coming with the clouds of heaven" is a constant characteristic of theophany throughout the Tanakh", Boyarin reports the following passage of the Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 14a:

One passage says: His throne was fiery flames, 16 and another passage says: "Till thrones were places, and one that was ancient of days did sit." 17 - There is no contradiction: one [throne] for Him, and one for David; This is the view of R. Akiba. Said R. Jose the Galilean to him: Akiba, how long will you treat the Divine Presence as profane? 18 Rather, [it must mean], one for justice and one for grace.19 Did he accept [this explanation from him, or Did not he accept it? - Come and hear: One for justice and one for grace; This is the view of R. Akiba.

Boyarin commented on the aforementioned passage: "Whatever is the precise interpretation of this Talmudic passage (which I have long discussed in my other publication), there is no doubt that both rabbis would see in Daniel a theophany. Rabbi Akiva sees you two divine figures in heaven, that of God the Father and that of the king David after his apotheosis. Rabbi Yose the Galilean disputes him. "

The only other Jewish sources reported by Boyarin on the son of man as the Divine Messiah are quotes from the apocrypha "Early Book of Enoch" and "Fourth Book of Ezra."

Regarding the "servant suffering" of Isaiah 53 interpreted as a step referring to the Messiah, Boyarin mentions the Talmud of Babylon Sanhedrin 98b, where, in relation to the name of the Messiah, it is written: "The Rabbis said: His name is' The leper scholar, 'as it is written, Surely he has borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him a leper, smitten of God, and afflicted.'

Boyarin also speaks of Rabbi Moshe Alshekh, who would write "our rabbis, in unison, accept and affirm that the prophet (Isaiah) is talking about the King Messiah";and of Nachmanide, who claims, according to Boyarin, that according to the midrash and the rabbis of the Talmud, Isaiah 53 speaks from the beginning to the end of the Messiah, even though the great Spanish rabbi does not agree with this interpretation.

Are Boyarin's references correct? Is this a known author in Israel, and what rating does it give him? I am very puzzled about the quality of this publication, which seems to me in contrast to rabbinic teaching.

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    @mevaqesh | Schäfer: There are many correct and new aspects in your paper—only what is new isn’t correct and what is correct isn’t new. That sums up Boyarin very nicely. – user4736 Dec 17 '17 at 7:12
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    I would say that the fact that the gospels say Jesus was condemned for blasphemy for saying he was the son of God is probably a good indication of the general sentiments of his time – b a Dec 17 '17 at 13:31
  • @ba for saying he was the son of God whether or not he ever said such a thing is highly questionable. Talmud says he was a heretic who refused to accept rabbinical teachings. Regardless, that point has nothing to do with general sentiments of his time - it has to do with the fundamental tenets of Judaism : Shemot - Exodus - Chapter 20: You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them - Making yourself an image or incarnation of G-d is certainly included. – user4736 Dec 18 '17 at 2:24
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    @Alter I explicitly didn't attribute this to the "historical Jesus," but to the gospels, which say that the Sanhedrin condemned Jesus for blasphemy for saying he was son of God (Matthew 26:63 and parallels). The fact that they wanted to kill him for saying he was son of God is, in my opinion, exactly "the sentiment of the time." Whether or not this is a fundamental tenet of Judaism doesn't tell us what all Jews actually believed. Since what I describe as "general sentiments" matches your "fundamental tenets" I don't know why you disagree with the point – b a Dec 18 '17 at 8:56
  • @ba - IMO general sentiments is a trivialization. If there were such general sentiments , they were due to fundamental tenets, not merely "sentiments". – user4736 Dec 19 '17 at 16:46

The main point in the question seems to be:

The idea of a celestial and divine Messiah incarnate in Jesus the Nazarene would not be out of the Jewish tradition, for many Jews believed in the Messiah as being divine and supernatural.

The question is, do the referenced sources support that conclusion.

You list several sources: The fourth book of Ezra, Enoch, and Talmudic interpretations of Daniel and Isaiah.

The Fourth Book of Ezra dates from sometime between the first and third centuries. If it dates to the later end, then there would be no evidence that Jews in the time of Jesus would have considered such beliefs acceptable.

It should also be noted that the first two chapters known as 5 Ezra are generally considered to be of Christian provenance. I do not know if Boyarin draws any evidence from there.

Even more important, is that even were one to accept Boyarin's interpretation (not that I have any reason to), regardless of which part of the work he is dealing with, there is no evidence that it was in any way representative of Judaism; be it the dominant set of believes among Jews of the period, or any time prior. After all, Christianity itself is a Jewish cult from the period, replete with texts, yet that hardly proves that Christianity is Judaism, or was ever accepted as such.

The same goes for the Book of Enoch. Not only is not a part of the Jewish canon, and does not necessarily reflect Jewish consensus, the earliest rabbis were opposed to elements of it. For example, the interpretation of Bnei Elohim was condemned by R. Shimon ben Yohai (cf. Genesis Rabba 26:2, in ed. Albeck). Incidentally, this latter example similarly seems to preclude the Christian usage of the term in regards to Jesus (see here). This is significant, considering Boyarin is attempting to cast Jesus as consistent with rabbinic thought. See this critique of Boyarin that basically makes the same point.

That leaves the the interpretation of Daniel and Isaiah. Regarding Daniel, Peter Schäfer has already heavily critiqued this, and shown it to be without basis, (cited here).

Larry Hurtado similarly concludes that the evidences indicates the opposite of Boyarin's claims, (see here). Neither of these two scholars are Jewish.

Regarding Hagiga (14a), the evidence is simply not there. We have a cryptic verse mentioning a vision of thrones being set up, and mentioning that God sat on one. According to R. Yossi, the two thrones represent two modes of God's behaviour; merciful and kind. There is absolutely no evidence whatsoever, on the basis of this passage, to suggest that according to R. Yossi, God is physical. This is no different form any other prophecy in which an image represents God; hardly evidence of a corporeal God.

Even according to R. Akiva, that the seat is for Messiah, there is no evidence at all, that Messiah or God are physical; just that there is a seat reserved for the Messiah. It could easily be suggested that R. Yossi was merely opposed to the suggestion that the two were juxtaposed, rather than that R. Akiva was actually in some way equating God and the Messiah.

Furthermore, this whole passage seems like derash interpreting Daniel as referring specifically to two chairs and identifying the second chair. According to the peshat, one can easily read Daniel as referencing multiple chairs occupied by God and the court referenced in the next verse as sitting.

The court seems to be angelic from context, and seems no more theologically radical than any other angels.

Regarding Sanhedrin (98b), it is important to note the difference between peshat and derash. The latter refers to a didactic method, while the former refers to an interpretive method. More specifically, the former refers (as I am using the term here) to interpretation based on the simple reading of the text, taking into account grammar, context, and logic. Derash, on the other hand is a didactic mode of transmitting teachings using text as a medium. Accordingly, in the arena of derash, points are frequently made that have nothing to do with the context of the verses. (See Moreh Nevokhim 3:43). Accordingly, a derash of a verse is a poor proof for how the rabbis interpreted the verse in context. For a discussion of Isaiah 53, from a traditional perspective, see here which cites Origen, a third century Christian scholar who concedes that Jews interpret it as referring to Israel.

Furthermore, even were Isaiah 53 referring to the Messiah, there is little proof to anything really that controversial. While such passages are significant since centuries later they were resurrected by Christians, and traditionalists endeavored to show that they were taken out of context, vague verses about a suffering servant are hardly proof for anything about Jesus, even were there reason to think they relate to the Messiah.

Regarding Boyarin, as an individual, he is certainly not a traditional scholar. Although he identifies himself as Orthodox, the positions he suggests are far from Orthodox. I can anecdotally attest that the average traditional Jew has never heard of Boyarin.

More significantly, it is clear that the average believing Jew would not consider the positions that he suggests were held by Jews at the turn of the first millennium, to be acceptable. They are certainly not accepted today as traditional, and indeed, for millennia traditional Jews have wholly rejected Christianity as heresy, even at the price of death. The idea of a corporeal God was soundly rejected by Rav Saadya Gaon (Maamar 2), Hovot Halevavot (Shaar HaYihud: 10), Rambam (Hilkot Teshuva 3:7), and numerous others. Furthermore, while not all Jews always espoused correct beliefs, including scholars (cf. Raavad's animadversions to Hilkhot Teshuva there), I am not aware of any scholars who dispute the principle of God's uniqueness, or would tolerate a divine messianic human.

Indeed, although Boyarin apparently ignores the issue of trinity, as noted by Schäfer:

Boyarin forgets about the Holy Spirit and the Trinitarian claim, and focuses instead on the binitarian idea of two divine powers

It nevertheless seems clear that Christianity was rejected as heretical by the Jews at the time of Jesus, as related for example, in John (5:18, 10:33) which relates that the Jews wanted to kill Jesus for his comparing himself to God, and claiming to be God. It seems that Jews at the time considered the very declaration of a man to be divine, as heretical. See also Matthew (26:63-6) and Mark (14:53-64). Although the historicity of the above sources has been questioned, all later Jewish sources unequivocally reject Christianity.

The Talmud seems to have understood Christianity to be avoda zara (typically translated as idolatry), a position clearly seconded by Rambam (Hilkhot Maakhalot Assurot 11:4, Hilkhot Avoda Zara 9:4) and all major authorities until today (see here). Although they address trinity, while Boyarin, as noted, is dealing with binitarian, there is no reason to suggest that that distinction would be relevant here.

  • Now everything is clearer to me. Thank you so much! – Amos74 Dec 17 '17 at 12:59

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