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Youngstown OhioA Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity (Contraversions, 1)
Published: 11 November, 1997
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Author: Daniel Boyarin
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Youngstown Ohio A masterpiece in Pauline studies

Boyarin is a Talmudic scholar whose non-Christian approach to a well-worn discipline is refreshing and necessary. He locates the heart of Pauline theology in the Platonic dualism of spirit and flesh, where flesh, though necessary and not evil, is regarded as less significant and inferior to spirit. The most challenging parts of the book are those that deal with Paul's attitude to sexuality. There is also a penetrating critique of anti-Semitic German scholars like Kasemann. I was shocked to discover that Kasemann, one of the great Paulinists of our time, used to speak pejoratively about "the Jew in every one of us"; the "Jew" here representing perverse self-righteousness. The twentieth century has witnessed some outstanding contributions by Jewish scholars to Pauline research. In particular the works of R.L. Rubenstein, "My Brother Paul", and H.J. Schoeps, "Paul: The Theology of the Apostle in the Light of Jewish Religious History". More recently is the work of Alan Segal. Boyarin stands in a proud tradition and makes his own contribution. The only cautionary note for those unfamiliar with Pauline scholarship: read the introduction only AFTER you have read the book; it is tough going. The book itself, written mostly for scholars, is compelling reading.

Youngstown Ohio Daniel, Be Mindful of Your Audience

I'm a fan of Boyarin's work. There's much to admire. For example, he takes a progressive attitude towards issues of gender, including the status of women and of homosexuals, and he takes this stance as an Orthodox Jew. As a church-going Catholic who actively supports Gay Rights, I admire Boyarin both for his faith and for his support of gender non-conforming people.

In a world of intolerant, rigid, and destrucitve so-called "fundamentalists" and "fundamentalisms" insisting that there is ONLY ONE way to read a text or a tradition, including scripture and the history of Judaism and/or Christianity, insisting that the ONE WAY to read the Judeo-Christian tradition is to read it as male supremacist and oppressive, I greatly appreciate that Boyarin says, as he says so clearly in his introduction to this work and in another book, "Unheroic Conduct," that there are many ways to read texts and traditions.

For example, as Boyarin says here, if one uses as one's starting point in Paul the verse, "In Christ there is no male; there is no female; there is no slave nor free man" one will read Paul very differently than others who see, in Paul, an oppressor who upheld slavery and the oppression of women.

I also admire Boyarin's wide-ranging store of knowledge, his humanity, his enthusiasm, and his humor.

And he takes on issues that this reader enjoys reading about.

On the other hand, and it is a big other hand, Boyarin is a self-indulgent writer who has lived a sheltered, purely academic life. He writes as, one imagines, he would talk when talking to someone who shares his interests, his references, his enthusiasms, as closely as would a doppleganger or an imaginary best friend.

Boyarin just about never shows any consideration for any audience who might not be an exact duplicate of him.

So, the reader has to slog through paragraphs or pages not knowing what Boyarin is talking about, not because the ideas at play are all that complex -- they never really are -- but because neither Boyarin nor his editors have taken the time to frame what Boyarin is saying in a way that will be readily understood by someone who is not sharing the exact same brainpan as Boyarin himself.

Oh, how I wish there were an edited version of Boyarin's books, in which references that need not be obscure are presented in a way so that someone who has not lunched with the exact same clique of grad students that Boyarin has lunched with would be able to grasp what Boyarin is saying, without reaching for outside references -- which, sadly, I always have to do when reading Boyarin -- or slogging through his endless, and, yes, self-indulgent footnotes.

This is a positive review. Boyarin is, again, well educated, enthusiastic, and he takes a humanist approach from a tradition, the Judeo-Christian tradition, that too often has been used as an excuse to oppress others. His work is a marvelous antidote to intolerant "fundamentalisms" and "fundamentalists."

But, Daniel, if you would -- please be a bit more mindful of your audience. Making your work more readily accessible would be a very good thing, because the wider world -- the one outside of Berkeley -- greatly needs voices like yours.

Youngstown Ohio Boyarin's Conception of St. Paul's Flesh and Spirit

This work is one of the most insightful to appear upon Paul the Apostle in years. Recognizing that specifically Lutheran and generally Protestant understandings of Paul have been knowingly or unknowingly anti-Jewish, Boyarin sees beyond mere church theologizing toward the issues that motivated Paul to write: the exclusive nature of a community based on Jewish lineage vs. transcultural worship of a universal God. Not only does Boyarin explicate the significance of these issues for ancient Mediterranean religion; he also profoundly explains their contemporary significance.

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