Daniel Boyarin turns to the Epistles of Paul as the spiritual autobiography of a first-century Jewish cultural critic. What led Paul—in his dramatic conversion to Christianity—to such a radical critique of Jewish culture?
Paul's famous formulation, "There is neither Jew nor Greek, no male and female in Christ," demonstrates the genius of Christianity: its concern for all people. The genius of Judaism is its validation of genealogy and cultural, ethnic difference. But the evils of these two thought systems are the obverse of their geniuses: Christianity has threatened to coerce universality, while ethnic difference is one of the most troubled issues in modern history.
Boyarin posits a "diaspora identity" as a way to negotiate the pitfalls inherent in either position. Jewishness disrupts categories of identity because it is not national, genealogical, or even religious, but all of these, in dialectical tension with one another. It is analogous with gender: gender identity makes us different in some ways but not in others.
An exploration of these tensions in the Pauline corpus, argues Boyarin, will lead us to a richer appreciation of our own cultural quandaries as male and female, gay and straight, Jew and Palestinian—and as human beings.
Daniel Boyarin is Taubman Professor of Talmudic Culture at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author of Carnal Israel: Reading Sex in Talmudic Culture (California, 1993).
"A splendid piece of work: learned, witty, wide-ranging in its understanding of religion as a cultural phenomenon, passionate in its concern for the ethical implications of our reading of ancient texts."—Richard B. Hays, author of Echoes of Scripture in the Letters of Paul
"Boyarin's bracing argument turns us into strangers to ourselves, as the first century comes uncannily close to the twenty-first century. The importance of this stimulating and controversial book lies in promoting an awareness of the possibilities of solidarity, justice, and liberation in the time of the culture wars."—Homi K. Bhabha, author of The Location of Culture
"Brilliant, thought-provoking and outrageous (a compliment in my lexicon). Demonstrates very clearly the merits of a Jewish look at Paul (that is, a Jew looking at Paul in his Jewishness)."—Adele Reinhartz, McMaster University
"Boyarin has mastered the literature of Paul in amazing detail and devastating understanding. His analytic skills are honed to perfection on the stone of critical theory. As a Jewish reader of a foundational Christian text, he has explained to Christians the power of Paul's thinking for Christians."—Burton L. Mack, author of Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins
"This book is a polemic for difference based on genealogical memory as a creative force in the broadest human solidarity. In that sense it is a moral or philosophical tractate, what Boyarin calls cultural criticism, as well as an analysis of Paul's position. I have been greatly informed by a reading of this study."—Antoinette Wire, author of The Corinthian Woman Prophets
"Boyarin weighs in with his usual éclat . . . reading the Epistles as if they were contributions to contemporary debates over the issues of feminism, multiculturalism, Zionism, identity politics, and deconstruction, and reading these as if they were germane to an understanding of the Epistles. The book is a tour de force of PoMo criticism, and required reading for anyone interested in the history of religion, Judaism, Christianity, Western culture, 'Orientalism,' identity politics, feminism—and the list could go on."—Hayden White, author of Metahistory