(updated 2 hours after first posting)
This post is a distillation of the chapter “Why Ignatius Invented Judaism” by Daniel Boyarin in The Ways That Often Parted: Essays in Honor of Joel Marcus. It covers the same questions addressed by Roger Parvus (see sidebox) but with a different hypothesis.
The essence of Boyarin’s view is that Ignatius
a. used the term that we translate as “Judaism” to refer to any attempt to link gospel details to the Old Testament; and that
b. the gospel of Jesus Christ stood as true without any reference to Old Testament prophecies or scriptures.
This idea throws an interesting perspective on thesis we have at times addressed on this blog that the canonical gospel characters, events and sayings were constructed out “midrashic” or intertextual interpretations of Old Testament books and that their symbolic meanings were subsequently lost by those Christians who became the foundation of the Church we know today. Can the epistles of Ignatius be viewed as an early stage of that misunderstanding and loss of the original meaning of our gospels? (These, of course, are my questions, not those directly raised by Boyarin.)
Boyarin begins by comparing Paul’s and Ignatius’s respective uses of the term “Judaism” (Ioudaismos). For Paul it meant performing certain practices, not an institution. Thus when Paul writes
and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions (Gal. 1:14 NASB)
he means the “practice of Jewish ways of loyalty to the traditional doings of Jews” that Josephus described as
the ancestral [traditions] of the Ioudaioi (τὰ πάτρια τῶν Ἰουδαίων – A.J. 20.41)
It does not mean an abstract category of “a religion”. It means performing practices, customs, rituals, etc. It is the counterpart of what Thucydides complained that Plataeans were doing when they were “Medizing” — that is, “forsaking their ancestral traditions” (παραβαίνοντες τὰ πάτρια, Thucydides, P.W. 3.61.2), copying the customs of the Medes. (I am only presenting the main idea: Boyarin’s justification for this interpretation is a lengthy discussion of Galatians passages than I have outlined above.)
For Paul, it was the Jewish law that stood against the gospel. For Ignatius, however, gospel stood in opposition to Jewish scriptures.
At one point Ignatius equates “heterodoxy and old myths” with this Judaizing of his heretics:
Be not deceived by heterodoxiai nor by old fables, which are useless. For if we continue to live until now according to Ioudaismos, we confess that we have not received grace” (Magn. 8.1).
Could such fables possibly be connected with Jewish Scriptures here? Ignatius links them with “Judaizing”. Ignatius continues from the above passage to speak positively of the prophets, but he used the fact that they were persecuted (Magn 8:2) as evidence that they were on his side (Barrett, 237). In the Pastoral epistles we likewise read of the association of Judaism with mythology — Titus 1:14; I Timothy 1:4; 4:7; II Timothy 4:4). Ignatius appears to criticize the “Judaizers” for “mythologizing” the Scriptures: i.e. either reading them literally (Barrett, 237) or midrashically (my suggestion).
Gospel versus Scriptures
The first Christian to make that declaration, as far as we know, was Marcion. (Boyarin doubts that Ignatius took the idea from Marcion but Parvus argues that that was exactly where the idea ultimately derived.) The key passage is in Ignatius’s letter to the Philadelphians:
I exhort you to do nothing from partisanship but in accordance with Christ’s teaching. For I heard some say, “unless in the archives I find (it), in the gospel I do not believe (it),” and when I said, “It is written,” they answered me, “That is just the question.” But for me the archives are Jesus Christ, the inviolable archives are his cross and death and his resurrection and faith through him — in which, through your prayers, I want to be justified. (Phld. 8.2 — Boyarin, 319)
The passage is not speaking of written, fixed gospel texts. As with Paul, the gospel is a message taught and delivered orally. Some Christians are saying that unless they can find a detail of this gospel in the Scriptures then they will not believe it. Ignatius replies that the only archives he recognizes are not a gospel text but “the fact” of Jesus Christ himself, his cross, death and resurrection. If, however, you suspect that when Ignatius says “it is written” he cannot mean anything other than a written gospel, Boyarin replies:
The somewhat confounding moment, however, is Ignatius’s statement that “it is written,” which seems to counteract this view. There are two possible interpretations that I would suggest:
the one is that Ignatius first simply declares that whatever he claims as being in the gospel is/must be already written in the archives, and when they retort by saying that is the question, he resorts to his claim that the gospel is the archives, the only archives that matter.
A second possibility would be that when Ignatius says “It is written,” he already means it is written, as it were, in the only archives that matter to him, Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection in the flesh. They misunderstand, retorting that it is not written, which he then clarifies with his Jesus as the archive. That is exactly the question that they put to Ignatius: “They answered me, ‘That is just the question,’” to wit: indeed Ignatius, whether or not the physical death of the Son of Man is written in the archives is precisely the question. For Ignatius, however, for whom the nonscriptural kerygma is central and, who sees, as he insists over and over, such reliance on scripture is itself, loudaismos [Judaism], the following of Jewish scriptures, and not Christianismos [Christianity], the following of Christ’s birth, actual death, and resurrection in the flesh alone. Whether or not Ignatius had access to any written gospels or pregospel literature, his claim is absolutely clear and unambiguous: the archives are Jesus Christ, not what is written in scripture.
(Boyarin, 320-21 – my formatting and bracketed insertions)
What Ignatius has done is to redefine Judaism as something other than observing certain customs. Boyarin finds a pointer to the right answer in Schoedel’s analysis of Ignatius’s letter to the Philadelphians:
The following sections ofthe letter suggest that the judaizers of Philadelphia may weil have been more interested in the idea of Judaism than the practice of it (see on Phd. 8.2; 9.1 ). Thus perhaps it was the “expounding” (exegetical expertise) that was the problem and not the “Judaism” (observance).
Boyarin goes a step further:
A further development in the history of these gospel formulae is visible in the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, written ca. 110 CE.* Here the “gospel” is still in general the preaching of Jesus Christ, and Ignatius never implies that he is speaking of a written text when he uses this term. . . . . But in spite of the evident tendency toward more comprehensive and possibly more stable formulation in Ignatius, the term “gospel” does not designate any fixed formula and it certainly does not refer to any written text enumerating the basic topics of Jesus’ appearance. It is rather the message of salvation in general of which the center is Christ’s death and resurrection . . . . (Koester, 7f)
* Parvus posits a later date and cites support for the mid-second century.
I would go further than Schoedel by making one more seemingly logical exegetical step, namely, to assume that for Ignatius, loudaismos is the expounding. In Ignatius, I suggest, loudaismos no longer means observance of the Judean way of life, the torah, as it had in Paul. In other words, for Ignatius, but not for Paul, Christianismos and loudaismos are two doxas, two theological positions, a wrong one (έτεροδοζία, 8.1) and a right one, a wrong interpretation of the legacy of the prophets and a right one. The right one is that which is taught by the prophets “inspired by his grace” and called Christianismos as it is that which is “revealed through Jesus Christ his Son, who is his Word” (8.1). The words quoted certainly seem to mean that Christianismos consists of “speaking of Jesus Christ,” gospel — still oral — while loudaismos is devoting oneself to the study of scripture.
Yes, Ignatius also condemns (“heretical”) Christians who observe the Sabbath or practice circumcision but he does so on the grounds that in doing so they are denying the death of Christ, the one true gospel.
“Judaizers” had the Highest Christology
Contrary to what we might assume, especially when we hear elsewhere that “Judaizers” like the Ebionites taught that Jesus was a “mere man”, the “Judaizing” Christians Ignatius opposes may well have taught a Christology that was “too high” for Ignatius’s taste, opines Boyarin:
I have argued elsewhere that Jews who held a version of Logos theology, and perhaps might even have seen in Christ the manifestation of the Logos, might yet have balked at an incarnational Christology*, adopting a way-too-high, docetic Christology, rather than the low Christology of which so-called Jewish-Christians are usually accused. These Christians might have insisted on a docetism that denied that the Logos ever took on flesh, and Ignatius’s Ioudaismos might then be a doxa that the Christians of Philadelphia had inherited from such a tendency. That which is not found in the archives, then, is precisely the notion that the Logos could die! That is exactly that which Ignatius himself claims as the something that the gospel has that is distinctive over-against the Old Testament: “the coming of the Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ, his passion and resurrection” (Ignatius, Magn. 9.2)
(Boyarin, 321f, my bolding. For the note on * see below.)
For Ignatius, on this interpretation, “Judaizing” was the habit of over-relying on Scripture, and thus, even though accepting Jesus and accepting the Logos, nonetheless denying an actual physical death and resurrection.
Many questions arise, too many to address here and now.
The Midrashic Imagination Ignatius Denied
Ignatius did not know of a written canonical gospel. (This should be kept in mind when reading the previous post where I outlined Ignatius’s gospel. The early days of Christianity were anything but a straight trajectory of thought.
* On Jews holding a Logos theology yet balking at an incarnational Christology, Boyarin writes in another article in which he believes that our earliest Christian texts are closer to original Jewish ideas than some of the later rabbinical ones are:
As Μ. J. Edwards has argued, “the womb of [Justin’s] Logos-doctrine was the Dialogue, where the term is used to confer on Christ the powers that were already attributed in Jewish literature to the spoken and written utterance of God,” and his final statement is even more lucent: “Our conclusion, therefore, is that in the two Apologies, no less than in the Dialogue with Trypho, Christ is the Logos who personifies the Torah. In Jewish thought the Word was the source of being, the origin of Law, the written Torah and a Person next to God. Early Christianity announced the incarnation of this Person, and Justin makes the further claims that Scripture is the parent of all truth among the nations, and that the Lord who is revealed to us in the New Testament is the author and the hermeneutic canon of the Old.” It follows, then, that in the Logos theology, both John and Justin represent old common Judaic patterns of religious thought, a way from which later rabbinism has parted.
As an emblem of this exchange, I would conclude with the following astonishing juxtaposition: … “No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, he has made him known,” John 1:18 and … “Rabbi Elicezer the son of Rabbi Yose the Galilean says: Nine hundred and seventy four generations before the world was created, the Torah was written and lying in the bosom of the Holy Blessed One and singing song with the serving angels, as it says: ‘I was his nursling/, or, and I was his little child/, or, I was his betrothed, and I was daily his delight, playing before him at all times,'” Prov. 8:30. It seems almost certain to me that the verse of the Gospel is based on an ancient midrash similar to the one found in the late rabbinic text, where the subject has been transferred from Wisdom (the Logos) to Torah. I believe that the key to explaining this midrash (both the Gospel and the late rabbinic version) is, in fact, the common midrashic practice I have remarked on above — of building on a verse that is not cited in the text at all. In Num 11:12, we read: … “Have I conceived all of this People; did I give birth to it, that you should say to me: ‘Carry him in your bosom, as the nurse carries the child’?”). The word that I have translated “nurse” here — and from the context it would seem to mean nursing parent — is the active participle of which the crucial vocable in the Proverbs verse is the passive, and therefore, “nursling,” “infant child.” Moreover, from the verse in Numbers we learn that the nurse carries the nursling in her/his bosom, exactly as in the verse in John and the midrashic text. In other words, the text from Numbers connects the word in the Proverbs 8 verse referring to “Wisdom” as “nursling” to the image of being carried in the bosom of her father.
For the rabbinic text, the beloved child that the Father carries in his bosom, the son or daughter of God, is the Torah; for the earlier midrash of the Fourth Gospel, she was the Logos, the Son.
(Boyarin, Gospel of the Memra, 283-84, my formatting and bolding)
Barrett, C. K. 1976. “Jews and Judaizers in the Epistles of Ignatius.” In Jews, Greeks and Christians: Religious Cultures in Late Antiquity : Essays in Honor of William David Davies, edited by Robert Hamerton-Kelly and Robin Scroggs, 220–44. Leiden: Brill.
Boyarin, Daniel. 2001. “The Gospel of the Memra: Jewish Binitarianism and the Prologue to John.” The Harvard Theological Review 94 (3): 243–84.
———. 2018. “Why Ignatius Invented Judaism.” In The Ways That Often Parted: Essays in Honor of Joel Marcus, edited by Lori Baron, Jill Hicks-Keeton, and Matthew Thiessen. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature.
Koester, Helmut. 1990. Ancient Christian Gospels: Their History and Development. Bloomsbury Academic.
Schoedel, William R. 1985. Ignatius of Antioch: A Commentary on the Letters of Ignatius of Antioch. Philadelphia: Fortress Press.
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