The thesis of Daniel Boyarin's Dying for God: Martyrdom and the Making of Christianity and Judaism is simple yet breathtaking: Rabbinic Judaism did not precede Christianity, but the two were twin births, two versions of the same religion, Judaism. Until the end of late antiquity, Boyarin argues, it was possible to be both a Christian and a Jew. Separation of the faiths was a retrospective process engaged in by both communities, after both religions had ceased to be new and were settling into comfortable orthodoxies that projected keen difference into a past actually filled with interpenetration, ambiguity, messiness:
for at least the first three centuries of their common lives, Judaism in all of its forms and Christianity in all of its forms were part of one complex religious family, twins in a womb, contending with each other for identity and precedence, but sharing with each other the same spiritual food, as well (6)Judaism and Christianity are as a result not differentiated religions, but ongoing and vexed "conversations":
Without the power of the orthodox Church and the Rabbis to declare people heretics and outside the system it remained impossible to declare phenomenologically who was a Jew and who was a Christian. At least as interesting and significant, it seems more and more clear that it is frequently impossible to tell a Jewish text from a Christian one. The borders are fuzzy, and this has consequences. Religious ideas and innovations can cross borders in both directions (15)You get the idea: acts of separation tend to be retroactive, and are never as clean as they make themselves out to be. Though Boyarin argues that "definitive schism" is evident by the fourth century (114), medievalists will likely pick up on his frequent mention that successful differentiation likely never occured in a full sense: "a tangled process of innovation and learning, competition and sharing of themes, motifs, and practices" keeps these twins bound, "jostling." "Sometimes," Boyarin observes in closing, "partings can seem more like encounters" (126).
Boyarin's method is to proceed via historically contextualized close readings of select texts. His careful exegesis typically reveals the double meanings and the contemporaneity of works that have often been taken as straightforward and faithful to the history they narrate. Having been reading quite a bit about over the past few years about the inherent mestizaje of most cultures, I can't say that I learned anything new about cultural hybridity per se, but the book was an excellent spur to rethinking the story of Christian-Jewish origins.