In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • The Talmud Meets Church History
  • Daniel Boyarin (bio)
Virginia Burrus. Chastity as Autonomy: Women in the Stories of the Apocryphal Acts. New York: Edwin Mellen, 1987.
———. ‘“Equipped for Victory’: Ambrose and the Gendering of Orthodoxy.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 4.4 (1996): 461–75.
———. The Making Of A Heretic: Gender, Authority, And The Priscillianist Controversy. Berkeley: U of California P, 1995.
———. “Reading Agnes: The Rhetoric of Gender in Ambrose and Prudentius.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 3.1 (1995): 25–46.
———. “Word and Flesh: The Bodies and Sexuality of Ascetic Women in Christian Antiquity.” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 10.1 (1994): 27–51.

[1] Prologue: Morningside Heights, 1941—A Talmudist Meets a Church Historian

In 1944, my teacher Saul Lieberman published a classic essay in which he treated talmudic martyrology in the context of patristic literature. 1 The article had been written under the inspiration of his meeting and friendship with Henri Gregoire, the great Belgian church historian, then a refugee from the Nazis in the Morningside Heights neighborhood in New York, where Lieberman, the great Lithuanian talmudist, had also found refuge and where the two met. Nearly a half-century later, this student of Lieberman’s met another church historian, Virginia Burrus, in Morningside Heights under happier circumstances, when both of us were participants at a conference on asceticism at Union Theological Seminary, and a similar intellectual interaction began. This paper represents some of the first fruits of that second encounter and aspires to modestly continue the enterprise begun by the first.

[2] Intertextuality and Interdisciplinarity

Averil Cameron has recently written:

The myth of early Christianity as the resort of the poor and underprivileged is precisely that, and a very convenient one it has been. It is a myth that rests, moreover, on the fallacy of an original Christianity uncontaminated by external influences; but its holders then have to explain how this “new” faith could make [End Page 52] the leap to center stage. Thus, we have been told, “the naiveté of the early Christian speech came in the course of time to wed itself to the cultures of the world.” But while much of current New Testament scholarship is directed at the internal (that is, theological) articulation of the texts, there is also a perceptible trend towards a mode of interpretation that balances the external and internal factors operative in the literary texts. It is thus less a question of the degree of “influence” of Greco-Roman or Jewish literary or philosophical elements on early Christian writing than of their integral relationship.


Judaism also (and Jewish scholarship) has had a stake in inscribing itself as pure and uncontaminated, for reasons that Philip Alexander has articulated: “The attempt to [lay down a norm for Judaism in the first century] barely conceals apologetic motives—in the case of Christianity a desire to prove that Christianity transcended or transformed Judaism, in the case of Jews a desire to suggest that Christianity was an alien form of Judaism which deviated from the true path” [3]. Indeed, the very distinctness of Judaism has been articulated by Jews as precisely its distance from a “syncretistic” Christianity whose defining feature is that it is somehow a composite of Judaism and Hellenism. 2

In this essay, in conversation with some of the work of Burrus, I wish to begin to suggest a few of the ways that study of the Talmud can be further enriched through the engagement of talmudic scholars with the recent sophisticated (and especially gender-oriented) work being done on early Christianity. Indeed, I will be hinting (and in future work explicitly arguing) that we have to begin seriously thinking about Judaeo-Christianity as a single cultural system: contentious, dialectical, polemical, and sometimes friendly, but—I hasten to add—not moralistic in the homogenized “family values” sense implied by the modern usage of this term. I put forth here, as a case in point, that the richest contexts for understanding the sets of cultural tensions that gave rise to a particular talmudic text are to be uncovered in contemporary patristic literature. From the point of view of a New Historicist approach to talmudic literature, this suggests that the...

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