by Daniel Boyarin
The fascination of counterfactual narrative-writing that deals in alternative historical outcomes-lies in its challenge to our lazy fatalism, our tendency to believe that things ended up as they did because they had to. Such counterfactual speculations as the works of revisionist historian Niall Ferguson, or Philip Roth’s recent novel, The Plot against America, in which Charles Lindbergh defeats FDR in the 1940 presidential election, or the musings of historians of science who ponder what might have happened (and not happened) if Darwin had never set sail on the Beagle, all raise fascinating issues of contingency and inevitability, the what-ifs and might-have-beens of history.
Such inquiry makes for a fruitful way of reexamining the history of religion in general and the development of early Christianity in particular. For instance, could the Jewish movement that invented the Christian church as a new locus of identity have retained its ethnic character? Historically, that question was answered in the negative, and the New Testament that we read reflects the outcome on every page. Yet another outcome was possible and, even now, remains imaginable.
In Border Lines, Daniel Boyarin links the story of Christian identity formation during the first centuries to a richly detailed account of Jewish identity formation during the same period. Just as the emergent church could well have retained kosher dietary...
To read the rest of this article please login or become a subscriber.
About the Author
Jack Miles is Distinguished Professor of English and Religious Studies at the University of California, Irvine, and Senior Fellow for Religion and International Affairs for with the Pacific Council on International Policy.