About Me

I’m Larry Behrendt, an ex-ex attorney and current software engineer. I’m an aging boomer and denizen of Hollywood, California. I am a committed Jew, if not a classically observant one. My passion is the study of early Christian origins, a choice I once thought was an odd one. But it turns out that many of my favorite scholars in this area ARE Jewish scholars, including Amy-Jill Levine from Vanderbilt and Josh Garroway (MY teacher!) at Hebrew Union College.

I find that as I progress into this study, my admiration for Christianity grows stronger, and my commitment to my own faith grows stronger too. Who knew?

  • Niccolo Donzella

    I just discovered your site and find it absorbing. The Quest series is wonderfully clear. Great work! Thanks.

  • lbehrendt

    Thanks, Niccolo! I look forward to seeing you here often in the comments sections.

  • Jeffrey Rovner

    Hello out there! It’s a joy to find you out here in the ether.

    • lbehrendt

      Nice to see you, Jeff. Hope you enjoy what you see here. BTW, the dress code here is casual!

  • Chris Eyre

    I’m delighted to find your blog (via The Jesus Blog), particularly as you discuss Boyarin a lot. You might be able to help me with a couple of issues which are pulling at me at the moment, one of which has partly been sparked by Boyarin’s “A Radical Jew: Paul and the Politics of Identity” on which I can’t see that you’ve posted, and I wonder if you’ve read the book.

    This involves the issue of Christian supersessionism, which I’ve been criticising for years; Boyarin appears to make it substantially more difficult for me to justify a non-supersessionist interpretation of Paul. I wondered if you had any thoughts? My email is xrseyre@aol.com, my blog is eyrelines.energion.net., FWIW.

    • lbehrendt

      Chris, thanks!

      I am travelling at the moment and away from my library (such as it is). No, I haven’t read Boyarin’s book about Paul. Yes, supersession is a difficult topic. I am a thorough-going New Perspective guy, in that I believe Paul is best understood in terms of his self-described mission to the Gentiles. It was Paul’s job to get Gentiles into the Jesus movement, and that is what he did, with evident great success. It was not Paul’s job to figure out what would happen to the Jews who did not believe in Jesus, or even to appraise his own history as a Jew prior to his experience on the Damascus Road, even though Paul said quite a bit about both of these subjects. For these reasons I tend to discount things Paul said that address the relative place of Jews in God’s plan.

      If one insists on pushing the point, I think that the logic of Paul’s theology is supersessionist. It is a beautiful image to view Israel as the olive tree, with the native Jewish branches making way for Gentile grafts, but no matter how you slice it, at the end of the story the Jewish branches are removed from the tree. For certain, Paul hopes for a day when the Jews will embrace Christ, when Jew and Greek will belong to the Church, but that thought is completely consistent with a supersessionism that views membership in Israel in terms of belief in Christ instead of physical descent from Abraham.

      But it’s also certain that Paul can be read in a non-supersessionist way. To Paul, the Jews have “stumbled” so that salvation could come to the Gentiles. “[T]heir rejection is the reconciliation of the world” [Romans 11:15]. This is a “mystery”: “a hardening has come upon part of Israel, until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved ….” [Romans 11:25-26] There’s certainly a vision here, or at least a hope, that Jews AND Gentiles can both be children of the promise. Add to this Paul’s statement that “as regards election the Jews are beloved “for the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable.” [Romans 11:28-29]

      I’m not at a point in my life where I want to choose between these arguments. At the end of the day, we might follow Paul’s advice not to “boast over the branches” [Romans 11:18]. The claim of supersessionism is itself a kind of boasting. Paul’s advice is “do not become proud, but stand in awe” [Romans 11:20]. “O the depth of the riches and wisdom of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!” [Romans 11:33] I don’t frequently agree with Paul, but I agree with him here.

      I will check out your blog, and I hope you stick around to comment further.

      • Chris Eyre

        Thanks for the reply, Larry.

        I agree that Paul’s function was to spread the gospel to gentiles (though I’m inclined to think that he mainly targetted God-fearers around synagogues, which must have made him endlessly popular). My problem is that he then clearly had difficulties with, firstly, a group of fellow Jesus-followers who considered that in order to be a Jesus-follower you should first become Jewish and, secondly, the resulting dawn of a two-tier proto-Christianity where Torah observant Jesus-followers were both in some sense “better” than non-Torah observant neighbours and secondly where the two could not even comfortably share a meal.

        Bless him, he then proceeded to make a theological argument about this, and bless the early Church, they proceeded to make his writings canonical scripture. While I have no personal difficulty in casting Paul as “first Christian theologian” and arguing with him, I can’t readily sell that to others in my church who seem to want to use me as their pet theologian, as they tend to be a touch more conservative than me. I could wish Christianity had acquired itself an “Oven of Akhnai” story! I could also wish that Paul had had the Noahide laws to rest on, as this would probably have produced some different theology in detail, but my best estimate is that this was either a late 1st or 2nd century Rabbinic development.

        I can certainly read Paul as non-supersessionist in spirit, but I have major difficulty in casting him as non-supersessionist in the letter, and Boyarin has not assisted there… I do like your set of references, therefore; they bolster the “in spirit” approach. I could even potentially build on them to suggest that for the sake of spreading word of God to the nations (an entirely approved function of the Chosen People) and “write the law on their hearts” they had to continue to be the “suffering servant” for longer; without Judaism as a continuing force to be form itself in distinction to, we would not see the Christianity we now do (I agree with Boyarin, by the way, and I think the inverse also applies).

        But I don’t like the fact that Christianity has been a main cause of that continuing suffering and would like to do anything I can to make sure that can’t repeat itself even in tiny ways. That makes the chain of reasoning I suggest one I probably wouldn’t use.

        • lbehrendt

          Paul, like math, is hard.

          My teacher at HUC, now my friend, is Josh Garroway, and Josh is a Paul expert. When I talk to Josh about Paul, he accuses me of following Heikki Räisänen, which is funny because I’ve never read Räisänen. Evidently, Räisänen argues that Paul is not a systematic theologian, or in plainer terms, that he contradicts himself a lot. I’ve said that I don’t think Paul’s work should be pushed too far past whatever was the occasional problem he was addressing in his letters. I don’t think Paul intended to be the Church’s primary theologian. I think Paul intended to bring Gentiles into the church.

          I agree with your read: Paul stood in opposition to the Judaizers, who argued (1) that in order to be Christian (or in order to be the best sort of Christian), you needed to be Jewish. In response, Paul argued (2) that being Jewish wasn’t necessary, and more, that thinking you needed to be Jewish meant that you didn’t have the full and right kind of faith in Christ. The response to Paul’s response was that (3) if being Jewish wasn’t necessary, then what about the Old Testament (which in Paul’s day was the ONLY Testament), God’s covenants, the chosen people, etc. Whatever it is that Paul says about non-Christian Jews is the (4) in this series of responses and counter-responses; it is the answer to why Christians need not be Jews. It is not written to question whether Jews should remain Jews.

          I will grant you, Paul’s counter-response in (4) sounds supersessionist; it sounds like an argument why no one should be Jewish. But Paul WAS Jewish, and the best opinion is that he never renounced his Judaism or failed to live a Jewish life. If Judaism was passe, why continue in it? Paul didn’t seem to see anything wrong with being Jewish, so long as you were Jewish for a reason that was independent from Jesus (like being born Jewish).

          I’d argue that it’s possible to be supersessionist without causing anyone to suffer. There’s a sense that each person of religious faith holds that faith because he or she finds it superior to other faiths. We can (and possibly should) qualify any personal feeling of religious superiority with the relative statement that our faith is best for us, but may not be best for everyone … but in any event, I think that the job of a good and true Christian is to represent the Christian faith in a good and true way, and presumably this precludes persecuting anyone else.

          By the way, when you speak of not allowing Christianity to cause others to suffer, you sound like Krister Stendahl. I intend this as high praise.

          • Chris Eyre

            We’re agreed about Paul, though it’s possible neither of us are on Boyarin’s wavelength; he sees straight supersessionism and also that the whole tenor of Paul’s message is universalist (“there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female…” Gal. 3:28, which he takes as the key to Paul’s theology), and this is fundamentally antagonistic to Jewish particularism. It’s at that stage that I run out of steam arguing against Boyarin, because I can’t argue I’m not universalist (historically, I’m pretty interfaith as well…) or that being universalist isn’t a good thing.

            It wouldn’t actually have worried me had Christianity developed as a “two track” religion with Jews privileged – hey, maybe the whole nation could have formed the priestly class (as the Levites do for Judaism) – I could argue for that from previous scripture and some later (the synoptics) very easily – but I can see all sorts of reasons why it wasn’t going to happen. For one thing, I doubt they’d have convinced an entire nation, despite the effective bribe, and even if an entirely different formulation of the status of Jesus had been arrived at. (And no, there’s no way to get from here to there – I just like “might have beens”, if for no other reason that they illuminate what was a little better sometimes.

            I do see evidence that Paul didn’t continue to be Torah-observant in relation to kashrut, so he was definitely losing something himself. I wonder about other aspects.

            If you’ve read much of my blog, you’ll probably realise that I only really find Christianity superior to other faiths *for me* because it fits my culture of birth and upbringing. Oh, and because I’m slightly too lazy and/or timid to try to acquire a whole new culture and language(s), in the case of some religions. But thanks for the compliment. I can only make a very small contribution…

            Which, I think, probably exhausts Paul. My other big challenge of the moment is the Fourth Gospel, where I wriggle every way I can and still see antisemitism. There, I don’t know of any really useful reading, either. Any thoughts?

      • Chris Eyre

        Apropos the blog. I’m somewhat unusual, in having arrived at where I am via atheism and then a lot of exploration of other religions than Christianity. I don’t DO supersessionism personally, as choice of system is, to me, personal to the individual. I’m also not a theologian or minister by training. I spent most of my working life as a lawyer (fellow feeling there?) having first done a degree in Physics (Theoretical).

  • Sid Martin

    You may be interested in my new book, Secret of the Savior: The Myth of the Messiah in Mark, which argues that the story of Jesus is based on the life of Israel. The Gospel of Mark is a Jewish history myth. https://rowman.com/ISBN/9780761861454

  • Elaine

    I love Amy-Jill Levine and as one who grew up Catholic, my love of Judasim only grows deeper!

  • Jonathan Bernier

    This is a fascinating website. Very interesting.

    Out of curiosity, are you familiar with the work of the late Susan Haber? She too was a Jewish person very committed to her faith yet also fascinated by Christian origins. We were classmates at McMaster, and I can remember her more than once remarking on how her interest in the matter seemed a bit odd. Sadly she passed away quite early in her doctoral studies, but a number of her teachers (including Adele Reinhartz, Eileen Schuller, and my Doktorvater, Anders Runesson) worked to publish first a volume of her essays and later a Festschrift in her memory. More than anyone else, Susan taught me the incredible value to be found in making the study of early Christianity an expressly ecumenical enterprise.

    • Jonathan, an honor to have you here. I hope you can find a reason to visit here again and join in the dialogue.

      No, I am not familiar with Susan Haber. She must have been quite a person, to have inspired a volume in her memory penned by some of my heroes.

      I am not sure what it means to study Christianity as an ecumenical enterprise. Is that how I’m studying it? Hmm. I suppose maybe so. But I don’t regard this purely as a matter of getting along. This study, this dialogue, is transformative. The effect this all has on my inner life is certainly more profound than any effect I could hope to have on the world around me.

      • Jonathan Bernier

        Sorry for not responding earlier, Larry. Wasn’t ignoring you: just didn’t see this reply for some reason. Please let me clarify my statement about studying early Christianity as an ecumenical enterprise. What I meant by that is simply to say that there was a time wherein only liberal Protestants need apply to study early Christianity as a scholarly enterprise. Now persons of Jewish, Catholic, more conservative Protestant, Muslim, atheist, etc., backgrounds have a place at the table. And I think that the discussion is much richer for this fact.

        • Jonathan, thanks for the explanation. You are describing my perspective, but kind of in reverse. I studied Christianity in order to have a seat at the table.

  • Janice O’Mahony

    It was great to meet you last night at the poets’ dinner on Whidbey Island. I look forward to reading your blog.

  • meecha

    hi Larry…delighted to find your site ..hope to learn from you