A Word in Edgewise

Conversion

I am fortunate to be one of the editors to the Library of Early Christology (Baylor University Press).  I am honored to be listed alongside April DeConick of Rice University and my dear, late friend, Larry Hurtado.  Both have made a big mark in contemporary scholarship on Christian Origins.

Our latest volume is Conversion by A. D. Nock, a classic work in the field.  A must read for people interested in Mediterranean religions and early Christianity.  The scope of the book takes you from Alexander the Great to Augustine of Hippo.

I’m grateful to the Lanier Theological Library for their many resources.

Nock Conversion BUP

One God, One Lord (Part 6)

I continue to work through the preface of Larry Hurtado’s classic, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism. It has been published in its 3rd edition recently by Bloomsbury T. & T. Clark, as a part of its Cornerstones Series.

Hurtado contended that divine agents, or better principal agents, provided a conceptual category whereby earliest Christians were able to understand how a second figure (like Jesus) could be closely associated with God in creation and sustaining the world, in redemption and future judgment.  For Hurtado, a good deal of early Christians’ assessment of Jesus and his significance owed its substance to this category.  But he never contended that divine agency (principal agency) was sufficient in and of itself to account for the rise of Christ-devotion in the early decades of the Christian movement.  What is unparalleled in second temple Judaism vis-à-vis the principal agent figure is the kind of cultic devotion that arose with Jesus as the rightful (God willed) recipient.  This is truly a “novel development,” that represented what he called a binitarian pattern of devotion.

One factor Hurtado noted was the powerful religious experiences that convinced Jesus followers that it was right and good to reverence the Lord Jesus as Jews were reverencing God.  Moreover, that to reverence Jesus did not distract in any way from one’s devotion to God.  The experiences had to be so forceful and compelling as to persuade scrupulous Jews to consider it God’s will that they reverence Jesus.

larry-hurtado 5

Larry Hurtado, outside of New College, Univ of Edinburgh

Some scholars have questioned whether religious experience could have the kind of generative effect as Hurtado argued.  But he made the point in various articles that sociologists and anthropologists increasingly were recognizing that religious experience, particular “revelations,” did lead to significance innovations.  Any religious experience and language used to express it were culturally and religiously determined.  But there are novel interpretations of religious phenomena that led to structural changes in communities, new beliefs and practices.

The New Testament demonstrates that believers like Paul, a significant minor founder figure, had revelatory experiences that shaped and determined their lives (Galatians 1; 2 Corinthians 13; Acts 9).  These revelations caused Saul/Paul to rethink the concepts, beliefs, and practices that had previously characterized his life.  Whatever value he found in his previous life is now recast in light of knowing Christ (Philippians 3). As a result of his “conversion” or “call,” he joined a new group, the ecclesia of Christ, and found himself at odds with his previous community.  The role of “revelation” is significant in early Christianity.  Hurtado sensed this from the earliest sources and knew that it had sculpted what early Christianity was becoming in its first century.

One God, One Lord (Part 5)

I continue to work through the preface of Larry Hurtado’s classic, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism. It has been published in its 3rd edition recently by Bloomsbury T. & T. Clark, as a part of its Cornerstones Series.

Both Maurice Casey and Jimmy Dunn do not think that Jesus is truly reverenced by believers until the later NT period, that is, once the communities left behind the so-called constraints of Jewish monotheism. Perhaps it is first witnessed in the Gospel of John (hereafter GJohn). As evidence they cite the absence (prior to AD 70) of Jews condemning what Hurtado called “Christ-devotion.”  Since there is no condemnation, the reverence accorded Jesus must not have violated the Jewish sensibilities of God’s oneness. Larry Hurtado 3 Therefore, no mutation in Jewish religious practices, as per Hurtado, had taken place.

Hurtado responded that prior to AD 70 there is evidence that some Jews considered Christ devotion a “dangerous development” (xvi).  He has pointed this out in various publications.  In particular, L. W. Hurtado, “Pre-70 c.e. Jewish Opposition to Christ-Devotion,” Journal of Religion 80 (2000), 183-205.  We will take this up in a subsequent post.  We might well ask the question: what did Saul, the Pharisee, find so problematic about the church that he was willing to destroy it prior to his revelation (Galatians 1; Acts 9)?  While he does not say explicitly why he was so aggrieved, his letters might be a source of information for what he found so offensive.  Might it have been the reverence early Jewish Christians were according to Jesus?

Therefore, in historical terms Hurtado argues that it is accurate to say that a mutation in Jewish religious practices had already taken place and was a regular feature of Christian churches prior to AD 70. But clearly by the end of the first century AD–about the time GJohn is written–other developments had taken place.  He regards this as “a more advanced stage of polemical confrontation with the Jewish religious leadership of synagogues in the late first century” (xvi).  It may not be too much to say that Christ devotion caused profound outrage among some Jews; what Christians were saying about Jesus and how they were reverencing him alongside the God of Israel would have been a stumbling-block.

 

One God, One Lord (Part 4)

I continue to work through the preface to the second edition of Larry Hurtado’s ONE GOD, ONE LORD.

Regarding precedents for the worship of Jesus in early Christianity . . .

Hurtado appreciated Loren Stuckenbruck’s work on the veneration of angels and the Christology of Revelation (Angel Veneration and Christology, WUNT 2/70 [Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1995]).  He found Stuckenbruck’s conclusions largely in line with his own.  In his study of Jewish magical texts, angel veneration, and the angelic responses to humans, Stuckenbruck admits there is nothing like an organized cult of angel worship among Jews prior to or during the time of Jesus.  So, there is no precedent for the worship of Jesus in the Jewish posture toward angels, even principal angels. Hurtado 1

Clinton Arnold’s book (The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae, WUNT 2/77 [Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995) also garnered attention from Hurtado.  In particular, devout Jews clearly had an interest in angels, but they did not organize themselves into religious communities gathering to worship or pray to angels as divine, or alongside the God of Israel.  What Hurtado and others demonstrated was that Jewish monotheism was elastic enough to allow for divine agents, like prinicipal angels, to be included in close association with God without somehow giving up on their commitment to God’s oneness.

Another criticism leveled toward Hurtado’s work has to do with whether the early Christians’ actions toward and beliefs about Jesus amounted to worship. Hurtado says yes and he details a number of these.  We will consider those in a future post.  But Jimmy Dunn regards these phenomena as adoration and not worship (see Theology of Paul the Apostle [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 257-60.  An analogy I’ve heard Dunn use is this: Catholics and (some) Protestants adore Mary but do not worship her.  Early Christians like Paul, Dunn believes, did gather and offer remarkable devotion to Jesus but that did not constitute “worship” as Jews worshiped the God of Israel.  This phenomenon does take place, eventually, but it is not as early as Hurtado alleges.  You can see my summary and review of Dunn’s arguments here.

Hurtado does conclude that in the first two decades of the Jesus movement there is a “binitarian” pattern of worship that sets Jesus as a rightful recipient of worship along with God.  This is not ditheism (belief in and worship of two distinct figures), but a different pattern that includes Jesus within God in some important way.  So that to bow the head and bend the knee to Jesus is the will of God and constitutive of proper worship (Phil 2.9-11).

In Memoriam

I include a notice from Mr. Jesse Hurtado, the surviving son of my friend and mentor, Larry Hurtado.   I’m pleased to note that Larry’s blog will remain active for now.  You can find it at

 

https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com

from Jesse Hurtado

As many of you now know, my father Larry Hurtado has passed away on the 25th of November 2019. I will keep his blog online as it is a testament to his work and engagment with the wider community interested in bibical scholarship. In the spirit of this, I have news to share from Edinburgh University below:

Professor Larry Hurtado PhD Scholarship Fund 

We hope that friends of Larry will forgive this intrusion into his blog, but we have an announcement that some of you may be interested in. Larry devoted his life to building up the study of New Testament and Christian Origins at Edinburgh, and many PhD students from all over the world have benefited from his friendship and guidance. In an effort to remember Larry’s legacy, and even to build on it in a small way, we are delighted to announce the establishment of a new scholarship fund in honour of Larry. It will be known as the Professor Larry Hurtado Scholarship and will support a PhD candidate at the School of Divinity working in the area of Christian Origins. We would very much value your support in this venture.

To give online go to https://www.ed.ac.uk/divinity/support/professor-larry-hurtado-phd-scholarship-fund

Alumni and friends who are taxpayers in the USA can support the University through the University of Edinburgh USA Development Trust http://www.edinburghtrust.org/make-gift

Tributes to Professor Hurtado can be found here

https://www.ed.ac.uk/divinity/news-events/latest-news/professor-larry-hurtado

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