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One God, One Lord

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With the death of my friend and mentor, Larry Hurtado, on November 25, 2019, I thought I’d take an occasion to re-read and blog about his classic book, 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.  When I visited Larry in early October, he gave me a copy and signed it “for David, trusted friend, Larry.”  With his passing it is a hallowed possession. larry-hurtado1

The preface to the 3rd edition of the book is brief (one page), dated to 2015.  Larry acknowledged his gratitude that the book was still being read and cited so many years after its initial publication in 1988, about the time I met him.  The publisher made the decision to re-typeset the book but they placed in the margins the original page numbers so it would be easy to compare to the original.  The third edition has an extensive epilogue (30 + pages) which situated ONEGOD, as it was affectionately known among insiders, in Hurtado’s larger research agenda.  Otherwise the text of the book remained the same.

The preface to the 2nd edition (1998) offers some engagement with critics and advocates of the positions Hurtado maintains. Hurtado’s main project is to investigate the origins of religious devotion to Jesus.  This is a unique phenomenon of early Christianity and set it apart both from its Greco-Roman setting and its Jewish background.  Hurtado’s interests are primarily historical. In its 1998 edition Hurtodo did not think it necessary to revise the book because his critics had not persuaded him that his positions needed to be modified.  As is often the case, our dissenters help us sharpen our thinking through a body of evidence.

The book’s focus is the rise (again, in historical terms) of religious devotion to Jesus  in the first century.  At a rather early period (the letters of Paul) we see evidence that Christ was honored and reverenced in the same ways and using the same language of reverence to God.  His major question is: “How is the devotion given to Jesus in first-century Christianity like and unlike patterns of devotion in the Jewish religious background of the first believers?” Could Christ-devotion (a phrase Hurtado coined) have been shaped by conceptions and practices found in ancient Judaism? Where and how do we see Christ-devotion expressed?  Are there historical factors that brought it about?  If so, what are they and why?

For Hurtado, “Christ-devotion” was more than “Christology.”  It was not just beliefs about Jesus held by his earliest followers.  It involved questions about how Jesus might fit into the religious practices. How did Jesus figure into their devotion?  And in what ways could Jesus be considered as associated with, linked with, or identified with God?  These were Hurtado’s guiding concerns.

Martin Hengel said wisely in a blurb that with Hurtado’s book—and other books that followed—that we were witnessing a new Religionsgeschichtliche Schule (a history of religion school).  If there was a new school, then Hurtado must have been its dean.


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