Among the early influences on Larry Hurtado were Martin Hengel and his little but substantial book, The Son of God (1976). Hengel’s work presented a direct challenge to those who thought the conviction that Jesus was divine had its start in communities where pagan influences such as “the mystery religions” were prominent. Hengel provided substantial evidence from Jewish sources that the confession, “Jesus is the Son of God,” and “Jesus is Lord,” first arose in Jewish-Christian circles.
Hengel laid out clearly the chronological data, particularly those in the undisputed letters of Paul which were written 20 or so years after Jesus’ execution (50-60 AD). All the historical development schemes proposed by Wilhelm Bousset and his followers cratered in light of the Christological beliefs and practices already expressed in the earliest strata of Christian traditions. In historical terms, Hengel and Hurtado argued that in the earliest decades of the Christian movement, primarily in Jewish circles, Jesus was considered divine and worshiped alongside God the Father.
Hurtado agreed with Hengel on many points but disagreed with Hengel’s claims that most Christological development took place primarily in Greek-speaking Jewish communities in a variety of locals. Hurtado claimed instead that Christ-devotion took place initially in Aramaic-speaking communities of Jewish believers as well. This is not to discount the significance of the Greek-speaking Jews who were responsible for the geographic spread of the movement in the subsequent decades (AD 30-50). By then, however, Christ-devotion was already an established feature of Christian communities.
Richard Bauckham as well was influential in this movement. By drawing attention to worship practices rather than simply beliefs about Jesus, Bauckham showed how remarkable the worship of Jesus alongside God was in an exclusively monotheistic environment. Worship was to be given to God alone, and now (as in Rev 5) the rightful recipients of worship were God and the Lamb. So Hurtado took this as an important aspect of his own work. For him the importance of worship as a historical feature and data point for early believers became a prominent aspect in his arguments about Jesus and God being co-recipients of worship in the early Christian writings.
Johannes Weiss (Earliest Christianity, 2 volumes/ ET 1959), who was a contemporary of Bousset proposed that the cultic reverence due to Jesus commenced among the earliest Jewish believers and constituted “the most significant step of all in the history of the origins of Christianity.”
In the next post, I will consider the friendship and influence of Alan Segal on Larry and his work. Both men were dear friends of mine. Together we were founding members of The Early High Christology Club.