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Two of the major influences on Larry Hurtado’s work were a book and a friendship. The book was Alan Segal’s classic Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports about Christianity and Gnosticism (SJLA, 25; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1977). The book has been re-published twice to my knowledge, most recently by Baylor University Press (2012). Segal examined the rabbinic sources about early manifestations of what is called the “two powers” heresy in Judaism. Certain rabbis condemned these “heretics” (minim) who appear to be reverencing two deities, therefore violating one of the basic tenets of Jewish monotheism. Segal’s work is useful for understanding the complex interactions among Jews, Christians and Gnostics in the centuries that followed Jesus’ execution. Some of the Jewish heretics condemned may have been Jewish Christians. But as Hurtado noted, something more than beliefs about Jesus are being challenged; likely it had to do with the Jewish Christian propensity of reverencing Jesus in ways later rabbis deemed blasphemous.
The other influence was the friendship that struck up between Alan and Larry over the next few years. Alan endorsed the first edition of One God, One Lord (1988) and the second (1998). Alan and Larry came from two different worlds, but they became fast and good friends. Alan was a Jewish New Testament scholar from the Northeast. Larry was a Christian New Testament scholar from the Midwest, who loved Canada and his adopted home in the UK. They had much in common and much in difference, but the differences were made sweeter over time as they spent time together at professional meetings and in Larry’s and Shannon’s Edinburgh home.
Both Alan and Larry were founding members of the Early High Christology Club (along with Carey Newman and David Capes). In a future post, I’ll share the founding myth of the club.
In 2007 colleagues conspired to produce a Festchrift in honor of them both (Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity, Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado and Alan F. Segal, eds. David B. Capes, April D. DeConick, Helen K. Bond and Troy A. Miller [Waco, TX: Baylor University, 2007]). Each were told they were writing an essay for the other in the others’ Festschrift. They didn’t know it was a joint Festschrift until the reveal in San Diego in 2007. When they realized what was happening, it was a great moment.
When Alan became “unwell” a few years later, we were all glad we had not waited a few years before we honored them with this volume. Carey, Larry and I flew to New York a few weeks before Alan died to visit him in the hospital near his home. As with all good friends, his death left a hole in our lives. We miss Alan, his quirky sense of humor and ability to order food in 21 languages, and now we miss his friend.
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.
Carey Newman, director of Baylor University Press, recently announced the (re)publication of a number of books under the series title “The Library of Early Christology.” Newman, a NT scholar in his own right, has looked over the past forty years at some of the most interesting and influential books published on the earliest Christian assessments of Jesus’ significance. In part these books have contributed to the emerging consensus that an early high Christology originated in the first years or decades of the Jesus movement, most likely in a Jewish context. Carey Newman has taken Baylor University Press from obscurity to become one of the most important university presses in North America.
Newman had already published one of the late Alan Segal’s signature books, Two Powers in Heaven (see Hurtado’s article here). The publisher’s page is found here. Wilhelm Bousset’s classic work, Kyrios Christos, has also been republished by Baylor (check it out here) . These are two of the most influential books published on the topic in the past 100 years.
There are other books in the series (I’m grateful to Larry Hurtado, who on his blog, pulled together the list and the links). Here are the first books published in the series:
- Charles A. Gieschen, Angelomorphic Christology: Antecedents and Early Evidence (originally Leiden: Brill, 1998; reprint edition information here).
- Loren T. Stuckenbruck, Angel Veneration and Christology, (originally, Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995; reprint edition information here).
- David B. Capes, Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology (originally Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1992; Baylor information here)
- April D. DeConick, Seek to See Him: Ascent and Vision Mysticism in the Gospel of Thomas (Leiden: Brill, 1996; Baylor reprint information here)
- Carey C. Newman, Paul’s Glory Christology: Tradition and Rhetoric (Leiden: Brill, 1992; Baylor reprint information here)
- Jarl E. Fossum, The Name of God and the Angel of the Lord: Samaritan and Jewish Concepts of Intermediation and the Origin of Gnosticism (Tuebingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1985; Baylor reprint information here)
- Donald H. Juel, Messianic Exegesis: Christological Interpretation of the Old Testament in Early Christianity (Fortress Press, 1988; Baylor reprint information here)
- The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers from the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, eds. Carey C. Newman, et al. (Leiden: Brill, 1999; Baylor reprint information here)
In addition to this list I must include Larry W. Hurtado’s contribution in this series: Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Early Christian Jesus-Devotion (publisher’s information here). This volume of essays contains some of the “best of” Hurtado over the last 30 years).