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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. 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.
I continue to work through the preface to the second edition of Larry Hurtado’s ONE GOD, ONE LORD.
One of the criticisms leveled against Larry Hurtado’s work on Christ-devotion has had to do with his claim that reverence for Jesus is a significant innovation. On the contrary, critics assert that precedents did exist for the practice in Judaism before Jesus. In other words, the counter-claim is that “well, we’ve seen this all before . . . or at least something like it.”
In the Life of Adam and Eve God orders all the angels to reverence Adam since he is made in God’s image. Might this be an antecedent to the worship of Jesus as the bearer of the image of God (a new Adam)? Hurtado says no because there was no Jewish group who took up any sort of religious reverence for Adam. Hurtado writes: “in my view the absence of any Adam-cultus practice is crucial” (xiii). If it could be demonstrated that devout Jews took up the worship of Adam (in imitation of the angels) and that there was evidence for Adam-devotion, then it might be a different story. So there is no analogy here for the programmatic inclusion of Jesus as a recipient of devotion as we see in early Christianity..
Another scholar pointed to the story of Joseph and Asenath (15.11-12). In that account Asenath asks an angel to tell her his name so she could worship him. But this is not an antecedent either because the angel refuses to give her his name. This is part of a larger angelic-refusal tradition that characterized a number of second temple Jewish writings. What we have here then appears to be a corrective to any that might take up angel-worship (a common feature of paganism in places). Jewish monotheism ruled out the worship of angels.
1 Enoch is often cited by those who believe the worship of Jesus was not as innovative as Hurtado argues. In 1 Enoch there is a figure known as “the Elect One” or “Son of Man” to whom obeisance is given (1 Enoch 48.5-6; 62.9) in some grand, eschatological future. But again Hurtado notices that no Jewish groups actually engaged in the worship of this figure. No cult has yet been identified. The situation is somewhat complicated because when you dig down into 1 Enoch, some scenes appear to show how one day the nations of the world will reverence God’s people, Israel (Isa 45.14-15; 49:7, 23).
In various writings Crispin Fletcher-Louis thinks there is a precedent for the worship of Jesus in those scenes that depict the faithful bowing down before the Jewish High Priest in second temple texts. The primary evidence comes from a non-Jewish writer in the 4th century BCE who describes how on certain, high religious occasions the devout would offer proskynesis, that is, bow down before the High Priest. But in that day and culture, such a posture indicated only that one is giving respect due to a king, general, priest, or other person in high position. Hurtado concludes: “It [the proskynesis before the high priest] is hardly evidence of a pattern of cultic devotion directed toward the Priest in ancient Jewish worship gatherings” (xiv).
We will have more to say on this in our next post. Page numbers are taken from the most recent edition of Hurtado’s One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism, 3rd edition (T & T Clark, 2015).
A few days ago I posted a brief review of Dr. Crispin Fletcher-Louis’ recent book, Jesus Monotheism (Cascade, 2015). This particular volume is entitled Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond. I made a statement in trying to summarize Crispin’s position that mischaracterizes and goes beyond what he is claiming. So I want to correct the record.
Let me quote my earlier paragraph in full:
Fletcher-Louis thinks that there are antecedent traditions which anticipate the inclusion of Jesus in the divine identity (Bauckham’s phrase). While the worship of Jesus alongside God and beliefs in his divine identity are new and surprising, they could have been anticipated if we were attuned correctly to certain movements and ideas within second temple Judaism.
The sentence in question is the second sentence of that paragraph. In private correspondence Crispin indicated he agreed with the first part, that is, that including Jesus within the identity of Israel’s One God and worshipping him alongside God are new and surprising claims and actions on the part of early Jesus followers. He does not, however, agree with the second part.
In his own words (used by permission):
I agree with the first half of that sentence, but not the second. Christological monotheism is so surprising no one could have anticipated it. There are ideas in the Bible and there were movements in the Second Temple period that are in some ways conceptually continuous with Christological monotheism, but in several respects the Christian worship of Jesus and associated beliefs about him and his deity are without clear precedent. We have no evidence that anyone did anticipate the full pattern of Christ devotion that the NT texts describe (and that Hurtado has laid out in his work), and I would be rather surprised if some new text emerged that showed anyone did anticipate the full pattern. Furthermore, the evidence of the earliest Gospels is that Jesus’ followers were not expecting a messiah who would receive precisely the kind of devotion that those same followers apparently ended up giving to Jesus after his death and resurrection.
I find myself in broad agreement with Crispin on this and I’m grateful for his clarifying for me this aspect of his project which is scheduled to take four volumes to work out. Scholarship is about putting forth an idea, presenting the evidence, and drawing conclusions with the hope that you’ll get a fair hearing. I certainly want to read, understand and present his work fairly. So I’m grateful for the kind and generous way he approached me on this. Dr. Fletcher-Louis has been and continues to be an important partner in the conversation regarding how Christ devotion developed so quickly after the execution of Jesus.