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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).
I continue to work through the preface to the second edition of Larry Hurtado’s ONE GOD, ONE LORD.
Throughout his life Hurtado remained appreciative of the work of Wilhelm Bousset and the History of Religion School. Bousset’s publication of Kyrios Christos in 1913 (the original German edition) established him as the leading star in a galaxy of (primarily) German scholars interested in Christian origins. In particular, Hurtado found value in the ways these scholars went about trying “to understand in historical terms the remarkable way in which Jesus figures in the religious devotion of ancient Christians” (xi, One God, One Lord [T. & T. Clark/Bloomsbury, 2015]). The problem with these earlier explanations, according to Hurtado, was their simplistic and ultimately faulty model for how Christianity developed. Bousset and his generation looked to Greco-Roman religions for their understanding of how early Christianity emerged; Hurtado and the new History of Religion School believed the rich and varied Jewish background held the key to understanding how Christianity developed.
Three theoretical approaches have dominated the discussions on Christian origins, particularly how Christ-devotion began.
First, some scholars propose that pagan religious ideas and practices were the primary shaping factors. Not long after the Jesus movement began, non-Jews (therefore, polytheists) flooded into the movement in such numbers that pagan ideas became dominant. Maurice Casey (From Jewish Prophet to Gentile God, 1991) provides a good example of this way of thinking. However, as Larry demonstrated, Christ-devotion did not take several centuries or decades to take shape. Within two decades of the execution of Jesus, Jewish Christians were reverencing Jesus in ways that monotheists reverence the one, true God. Hurtado used the word “mutation” to describe the changes in Jewish religious practice in this period, a period before the end of the first century (AD or CE). Hurtado described this development as early—as early as we have evidence, Paul’s letters—and explosive.
There is a second approach. Granting that the emergence of religious devotion to Jesus was early, it is possible to posit that pagan influences had already corrupted Judaism and its monotheistic scruples by the time of Jesus. While some maintained a strict monotheism, others played more fast and loose with it. But Hurtado and others have shown that an exclusive monotheism, a strict adherence to God’s oneness, characterized Judaism at that time. Jews (by and large) saw themselves as separate and wanted to maintain that separation. Idolatry was foolish and evil. Devotion to the Roman gods was not tolerated. Roman era Judaism had been Hellenized but not paganized. Probably one of the best examples of this is Saul of Tarsus, the Pharisee.
Hurtado’s work represents a third, and from my perspective, a more satisfying approach to the question of how religious devotion to Jesus emerged. It pays attention to the rich and various textures and nuances of Greco-Roman Jewish religion and the chronological reality that whatever devotion emerges, it emerges early. Cultic devotion to Jesus was a novel development that drew (primarily) on the Jewish religious tradition, practices and concepts. These traditions, practices, and concepts ultimately “mutate” under the influence of powerful, religious experiences that characterized the earliest communities of Christ followers.
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.
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.
The first generation of Christ followers gathered regularly in house churches for instruction, encouragement and worship. A central part of these gatherings was the chanting and singing of hymns. Explicit reference to the use of hymns in the Christian church is found in Paul’s admonition to sing psalms (psalmoi), hymns (humnoi) and spirituals songs (ōdē) with gratitudeto God (Col 3:16; cf. Eph 5:19-20). These three terms likely refer to the practice of using the biblical Psalter along with distinctly Christian compositions. The worship of God with hymns had its immediate background in Jewish synagogue practices. Psalms, particularly messianic psalms, were used by early believers to express uniquely Christian perspectives on God’s recent actions in the world. Likewise, Eph 1:3-14 is constructed on a Jewish hymn-pattern known as the berakah (“blessed is . . . “). While the pattern is clearly Jewish, the author used it in a way that is explicitly Christian. Gentile believers too would have also been accustomed to hymn-singing in the ethos of Greco-Roman religion.
Scholars have detected hymns and hymn fragments throughout the Gospels, Acts, letters and Revelation utilizing various criteria including introductory phrases (e.g., “therefore it says,” Eph 5:14), poetic parallelism, special uses of relative pronouns and participles, the presence of unusual vocabulary and rhyming features, and disruptions to the context. Although not all scholars agree, there is a general consensus that the following passages represent early Christian hymns: Rom 11:33-36, Phil 2:6-11, Col 1:15-20, 1 Tim 3:16, 1 Pet 2:21-24, Heb 1:3-4, Rev 4:8-11 and 19:1-4. These hymns may have been preformed traditions quoted or alluded to by a writer or spontaneous compositions understood to be Spirit-inspired. Some hymns are so clear and self-contained that later generations of Christians name them (e.g., the Magnificat = Luke 1:46-55; the Benedictus = Luke 1:68-79). The New Testament contains both hymns to Christ and to God the Father demonstrating a binitarian shape to early Christian devotion. Furthermore, the content of early Christian hymns is directed to soteriological themes such as creation, incarnation, and redemption. For early Christ believers hymnic praise was essentially a response to God’s saving actions in Christ.
Though not all agree, many scholars think that the earliest extant Christian hymn is the hymn to Christ found in Phil 2:6-11. The hymn consists of two parts. The first narrates the descent and humiliation of the pre-existent Jesus to become a man and to suffer a merciless death on the cross. The second describes the ascent and exaltation of the crucified Jesus by God to receive the adoration of every creature and confession “Jesus Christ is Lord.” This hymn functioned to recall the essential story and therefore had a didactic purpose. Paul utilized it further to make Jesus the lordly example of humility and service (cf. 1 Peter 2:21-24).
By its nature poetic or hymnic language appears to affect those who use it in significant ways. Whether it was chanted or accompanied with musical instruments, hymns were easier to memorize and recall than other forms of instruction. Therefore, it seems that early Christians used NT hymns for several purposes: (1) to instruct, (2) to express praise and thanks to God, (3) to confess faith, (4) to form communal identity, and (5) to provide an example for proper behavior.
This week (Dec 2-7, 2017) I’m working through the page proofs for my new book The Divine Christ: Paul, the Lord Jesus, and the Scriptures of Israel (Baker Academic, March 2018). Not long ago I received word of the cover art for the book which I present here for the first time.
Recently I have received endorsements from a number of scholars whom I deeply respect. Here are few of those:
“What is the most amazing thing the New Testament writers do to exalt Jesus of Nazareth? Is it reporting all his ‘I am’ sayings in the Gospel of John or calling him ‘the Messiah, God blessed over all’ in Romans 9:5? Maybe it’s all the ways he is worshiped, starting during his life but especially after his death and resurrection? Perhaps, but when do we consider all the New Testament texts that quote the Old Testament and apply to Jesus what is said about Yahweh, the one and only God of creation? English readers don’t usually think of these passages because we just see the word ‘Lord’ and move on. David Capes leads us on a sleuthing exercise to discover and understand the significance of these passages. Readers will be astounded at how many there are and will be greatly encouraged by what their meanings add up to.”—Craig L. Blomberg, distinguished professor of New Testament, Denver Seminary
“What does it mean when Paul says ‘Jesus is Lord’? In a clear and engaging style, David Capes takes us to the heart of Paul’s theology, revealing the depth and nuance of this seemingly simple claim by showing how it is shaped by Paul’s Old Testament citations and allusions. Capes extends the conclusions of his seminal work on Paul’s early high Christology and makes the best of contemporary scholarship accessible without getting lost in the weeds. Both beginning students and seasoned scholars will benefit from this valuable work.”—Ben C. Blackwell, assistant professor of Christianity, Houston Baptist University
“In this volume Capes extends the argument he first presented in his important book Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology and responds to some recent developments in scholarly discussion. By pressing home useful distinctions and carefully attending to textual and contextual features, Capes elucidates crucial aspects of the earliest and fully divine Christology. This volume sparkles with common sense and judicious judgment, shedding light on a perennially contentious issue. These debates concern matters of great significance, and I am grateful that Capes has once again contributed to these discussions.”—Chris Tilling, senior lecturer in New Testament Studies, St. Mellitus College
“Every generation of students has to struggle anew with complex questions regarding the status and nature of Christ in the New Testament and early Christian thought. Capes proves himself an expert guide through Paul’s Letters, especially Paul’s use of Old Testament texts that apply the divine title ‘Lord’ to Jesus. When Christians called Jesus ‘Lord,’ what did this mean? Did the first Christians consider Jesus divine? How did they conceive of the unique lordship of Jesus in relation to the one God? To this weighty subject Capes brings proven expertise, crystal clarity of expression, and penetrating analysis of interpretations past and present.”—Nijay K. Gupta, associate professor of New Testament, Portland Seminary
“Capes offers a brilliant examination of the meaning of ‘Lord’ in ancient Judaism, in modern scholarship, and in the Pauline Letters. What Capes demonstrates, with acumen and insight, is that Paul was among those who considered Jesus as Lord in the strongest possible sense, and the highest Christology we can imagine was indeed among the earliest. This erudite and learned volume is for anyone interested in the Christology of the early church.”—Michael F. Bird, lecturer in theology, Ridley College, Melbourne, AustraliaN
Thanks to all these scholars who took time to read the book and take it seriously.
Now . . . back to work . . .