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One of the blogs I like to follow is by Larry W. Hurtado, retired Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins from the University of Edinburgh. He is one of the most adept readers of the New Testament text that I know.
Recently, he reviewed favorably a paper I wrote for conference at the University of Edinburgh. Unfortunately, I was not able to be there to give the paper, but it was still discussed anyway.
Here is a brief summary and review of my paper by Professor Hurtado:
Cut and paste the following URL:
or click here.
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).
Recently my friend and colleague, Larry Hurtado (Univ of Edinburgh), addressed the question whether it is possible to be a Christian and a scholar in a brief video sponsored by the University of Edinburgh. It is only 3 minutes in length and worth watching. Here is a link:
No one comes to a discipline from no perspective at all. Everyone, whether Jew, Christian, Muslim, or “none” approaches a set of data or texts with assumptions which some scholars refer to as “pre-understanding.” It is important to recognize what our pre-understandings are and to recognize when and how our pre-understandings enter into disciplines. If they cause us to mis-read the texts or over-read the data, then we need to recognize or rethink those positions.
There are no points of neutrality. Objectivity is a myth. Anyone who claims to be operating from some mythical, neutral spot or complete objectivity should not be taken more seriously than one who recognizes their biases. You can clearly see my bias here. A bias is not necessarily wrong.
In his book Echoes of Scripture in the Gospel (Baylor University Press, 2016) Richard Hays makes a compelling case that the four NT Gospels, taken together and individually, identify Jesus as the embodiment (incarnation) of the God of Israel. He reaches this conclusion after probing the Jewish and Old Testament roots of the Gospel stories.
Now this presents a challenge to a number of scholars who have assumed that Gospels like Mark and Luke offer a “low” Christology, that is, an image of Jesus as prophet and Messiah but not divine. He goes on to say that it may be time to retire terms like “high” and “low” Christology because they presuppose a developmental scheme, a movement from low to high or human to divine as if these categories can be easily distinguished. Scholars such as Maurice Casey, Jimmy Dunn and, more recently, Bart Ehrman have made the developmental case. The presupposition driving such analyses has been that the first Jewish followers of Jesus would have been prevented from associating the man Jesus with the God of Israel because of their monotheistic heritage. Once the Jesus movement drifted into Gentile territory where there were gods-a-plenty, such scruples could be easily compromised.
Hays is quick to say that bold, even audacious claims about Jesus’ linkage with the God of Israel do not preclude the Gospels’ portrayal of “human” Jesus, a Jesus who truly suffers and dies, a Jesus who hungers, thirsts, grows weary, like the rest of us. For the evangelists it was not an all or nothing proposition.
I’m sympathetic with Hays’ call to retire the terms. But I’m not sure what to put in their place. Is there a single term which can unite those claims that Jesus is human like the rest of us with Jesus is divine like the God of Israel? In private correspondence Prof. Hays writes that he likes the phrase used by Richard Bauckham “divine identity Christology.” But does this reflect sufficiently the full and true humanity of Jesus? I have also used that phrase because I find it useful.
In a sense that is what these discussions are about; how might we frame the Jesus-talk of the earliest Christians? Other than repeating and explaining what we sense they meant when they used titles and echoed Scriptural language and applied it to Jesus we are often in search for language which describes, portrays, and otherwise adequately reflects these convictions.
I have to confess I’m partial to the language of “low” and “high” Christology for a number of reasons. Despite the assumption of development from low to high culturally and chronologically with which the phrases are often laden, I think the terms can be useful if they are carefully nuanced. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am a mug-carrying member of the Early High Christology Club. Still, I’d be interested to know if you think there is language out there which might help us have more fruitful discussions about early Christology.
I met Crispin Fletcher-Louis in 1998 at a conference at St. Andrews. He was a rising star in historical and theological matters relating to the origins of Christianity. His star continues to rise.
Recently he published the first volume of a four volume series entitled Jesus Monotheism. This particular volume is Christological Origins: The Emerging Consensus and Beyond (Cascade, 2015).
In this series Fletcher-Louis hopes to explain how it happened that early Jesus-followers came to see him as divine and worshiped him in continuity with the worship of the One God of Israel (what I like to call an early high Christology). His purpose is historical: where did it happen? With whom? What caused it? What shape did it take?
I’ll have more to say on this in an upcoming article. For now at least let me introduce the key elements.
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.
Fletcher-Louis situates the causative factor for an early high Christology not in powerful religious experiences post-resurrection but in Jesus’ own self-awareness. He claims that the historical Jesus had an incarnational self-consciousness. The resurrection, of course, is a key event. For the crucifixion appears on the surface to deny Jesus’ messianic and divine claims. In the event Christians call the resurrection something happened to reverse the negating elements of Jesus’ death and confirm not only that Jesus is Israel’s Messiah but that he is also the incarnation of a divine being. Now, for those of you who’ve been following the scholarship in this arena, that is a bold claim.
Fletcher-Louis starts with the emerging consensus. Frankly, I don’t know recall who coined the phrase but it is a good one. The emerging consensus among many scholars is that a divine Christology is indeed early (that’s why I am a founding member of the early high Christology club) and located historically within Jewish milieu. It did not arise late in the first century only after Gentiles had streamed in and overtaken the Jesus movement. Divine Christology means that early followers included Jesus within the divine identity and engaged in actions toward him which can only be described as worship, or as Larry Hurtado has put it “Christ devotion.”
There are scholars, however, who haven’t emerged. These include Maurice Casey, Jimmy Dunn, James McGrath, and Bart Ehrman.
To this point Fletcher-Louis finds himself in broad agreement with the emerging consensus and its leading lights, Hurtado and Bauckham. Where he goes “beyond” is to try to locate (historically) the belief in a divine Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism and in the self-awareness of Jesus. Jewish writings which could have a pre-Christian origin such as the Life of Adam and Eve and the Similitudes of Enoch can be read in such a way to suggest that Jews before Jesus had a messianic expectation which included a divine Messiah who comes from heaven.
Hurtado has made the case that it is powerful religious experiences post- resurrection which caused these early, Jewish followers to consider Jesus divine and to worship him. Apparently, through visions and prophetic utterances early Christians “saw” Jesus enthroned at God’s right hand and came to believe that worshiping Jesus was the will of God. While Fletcher-Louis applauds Hurtado’s sense that we need to take seriously the role of religious experience, he does not consider it is enough to account for what happened so quickly after Jesus’ execution. The problem, as he sees it, is that with no precedent for the worship of a divine person or Messiah in pre-Christian Judaism or without taking seriously the possibility that Jesus’ himself had a sense of his own divine identity, it is hard to account for the speed and exact shape Christ devotion took in the first decades after Jesus’ execution. It is more believable, according to Fletcher-Louis, that Jesus had a divine self-consciousness.
Well, his chips are on the table. Scholars, emerging and otherwise, are likely to agree with some of his points and disagree with others. Three more volumes to come. These are a welcome additions to the conversation.