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One God, One Lord

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. larry-hurtado1

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.

Larry Hurtado’s Blog

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.larry-hurtado1

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:

https://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2019/05/06/capes-on-yhwh-texts-and-jesus/

or click here.

 

 

The Library of Early Christology

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.”  NewBaylor Press.man, 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).

 

Is It Possible to be a Christian and a Scholar?

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:

http://www.christianorigins.div.ed.ac.uk/2017/11/30/christian-scholars-and-academic-honesty/

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.

 

Is It Time to Retire “Low” and “High” Christology?

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 EHCC mug “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.

Hengel
Founding member, Larry Hurtado, presents an official EHCC mug to the late Professor Martin Hengel (seen here with his wife, Frau Hengel)