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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.
Someone suggested I put some of these posts together to make it longer. You have what you wish!!!
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 substantial 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 dissuaded 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 as Messiah 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 reference 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.
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.
One God, One Lord (Part 3)
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 and that precedents did exist for the practice in Judaism before. 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 serious 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 that an angel tell her name so she could worship him. But this is not an antecedent 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 him. 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).
One God, One Lord (Part 4)
Regarding precedents for the worship of Jesus in early Christianity . . .
Hurtado appreciated Loren Stuckenbruck’s work on the veneration of angels and the Christology of Revelation (Angel Veneration and Christology, WUNT 2/70 [Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1995]). He found Stuckenbruck’s conclusions largely in line with his own. In his study of Jewish magical texts, angel veneration, and the angelic responses to humans, Stuckenbruck admits there is nothing like an organized cult of angel worship among Jews prior to or during the time of Jesus. So, there is no precedent for the worship of Jesus in the Jewish posture toward angels, even principal angels.
Clinton Arnold’s work (The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae, WUNT 2/77 [Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1995) also garnered attention from Hurtado. In particular, devout Jews clearly had an interest in angels, but they did not organize themselves into religious communities gathering to worship or pray to angels as divine, or alongside the God of Israel. What Hurtado and others demonstrated was that Jewish monotheism was elastic enough to allow for divine agents, like prinicipal angels, to be included in close association with God without somehow giving up on their commitment to God’s oneness.
Another criticism leveled toward Hurtado’s work has to do with whether the early Christians’ actions toward and beliefs about Jesus amounted to worship. Hurtado says yes and he details a number of these. We will consider those in a future post. But Jimmy Dunn regards these phenomena as adoration and not worship (see Theology of Paul the Apostle [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998], 257-60. An analogy I’ve heard Dunn use is this: Catholics and (some) Protestants adore Mary but do not worship her. Early Christians like Paul, Dunn believes, did gather and offer remarkable devotion to Jesus but that did not constitute “worship” as Jews worshiped the God of Israel. This phenomenon does take place, eventually, but it is not as early as Hurtado alleges.
Hurtado does conclude that in the first two decades of the Jesus movement there is a “binitarian” pattern of worship that sets Jesus as a rightful recipient of worship along with God. This is not ditheism (belief in and worship of two distinct figures), but a different pattern that includes Jesus within God in some important way. So that to bow the head and bend the knee to Jesus is the will of God and constitutive of proper worship (Phil 2.9-11).
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, once the communities left behind the so-called constraints of Jewish monotheism. Perhaps it is first evidenced 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, there was no mutation in Jewish religious practices.
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 of 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 in explicit terms, his letters might be a source of information for what he found so offensive.
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 when John 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 to what Christians were saying about Jesus and how they were reverencing him alongside the God of Israel.
One God, One Lord (Part 6)
Hurtado contended that divine agents, or better principal agents, provided a conceptual category whereby earliest Christians were able to understand how a second figure (like Jesus) could be closely associated with God in creation and sustaining the world, in redemption and future judgment. For Hurtado, a good deal of early Christians’ assessment of Jesus and his significance owed its substance to this category. But he never contended that divine agency (principal agency) was sufficient in and of itself to account for the rise of Christ-devotion in the early decades of the Christian movement. What is unparalleled in second temple Judaism vis-à-vis the principal agent figure is the kind of cultic devotion that arose with Jesus as the rightful (God willed) recipient. This is truly a “novel development,” that represented what he called a binitarian pattern of devotion.
One factor Hurtado noted was the powerful religious experiences that convinced Jesus followers that it was right and good to reverence the Lord Jesus as Jews were reverencing God. Moreover, to reverence Jesus did not distract in any way from one’s devotion to God. The experiences had to be so forceful and compelling as to persuade scrupulous Jews to consider it God’s will that they reverence Jesus.
Some scholars have questioned whether religious experience could have the kind of generative effect as Hurtado argued. But he made the point in various articles that sociologists and anthropologists increasingly were recognizing that religious experience, particular “revelations,” did lead to significance innovations. Any religious experience and language used to express it were culturally and religiously determined. But there are novel interpretations of religious phenomena that led to structural changes in communities, new beliefs and practices.
The New Testament demonstrates that believers like Paul, a significant minor founder figure, had revelatory experiences that shaped and determined their lives (Galatians 1; 2 Corinthians 13; Acts 9). These revelations caused Saul/Paul to rethink the concepts, beliefs, and practices that had previously characterized his life. Whatever value he found in his previous life is now recast in light of knowing Christ (Philippians 3). As a result of his “conversion” or “call,” he joined a new group, the ecclesia of Christ, and found himself at odds with his previous community. The role of “revelation” is significant in early Christianity. Hurtado sensed this from the earliest sources and knew that it had sculpted what early Christianity was becoming in its first century.
One God, One Lord (Part 7)
In the 1990s there were a number of books published on theology and Christology which Hurtado felt deserved special notice. There were:
Larry Kreitzer, Jesus and God in Paul’s Eschatology (JSNTSup 19; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1987).
David Capes, Old Testament Yahweh Texts in Paul’s Christology (WUNT 2/47; Tubingen: Mohr-Siebeck, 1992)
Carl Davis, The Name and Way of the Lord: Old Testament Themes, New Testament Christology (JSNTSup 129; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1996).
Carey Newman, Paul’s Glory-Christology: Tradition and Rhetoric (NovTSup 69; Leiden: Brill, 1992).
Neil Richardson, Paul’s Language about God (JSNTSup 99; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994).
Philp Davis rightly noted three patterns of mediation established in Jewish religious texts of the time. He referred to (a) the legacy pattern—which had to do with the role a mediator figure played in the past (e.g., creation); (b) the present pattern—which emphasized the role of a mediator in the present; (c) the future pattern—which anticipated a future or eschatological figure (e.g. messianic). Davis, however, in Hurtado’s opinion, could never account adequately for the kind of honor and reverence early Christians granted to Jesus as Messiah.
John Collins’ critique of Hurtado was that he did not pay enough attention to royal messianic figures. Hurtado does speak to messianic figures in ch. 1 of ONE GOD, ONE LORD, but his point is not to dwell on messianic figures. His purpose was to focus on those kind of figures that had some analogous heavenly status to the risen Jesus in early Christianity. Messianic figures in most Jewish sources (except 1 Enoch).could be characterized as having a more earthly orientation. This is why Hurtado paid attention to exalted patriarchs and principal angels.
Most studies during this period were focused more on religious language and religious beliefs related to the Lord Jesus. Hurtado’s primary emphasis was and continued to be the practices of early Christians, particularly as they related to granting Jesus any sort of divine status.
Max Turner proposed that experiences of revelation and inspiration by the power of the Holy Spirit or what believers took to be the spirit sent by the risen and exalted Jesus contributed heavily to the notion that Jesus was divine and was therefore worthy of worship. Hurtado appreciated Turner’s study and the work of his student Mehrdad Fatehi.
Hurtado ends his preface to the second edition expressing appreciation for the renewed interest in Christology at the time. The final word on the subject had not been written by Wilhelm Bousset (Kyrios Christos) and Oscar Cullman, A Christology of the New Testament. More was yet to be discovered for anyone daring enough to take a second look.
ONE GOD, ONE LORD (Part 8)
I have spent seven posts blogging through the preface to the 1998 edition. You can read those earlier posts beginning in December. Now I turn my attention to the epilogue of the book, which Larry wrote for the 3rdedition. To my knowledge, it had not been published before.
Larry’s interest in the questions that eventually became ONE GOD, ONE LORD came together for him not long after he finished his PhD. He felt it was time for a substantial engagement with and against Wilhelm Bousset’s classic book KYRIOS CHRISTOS. There were two overarching conclusions to Bousset’s book. First, one of the most significant historical developments of early Christianity was the emergence of the ‘Kyrios-cult,’ that is, the treatment of the risen/exalted Jesus as “the rightful recipient” of worship. Second, Bousset argued that this development did not take place among the first Jewish followers of Jesus in Judea and Jerusalem; instead it happened in places like Antioch and Damascus under the influence of pagan worship where there were gods-a-plenty to be honored. Jesus became just another of those. Hurtado held to the first conclusion but not the second.
Hurtado thought that advances in knowledge and the availability of many Jewish texts—texts not available to Boussett—had rendered his historical judgements in error. For example, Boussett thought the title “Son of Man” was a familiar title in second temple Judaism, and thus available for the earliest followers of Jesus to express his significance; it designated an eschatological figure who would appear to bring judgment and redemption to the world. Therefore, the earliest Christians confessed Jesus to the “Son of Man,” not the Lord kyrios because that word was too closely allied with the name of God and gods and could be thought to oblige worship of Jesus. It did develop, of course, historically at a secondary stage once Christianity had moved away from its Jewish moorings. Further study has demonstrated, however, that Bousset was not correct; the “Son of Man” was not a familiar title in second temple Judaism. Likewise, it is unlikely it comes about as a confession title: “Jesus is the Son of Man.”
The Achilles’ heel to Bousset’s argument (that Kyrios-cult developed at some secondary stage away from Jerusalem and Judea) is 1 Cor 16:22: maranatha. Most scholars take that as an acclamation, “Our Lord comes” or an invocation, “Come, our Lord.” If Paul is using an Aramaic phrase in a Greek letter to a congregation in Corinth in AD 56, it is likely that the original, “primitive” church in Judea/Jerusalem referred to Jesus (the risen and coming one) as the Mareh (Aramaic for “Lord”). Aramaic was the language of the first Jewish communities/ synagogues. Research by various scholars delving in Qumran material confirms that the term Mareh could refer to God, in ways similar to kyrios in Greek. Hurtado took this as evidence that devotion to Jesus begins not in Greek-speaking Antioch but in Aramaic-speaking Jerusalem.
ONE GOD, ONE LORD came out of the impulse that Judaism not Hellenism provided the rich seedbed from which Christianity sprung. The Jesus movement began in a Jewish context and drew initially from that context to express their beliefs regarding Jesus and his significance. Rather than examining the worship of Jesus in light of the Greek world with all their gods, Hurtado understood the challenges involved in investigating Christ-devotion in light of Jewish beliefs and practices.
I am a card-carrying member of The Early High Christology Club (EHCC). Well, in the spirit of full disclosure we don’t actually have cards, we have a mug. It is a highly sought-after prize. If you are mug-worthy and see one, do everything you can short of stealing it to get one. Carey Newman of Baylor University Press, also an EHCC charter member, made the first investment in the mugs. A bit of explanation is in order.
The Early High Christology Club is a loose affiliation of scholars who have written books or articles arguing that the early followers of Jesus—as early as we have evidence—had a high Christology, that is, their assessment of his significance included that he was, in some sense, divine. Now this is actually an historical conclusion based on our reading of the literary evidence; it does not depend on any confession. The earliest evidences we have in the New Testament or any Christian sources are the letters of Paul; so much of this historical construct has been built upon a close reading of his letters. There are all sorts of issues involved: how did Paul and other NT writers express their “Christology”? what kind of language was used? where did that language come from? how does this comport with their reading of the Christian Bible, the Septuagint? how early is “early”? how high is “high”? –how did these early Jewish Christians regard Jesus as divine without setting aside their monotheistic heritage? Paul, for example, claims to be a monotheist and yet he appears to regard Jesus as divine (e.g., 1 Cor 8.6; Phil 2:5-11). If Jesus were divine, then did early Christians worship him? If so, did they worship him the same way they would have worshiped God?
Not all people agree, of course, with the members of the EHCC. There is the Late, Low and Slow Club (LLSC)—though I don’t think they have a mug—which concludes that the early followers of Jesus regarded him as a human being only. Many decades later when Christianity moved beyond the constraints of its Jewish heritage, Christians began to regard Jesus as divine. The LLSC posits a lengthy period of development from a low to a high Christology, anywhere from 60 to 100 years. Now, members of the EHCC also posit a period of development in the Church’s Christology, but they think this development happened rapidly, perhaps even within a few years after Jesus’ crucifixion.
The EHCC meets regularly and informally at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature. Carey Newman and Larry Hurtado, distinguished (now retired) Professor of New Testament and Christian Origins at the University of Edinburgh, co-sponsor the annual gathering. Carey provides the room. Larry brings the food and drink. Stories are told. Friends catch up. There is a lot of laughter. At a given moment in our gathering someone recites our founding myth. Some who have heard it say that it is so good it cannot possibly be true; but those of us who were there know it happened just as we say.