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This review is from: Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Perfect Paperback)
This monumental tome investigates devotion to Jesus as a divine figure from the earliest years of Christianity to the late 2nd century. The book was in certain ways shaped by Bousset's 1913 study Kyrios Christos although Hurtado's conclusions are quite different: (a) worship of Jesus was not a secondary development (b) this devotion was expressed with unprecedented intensity & diversity (c) it was articulated within the exclusivist monotheism of the God of Israel.
First, Hurtado considers the nature of Jewish monotheism, monotheism in the New Testament & its effects on devotion to Christ, the religious environment and revelatory experiences in the NT. He argues that visionary experiences contributed to elevating Jesus to an exalted position whilst commitment to monotheism shaped this devotion into a Binitarian mode which represented an unprecedented innovation.
There are no reliable sources from pre-Pauline Christianity; the earliest writings are Paul's epistles. Hurtado accepts Paul's Jewishness but ignores his claim to Pharisee status, a claim devastatingly refuted by Hyam Maccoby. Nor does he touch on the subject of why Paul quoted from the Greek translation of the Tenakh, not the original Hebrew. As regards the apostle's dramatic turnabout, Eric Hoffer's interesting psychological look at the true believer must be borne in mind.
Hurtado finds no difference in devotional practice between Hebrew & Hellenistic Christianity, viewing Paul not as an innovator but a transmitter of tradition. All the evidence comes from Paul's writings and the Book of Acts. Next he investigates the Q-source, a collection of sayings of Jesus widely considered authentic, which was heavily drawn upon by `Matthew' & `Luke.' He argues that Q is a well-crafted text that confirms devotion to Christ, not a different form of the faith.
The author explores the Roman literary environment, Jewish literature and early Christian literature in context. He believes the canonical gospels were written between 65 & 100 AD and describes the shared features of the Synoptics: Mark, Matthew & Luke. About the `Son of Man' expression he agrees with Geza Vermes; it was not a title but served as substitute for the 1st person pronoun. A whole chapter is devoted to Johannine Christianity and the gospel of John with its strikingly different Christological content, narrative, vocabulary & major themes.
Its polemical tone & controversies shows that it must have reflected the views of a particular group; it was written in two or more stages over a number of years, finding its present form in about 100 AD. Hurtado contends that The Gospel of John reflects some serious crises in the late first century, based in two major disputes: within Johannine Christianity, and with Jewish opponents. He avoids mentioning the book's diabolical antisemitism, although to be fair, the subject is not within the stated aims of his book.
He performs a diachronic analysis of extra-canonical books, confirming the diversity in early Christianity with its many heterodox views of Jesus. Only the titles of some survive, whilst selective quotes from others were preserved in the cryptic & inconsistent remarks of `church fathers' like Irenaeus, Clement of A, Origen, Eusebius, Epiphanius & Jerome. These are the Gospels of the Nazoreans (Nazarenes), the Hebrews and the Ebionites. The three versions of Mark are discussed as well as fragments from Akhmim & Fayyum, the Egerton Manuscript, Gospel of Peter, Protevangelium of James & the Nag Hammadi Library.
He engages in great detail with the Gospel of Thomas, a book of 114 sayings, analyzing its structure & literary character. In this lengthy discussion, he observes that though eclectic, this book has a purpose & emphases. It is esoteric & revisionist, placing the teaching above the person of Jesus, stressing the revelatory not the redemptive. There are however echoes of the Synoptics, Johannine Christianity & the Epistles.
By the closing decades of the 1st century, both the leadership & adherents of the faith had shifted from the Jewish to the gentile. This is when Christianity became a religion as opposed to a Jewish sect. Hurtado makes some interesting observations about the Epistle to the Hebrews and its references to the high priest Melchizedek. At this time, the Roman authorities & cultural elites became aware of the movement, as reflected in Pliny, Trajan, Tacitus, Suetonius, Epictetus and Celsus; it was also the century in which the NT writings were collected, copied, disseminated & edited.
The author highlights the radical diversity of the 2nd century by focusing on the minimalist gospel of Marcion & the esoteric one of Valentinus; he quite correctly does not consider the Gnostics as a single homogeneous movement. Regarding the Jewish Christians of the time, there are once again basic source problems. According to Justin, there were two streams, both full observers of Torah & believers in Jesus as Messiah & Son of God. One demanded the full Torah observation of gentiles, the other not. Ray Pritz considers the Nazarenes as similar to the Proto-Orthodox and the Ebionites as having seen Jesus as Messiah but not as divine. Another possibility is that the Nazarenes or Nazoreans, reduced & scattered after the destruction of Jerusalem, might later have been called Ebionites (Evyonim = poor ones).
The last chapter identifies the expressions of devotion associated with the Proto-Orthodox during the 2nd half of the second century. This included finding Christ everywhere in the Old Testament and unfortunately the seeds of replacement theology in the belief that the church had displaced Israel. Hurtado points out the Binitarian devotion in the books of Revelation, The Shepherd of Hermas & Ascension of Isaiah and looks at forms of worship, prayer and hymnody, the Didache and the Nomina Sacra. He concludes that in a real sense, Jesus is bigger than Christianity.
Footnotes adorn, explain and illuminate almost every page as Hurtado references a breathtaking variety of ancient & modern authors. The bibliography comprises 48 pages and there are three indexes: Modern Authors, Subjects & Ancient Sources. Even those who disagree with Hurtado on major issues must concede that Lord Jesus Christ is a work of magnificent research and scholarship.