How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions About Earliest Devotion to Jesus Paperback – 12 Dec 2005
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''Written with clarity, cogency, and great erudition, [this book] is a joy to read and a strong challenge to much of contemporary scholarship.'' --The Bible Today
''Not only enhances our understanding of NT Christology, but it also makes a valuable and unique contribution to our historical understanding of the origins of Christianity.'' --Westminster Theological Journal
''Larry Hurtado is changing the face of New Testament studies through his persistence in searching out the origins of the extraordinary devotion to Jesus by his earliest followers. Here he presents his arguments with force and clarity while adding an important chapter on the high cost of Jesus-devotion to first-century believers within their sociopolitical and family systems.'' --John Koenig, General Theological Seminary
From the Back Cover
In "How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?" Larry Hurtado investigates the intense devotion to Jesus that emerged with surprising speed after his death. Reverence for Jesus among early Christians, notes Hurtado, included both grand claims about Jesus' significance and a pattern of devotional practices that effectively treated him as divine. This book argues that whatever one makes of such devotion to Jesus, the subject deserves serious historical consideration.
Mapping out the lively current debate about Jesus, Hurtado explains the evidence, issues, and positions at stake. He goes on to treat the opposition to -- and severe costs of -- worshiping Jesus, the history of incorporating such devotion into Jewish monotheism, and the role of religious experience in Christianity's development out of Judaism. The follow-up to Hurtado's award-winning "Lord Jesus Christ" (2003), this book provides compelling answers to queries about the development of the church's belief in the divinity of Jesus.See all Product description
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Hurtado is a Christian, and his book does have a Christian agenda. Still, the book is very interesting in its own right. The author attempts to prove all his points by using the usual historical-critical method. "How on Earth did Jesus become a God?" reminds me of Martin Hengel's works. Indeed, Hurtado mentions Hengel at several points in his argument.
The author believes that Jesus was worshipped virtually as a god already a few years after his execution. The apotheosis of the historical Jesus of Nazareth wasn't a drawn-out, evolutionary process. Rather, it was a dramatic innovation, a kind of cultural or religious "mutation". It must have happened almost immediately after the crucifixion and the (supposed) resurrection. The earliest Christian writings, the letters of Paul, consider Jesus to be in some sense divine. Thus, the idea that Jesus was elevated to divine status only by the late Gospel of John (or even later in some versions), cannot be sustained. Paul was converted to Christianity only a few years after the execution of Jesus. Hurtado also rejects the alternative claim that it was Paul himself who invented the divinity of Jesus. Before his Damascus road experience, Paul had been a persecutor of the Jewish Christians. But why would a Pharisee like Paul persecute the followers of Jesus? At this point in time, Judaism was extremely heterogeneous, and while various strands of Judaism were often in conflict, they are not known to have persecuted each other violently (besides, the Romans probably wouldn't have allowed it). There must have been something very special and unique about the earliest Jewish Christians, which made the other strands of Judaism react in an unprecedented fashion against them. Hurtado believes that this unique feature was precisely the worship of Jesus as a divine or near-divine figure.
Since Hurtado rejects a slow, evolutionary growth of the Jesus-is-divine notion, he also opposes the concomitant view that the exaltation of Jesus was a result of pagan influences on the Gentile Christians who gradually became dominant. Early Christianity's high view of Jesus was a mutation within the Jewish monotheistic tradition, not a foreign import. However, there is another view which has gained some followers lately: perhaps Judaism wasn't really monotheist to begin with? This is the thesis defended by Margaret Barker in her "The Great Angel", but also by some other scholars. Hurtado freely admits that Judaism wasn't monotheist in the "pure" sense demanded by modern scholars (who may perhaps be subconsciously influenced by Protestantism or Rabbinical Judaism - my observation). Angels, righteous prophets or the Messiah were often seen as intermediaries between God and man. Examples include Michael, Yahoel, Enoch, Moses and Elijah. Another example is Wisdom. These intermediaries were often given a surprisingly exalted status, representing some of God's attributes. The angel Yahoel even wears part of God's sacred name. However, Hurtado believes that there was no corporate worship of angels or exalted humans within Judaism. Sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem were to YHWH alone. Thus, while Jesus could conceivably be identified with, say, Enoch or Michael, actual corporate worship of Jesus would have been beyond the pale for all known Jewish groups in existence at the time. Therefore, the emergence of such worship only a few years after Jesus' death, demands a radical, non-evolutionary explanation.
Hurtado believes that the only possible explanation is that the earliest followers of Jesus experienced something they interpreted as divine revelation, and patterned their responses accordingly. Of course, the revelations in question would be the resurrection appearances of Jesus (Hurtado only discusses those mentioned in 1 Corinthians 15) and the Damascus road experience of Paul. Christians would consider these events to be objectively true and valid supernatural events, and this is presumably Hurtado's position, as well. However, the author believes that revelation in general can change a religious tradition beyond recognition, and that such revelations (no matter their veridical status) cannot be reduced to mere responses to social stress or other purely material factors. Unfortunately, Hurtado doesn't discuss comparative religion at length, despite a promise in the first section of the book to do so. He mentions Muhammad, Baha Ullah, Guru Nanak, the Teacher of Righteousness, the Ghost Dance and Japanese new religions as other examples of such stunning religious innovation, but then drops the issue. Does he consider these examples a threat to the theological conviction that Jesus' resurrection was unique? (Curiously, he doesn't mention Joseph Smith on his list of innovative prophets.)
Speaking of theology, Hurtado calls the earliest Christian conception of God "binitarian". On the one hand, God the Father and Jesus were distinct persons. On the other hand, Jesus reflected the glory of God to such a great extent, that he nevertheless became the object of worship traditionally only bestowed upon YHWH in the Jewish monotheistic tradition. While a "binitarian" god is probably more than, say, Ehrman would be prepared to swallow, it still falls short of evangelical Christianity or Catholicism. Besides, a distinct person who reflects the glory of the Father isn't exactly the same thing as a person in the Trinity. Ironically, our author might have gotten into trouble during the time of Theodosius the Great! He also accepts the results of modern scholarship on many other issues, including the pseudonymous authorship of the Gospels, the late date of John, the allegorical character of some Gospel stories and the existence of frequent anachronisms in the same. Thus, the worship bestowed upon Jesus in Matthew proves that the readers of Matthew around AD 80 worshipped Jesus as a god - it doesn't prove that the historical Jesus was worshipped in such a manner. How the Christian reader reacts to this, is presumably dependent on his or her own theological agendas. Of course, Hurtado's subtext is anything but "liberal": his real point is that the early Christians started to worship Jesus as a god because the resurrected Jesus told them that he, in fact, *was* God. This might also explain the above-mentioned reluctance to engage other revelations from a comparative perspective.
Even so, I admit that "How on Earth did Jesus become a God?" does make a powerful case for the innovative, dramatic or "mutational" view of Christian origins. Those critical of this work must prove the following: that there was corporate worship of angels or other intermediary beings in Judaism, similar to the worship of Jesus as somehow divine; or that Jewish groups in Palestine really did persecute "heretics" other than the Jewish Christians. I'm open to suggestions on both points...
Meanwhile, Hurtado's ideas about a "binitarian" mutation do make a certain logical sense. If the binitarian mutation was supernatural, or just one of those things that happens, is (perhaps) another question entirely... ;-)
Instead of dissipating after the crucifixion, the movement flourished. The death of Jesus triggered a much more startling level of devotion that far surpassed the commitment of his followers during his life on earth. The author shows that this devotion was so momentous that it played a pivotal role in the complex early Christian efforts to articulate doctrines about Jesus and God throughout the next few centuries. This is confirmed in Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scripture and the Faiths We Never Knew by Bart Ehrman, a compelling study of diversity in early Christianity.
Part One is titled Issues & Approaches. The first chapter is a critical review of the various historical approaches to understanding the emergence of this devotion. The next presents the major evidence for considering this development as initially totally within second-temple Judaism. In other words, it represents an innovation in the strictly monotheistic religion of the time. The social costs of Jesus-devotion, which were often heavy for early believers, are discussed in chapter three whilst the last one studies the key Pauline text of Philippians 2: 6 - 11 as an expression of worship.
Part Two: Definitions & Defense, also consists of four chapters. The first addresses controversies associated with the term Monotheism in Roman-era Judaism in order to fully understand the religious tradition from which the worship of Jesus arose. The next compares this early Christian worship to the attitude of his followers while he was alive. There is an enormous difference. Hurtado analyses how the four Gospels portray people giving homage to Jesus with particular emphasis on the Greek word "proskynein" which means To worship, Give homage, Reverence. A significantly heightened level of devotion is evident in the early church.
Chapter seven investigates the hostility and opposition that this phenomenon provoked in Judaism. Opposition appeared early; Jesus-devotion was considered to be outrageous, as blasphemy and a direct challenge to monotheism. The next chapter seeks to explain in historical terms such a drastic innovation within a religious tradition. Hurtado argues that innovations are due to powerful numinous experiences or revelations. He draws upon an impressive body of studies in the history of religion and in modern social-scientific research of new/emergent religious movements, including William James' classic The Varieties of Religious Experience. He clearly believes that these spiritual experiences were pivotal in establishing devotion to Jesus Christ.
The Epilogue provides a summary of the argument, concluding that revelatory experiences as key factor accord with the evidence from earliest Christianity and best explain how Jesus came to be regarded as divine. Such a view casts new light on the earliest expressions of the faith that has proved to be one of the most influential religious innovations in history. It certainly makes logical sense in view of the plethora of religions thriving in the Roman Empire at the time, the absence of significant books in this movement at the beginning and the low level of literacy at that time. Missionary activity alone does not adequately explain the phenomenon.
Nor is it a thing of the past. In more modern times these experiences have been associated with Marian devotion and officially recognized by the largest Christian church. Some of the famous occurrences include Lourdes in 1858, Fatima in 1917 and Medjugorje in 1981. Although it must be said that these apparitions do not represent the same type of religious innovation but rather seem to indicate the survival or re-emergence of a widespread and prehistoric "mother goddess" figure; see Cult of the Black Virgin by Ean Begg.
There are footnotes throughout the text. Appendix 1 contains the opening remarks to the First Deichmann Annual Lecture Series by Horst-Heinz Deichmann whilst Appendix 2 is a discussion of the reasons for studying early Christian literature at Ben-Gurion University by Roland Deines. The book concludes with three indices: of Modern Authors, Subjects, and Scripture & Other Ancient Sources. I enjoyed reading this book; Hurtado is a very thorough scholar but he never "lost" me as a lay reader. I'm looking forward to reading his highly esteemed book Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
The book is divided into two parts. The first dealing with finding the proper approach to characterize the worship on the part of the followers of Jesus and the implications of it. The second part is mostly a further development of Hurtado's approach and his defense. In short Hurtado proposes that the devotion on the part of the early Christians signifies that they treated Jesus alongside God as a rightful recipient of worship, and that in light of Second Temple Judaism this could be called a binitarian shaped monotheism. In his opinion this is innovative and unparalleled (at least not to that degree). He argues against the idea that overtime, with the influx of non-Jews, Jesus came to be considered God and spends one chapter exegeting the Christological Hymn in Phil. 2:6-11 to show that this devotion was present with the early Christians. He looks at first century Jewish monotheism and considers the relevant ideas that were present and how they relate to the devotion of early Christians. He also fills some pages about the Jewish opposition and wraps up with an interesting chapter where he proposes that the catalyst to the early devotion were certain revelatory experiences the followers had with the glorified Jesus.
I must say that I was positively surprised with the book, both in terms of content as well as its presentation. I found his case to be very strong and wish I had read his work earlier. I had some points I disagreed with, such as his claim that the devotion to Jesus was innovative and unparalleled. In my opinion the Kings of Israel are a good parallel and also certain Principal Agents. It may not be identical but it shows a strong precedent that may have been expanded by early Christians but might entail the same implications as those precedents. I think the absence of sacrifice is important for the evaluation of what the devotion entailed and was dissappointed I couldnt find any discussion about this in the book. But these reservations aside, I must say that Hurtado's case impressed me and made me reconsider some things.
9 out of 10
Must-read for anyone interested in Christology
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