The Early High Christology Club (EHCC)
In a recent book, the “Early High Christology Club” (EHCC) was referred to mistakenly as if it reflected some particular confessional stance. In the interests of setting the record straight, I offer the following as a charter member of the “club”.
“The Early High Christology Club” (EHCC) is a jocular self-designation coined by a group of scholars of various backgrounds with research interests in earliest Christianity who emphasize that an exalted place of Jesus in belief and devotional practice (including corporate worship) is evident in the earliest Christian sources and likely goes back to the first circles of Jesus’ followers from shortly after his crucifixion. The nickname originated among several scholars who formed the steering committee of a progam-unit in the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in the 1990s, the “Divine Mediators in Antiquity Group,” which was focused on the Roman-era historical context in which the “high Christology” (beliefs that Jesus is in some way worthy of divine honor) reflected in the New Testament first emerged. This initial group included David Capes, Wendy Cotter, Jarl Fossum, Larry Hurtado, Donald Juel, John R. Levison, Carey Newman, Pheme Perkins, Alan Segal and Marianne Meye Thompson. In addition to those already mentioned, others who associate themselves with the EHCC include Clinton Arnold, Loren Stuckenbruck, James Davila, Charles Gieschen, Richard Bauckham, Martin Hengel, April DeConick, Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr and Jörg Frey.
An incident often cited subsequently took place after an annual meeting of the “Divine Mediators in Antiquity Group” that featured invited presentations from James D. G. Dunn and Maurice Casey (who each took somewhat different views on the origins of “high Christology,” both of them tending to see it as a somewhat later development). After the meeting concluded, Dunn and Casey joined Capes, Hurtado, Newman and Segal for dinner at a Greek restaurant. After Segal (who spoke modern Greek) ordered for the group and wine was poured, Newman (with characteristic mischief) proposed a toast “To early high Christology.” Capes, Hurtado and Segal raised their glasses, while Dunn and Casey hesitated. After a few seconds, Dunn raised his glass with a smile saying, “To high Christology”, and after a few more seconds Casey (with a twinkle in his eye) raised his glass toasting, “To Christology”. (At some point thereafter, Newman in good-natured teasing proposed that Dunn and Casey be accorded leading status in an affiliate group, “The Late, Low and Slow Club” of early Christology.)
A historic artefact of the EHCC was commissioned by Newman in the late 1990s, a coffee mug emblazoned with “EHCC The Early High Christology Club”. These mugs were offered to those who had presented papers at the meetings of the “Divine Mediators in Antiquity Group,” and many others as well subsequently requested what has now become a hard-to-find collector’s item, jealously guarded by those who have one. In the late 1990s also began what has become the annual (and highly informal) meeting of the EHCC (typically, late Saturday night during the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature), which features good-humored banter and sharing a bottle of Scottish single-malt whisky, with toasts to members sadly deceased (Juel and Segal, in particular). (But by standing rules, no serious discussion is allowed, and invitations to this annual occasion are highly sought!)
The EHCC came to more public notice in the dedication-statement in Hurtado’s large book, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2003): “To the EHCC: Scholarship, friendship, a sense of humor, and Highland irrigation.” (The “Highland irrigation” an allusion to the Scottish single-malt beverage consumed at the annual get-togethers.)
On a more serious level, among early influences on the scholars involved, the work of Martin Hengel is significant, e.g., his book, The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1976). One of their emphases in their own work is to set the emergence of early “high” views of Jesus in the dynamic context of ancient Jewish traditions, whereas older work (e.g., Wilhelm Bousset’s Kyrios Christos, 1913) tended to portray it as resulting from the influence of “pagan” religion on the young Christian movement.