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The Gospels, the Qur’an, and a Level Playing Field

This site is devoted to the New Testament and the origins of Christianity, but I feel obliged to discuss another matter that pertains to the textual criticism of the Gospels.  A few days ago a reader of this blog site pointed me to a French-language debate between a Muslim apologist and a Christian apologist, in which the palaeographical dating of some key Gospels papyri came up for discussion.  The Muslim apologist claimed (wrongly) that a new consensus among experts in palaeography of Greek papyri dates the items in question to the fourth century:  P. Bodmer II (= P66 in the Nestle-Aland list of manuscripts), and P. Bodmer XIV/XV (= P75 in the Nestle-Aland list).

There is no such new consensus.  There are now individual scholars who push for a fourth-century date for the items, prominent among them, Brent Nonbgri; but the judgement that an early third-century date for P66 and a mid-to-late third-century date for P75 remains quite widely held.[1]  For example, the late-great palaeographer, Sir Eric Turner held this view.[2]  As for more recent scholars, Pasquale Orsini, for example (using his own distinctive method) proposes to date P66 mid-third to mid-fourth century, and P75 to late third-to-early-fourth century.  I blogged previously on his proposal and the reception it received from other scholars here.  Note:  Pasquale doesn’t say that these items are fourth century, only that range of possible dates allows (in his view) for a fourth-century date as a possibility,

But, whenever you date P66 or P75, we are hardly bereft of other early manuscript evidence for the textual transmission of the Gospels.  For example, for the Gospel of John alone, we have portions of some sixteen codices that are commonly dated pre-300 CE, some of them as early as the late second century.  And, as my student, Lonnie Bell, has shown in his recently published PhD thesis, although many of these are mere fragments, we can in fact tell a good deal from them about how conscientiously the text was transmitted in the third and even second centuries.[3]

But when apologists of Christian or Muslim alignment start hurling about dates, they tend to do so to score religious points, not to engage in serious consideration of scholarly dating of manuscripts.  And it’s a particular pity that Muslim apologists think that they can discredit Christianity by arguing over such matters, and by pointing out that there are textual variants evident in manuscripts of the Gospels.  There are two further things to note.

First, as has been shown repeatedly, the many textual variants in the rich abundance of early manuscripts (down through the fifth century) are almost entirely the accidental mistakes that copyists of practically any text make.  These variants don’t affect the meaning of the text.  Even Bart Ehrman admits that, among the thousands of variants, no more than a few dozen at most (and that’s a generous estimate) may show concerns to remove theological ambiguities in the text.

The second thing to note is that the traditional Muslim view of the Qur’an is widely different from the way that traditional Christians view their scriptural texts such as the Gospels.  In traditional Muslim belief, the Qur’an is a miracle, the direct speech of Allah, and has been preserved miraculously down the ages with scarcely a variant.  In contrast, in traditional Christian belief, the biblical writings are the products of human beings, “inspired” by God to write their texts.  But the texts in question are the words of those human authors.  That is, the biblical texts partake of the various historical circumstances in which they were written, edited, and copied.  So, as with any text transmitted by hand, these writings have been subject to the vicissitudes of that historical process, and, therefore, textual criticism of these texts is essential to try to establish the most reliable form/wording of them.  A vast amount of scholarly effort over a few centuries now has been given to setting these texts in their historical context, and to tracing how they have been transmitted through to the invention of the printing press.

But an equivalent scholarly effort to trace the origins and transmission of the Qur’an is still, by comparison, in its infancy.  And a good part of the reason for this is deep opposition from Muslims who regard any such critical inquiry to be  . . .  well, almost blasphemous.  So, it’s hardly a level playing field when Muslim and Christian apologists engage matters.  Muslim apologists are impressively keen to follow critical investigation of the biblical texts such as the Gospels, but (as I know from personal experience) are reluctant to engage in, or even allow, such critical inquiry about the Qur’an.  Indeed, I was told years ago by a Western scholar of Islam that one just didn’t explore certain questions, particularly about the textual transmission of the Qur’an.

Even  the historical processes involved in the transmission of the Qur’an and the Gospels differ.  From a very early point, Muslim rulers (such as Caliph Uthman in the late seventh century) took an interest in establishing a stable Qur’anic text, as part of their aim to standardize Islam, and consolidate their rule.  But early Christian rulers such as Constantine showed no equivalent effort.  Again, the reason partly lies in the different views of the respective sacred texts.  And also, of course, from practically the outset, Islam was wedded to political regimes, where for the first three centuries the Christian movement was not.

There are, however, now some “green shoots” of recent scholarly analysis of the origins and transmission of the Qur’an, such as Nicolai Sinai’s recent historical-critical introduction to the Qur’an (my brief blog posting on it here).[4]  Or consider the detailed study of the transmission of sample passages of the Qur’an by Keith Small (noted in a previous posting here).[5]  Small shows that there is evidence of variants in early copies not now reflected in later copies.  But, as with the variants in the Gospels, these are largely the minor variants that characterize the manual transmission of ancient texts.

So, Muslim apologists wrongly suppose that by pointing to scholarly studies showing that there are variants in the early manuscripts of the Gospels they can somehow undermine Christian claims and faith.  This would work if Christians held that their sacred writings were the direct speech of God and had been somehow miraculously transmitted through the centuries without any variants.  But Christians don’t typically hold such a view.  More typically, they believe that the essential message of the texts has been preserved, not miraculously, but by copyists concerned simply to copy the texts with care.  So, the Muslim apologists’ efforts are fire directed at a non-existent target.

Without wishing to cause offence, we can’t engage in fair discussion of relevant matters unless all parties agree that all texts, even sacred texts, have been subject to the vicissitudes of history.   I don’t seek some “flame-war” in response to this posting.  I’m simply trying to lay out some matters for thoughtful consideration.

[1] See my review of his recent book, God’s Library, in which he proposes a fourth-century date for P66 & P75, here.  In my view, Nongbri is more effective in criticizing the overly specific dates given to manuscripts by some scholars than he is in establishing his own preferred later dates.

[2] Eric G. Turner, The Typology of the Early Codex (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1977; reprint, Wipf & Stock), 95.

[3] Lonnie D. Bell, The Early Textual Transmission of John:  Stability and Fluidity in Its Second and Third Century Greek Manuscripts, NTTSD, 54 (Leiden: Brill, 2018).

[4] Nicolai Sinai, The Qur’an:  A Historical-Critical Introduction (Edinburgh: University of Edinburgh Press, 2017).  Cf. Brannon M. Wheeler, , Prophets in the Quran:  An Introduction to the Quran and Muslim Exegesis, Comparative Islamic Studies (London: Continuum, 2002); Muhammad Abu-Hamdiyyah, The Qur’an:  An Introduction (London: Routledge, 2000); Ibn Warraq, Which Koran?  Variants, Manuscripts, Linguistics (Prometheus Books, 2007).

[5] Keith Small, Textual Criticism and the Qur’an Manuscripts (Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2011).

A Milestone: 2million+ views

Sometime over the past ten days or so, the count of views of pages on this blog site passed the 2million mark.  I had intended to keep closer track as we approached that milestone, but have been distracted with completing a writing project.  So, a bit tardily, my thanks to viewers of this blog site for continuing to consult it, and for the kind and encouraging comments about it.

I’m currently enjoying a time of comparatively better energy levels and blood tests than back in July, when my relapse was first diagnosed.  I have no idea how long this will last, but am grateful for the chance to continue to share life with family and friends.

When I launched this blog site back in 2010, it was done simply as an experiment, to see how blogging worked.  I had no idea how it would take off and continue to be consulted in the years since then.

Papyri and Disappointment

Yesterday, I learned of the recent posting on the Egypt Exploration Society website concerning reports of papyri in the ownership of the EES that allegedly were sold on to Hobby Lobby by Professor Dirk Obbink.  The EES statement is here.

To read the EES statement is, for me as well as some others, a shocking and disappointing experience.  For the statement suggests what may have been a persistent practice of selling on papyri that were not Obbink’s to sell.  I met him several years ago, and became impressed with his expertise in papyrology.  When initial claims about his involvement in the improper sale of papyri first surfaced, I found them hard to believe, as I had high respect for his expertise and character.  But, in light of the EES statement and the findings that lie behind it, I can only express my deep disappointment in Obbink.

I don’t regret giving him the benefit of the doubt initially.  It is, however (so it appears), a sad development in the story.  It is right that Hobby Lobby is cooperating with the EES in the full investigation of the extent of improper sales of papyri, and has agreed to return to the EES papyri that were improperly sold.

1 Enoch: An Update on Manuscripts and Cautionary Notes on Usage

At the meeting of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, 5 August 2019 in Aberdeen, Loren Stuckenbruck gave one of the main/plenary papers (co-authored with Ted Erho) that draws upon his extensive efforts to locate and classify Ethiopic manuscripts of 1 Enoch.  I’m grateful to him for letting me see his paper:  “The Significance of Ethiopic Witnesses for the Text Tradition of 1 Enoch: Problems and Prospects,” and with permission of the authors I cite some of the observations arising from the work of Stuckenbruck and his associates.

1 Enoch is a composite text, the component parts likely written in Aramaic and/or Hebrew variously 3rd century BCE to late 1st century BCE (to go with what is now the dominant opinion).  At perhaps various point (likely in the lst century BCE to 2nd century CE) it was translated into Greek, and then, sometime between the 4th and 7th centuries CE, was translated into Ethiopic (or, more specifically, Ge’ez, the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church).

Fragments of portions of 1 Enoch in Aramaic survive among the thousands of fragments of manuscripts from Qumran (the “Dead Sea Scrolls”), and remnants of a Greek translation also survive (from Egypt).  But the only complete copies that survive are the Ethiopic manuscripts, the earliest of which (thus far) are from the 14th century, but most of them later still.  That is, about a thousand years separate our earliest copies of Ethiopian 1 Enoch from the time in which the translation was made.  Moreover, the Ethiopic shows signs of being translated from the Greek translation, so what we now have is a translation of a translation.

For a number of years now, Stuckenbruck (University of Munich) has given his summers to searching for manuscripts of 1 Enoch in Europe, the Middle East, North America, and especially Ethiopia.  Whereas the available editions of 1 Enoch drew upon a handful of manuscripts, Stuckenbruck has identified more than 150.  So, what are some results from his analysis of them?  I cite just a few of his observations.

“We cannot reconstruct an earliest version of 1 Enoch, even if we restrict ourselves to passages for which the very fragmentary Aramaic evidence is extant” for, in addition to smaller textual variants, “the Aramaic fragments indicate the existence of a longer or substantially different text not preserved in any of the later versions.”

Further, given that the extant Ethiopic text was translated and transmitted by Christians, and read by the Ethiopian Church as part of its Old Testament, this makes it “very difficult, in the first instance, to make the reconstruction of a complete Second Temple text the exclusive, if not ultimate goal.”

Although the Ethiopic manuscripts don’t show major interpolations or omissions, they do exhibit the kinds of smaller variants that happen in the transmission of practically any writing from ancient times.

In the case of those portions of 1 Enoch for which no Aramaic or Greek fragments survive, we have a particular difficulty in establishing what the text may have looked like in the first century CE.  The section called the Parables/Similitudes of 1 Enoch (chaps. 37-71 of the standard editions) is a prime example.  And given the enormous scholarly attention directed to this material, especially among NT scholars, Stuckenbruck’s cautionary words should be noted.  In other portions of 1 Enoch where we can make comparisons with the Aramaic or Greek fragments, we can see “how far removed from the important Aramaic Dead Sea evidence any edition starting with the Ge‘ez version as a point of departure may be, and it is up to textual work and to processes of interpretation to determine the plausibility of anchoring this or that text within a Second Temple context.”

Still more starkly, Stuckenbruck warns, “although descended from a Second Temple Period tradition, the Ethiopic version of Enoch is not in itself a Second Temple Period text” (emphasis his).  We should not disregard 1 Enoch, but we should bear in mind that, “the extant Ethiopic version, more or less better than existing Greek evidence, at best approximates what existed during the Second Temple Period, probably being nearly identical in some places, subtly changed in others, and wildly divergent elsewhere.”  So, “much higher levels of caution be exercised in its application to the world of Antiquity.”

Stuckenbruck’s paper will be published in the Proceedings of the IOSOT meeting in Aberdeen in due course.

Lozano’s Study of “Proskyneo” (“worship”)

I give here a heads-up on a forthcoming book arising from the PhD thesis of one of my students:  Ray Lozano, The Proskynesis of Jesus in the New Testament:  A Study of the Significance of Jesus as an Object of “Proskyneo” in the New Testament Writings (London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2019).  The online catalogue entry is here.  There is an interview with Lozano about the book here.  The book is due to be released on 17 October.

The only previous full-scale study of the Greek term, proskyneo, is now several decades old: Johannes Horst, Proskynein: Zur Anbetung im Urchristentum nach ihrer religionsgeschichtlichen Eigenart, Neutestamentliche Forschungen, 3/2 (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1932).  Scholars have often commented on the term, especially in recent years in discussions about the emergence of “high christology” and the treatment of Jesus as worthy object of worship.  But Lozano’s study is the first full-scale study since Horst, and he goes at the subject in a distinctive and more sophisticated manner.

Lozano’s interview will give a sense of his analysis.  I think it makes a noteworthy contribution to our grasp of how earliest Christian texts treat the reverence of Jesus.  For example, the flexibility of the term allowed authors such as Matthew to deploy the term in describing the obeisance of individuals in the time of Jesus’ ministry, while also alluding to the more robust reverence of the risen Jesus in the circles of Jesus-believers for whom he wrote.

“Humane” Values and Christianity

I’m deep into Tom Holland’s latest book in which he argues at length that values that for many in the West are simply those of any humane, civilized person in fact are shaped heavily by the influence of Christianity:  Dominion:  The Making of the Western Mind (London:  Little & Brown, 2019).  Holland gave the gist of his claim in an op-ed piece in the Spectator in April:  here.

I look forward to finishing the tome (of some 525 pp), but already at nearly the half-way point the line of his argument is fairly clear.  In the sort of developed pictures of various individuals and periods that is Holland’s trademark style, he shows that the values touted by most Westerners (especially intellectuals) have never been universal or intrinsic to societies.  In fact, values such as respect for all individuals regardless of their social standing, wealth, physical or mental health, sex or age are, in the sweep of history, rather odd, and comparatively recent.  They emerged and have developed largely over the past millennia, and in those societies/nations in which Christianity was a prominent cultural force.

One can quibble with various specifics of his discussion.  I for one am not satisfied with his characterization of the Apostle Paul (who in my view remained firmly a part of his ancestral people, and didn’t seek to abolish Torah-observance by fellow Jewish believers in Jesus, so long as it didn’t stand in the way of accepting non-Jews as full spiritual siblings).  And the book will annoy those who assume that their “human” values are simply what any educated person would affirm down the ages.  But it’s not that easily dismissed in my view.

Jesus and Authenticity Criteria

Especially since the 18th century, scholars have devoted much attention to separating out what they thought was “authentic” material about Jesus from subsequent interpretations that derived from circles of early Christians.  Particularly in the 20th century, this effort grew to a crescendo in the various putative criteria devised to identify “authentic” material.  The prolonged efforts of the Jesus Seminar are probably the largest organized project to apply this approach.

But for several decades other scholars have raised penetrating questions about these criteria.  A multi-author volume published several years ago now gathered up critiques of the use of these criteria:  Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, eds., Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (London: T&T Clark, 2012).  I emphasize that the critiques were directed against the assumptions that underlie these criteria, and their limitations for historical Jesus investigation.  The authors weren’t rubishing the historical Jesus enterprise itself.

That’s important to note, for a newly-published multi-author volume could give readers the impression that the Keith/Le Donne volume represents a “skepticism” about historical knowledge of Jesus altogether:  Darrell L. Bock and J. Ed Komoszewski, eds., Jesus, Skepticism and the Problem of History:  Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2019).  I was asked to give a response to the essays in this volume, and my response is included, pp. 341-50.

I found some of the essays more cogent and on target than others, but I didn’t have space to offer comments on them individually.  So, instead, I chose to make some broad points to bear in mind.  In particular, I emphasize that the Keith/Le Donne volume doesn’t reject the historical Jesus project, but redirects it.  The older criteria-based efforts that they criticize rested on the premise that the Gospels include some pretty well unaltered “authentic” material about Jesus, along with later and interpreted material stemming from early churches.  The task, on this premise, was to devise criteria to identify the unaltered material.

The authors in the Keith/Le Donne volume, however, point out cogently that the Gospels were wholly written to serve the needs of the early believers for whom they were composed, and so all the material is “interpreted”, at least in the sense that it is presented to inspire, shape, and inform believers.  To be sure, the Gospels do reflect a desire to emphasize that the exalted Lord of believers is the Jewish prophet and Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  And their narratives are thick with historical context, relating Jewish disputes about Torah-observance, Galilean/Judean geography, housing construction, Jewish dress, Jewish religious parties, and still more topics.  But this historical context is related, not for antiquarian purposes, but to inform the intended readers about who this Jesus of Nazareth is.

Another point that I made in my response is that the older criteria approach tended to focus heavily on the sayings material, to the neglect of the events related.  One of the strong points in the study by E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, was his emphasis that the narrative of events is also important.  As the great Nils Dahl emphasized, any picture of the historical Jesus must give due attention to the fact that he was crucified as a result of collusion by the Jerusalem temple authorities and the Roman governor. A gentle, humane Jesus, whose greatest offence was a few wise-cracks just doesn’t fit with what happened to him.

We should also take due note of the emphasis in all four Gospels that Jesus was historically connected to John the Baptizer.  Indeed, the rather consistent view of John ascribed to Jesus is one of admiration and affirmation.  Jesus is presented as, in the eyes of some at least, as the successor to John, even though there are also differences in emphasis between John and Jesus.  Certainly, Jesus’ repeated affirmation of John as a true prophet means that in a sense Jesus’ ministry has to be seen as aligned with John’s.

Readers of both volumes will have to judge for themselves, and will have in these two books much food for thought.  I judge that in the end the two volumes aren’t at loggerheads.  Both groups of authors believe that we can make historical judgments about Jesus of Nazareth, and form at least a broad impression of his message and activities.  The “skepticism” about the historical Jesus objected to in the Bock/Komoszewski volume isn’t applicable to the Keith/Le Donne volume, even if the two books approach the task somewhat differently.

A Word of Acknowledgement and Thanks

Especially in the first couple of weeks after my diagnosis of the relapse/return of my leukemia, there were scores of kind and encouraging comments sent via this blog site.  As they were nearly all of a highly personal nature, I didn’t think it proper to publish them.  But I read each one with appreciation and gratitude, but I had neither the energy nor the time to respond to each one.  So I take this opportunity (of a strangely renewed period of energy) to express my thanks collectively to all who sent those comments to me.  It meant a great deal, I assure you all.

The Tragic Case of Ernst Lohmeyer

One of the books I’ve read during outpatient visits to the hospital over the last few weeks is a newly published book on Ernst Lohmeyer, a celebrated NT scholar who will be known to anyone in the field.  Among his numerous publications is his little monograph, Kyrios Jesus:  Eine Untersuchung zu Phil. 2, 5-11 (Heidelberg:  Carl Winters, 1928), in which he pioneered an analysis of the passage that treated it as having hymnic qualities.

The new book in question:  James R. Edwards, Between the Swastika and the Sickle:  The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer (Eerdmans, 2019).   Lohmeyer opposed the Nazis, defended Jewish colleagues (especially during his time in the University of Breslau), was a member of the Confessing Church (who opposed the “German Christians” allied with the Nazis), and all the while produced some important scholarly publications.

The Nazi sympathizing leadership in Breslau gave him a disciplinary transfer to a post in the University of Greifswald.  There, he continued to produce scholarly work, and continued also to dissent from the Nazis.  He also was called up for army service, and was a unit commander on the Eastern front, where he behaved with commendable humanity in an inhuman situation.

After a time he was allowed to return to Greifswald and his academic duties.  When the war ended, Greifswald lay in the area of Soviet control.  The local Soviet leaders demanded that anyone who had been a member of the Nazi party should be dismissed from the university.  But Lohmeyer insisted that the policy agreed by the Allied powers should be observed, that only those who had actively engaged in Nazi policies should be dismissed.  This brought him the ire of the local authorities, and led to his fateful outcome.

In 1946 he was elected President of the University of Greifswald.  But on the night before his installation ceremony (March 1946) he was arrested by the Soviet NKVD, taken into custody (with no contact allowed with his wife or others), and then in September was executed.  No official word of what had happened to him emerged, however, and it was only after the collapse of the East German regime in 1989 that access was obtained to the relevant records.

Edwards tells a readable account of Lohmeyer and the circumstances of his life and tragic end.  He enlivens the account by relating his own personal interest in the matter and his efforts to research it.

Jesus-Devotion and Historical Questions

A reader of my previous posting raised several questions and made several assertions (some of them unfounded) that lead me to offer a few comments about the historical issues pertaining to the origins of Jesus-devotion and correct historical method in addressing them.

The first thing is to grasp clearly the questions that I address.  When, where, and in what form did devotion to Jesus emerge, and what forces and factors might have prompted and shaped it?  In particular, we’re exploring the emergence of what Wilhelm Bousset referred to as “the Kyrios cult”, i.e., the treatment of Jesus as in some way sharing in divine glory and reverence.  These are the questions, not whether there may have been some isolated group that didn’t revere Jesus in this manner.

Second, in doing historical work an important principle is chronology.  As to the questions before us, the earliest assured evidence is found in the seven letters of the Apostle Paul that are almost universally regarded as genuinely written by him (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, Philemon).  These are commonly dated ca. 50-60 AD, which means we have reflections of early Christian beliefs and practices from within approximately 18-20 yrs after Jesus’ execution.

But it gets better.  These letters scarcely devote much space to teaching christological beliefs and devotional practices; instead they presuppose them.  Which means that these beliefs and practices emerged and had become traditional well before these letters.  Moreover, Paul’s efforts are evident to align his mission and churches with the Jerusalem church and Aramaic-speaking circles of Jesus-believers.  As, e.g., in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul expressly says that the Jerusalem figures and he taught basically the same message.  Paul’s collection for Jerusalem also shows how he strove to link his diaspora/gentile churches with Jesus-believers in the Jewish homeland.

There were conflicts, to be sure, especially with those whom Paul referred to as “the circumcision lot”, sometimes referred to today as “Judaizers”.  But if you examine references to these conflicts you’ll quickly see that the issue wasn’t christological beliefs, but, instead, the terms on which gentiles could be accepted as full co-religionists.  Those who opposed Paul insisted that they had to make a full proselyte conversion to the Jewish people, which for males involved circumcision, for, after all, Messiah came to redeem Israel.  Paul, however, held that OT prophecies of gentile peoples coming to the God of Israel were being fulfilled in his mission.  It was essential that they come as gentiles, not as proselytes.  That was the issue, not what to make of Jesus.

Further, Paul’s violent (in his own words) opposition to the young Jesus-movement (which has to be dated within the first few years or even months after Jesus’ execution) means that something serious prompted his actions.  Likely something that he felt endangered the religious integrity of his people.  He portrays the experience that changed him from persecutor to promoter of the Jesus-movement as a “revelation of his[God’s] son” (Gal. 1:15-16).  That is, the content of the experience was a radically revised view of Jesus, and as Paul thereafter joined the Jesus-movement the most likely conclusion is that he came to accept a view of Jesus that he had previously opposed and found unacceptable.  It wasn’t Paul who invented a glorified Jesus; it was his predecessors among the Jewish believers whom he had previously regarded as promoting a dangerous set of beliefs.

Were there other circles of Jesus-followers who didn’t share these beliefs?  If so, we have no evidence of them.  And Paul wasn’t reluctant to indicate or engage issues of difference with others!  So, it’s conspicuous that there is no mention of differences over christological issues.  Without evidence of major christological differences, or of circles that didn’t regard Jesus as glorified and sharing in divine honor, to posit such circles is an exercise in fantasy.  Not good historical practice.  To be sure, there are later references to “Ebionites” who may or may not be actual groups by that name.  But these groups can’t be placed early or function as rival versions of earliest believers, nor is it clear that they denied the glorified status of Jesus.[1]

Oh yes, the Gospels, especially the Synoptics, present us with a Jesus of Nazareth who doesn’t make divine claims and who is treated by people variously as prophet, Messiah, charlatan, or false teacher.  That’s what biographical accounts are supposed to do–give an account of the actual activities of the subject.  And the Gospels can’t be taken as full-blown accounts of the christological beliefs of their authors.  They aren’t that kind of theological treatises.

Moreover, the Gospels are commonly dated ca. 70-100 AD, or somewhere between forty and seventy years after Jesus’ crucifixion, which means forty to sixty years into the Jesus-movement.  Careful analysis shows that the authors presuppose a developed Jesus-devotion, and aim to present the historical roots in the figure of Jesus.  But, as with all the early evidence, the authors regard God’s actions in raising Jesus from death and installing him as Lord and regnant Son as the point at which Jesus receives divine honors and is then to be reverenced accordingly.  So, for example, it is the risen/glorified Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20 who is worshipped (v. 17) and who claims to have been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (v. 18).

As for the Gospel of John, it doesn’t really offer a much higher christological stance, but, instead, in comparison with the other Gospels presents an account of Jesus more explicitly colored retrospectively by the beliefs of the “post-Easter” believers.  The author accounts for this in the so-called “Paraclete discourse” in chapters 14-16.  (See my essay, “Remembrance and Revelation” here.)

In sum, the evidence indicates that the conviction that God had glorified Jesus and given him divine honor and status erupted first among Jewish believers in Judea.  Contra Bousset, it was not in diaspora settings, but in these Judean churches.  For discussion of the forces and factors that shaped this Jesus-devotion, see my book Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, pp. 27-78.

[1] See, e.g., the judicious analysis by Oskar Skarsaune, “The Ebionites,” in Jewish Believers in Jesus:  The Early Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaue and Reidar Hvalvik (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 2007), 419-62.

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