Skip to content

New Book on Christology of GJohn

I’m pleased to see that the PhD thesis of one of my recent students has now appeared, which offers an original contribution to our understanding of the christology reflected in the GJohn:  Joshua J. F. Coutts, The Divine Name in the Gospel of John: Significance and Impetus (WUNT 447; Tuebingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2017).

One of the distinctive features of the GJohn is the emphasis on the divine name, and (a related topic) divine glory.  GJohn associates Jesus with the manifestation of God’s name and glory.  The questions Coutts pursues is what role this linkage of divine name and Jesus plays in GJohn, and what might have been the impetus and influence(s) that prompted this linkage.

I won’t spoil the “plot” for readers, but Coutts makes what I think is a persuasive case that the author of GJohn was inspired by the prophetic themes of a future manifestation of God’s name and glory in Isaiah.  Coutts also discusses in detail the ways that these topoi are used in GJohn to bring out Jesus’ significance.  In short, in GJohn Jesus is the fulfillment of the promise that God will bring eschatological salvation by manifesting his name and glory.

New Article on “Mythical Jesus”

With apologies to readers fed up with the “mythical Jesus” discussions, I simply note a newly published article comprising a careful, fair, and incisive critique of Richard Carrier’s book:  Daniel N. Gullotta, “On Richard Carrier’s Doubts:  A Response to Richard Carrier’s On the Historicity of Jesus:  Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 15 (2017):  310-46.

There is an abstract here, and you can purchase the article if the journal isn’t otherwise available (e.g., through univ/college library).

Hurtado Books on Jesus-Devotion

After mentioning the reduced prices on Kindle editions of three of my books recently (here), some readers have asked for me to give some information on the basic focus of several of my books on the origins of Jesus-devotion.

My first book on this research-programme is not included in this holiday special, as it’s from another publisher:  One God, One Lord:  Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (original edition, Fortress Press and SCM, 1988; 2nd edition Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1998; 3rd edition London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015).  In this book, I explore what conceptual resources there were in ancient Jewish tradition that earliest Jesus-followers may have had available for accommodating a second, distinguishable figure alongside the one God of biblical tradition.

I identify ancient Jewish traditions of what I call “divine agency”, distinguishing three types:  (1) personified divine attributes, such as Wisdom and Philo’s Logos; (2) “exalted patriarchs”–Enoch, Moses, and others; and (3) “principal angels” including Michael and others.  I contend that these all are variant forms of what we can call “chief agent” tradition, in which God is pictured as having a particular figure acting as God’s plenipotentiary or vizier.  I further propose that the early christological statements appear to portray Jesus as God’s unique agent, and so likely drew upon these traditions.

But the striking new feature of the Christian “mutation” of these traditions is that Jesus is accorded a level of reverence that we don’t find given to any of these other figures.  In the final chapter I lay out quite specifically the devotional actions that are reflected already in our earliest Christian texts.  These form a constellation or devotional pattern that seems novel.  I originally referred to this as a “binitarian” devotional pattern (God and Jesus both reverenced), but in more recent publications have preferred the term “dyadic” (because despite my rather clear explanations of how I was using “binitarian” some critics read into it metaphysical categories of much later centuries).

On the cover of the Fortress edition of this book, the late and great Martin Hengel famously referred to it as signalling the emergence of “a new religionsgeschichtliche Schule” (“history of religion school”).  The book certainly drew upon the work of other scholars, both of earlier decades and my contemporaries.  In the 2nd (1998) edition, I added a 5,000 word preface engaging scholarly developments between 1988 and that 2nd edition.  In the 3rd edition (2015), I also added a 20,000 word epilogue in which I discuss developments from roughly 1998 to the date of the 3rd edition.  I consider this book foundational for the ensuing body of my publications on early Jesus-devotion.  I am pleased that it received a positive reception from fellow scholars, and continues to be cited appreciatively.

I turn now to the books in the Eerdmans holiday special price sale.  At the Origins of Christian Worship:  The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (Eerdmans 1999) originated as a short public lecture series in the British Isles Nazarene College (Manchester).  I discuss the wider “religious environment” of earliest Christian circles, especially worship practices, and then survey characteristics of early Christian worship, and the specific features that gave it a “binitarian shape.”  As the lectures were addressed to a mainly Christian audience, I also have a short concluding chapter on “reflections for Christian worship today.”

My research programme on early Jesus-devotion that began in the late 1970s with the longer-term aim of producing a study on the level of Wilhelm Bousset’s classic work, Kyrios Christos (1913), eventuated in my larger work, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans 2003).  In One God, One Lord, I was, so to speak, looking “upstream” from earliest Christian practices to explore precedents and resources in the ancient Jewish tradition.  In Lord Jesus Christ, I explore “downstream”, so to speak, tracing the origins and development of expressions of Jesus-devotion from its beginnings down through the mid-second century CE.  This book received widespread notice (I know of over 50 reviews, nearly all of them positive) and has been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Korean.  Whatever its flaws, it is the only work of this breadth and depth of treatment of the evidence.

How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?  Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Eerdmans, 2005) developed from a lecture-series by this title given in Ben Gurion University (Beeersheva, Israel) in 2004, prompted by the publication of my book, Lord Jesus Christ.  The first four chapters are essentially the four lectures in that series.  I compare my own approach to that of some other scholars, emphasize the distinctive profile of Jesus-devotion in the context of ancient Jewish “monotheistic” piety, underscore the social and political consequences of early Jesus-devotion, and offer a detailed analysis of Philippians 2:6-11.

I was asked to add material to these lectures for the book, and the remaining four chapters are previously published essays relating to the book’s focus.  These include my essay on “Religious Experience and Religious Innovation in the New Testament,” which originated as the 1998 T.W. Manson Lecture.  My Ben Gurion lectures inaugurated the Deichmann Annual Lecture Series in Ben Gurion University, and were published also in Hebrew by Ben Gurion University Press.  It has also been translated into Hungarian and Chinese.  The book isn’t a digest of Lord Jesus Christ, but more a gathering of treatment of some related issues.

I should also mention my little book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010), thanks to the publishers failing to get the book out for reviews one of the best kept secrets in recent publishing history!  In this book I explore how “God” is portrayed in the NT, what consequences for “God” there are in the place of Jesus in early Christian circles.  I also try to place these developments in the context of the Roman-era world, with particular attention to the Jewish matrix in which the Jesus-movement erupted.  I recommend the book for a larger overview of how Jesus-devotion fitted into early Christian beliefs and worship of “God.”

In addition to these books, over the past several decades I have also produced a goodly number of essays in journals and multi-author volumes addressing various issues in the historical study of early Jesus-devotion.  Most recently, I was invited to gather up a bundle of these previously published essays for a book-collection:  Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Early Christian Jesus-Devotion:  The Context and Character of Christological Faith (Baylor University Press, 2017).  This book comprises thirty-two essays that appeared over some forty years of research, addressing quite a wide range of questions about the “scholarly context” (interacting with some other key scholars), and the ancient Jewish context, offering some explanations for the eruption of Jesus-devotion, and treating a number of texts and other expressions of devotion to Jesus in the early Christian circles.

So, there you have a brief summary of the book-length products of some forty years of research work on what is surely one of the most interesting, and also one of the most influential, developments in the history of religions.

On Accurate Representation of Texts

Over the last week or so, in the discussion of some of the “mythical Jesus” claims, we’ve discovered some inaccurate representation of key texts.  One of these that has come up previously (and is cited by Carrier as crucial corroboration of his own “mythical” case) is Philo of Alexandria, De Confusione Linquarum 62-63.  Also relevant is the biblical text that Philo comments on here, Zechariah 6:11-14.

A recent fulmination by Carrier (responding to my critique of his claims about this passage and other matters) presents what he claims is a translation of the latter passage from the Hebrew.  But in comparing his translation with the Hebrew text, I am bound to wonder how good his Hebrew is.

Contra Carrier, Zechariah 6:11 cites an oracle ordering the creation of “crowns” (not “a crown”).  The Hebrew word here is atarot (the plural form of the noun).  As the larger context of Zechariah makes clear, the prophet predicts and praises the appearance of two figures.  One of them is Joshua (Greek:  Iesous)  the priest, and the other is referred to here as tsemach (Heb:  “branch,” “shoot”), a royal figure who will rebuild the temple and sit on a throne.  One of the crowns is placed on the priest’s head (v. 11), and the other is for the “Branch” guy.  The Hebrew text says that the priest will sit on his own throne (v. 13; the LXX says the priest will sit “on the right side” of the Branch figure), and “there shall be peace between them.”  So, two guys, not one.  (Actually, the best English translation of the text is probably the Jewish Publication Society Hebrew-English TANAKH.)   And, by the way, the larger text of Zechariah makes it abundantly clear that two “anointed” figures are central in the oracles for the future of the Jewish people.

Philo reads Zechariah better than Carrier, and in the passage in De Confusione comments on the royal figure (referred to in the Greek LXX as “anatole“, a translation of tsemach).  Only Philo engages here in allegorical use of the text, taking the figure as symbolical.  But, and here’s the critical point, neither here nor elsewhere does Philo refer to “an archangel Jesus”.

That’s a pretty critical blow to Carrier’s mythicist case.  For he wants to claim that there was an archangel named Jesus already in circulation (so to speak), which (he further asserts without warrants) that earliest Jesus-believers took over and fashioned him into their savior-figure.  But, I repeat:  no Jewish archangel Jesus, not in Philo, nor in any other Jewish text.

As I’ve said, I’ve got a number of other pressing commitments for my time.  So, I’ll move on.  But I presume that Carrier will let forth another long and equally intemperate screed, full of the usual bleatings about being ignored, and verbal “chaff” to distract from the issues on which he’s been found wanting.

“The Real Jesus”in National Geographic

I noticed when making a hurried visit to a local supermarket last evening that (just in time for Christmas) the current issue of National Geographic (Dec 2017) has its cover story: “The Real Jesus.”    “Mythicists” will be disappointed, as the author (Kristin Romey) dismisses the option in one paragraph.

She writes: “Might it be possible that Jesus Christ never even existed, that the whole stained glass story is pure invention?  It’s an assertion that’s championed by some outspoken skeptics–but not, I discovered, by scholars, particularly archaeologists, whose work tends to bring flights of fancy down to earth” (pp. 41-42).  Ouch!!

Or how about her quote of Eric Meyers (archaeologist and emeritus Professor in Judaic Studies, Duke University):  “I don’t know any mainstream scholar who doubts the historicity of Jesus.  . . The details have been debated for centuries, but no one who is serious doubts that he’s a historical figure” (p. 42).

And then she cites Byron McCane (Florida Atlantic University), and John Dominic Crossan (co-chair of the Jesus Seminar) to the same effect.

This, of course, is more a journalist’s report on scholarly views, not an original judgement.  But it reflects what many of us have been saying when asked about the “mythical Jesus” claim.  No real traction among scholars.

Greek Prepositions and Careful Exegesis

In the current discussion about Paul and Jesus, it’s important to have a sensitive appreciation of how Koine Greek writers used prepositions.  One of the impressive features of ancient Greek is the development and use of a number of prepositions, which allowed for a rich variety of nuances in making statements.

Two prepositions in particular feature in the Pauline texts that receive a lot of attention on the question of whether Paul received tradition from other early believers, or got everything by “revelation”.

In Galatians 1:11-12, Paul affirms that the gospel message that he proclaimed (i.e., the full acceptance of Gentiles into the circle of believers without requiring male-circumcision and proselyte conversion) was not “kata anthropon” (which appears here to mean, “not of human origin” or “not humanly devised”).  Then, Paul continues by affirming “nor did I receive it para anthropou” and that “I was not taught it,” but “[it was/came] by a revelation of Jesus Christ” (di’ apokalypseos Iesou Christou; v. 12).

In essence, Paul here denies that his apostolic mission was of human design or that his message of Gentile enfranchisement had been taught to him by others.  Instead, these things came what he took to have been a “revelation” (from God, as v. 16 makes clear), the content of that revelation focused on Jesus (the genitive, Iesou Christou of v. 12 is therefore an “objective genitive”, God the revealer, Jesus the one revealed).  The experience conveyed to Paul Jesus’ validity as “the son of God,” and his error in previously opposing the Jesus-movement.

It appears also that from this experience Paul claims to have obtained his firm sense that he was given a divine mission to the Gentiles (vv. 15-16).  (Note, by the way, the statement in Acts that Paul received his “ministry” [diakonian] “from the Lord” [para tou Kyriou], i.e., his commission to the Gentiles portrayed as directly from “the Lord”.)

The expression in Gal. 1:12, para anthropou bears further scrutiny, however.  And it is important to compare this phrase with another phrase used in 1 Corinthians 11:23, where Paul says that he received “from the Lord” an account of Jesus’ actions and words set “on the night that he was handed over” (related in vv. 23-25).  The expression translated “from the Lord” in 1 Cor 11:23 is “apo tou kyriou“.  So, what does it mean here?  Is Paul saying that he got the account of Jesus’ actions/words in vv. 23-25 directly from the risen/glorified Jesus, i.e., through some sort of auditory/visionary experience?  Paul does relate such an experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1-9, so it’s a fair question to ask.

And here is where Paul’s use of particular prepositional phrases may help us.  If you check uses of para + genitive and apo+ genitive in sentences relating to giving or receiving information and related matters, it appears that the apo-phrases have a more general sense indicating origin of the information, whereas para-phrases often appear to have a somewhat more precise connotation, indicating more than apo-phrases a direct reception or communication of something.

As an example, note Philippians 4:18.  The Philippians had sent Paul support during his imprisonment, conveyed to him via Epaphroditus.  So, here Paul first says that he received what the Philippians sent para Epaphroditou (that is, handed to Paul directly by Epaphroditus).  But then, probably because Paul wished to emphasize the direct relationship between himself and the Philippians, he refers to “ta par’ hymon” (“the things/gifts from you”).  The latter expression seems intended to emphasize that the Philippians had sent the gifts to him personally.  Similarly, in Acts 28:22, the Roman Jews say that they’ve received reports from others, but they want to hear from Paul first-hand:  para sou akousai.

So, in 1 Cor 11:23, if Paul had wished to emphasize that what follows came directly from Jesus (e.g., in a vision experience), one would expect him to have stated that it came “para tou Kyriou“.  (See textual note below.)  That, instead, he refers to the following account as “apo tou kyriou” here suggests that he meant only to indicate the origin of the material, not its immediate means by which he received it.  So, it is dubious to treat vv. 23-25 as material that derived from some spiritual audition of the risen Christ.


–On Koine prepositions and NT usage, see, e.g., C. F. D. Moule, An Idiom Book of New Testament Greek (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1963)

–On Paul’s use of traditional material, Anders Eriksson, Traditions As Rhetorical Proof: Pauline Argumentation in 1 Corinthians, Coniectanea Biblica, New Testament Series 29 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1998).

–Textual note:  Though the likely original reading in 1 Cor 11:23 is “apo tou Kyriou”, there are textual variants suggesting that ancient readers, too, sought to grasp the precise sense of Paul’s statement.  Codex Bezae and some Latin witnesses have para Kyriou (perhaps suggesting a more direct reception of the tradition) and some other witnesses have “apo Theou” (“from God”,  ascribing more a divine origin).

–In another interesting statement, note Galatians 2:6, where Paul emphasizes that the Jerusalem leaders didn’t lay on him any obligation in his visit.  He starts a somewhat fractured sentence with the phrase “apo de ton dokounton einai ti” (literally, “from those regarded as something”), the use of apo here appropriate to his denying that the character of his mission derives from them.

Texts and Historical Context

Some readers have asked for guidance on what texts are relevant as historical context for the NT, Jesus and Christian origins, and what editions or scholarly works on them there are.  The list is considerable, so here is a handy resource:

Craig A. Evans, Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies:  A Guide to the Background Literature (original edition: Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 2005; updated/revised edition, Grand Rapids:  Baker, 2012).  The publisher’s page on the more recent edition here.

The texts include “Old Testament Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha, the “Dead Sea Scrolls,” “Versions of the Old Testament” , Philo and Josephus, Targums, Rabbinic literature, early Christian apocrypha and pseudepigrapha, early church “Fathers”, gnostic texts, and “other writings” (including pagan texts, Corpus Hermeticum, Samaritian texts, and others.

Under each section there is an introduction, and bibliographies of editions, translations and scholarly works.

Philo of Alexandria

The prolific Jewish writer of the early first century CE, Philo of Alexandria has come up in recent discussion.  His substantial body of works ranges over a number of matters, and exhibit different approaches:  sometimes apologetical, sometimes allegorizing, and sometimes philosophical.  His writings were preserved by ancient Christians, and he was rejected by ancient Jews in the centuries after his death (and the latter may well have been connected to the former).  He’s most often cited in studies of early Christianity for his middle-Platonist views, especially his rather flexible use of the “Logos” term and category.    Here are just a few helpful publications.  One might start with Sandmel, or with the more recent multi-author introduction edited by Seland:  Reading Philo:  A Handbook to Philo of Alexandria  (Eerdmans, 2014), publisher’s catalogue entry here.


Ronald Cox, By This Same Word: Creation and Salvation in Hellenistic Judaism and Early Christianity, BZNW, no. 145 (Berlin: de Gruyter, 2007).

D. T. Runia, “God and Man in Philo of Alexandria,” Journal of Theological Studies 39 (1988): 48-75.

Samuel Sandmel, Philo of Alexandria (New York: Oxford University Press, 1979)

And for those who can read German as well as English, this multi-author collection:

Philo und das Neue Testament, ed. Roland Deines & Karl-Wilhelm Niebuhr (WUNT 172.  Tuebingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2004).


Holiday Deals for Kindle-books Readers

A reader alerted me that Eerdmans has Kindle editions of three of my books on a special holiday price (till 2 January):  At the Origins of Christian Worship ($3.83); How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? ($3.59);  and Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity ($5.98).  So, I shamelessly flog them here!


P.S.  Here’s quick link to Amazon:  here.


Gee, Dr. Carrier, You’re Really Upset!

If you want to read a blogger going ape-shit, troll through Richard Carrier’s recent belligerent, intemperate response (here) to my posting in which I showed that his three claims that supposedly corroborate his “mythical Jesus” view are all incorrect.  It’s really quite amusing, or maybe sad.

In this long, long rant, Carrier’s repeated mantra is that his book calling into question the commonly shared scholarly judgement that Jesus of Nazareth was a first-century Galilean Jew has been largely ignored by scholars.  He seems to want scholars to go through the 700 pages of that tome and engage closely every one of his claims and assertions.  He repeatedly states that he spent six years on the book on what he calls a “post-doctoral” award (which was really a fund put together by his “fans,” to use his own term).  It must be frustrating.  But Carrier doesn’t seem to handle frustration well.

And he doesn’t play nice at all.  In Carrier’s language, scholars who don’t share his view and who criticize it don’t just make errors, they “lie.”  They aren’t just wrong, they’re “liars.”  And his further use of similar insulting language only shows him to be a rather sad figure.

He accuses me particularly of ignoring his arguments and committing gross errors in the handling of relevant evidence.  Well, to test this, let’s return to one of his key claims and arguments, the one where he says that Philo of Alexandria mentions an archangel named “Jesus”.  I have read those pages of his book (200-205) where he discusses the relevant passage in Philo (De Confusione Linguarum, 62-63; Philo citing and allegorizing a passage in the OT book, Zechariah 6:11-12).  This example will adequately serve to illustrate why Carrier’s work hasn’t had any impact in scholarly circles.  He gets himself into a muddle.

To begin, Carrier claims that the Zechariah passage mentions a figure named “Jesus Rising,” but that’s obviously incorrect.  The text (Zech 6:11-12) actually mentions a priest figure named “Joshua” (Greek:  “Iesous” = “Jesus”) who is addressed about another figure, a royal personage who is named “Sprout” or “East” or “Rising” (the Greek:  anatole has a number of connotations).  There are two figures in the scene.  And there’s no “Jesus Rising” in the text of Zechariah.  Carrier has confused the two figures mentioned there:  One is a priest (Joshua/Jesus), and the other is a predicted royal figure called anatole who is to appear.

And Philo doesn’t call the figure named Anatole “Jesus” either, because Philo read the Zechariah text more carefully than Carrier.  So, at an elementary level of accuracy, Carrier is mistaken:  No “Jesus Rising” guy anywhere, either in Zechariah or in Philo.  Furthermore, Philo doesn’t designate this figure in Zechariah an “archangel.”

Instead, Philo here is in the midst of an extended allegorical play of sorts on forms of the word “anatole” (“rising,” or “east) that he begins much earlier in De Confusione 60.  And Philo’s larger intent in this writing is to offer an allegorical interpretation of OT stories, to defend them against pagan claims that they are derivative and crude.  One of theses stories is of God planting a garden “in Eden towards the sun-rise” (Greek: kata anatolas).  Philo urges, however, that the garden wasn’t a literal one (to dodge the ridicule of saying that God planted an earthly garden, something far beneath him in Philo’s view).  And then, he goes into a kind of free-association of biblical texts that have the word anatole and cognates, one of these being the Zechariah passage (and other texts follow).  In short, Philo mentions the Zechariah passage solely because it gives him another instance of the word anatole that he can allegorize.

In that Zechariah text, Philo allegorically treats the figure called anatole as one of many representations of what he elsewhere labels God’s “Logos,” to which Philo attaches various other labels as well.  Now in Philo’s thought (which, it appears, Carrier hasn’t researched adequately in the six years he devoted to his project), the Logos is not really a separate ontological being, not really an “archangel.”  Instead, for Philo the “Logos” designates the form in which God engages creation, and that of God which can be perceived by the creation.  As one scholar put it, the Logos is the side of God turned toward the creation.  Philo wanted to affirm the reality of God’s creation and governance of the world, while also avoiding accusations that the Bible portrays a crude anthropomorphic view of its deity.

In short, in De Confusione, Philo wasn’t positing or developing any “archangel named Jesus.”  Philo wasn’t talking about archangels at all there, and neither he nor the Zechariah text calls the anatole figure “Jesus.”

Carrier has simply muddled things.  He’s incorrect.  His claim is fallacious.  These aren’t the sort of risible ad hominem terms that he prefers to dish out, but they will do quite well to make my point.

I could go on to other Carrier fallacies, such as his repeated misconstrual of the Euhemerist view that the gods derive from ancient heroic figures.  Carrier amusingly gets it backwards, as if it has to do with gods becoming historical figures.  He cites Romulus as a supposed example of a god becoming a mortal, whereas Romulus and Remus are mythical figures as far back as we have any reference to them.  They don’t become mortals.  If, as some have speculated, the myth was based on some real instance of children suckled by a wolf (a view rejected by most scholars), then we would have an instance of historical figures becoming mythical figures, exactly the opposite of what Carrier claims.

Surely, surely, one doesn’t have to go through the 700 pages of Carrier’s tome treating every one of his various arguments.  The one key claim that I’ve treated here is sufficient to show that he bases his larger zealous claim about a “mythical Jesus” on specious arguments, resulting from a lack of adequate expertise in the relevant sources.  This will likely generate another rude rant from him. But, unlike Carrier, I have a number of other things to do.  So, in the words of the Psalmist, “Selah.”

%d bloggers like this: