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Review of Dunn Published

August 25, 2010

My commissioned review of J.D.G. Dunn’s Did the First Christians Worship Jesus?  The New Testament Evidence (for the Journal of Theological Studies) has now been published.  Here’s the link to it:

My longer (unpublished) review appears on the “Essays, etc.” page of this blog.

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  1. Christian Mairhofer permalink

    Thanks a lot for blogging ! It’s a pleasure to read you.
    You mentionned “Craig C. Hill, Hellenists and Hebrews: Reappraising Division Within the Earliest Church (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992)”. The problem is that this book seems to be no more available. Can you recommend something similar ?
    And a question concerning “Beginning from Jerusalem (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009)”. What is your opinion concerning Pr Dunn’s view about the decrees of the Jerusalem council ? As far as I know it seems to be unusual ?
    Thanks in advance.

    • Hill’s book is (unfortunately) out of print right now, but Eerdmans are planning a new edition. Hill’s a very busy many but tells me he’s aiming to get it ready sometime later this year. Dunn’s proposals about the “Jerusalem Decree” are worth studying and at least plausible in my view. He argues that Paul saw (or preferred to see) the agreement in one light/emphasis and that Luke’s account (and Jerusalem leaders) saw it in another light. This bears further thought and is not on the face of it self-evidently without warrants.
      I do, however, find scant basis for Dunn’s claim that in Galatians Paul shows he had “‘burnt his boats’ so far as his ongoing links with Jerusalem were concerned” (p. 453). To my mind, Paul continued to try to maintain a positive relationship with Jerusalem (albeit, on terms that involved treating his own ministry and his gentile converts as valid). The Jerusalem Collection is perhaps the greatest proof of this, which Dunn treats almost as an afterthought and a stratagem devised by Paul to paper over differences. I see the Collection as a long and major effort by Paul to demonstrate tangibly a union between his churches and Jerusalem. I will take the liberty of pointing to my essay on the Collection and its possible repercussions in Galatia:
      Larry W. Hurtado, “The Jerusalem Collection and the Book of Galatians,” Journal for the Study
      of the New Testament
      , no. 5 (1979): 46-62.

  2. Prof Hurtado,

    In my context, Malaysia, where Islam is the state religion and the religion of the majority citizens, the Christians’ claim of Jesus’ divinity is seriously undermined politically rather than scholarly. The discussion on Christology between Christians and Muslims have no common ground. The former talk from historical point of view (the New Testament documents are historically reliable) while the latter from theological claim (the Qur’an is divine and so all its claim is true).

    The historical works on the first Christians by you and your colleagues have far reaching implication to those of us who are situated in a different context. Often these works are helpful for local Christians though it is difficult to convince our Muslim friends to engage on the basis of historical research.

    Thank you for sharing much of your expertise on this subject through publication and this blog.

    • I’m somewhat aware of this, as I have travelled in some Asian countries, and we have grad students here each year from various countries, giving us a strong international ethos in New College (Univ of Edinburgh). Of course, given massive migration patterns of the last few decades, in Europe and North American there are now very visible and active Muslim populations, and so there are now increasingly inter-religious discussions, debates, etc.

      • Do you happen to know how are the interfaith discussions and debates in UK conducted? (for eg. Do the Muslims engage interfaith differences like the divinity of Jesus on the basis of history [unprecedented binitarian devotion among Jesus’ earliest Jewish followers] or theology [the Qur’an says so]? Or the interfaith engagement is similar with Malaysia, where both sides talk across each other?)

      • I’m not really well informed about the matter. There isn’t much of really serious, scholarly interchange at a local level. But there are some efforts at national levels.
        But it’s not my area of expertise.

  3. Hi Prof Hurtado,
    I bought the book two weeks ago and found it a very interesting read. I agree whole heartedly with the following quote in your review: “I wonder whether
    his reaction against ‘Jesus-olatry’ may have led him to take a curiously grudging view of some evidence…”.
    I had a few heart warming discussions with prof Dunn in 2009 during which he made mention of his frustration with “young” Christians who worship Jesus. I did my MA in Durham.

  4. Professor, two quick notes. First, you have a typo at the bottom of p. 2 of your review: “… and may have spoken of himself ‘in terms of the Danielic ‘‘one like a sone of man”‘ (p. 98).”

    sone should be son.

    Secondly, the very reason why I even ordered the book was precisely because of that particular Muslim blog. Needless to say I was shocked to find how badly Dunn’s book was misrepresented.

    • Blast! Both the OUP editors and I missed that. Just shows that you see what you know you wrote.

  5. Hi Prof Hurtado,

    Thank you for sharing your review on Dunn’s latest book. I came across a Muslim blog that uses Dunn’s work to support Muslims’ perception that the first Christians were deluded in worshiping Jesus as God. Your sharp review has helped clear many of the point raised by Dunn.

    • Hmm. Interesting how scholarly work attempting historical understanding so readily gets dragged into religious polemics to serve purposes never intended (or even imagined). From your characterization of it, the Muslim blog representation of Dunn’s views looks a bit distorted and misleading.

      • Indeed, the Muslim distorts Dunn’s work. Here is what the Muslim wrote:

        “Dunn effectively takes issue with the great christological statements of the councils of Nicea and Chalcedon and joins the ranks of the unitarians in affirming a simple monotheistic theology. But his conclusions have far reaching implications for orthodox Christianity which stands condemned as promoting the serious sin of idolatry in its worship of Jesus as God.

        The other great monotheist faiths, Judaism and Islam, have always claimed that the worship of Jesus constitutes a denial of Christianity’s claim to be a monotheistic religion, but Dunn in his conclusion seems reluctant to take on board the effectiveness of these critiques. I believe the only alternative religion that claims universality in its scope is Islam, which offers an appropriate evaluation of Jesus as Messiah, prophet, messenger and Word from God without falling into the errors of ‘Jesus-olatry’ (Christianity) or a denial of the divine mission of Jesus of Nazareth (Judaism).”


      • This is a mischievous distortion of Dunn’s views (as indicated in the second paragraph of the blog quoted here). It is true, however, that the level of devotion offered to the exalted Jesus, right from the earliest years of the Christian movement, generated sometimes intense opposition from other Jews who saw it as offensive and even blasphemous. The Gospel of John unquestionably reflects this, and I’ve argued in publications that it may well have been a factor in Paul’s “pre-Christian” persecution of Jewish believers.
        But those early believers insisted that their devotion to Jesus was obedience to God, and not at all a defection from their “monotheistic” commitment. Moreover, their reverence of Jesus was typically expressed with reference to God (the Father) and in connection with their worship of God.
        So, our Muslim friends should really try harder to understand these matters before rushing out with distorted representations of the work of scholars for polemical purposes. God/religion is too important, for all believers too sacred, to become the stuff of cheap polemics, point-scoring, and smug self-assurances.

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