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Early Jesus-Devotion: Critical Engagement

November 26, 2012

In a recent comment, Sean Garrigan suggested that I provide pointers to some of the critical engagements that have been offered to my work on early Jesus-devotion, particularly in my book, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003).  I’m thinking of preparing a fuller discussion for another occasion, so here I’ll simply give the bibliographical information on critiques and any responses from me.

One of the earliest scholars invited to respond to my book was Maurice Casey (Nottingham), an invited review-essay: Maurice Casey, “Lord Jesus Christ: A Response to Professor Hurtado,” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 27, no. 1 (2004):  83-96.  I was invited to give a response, which appeared in the same issue of the journal:  Larry W. Hurtado, “Devotion to Jesus and Historical Investigation: A Grateful, Clarifying and Critical Response to Professor Casey,” JSNT 27, no. 1 (2004): 97-104.

Responding earlier, mainly to my book One God, One Lord:  Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Fortress, 1988; T&T Clark, 1998), Adela Yarbro Collins, “The Worship of Jesus and the Imperial Cult,” in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism: Papers From the St. Andrews Conference on the Historical Origins of the Worship of Jesus, ed. Carey C. Newman, James R. Davila and Gladys S. Lewis (Leiden: Brill, 1999), 234-57.   In her contribution to the Festschrift for Alan Segal and me, she entered a later critical response to my work:  Adela Yarbro Collins, “‘How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?’: A Reply,” in Israel’s God and Rebecca’s Children: Christology and Community in Early Judaism and Christianity, ed. David B. Capes et al. (Waco: Baylor University Press, 2007), 55-66.  Essentially, Collins urges that ruler-worship may have been more of a factor than I judge. She grants that direct influence is most unlikely among devout Jews (such as those who made up the earliest circles of Jesus-followers), but proposes that perhaps there was some kind of unconscious influence, unreflectively disposing some devout Jews to accommodate the worship of Jesus alongside God. 

I’m not persuaded.  As I haven’t responded in print to Collins specifically, I’ll give a brief comment here.  If pagan ruler-cult influence was as subtly influential on devout Jews as she suggests, shouldn’t we see more than one example of its alleged influence?  Why is it that the “high” Jesus-devotion that we see erupted in the earliest circles of Jesus-followers seems to have no true analogy or parallel in the time?  In fact, we know very well what devout Jews of the time thought of pagan ruler-cult and the deification of human heroes, and it’s not encouraging for a theory of the origins of Jesus-devotion!

The longest critical engagement that I know of, however, was this one:  Crispin Fletcher-Louis, “A New Explanation of Christological Origins: A Review of the Work of Larry W. Hurtado.” Tyndale Bulletin 60, no. 2 (2009): 161-205.  Again, I was invited to respond by the journal editor:  L. W. Hurtado, “The Origins of Jesus-Devotion: A Response to Crispin Fletcher-Louis,” Tyndale Bulletin 61, no. 1 (2010): 1-20.

I’ve also commented on some alternative approaches in How on Earth did Jesus Become A God?  (eerdmans, 2005), in the chapter entitled, “How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?  Approaches to Jesus-Devotion in Earliest Christianity,” pp. 13-30.

As I see things, here are the major findings that (with a number of others) I advocate: 

1) A robust Jesus-devotion, in which Jesus was accorded unique status as agent of God’s purposes, and (most remarkably) became central in the devotional life of believers, erupted quickly and early.  Its beginnings are likely within the first months, certainly the first year or two, after Jesus’ execution.

2) The most notable and distinctive feature of this Jesus-devotion was the programmatic place and centrality of Jesus in the devotional/cultic practices of believers.  In the Roman historical context, this remarkable mutation in Jewish devotional practice is in fact more noteworthy and significant than the rich and impressive christological beliefs that characterized earliest circles of Jesus-believers.

3) This “dyadic” devotional pattern (Jesus included with God as recipient of devotion) is without real precedent or analogy in its time.  It constitutes a novel “mutation” in Jewish devotional practice.  From as early as my 1988 book (One God, One Lord), I have specified the particulars of this devotional pattern (pp. 99-114), and a refutation of my position will require demonstration of a similar pattern of devotional specifics in contemporary (or prior) circles of devout Jews.  None has been provided to this date.

4) In its initial stages, this intense Jesus-devotion and the movement that promoted it comprise a distinctive development within the diverse second-temple Jewish tradition.  There are obvious connections and also distinctives that mark the early Jesus-movement.

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33 Comments
  1. Mark Erickson permalink

    BTW, since comments are closed on the Cinderella post: you somehow manage to misinterpret something in every one of my comment on that thread. In the latest case, I used “absolute” as the antonym of “relative” (actually used “comparative”), not in the sense of an arbitrary absolute claim. The context is quite clear, I thought, but here it is even plainer – the tallest dwarf is still short. Get it?

    I did read your “NT in the Second Century” essay. Still seems to me that we have no clue about what various NT texts when they were written. There is still an unknown 100 years between postulated writing dates and the first scraps of texts or mentions in external sources. Sure, the texts might have stabilized around 150 CE, but what about before? Is there anything that can be said with probability?

    PS It is certainly less civilized to suggest I need therapy than to use a pseudonym on a blog comment.

    • Mark: I have no idea what you’re trying to say in your first paragraph. In any case, sorry for any offence in objecting to your abrasive style. But it is rather annoying and gratuitous, and it might bear looking into.

      Now, to your re-asserted point about the text of the NT in the first 100 yrs or so. If what you ask for is “probability” (which is all that historical analysis of almost anything permits), I think I’ve given bases for a picture in that essay. And in the recent volume edited by C.E. Hill and M.J. Kruger, The Early Text of the New Tesetament (Oxford, 2012), you have numerous specific analyses of the textual evidence for individual NT writings, which essentially confirm the line I took in that essay a decade or so ago. The following brief itemized list: (1) We have evidence of Christian copying/transmission of NT writings that likely takes us back to mid-2nd century, and in this diversity of material we see essentially efforts at transmission of texts as we know them, the variants those we’d expect in transmission of literary texts, nothing sinister; (2) Indeed, the major variants in NT writings (e.g., the “long ending” of Mark, and the “pericope of the adulterous woman” in John) appear in MSS later, in the 5th century, not in the early ones; (3) there was no ecclesiastical structure to carry out a recension enforceable trans-locally in the 2nd century, so it’s difficult to imagine how it could have happened (this is very different from the situation in the early years of the Qur’an, in which the Calif was able to enforce a recension); (4) the use of NT writings at a very early point in worship gatherings (as attested, e.g., by Justin) would have also worked to limit the kind of changes that could be executed successfully.
      So, these sorts of things considered, the most likely option is that the extant remains of 2nd century copying reflect basically the sort of copying/transmission that went on earlier. And that means that our extant evidence likely gives us a basically reliable text of the NT writings as they began to circulate. That’s the best probability.

      • Mark Erickson permalink

        You seriously don’t know what I mean by the difference between a relative case and an absolute case? Mark is the tallest dwarf. Relative. Mark is short. Absolute. Does that help?

        Thanks for the best probability. What do you think of James Tabor’s best guess for Paul’s conversion was in 37 CE?

      • Dear Mark: I understand absolute and relative, I just (still) don’t get what the hell dwarfs have to do with Christian origins. But, please, don’t try to explain. I’ll allow you to enjoy whatever it is you were trying to say.
        Tabor’s dating of Paul’s “conversion” (BTW, not the term Paul ever used for the experience) is markedly later than what pretty much everyone else thinks. More commonly, it is put sometime within the first 1-3 yrs after Jesus’ crucifixion.

      • Ha! Well, there’s no evidence that says how tall Jesus was! I do enjoy thinking about that. I’m going to guess 5′ 5″. Most probably, he was not a dwarf.

      • Agreed on the last point.

  2. Sean Garrigan permalink

    (Sean: I’ve edited your comment preserving main points but cutting some of the expansion of them [signalled by . . . .] in the interests of space. LWH)
    . . . . what Jesus accomplished during his earthly life and death in the context of fulfilling his commission as God’s appointed agent formed at least a large part of the basis for his exaltation by God. . . . .
    In short, Jesus exercised great authority as God’s appointed agent, and on the bases of actions he performed while fulfilling his commission he incurred the wrath of the Jewish religious leaders, who had him put to death. So I agree that the Son was honored because God commanded it, but I’m observing the fact that this didn’t occur in a vacuum.
    . . . . . . . .
    The primary reason that Jesus became a central figure in the devotional life of Christians was because he was the sacrificial lamb, and the significance of his sacrifice wasn’t fully realized until after the resurrection. Further, like you, I agree with John that since Jesus’ exaltation is “to the glory of God the Father”, it is ultimately the father who is honored through the appropriate reverential treatment of His Son.

    Just as an addendum, I find that many read more than seems warranted into the application of KURIOS to Jesus. It’s true that this term was used as a substitute for the divine name in the LXX, but, with 1 or two possible exceptions (e.g. Philippians 2, where this is done to signify exaltation, not ontology [a number of scholars have noted that God's name can be applied to an agent as a symbol of conferred authority]), that’s not how it’s used when applied to Jesus. . . . . IMO, the reason KURIOS could be applied to Jesus this way without comment or concern is because it wasn’t being used as a substitute of the divine name. After all, to the Jews no one was the God of YHWH! This is supported by the application of Ps. 110 to Jesus, where the “Lord” who prefigures the Messiah is adoni/Lord, not YHWH/Lord, and is distinguished from YHWH/Lord as one who sits at his right hand.

    • Sean: Certainly, the NT writers present Jesus as the vehicle of God’s power (e.g., in healing, etc.) and the messenger of God’s message (about the Kingdom of God). But the issue we’ve been discussing (I thought!) was what triggered Jesus becoming the recipient of cultic devotion (worship), and when. I take it now that you agree that this happened (a) after the experience of Jesus’ resurrection, and (b) was justified primarily on the basis that God wills it. So, for earlieset believers, “the primary reason Jesus became a central figure [the central figure along with God?] in the devotional life of Christians” was, thus, because God required it.
      As to your comments about the use of “kyrios”, it’s complicated. In some NT texts, OT texts that refer to YHWH are applied to Jesus as “Kyrios” (e.g., Rom 10:13), and so some sort of direct association of the exalted Jesus and YHWH seems implied. But at the same time, the NT authors are pretty consistent in differentiating Jesus and God (the Father) as well. A LOT has been written by scholars on this subject, so it’s best to consult that body of work rather than throw off personal thoughts here.

      • Sean Garrigan permalink

        Professor Hurtado: I think I may have identified the basis for the disconnect that we seem to be experiencing. It has to do with our governing presuppositions. In your paradigm, visions play the primary role in causing early Christians to believe that God required them to reverence Jesus. In my paradigm, visions are not primary. In my view, the basis for the reverential treatment of Jesus and inclusion of him in the context of cultic religious practice was multifaceted. In my view, Jesus’ resurrection triggered deep contemplation of the significance of Jesus’ life and the claims he made, the purpose he served in the outworking of God’s purposes, etc. They came to realize that he was not just an earthly Messiah but the Cosmic Christ. These apprehensions came from their own contemplation and from the guidance of the holy spirit, some of which was expressed in visions, as you note. Then it was taught both verbally and in written form by the Apostles. So, in my view, Jesus’ unprecedented status as God’s agent, much of which was listed by Cupitt in the quote that you snipped, along with his subsequent resurrection that served to justify his claims and cause deep contemplation regarding their significance, along with the testimony of the holy spirit, along with subsequent Apostolic teachings, and visions, etc, all converged to inform the manner in which Jesus would be treated and viewed.

        The reason, in my view, that it was not considered inappropriate to revere Jesus as they did is because of the controls that are stated in Scripture, which I view as extensions of the agency paradigm, namely, that the reverence shown towards Jesus was “to the glory of God the Father”. The highest Christology in the Bible is in John, yet that is also where the theme that Jesus’ is “the sent one” (i.e. agent) is most pronounced.

        As the cornerstone of the new temple, Jesus wasn’t the God worshiped, but he was the “place” where God is worshiped. As the sacrificial lamb, Jesus was not the God to whom sacrifice was offered, but the sacrifice itself. These subtle (or perhaps not so subtle) yet very real controls were the reason that the early Christians could treat Jesus as they did even though the Trinity doctrine did not exist yet. The early Christians didn’t need to think of Jesus as “true God from true God” in order to treat him as they did. Jesus’ position sans the later orthodox baggage was sufficient for them, just as it is for me.

        With that said, would I be correct in inferring that you prefer (i) brief posts on your blog, and (ii) that no quotations from scholarly works be presented?

      • Dear Sean,
        I don’t make everything rest on “visions”. I simply note that new convictions arose, quite suddenly, in the aftermath of Jesus’ execution. If we ask what were the circumstances and modes by which these convictions came, the earliest testimonies that we have involve claims about visions of the risen Jesus, visions of him in heavenly glory, prophetic oracles, new understandings of OT texts (which came as new revelations, etc.). In short, a variety of such phenomena, not simply visions.
        And, yes, early christians believed their experiences were generated by the “Holy Spirit”. To say that they saw things this way is to report history. To say that it really was or wasn’t the “holy Spirit” is a theological judgement. My work has been more historically oriented.
        And, yes, I do prefer brief/concise comments. This isn’t Hyde Park corner, or a free space for treatises.

  3. John permalink

    I find the view of “binitarian” worship to be problematic. If God (the Father) allows Jesus to receive this sort of worship because of his exaltation, indeed, to God the Father’s glory, then the worship of Jesus is not truly worship being offered to the Son, but to the Father. It seems to me that Jesus is now the “agent” through which God is worshipped, but never that Jesus is ever worshipped unto himself.

    • Dear John: that’s pretty close to what I’ve urged for 25 yrs! That’s what “binitarian” (or as I now prefer, “dyadic”) worship means (in my usage): Not two deities, each with its own cult, but two distinguishable figures (God and Jesus), Jesus reverenced as appointed by, expression of, and agent of the one God.

  4. W. Goodman permalink

    I agree that Judaism in later form, seems rather adverse to ruler-worship. But Judaism might be said to come near to ruler-worship – in its devotion to some of its own kings and other leaders. Like say, 1) Moses; 2) David; 3) Solomon. And a 4) furture savior, said to be a son of the King David tradition.

    In fact, in contemporary Judaism, till c. 1970 or so, David especially was regarded with very, very great reverence; Jews overlooking David’s apparent occasional sins. And human rulers like Moses and Solomon especially, were attributed as authors of major biblical books; and to be at least spokesmen for God. What they said, was said to have come from God.

    It seems most likely to me in fact, that 6) the origins of Judaism, beyond the modern Torah, might well have been in traditional obedience to the local “lord,” or “Lord God.” Many like Harold Bloom have noted how similar to a human king the OT God is, for example.

    No doubt of course Jews, the same as everyone else, eventually found that even their highest merely human kings, often sinned and erred. So that eventually to be sure, Jews and their holy books finally rebelled against worshing any mere local human being. However, in many ways their worship of a God who was a “Lord” and a “king,” they seem to have worshipped a figure who was essentially an idealization derived in part, from reverence for human kings, “lord”s.

    Indeed, the very terms the authors of the Torah and so forth used to describe their God, were often the very same terms used to describe their local political rulers: “Lord,” and “king.” Though of course, they came to insist that God himself was one step up; a sort of “Lord of Lords,” still, when looking for mere human words to describe our God, these human models – from ruler-worship – were used again and again. As at least the prevailing metaphor for God.

    • Dear Mr. Goodman,
      All very interesting, but not probative. There was for ancient Jews a world of difference between referring to figures such as Moses in honorific terms and actually offering cultic devotion to any such figure. As I showed in my 1988 book, “One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism”. (And is it too much to ask that published scholarly work on a given matter be consulted as/before framing one’s views on a matter?)

      • W. Goodman permalink

        LARRY: I’d agree with your core point, as you have very strictly defined and delimited it: likely Jesus’ early followers did not worship him with the same kind of leader-worship typical of leader/emperor cults. In part because, as some say, Jesus was not yet quite thought to be divine, this early. Or his status was not entirely defined.

        Still? It seems that he was over and over again, referred to be any number of very high, honorific terms: “Lord,” “Christ,” “son of God,” and at times even “king of the Jews.” Terms that would link Jesus ultimately, to God; who in turn was linked at least metaphorically, to noble worship. God himself begin called a “LORD,” and a “king.” (Cf. George Lackoff’s Metaphors We Life By, etc.).

        ……..
        As a “lord”? Jesus was already treated with great reverence by many (if not all). At least anectdotal/interpolated scenes, show him being given/”christen”ed with Frankincense and so forth. Even at the nativity (as well as his death). Even as, shortly after his death, others began to call for contributions, sacrifices to be made in his name, to his followers and eventually his clerics. So that soon enough a leader cult formed around him; though as with many leaders, there was some ambuguity for a time, whether the was a human “king,” or a God. (Such ambiguities killed Casear around the same time, by the way).

        Strictly speaking therefore, your point seems well taken; there was likely no strict, full, formal ruler worshhip or cult around Jesus, in his lifetime. Very strictly speaking. Though I would say that Christianity was halfway there to a leader cult, already, even in his own lifetime. When his apostles called Jesus “lord.” And began giving up all they had, to his poor followers and so forth, to follow him.

        I’d say Collins’ glass is at least half full, here.

      • Mr. Goodman,
        Your post rests heavily on an uncritical reading of the Gospels, that won’t convince many scholars in the field. E.g., the Mattthean nativity account is commonly understood as a story intended mainly to reflect Jesus’ significance, and not as a simple historical-event account. You also seem not to appreciate adequately linguistic principles and how terms such as “kyrios” have a range of connotations, dependant on the sentences and circumstances in which they’re used. Any socially superior person could be addressed as “kyrie” or the equivalent in Aramaic (= “sir” in English), just as in Spanish “señor” is everything from a polite address to males to a title for God (El Señor). To tell what a given epithet means, we look to context: When a figure is invoked/addressed as “kyrios” in the context of gathered worship, that’s different from addressing someone as “kyrios” on the street, or when requesting a favor. Likewise “christos” isn’t a title of divinity . . . ever in Jewish usage, and doesn’t connote worship. Or “king”.

        But all this has little or nothing to do with Collins’ proposal, which was that pagan ruler-cult (there was no Jewish ruler cult) unconsciously may have disposed at least some Jews (such as those who formed the early Jesus-circles) to worship a second figure (Jesus) alongside God. I stand by the view that this is hardly likely.

  5. Dr. Hurtado:

    I admire very much your work, and I envy you for the time, skill and opportunities you have, as a scholar, to conduct a life-long study of the New Testament.

    However, I must read what anyone writes within the limitations and best judgment I possess. So I humbly offer the following:

    As you suggested, I’ve read “Homage to the Historical Jesus and Early Christian Devotion,” Chapter 6 of your book, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?

    I offer the following observations:

    Your broad contention against the idea that Jesus may have been thought of as God prior to the resurrection seems to be that Jews would not likely think of a man who was in their presence in that way – while Gentiles might seriously consider such a thing (149).

    But I think it would be difficult to make a case that such an idea was any more acceptable after Jesus’ death and resurrection than before it. Classic Hellenistic culture incorporated the idea of apotheosis following the death of celebrated individuals, but Jewish culture simply rejected the idea that any human could attain the level of worship as God – under any conditions.

    The difference that you advocate – in various of your written sources – is that significant members of the apostolic church believed they received revelations of Jesus’ exaltation after his death. With these revelations in place, you argue, they were willing to modify their previous limited monotheistic view, so that Jesus worship now became acceptable to them.

    But this assumes that there was no revelatory experience, prior to the resurrection. What if – as the Gospels and other New Testament documents indicate – the earliest believers were convinced that they were hearing the voice of God and seeing the hand of God in Jesus’ words and deeds? What if their testimony is true and – just as they related in their stories – it was a long, hard process for them to fully understand and see the implications of Jesus’ self-revelation?

    In this case, they would have been forced to begin reconsidering their limited monotheistic assumptions before Jesus died, in the context of his ministry.

    Chapter 6 of your book focused a great deal on certain Greek words that described the behavior of people who approached Jesus. Your argument here was easy enough to grasp:

    “[Supplication to Jesus] is described in language expressive of the sorts of reverence for a social superior deemed appropriate in Jesus’ cultural setting.” (150) You indicate, “…it would have been fully appropriate to make [the kinds of] reverential gestures toward someone regarded as a respected teacher or a source of desperately needed help [that were made toward Jesus].” (139)

    However, you make a concession, “the gestures do not NECESSARILY [emphasis added] signal that the person to whom such homage is offered is treated as divine” but they “can also feature in supplication to gods.” (140)

    So the gestures themselves and the choice of words used to signify the gestures cannot, in themselves, decide the issue.

    I believe a good case can made that no other rabbi, prophet or ruler of significance ever spoke and acted the way Jesus did. And, therefore, no other Jew was treated in the same consistent way Jesus was treated by such a wide assortment of individuals who were seeking his instruction in the Word of God or his help with the kinds of problems they brought to him. And most importantly, no other significant historical person that I know of ALLOWED the scale of honored status that was directed toward him.

    A seeker might bow down to Paul and Silas (Acts 16:29) and beg for instruction on how to be saved, out of conviction that these men knew the source of salvation. But seekers came to Jesus and bowed down imploring his help, because they were convinced that he IS the salvation they were seeking. He had, within his person, the authority and power to meet every need; and he exercised this power with no need for an intermediary.

    Whether we are reading Mark, Q, L, M, or the other finished Gospels, a recurring focus is on the issue of who Jesus is; and these sources (and theoretical sources) consistently testify to the greatness of Jesus as something he assumed about himself and declared in both words and acts of deliverance. He did not speak and act as one among many in the number of prophets, rabbis and rulers.

    Of course, not everyone who rushed to Jesus to hear his words or get his help had even a partially developed Christology. But the way he received them and their requests and the way he met their need – with poised power and authority – indicated that he saw himself as standing above any and all who approached him in a position to meet whatever need was presented to him.

    On the other hand, if there was any implied or actual attempt to bow down and worship an apostle, the matter was set right at once (Acts 10:25-26; Acts 14:11-18). And as you noted, even angels corrected such acts when they were the objects of such misguided reaction to their presence (Revelation 19:10; 22:8–9, 142 n. 15).

    Finally – without forfeiting the possibility of a divinely exalted view of Jesus prior to the resurrection – we can acknowledge that there is a major difference between how the disciples behaved in Jesus’ presence before his death and resurrection and how they practiced overt worship after these events.

    While he was on the earth, the disciples would not have assembled to worship him, in a formal sense, in spite of their rising awareness of his nature and message. At that time, formal worship for them – in synagogue, temple or other private settings – would have included Jesus in the role of worshiper. And back them, they had not worked through the full implications of his significant relationship to the God of Israel.

    But after the resurrection and exaltation of Jesus, he was not physically present. So worship of him became formalized. And this development is reflected in liturgical passages in the New Testament and the titles that joined his name with the name of God.

    I offer these observations as a pastor, but also as someone who is seeking to deal honestly and as thoroughly as my time allows to consider the fullest implications of the texts that I preach and teach to others.

    • Dear “bgglencoe” (and, once again, could we all please identify ourselves, as is proper in civilized conversation?):
      Out of courtesy, I’ve printed your rather extensive comment. We shall have to disagree, and for reasons I’ve set out in my essay to which I pointed.

  6. Sean Garrigan permalink

    Thank you so much, professor Hurtado! I’m not sure that anyone has ever responded to a “wish” of mine so promptly:-) If I were a more audacious soul, I might use your alacrity as an excuse to suggest that you to consider translating Jan-A Buhner’s monumental work, “Der Gesandte und sein Weg im 4. Evangelium” into English, but, alas!, I must control my greedy nature. (On a serious note, it is unfortunate that the age during which it was common to find important theological works translated from German to English seems to have passed away. If Werner’s “The Formation of Christian Dogma” deserved an English version, then surely Buhner’s work does as well!)

    I already had most of the chapters/articles you’ve referenced, but the article by Crispin H. Fletcher-Louis, along with your rejoinder, are new to me, and I look forward to reading both this evening.

    As one who appreciates the work of Adela Yarbro Collins as much as I do yours, I wanted to respond to this comment:

    “If pagan ruler-cult influence was as subtly influential on devout Jews as she suggests, shouldn’t we see more than one example of its alleged influence? Why is it that the “high” Jesus-devotion that we see erupted in the earliest circles of Jesus-followers seems to have no true analogy or parallel in the time? In fact, we know very well what devout Jews of the time thought of pagan ruler-cult and the deification of human heroes, and it’s not encouraging for a theory of the origins of Jesus-devotion!”

    Is it possible that this has more to do with opportunities than anything else? What I mean is, how may kings who reigned over the Jews would have been deemed worthy of such exaltation during the period in which Roman influence was at its peak? Further, how many previous kings or heros were thought to have accomplished the sorts of things that Christians believe was accomplished by Jesus, i.e. a new creation with the promise of everlasting life in view for believers, and everlasting judgment for non-believers? In other words, since no other figure was thought to have accomplished by his life and death what Christ was thought to have accomplished, how much of an analogy can we really expect to find?

    • Dear Sean,
      I think you may not grasp what Prof. Collins or I am saying. She’s proposing that pagan ruler-cults of the time may have sort of seeped into the cognitive ground water, disposing even devout Jews unconsciously toward the possibility of admitting a divine agent (in this case Jesus) as recipient of cultic devotion. It’s not about who ruled over Jews.
      My point is that, if this is so, then among the many other divine agent figures touted in ancient Jewish texts of the time, we ought to see at least one other example of cultus offered to such a figure . . . and we don’t. The closest that we get is the vision of an eschatological obeisance given by gentile nations to the “Elect One” of the Similitudes of 1 Enoch. But this doesn’t reflect an actual, earthly cultic devotion given to this figure, but only a vision of some future universal obeisance. Also, given the antipathy of Jews generally to ruler-cult and apotheosis of human heroes, it’s a good stretch to imagine that such people would so quickly and readily regard the exalted Jesus as worthy of the devotional actions that are reflected in our earliest Christian texts. Anything is possible, but this seems to me unlikely.

      • Sean Garrigan permalink

        Thank you for your response, Professor Hurtado. I understood the point you’ve further clarified, and I agree that there was Jewish antipathy to ruler-cult apotheosis of human heros. Whether or not this is decisive, I couldn’t say, but it’s certainly weighty evidence against Collins’s view. What I’m trying to get at is this: In my estimation it was the claims, words, and works of Jesus coupled with his resurrection demonstrating God’s favor that caused followers to treat Jesus the way that they did. It doesn’t surprise me that we find no analogy vis a vis the treatment by believers of other agents of God because there simply were none who truly compared to Jesus. There were other mystical teachers, other professed messiahs, other heros, etc, but I’m not aware of any historical figures who said and did the things Jesus said and did. Some may have said and did some similar things, but no historical figure is truly comparable. . . . . .
        We could add miracle worker to the above list, as Jesus’ miracles were an important ingredient in the emergence of his following. In my estimation, there was no analogy to Jesus, and so I’m not sure why the lack of analogous treatment should be surprising.

      • Sean: I simply reiterate the point that the NT typically does not say that Jesus is to be worshipped because he ordered it, or because he worked miracles, or such. They say that God exalted Jesus to heavenly glory/status, gave him the name (Kyrios) and now requires him to be reverenced: e.g., Philip 2:9-11; Rom 1:1-4; Rev 5:9-13, etc.
        Moreover, we have no indication that people worshipped Jesus as divine in his mortal life. That would have been a remarkable innovation, objectionable to most other Jews, but no indication of it in the Gospels. So, however impressive Jesus’ actions and teaching were, they did not apparently excite the level of devotion that quickly appeared in the “post-Easter” period. (I think we’ve aired this sufficiently, and I hope you’ll agree.)

  7. M.Gould permalink

    Dr Hurtado

    As you point out in “How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?”, Paul surrounded himself with Jewish Christians. In Romans 16:7 he refers to “Andronicus and Junia, my kinsmen who were in prison with me; they are notable among the apostles and they were in Christ before I was”. Ben Witherington in “What Have They Done With Jesus?” (Monarch Books paperback 2007 p19)) takes this to be the first New Testament reference to a woman as an apostle. He also observes (noting as you do that Paul “converted” soon after the death of Jesus) that Junia and Andronicus must have been among the earliest followers of Jesus and even suggests Junia might be the same person as the Joanna of Luke’s Gospel (Luke 8:1-3). Women played a hugely important role in the early Jesus movement (still not fully recognised today judging by recent events) and Paul was surely never as ignorant of the life of Jesus as some like to claim?

  8. Could devotion to Jesus have begun before his execution? What direct evidence would indicate that this happened, at the earliest, a few months after that event?

    • I’ve dealt with your first question in an article: “Homage to the Historical Jesus and Early Christian Devotion,” Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus 1 (2003): 131-46, republished in my book, How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? (Eerdmans, 2005), 134-51.
      The key chronological indicator of how early Jesus-devotion erupted is Paul’s references to his own vigorous efforts to “destroy” (his word) the young Jesus-movement. Paul’s own “conversion” is commonly dated within the first 1-3 years after Jesus’ execution. Paul describes the cognitive content of his re-orientation experience as a revelation (by God) of God’s “Son”. His associating thereafter with Jewish Jesus-believers suggestst that he came to accept the sort of view of Jesus that he had previously opposed, and that he likely found repellant or even blasphemous. By the time of his letters (ca. 50+ CE), he takes for granted the “high” place of Jesus in devotion and belief as common among various circles of early believers (e.g., 1 Cor 1:2). But I’ve spent a lot of time and effort to lay out in much more detail the evidence and reasoning on this. So, it’s not too much to ask you (if you’re serious) to read it: E.g., How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?, pp. 31-55, more extensively, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans, 2003), 79-216.

      • I have just now read pp. 32-35 of your book, How on Earth Did Jesus Become God?

        I note that you echo Hengel in expressing astonishment that the exalted status of Jesus was characteristic of the early Jewish church, prior to Paul’s conversion in the early 30s. I think you have made a good case for this.

        But I, for one, am not astonished that the earliest followers of Jesus believed as they did about him, because I think the belief goes back to Jesus himself. And I find nothing in what you have written here that requires that this high view of Jesus developed after his crucifixion.

        A simple reading of the New Testament would indicate that Paul’s persecution of the early church was an extension of the persecution of Jesus that led to his execution. Jesus was silenced because of his extraordinary claims that were regarded as blasphemy, and Paul set out to silence those who continued to make extraordinary claims about him.

        The claim that Jesus is Lord seems the most likely explanation for: (1) the crucifixion (2) the mission of the church in Jerusalem and (3) the Jewish persecution that opposed this mission.

        This suggestion does not appear to be radical, naive or a misreading of either Paul or the Gospels.

        The proposal seems more radical to me that we must limit ourselves to a post-crucifixion origin of belief the unique, divine status of Jesus.

      • Respectfully, when you’ve considered my discussion in pp. 134-51, get back to me if you like. The NT authors tend to make Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation the work of God, by which JEsus has been deisgnated/appointed as “Kyrios” (e.g.,Philippians 2:9-11), and so worthy of worship.

      • Mark Erickson permalink

        bgglencoe, I agree that a plain reading of the Gospels, and acceptance of their historical accuracy, supports your idea of pre-crucifixion devotion, although obviously not worship. I encourage you to read 134-151 and get back to us with your thoughts.

        Professor Hurtado, why do you use the phrases “the NT says” as if it is a unitary work and “the NT authors” as if they speak with one voice?

      • Mark: Hmm. Can you point me to places where I use these expressions? The context might help me explain them.

      • Mark Erickson permalink

        In comments on this post: “Sean: I simply reiterate the point that the NT typically does not say that Jesus is to be worshipped because he ordered it, or because he worked miracles, or such. They say that God exalted Jesus to heavenly glory/status, gave him the name (Kyrios) and now requires him to be reverenced: e.g., Philip 2:9-11; Rom 1:1-4; Rev 5:9-13, etc.”

        “The NT authors tend to make Jesus’ resurrection/exaltation the work of God, by which JEsus has been deisgnated/appointed as “Kyrios” (e.g.,Philippians 2:9-11), and so worthy of worship.”

      • Thanks, Mark. Note the word “typically” in the first statement and “tend to make” in the second. Note the absence of “uniformly”, or similar words. When NT authors offer (or reflect) a rationale for reverencing Jesus, they tend to base it in God’s exaltation of him. On this matter, there really isn’t a strong dissenting “voice” among NT writings.

    • Mark Erickson permalink

      I don’t think you can get off that easily. First of all, this sentence contains no weasel words: “They say that God exalted Jesus to heavenly glory/status, gave him the name (Kyrios) and now requires him to be reverenced”. You then cite Pauline epistles and Revelation. Even so, begging off with a couple of modifiers misses the point. The implicit assumption of the sentences is that the NT can “say” things and its “authors” are all engaged in the same project. At the very least, wouldn’t it be better if the convention was at least either Gospels, Pauline epistles or other rather than “the NT says this and the NT authors said that” all the time?

      • Mark: Not trying to “get off easily” at all. I stand by what I said. And modifiers are . . . modifiers, and competent users of any language know their function. Those NT authors who speak to the question of the bases for worshipping Jesus say pretty much the same thing: Effectively, “God says so”. The Gospels offer no other claim. (Interesting that the worship of Jesus cited in Matt & Luke happens only after Jesus’ resurrection!)
        The NT certainly comprises a diversity of voices and emphases, but (as I’ve shown in my “God in New Testament Theology” book), there are also some major matters on which they agree. Those who assembled the NT saw these things.

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