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Bauckham on Hurtado

February 9, 2015

Richard Bauckham’s essay on my work on Jesus-devotion is a model of clarity, accuracy, fairness, and incisive critique:  “Devotion to Jesus Christ in Earliest Christianity:  An Appraisal and Discussion of the Work of Larry Hurtado,” in Mark, Manuscript, and Monotheism:  Essays in Honor of Larry W. Hurtado, eds. Chris Keith & Dieter T. Roth (London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015), 176-200.

Bauckham’s essay is based on his presentation at the day-event held here (7 October 2011) under the auspices of the Centre for the Study of Christian Origins on the occasion of my retirement from the University of Edinburgh.  He has been one of the most important figures in the study of early Jesus-devotion over the last several decades, and he was one of the early influences upon my own thinking back in the 1980s.

The first seven pages give, to my mind, an accurate and concise account of key features of my own work, and I could only wish that others who wish to engage my work could exhibit the same care and accuracy in representing it.  The bulk of the essay, however (pp. 182-200), is given to (1) “criticism and issues related to Jewish monotheism and the intermediary figures,” and (2) “criticism and issues related to the earliest devotion to Jesus and its origins.”

The first part includes a review of claims that “there is evidence of some veneration of angels in Second Temple Judaism,” here particularly citing studies by Loren Stuckenbruck, Clinton Arnold, and Charles Gieschen.  Bauckham rightly notes, however, that, although there is some evidence that individuals sometimes invoked angels (perhaps particularly in situations of distress, and as the agents of God’s help), there is scant indication that angels were praised, prayed to, invoked, etc., in gathered worship circles of Roman-era Jews (in fact, a point conceded by, e.g., Stuckenbruck & Arnold).

Then, Bauckham quickly notes the claim of Crispin Fletcher-Louis that some human figures were worshipped in Second Temple Judaism, and Bauckham basically agrees with me that we really don’t have evidence of this.  Next, Bauckham cites the argument (first made by Lionel North, and then echoed by Dunn & McGrath) that in 2nd-temple Jewish tradition “the only sort of worship that was confined to the one God was sacrificial worship,” and so the sort of devotional actions that I have cited don’t really comprise “worship” in the robust sense of the word.  He seems basically sympathetic to my response (which is that early Christian corporate worship didn’t involve sacrifice at all, to Jesus or to God, so sacrifice is an invalid criterion of “cultic worship” in assessing the devotional practice of these circles).

Then, Bauckham discusses the objection that my criterion of worship as the best indication that a figure is treated as genuinely “divine” is too narrow.  Here, Bauckham differs over my readiness to accept that features of some “divine mediator/agent” figures are shared by Jesus and other heavenly beings.  He then goes on to argue that “so-called principal angels and exalted patriarchs are not plenipotentiaries” and so aren’t analogies for the status given to Jesus in earliest Christian texts.  Bauckham insists that the roles given to Jesus exceed almost anything ascribed to principal angels and patriarch (Bauckham grants, however, that the role of Michael/Melchizedek in some Qumran texts may be an exception).  He also here reiterates his argument that the extensive “participation in all the power and authority of God” ascribed to Jesus accounts for why he (and none of the “intermediaries of the Jewish texts”) was worshipped.

I agree that NT texts collectively ascribe to Jesus a combination of roles that make it hard to find a full precedent or parallel in ancient Jewish texts.  But I don’t see indication in NT texts that the reason for worshipping Jesus is that he has such a combination of roles.  Instead, it seems to me, NT texts make the actions of God in exalting Jesus and now requiring him to be reverenced the reason for doing so.

Next, Bauckham urges that ancient Jewish devotion to God involved more than cultic worship, taking in also obedience to Torah, i.e., the larger sphere of behaviour.  He also contends (rightly) that beliefs are important as well as devotional practice.  I agree, and his citation of Philo (Decalogue 52-65) makes a clear connection between God’s unique status as creator of all else and the rightness of worshipping God alone.

Bauckham then urges the importance of “early Christian exegesis of the Hebrew Bible.”  I agree again.  See my brief discussion in Lord Jesus Christ (pp. 73-74), where I posit “charismatic exegesis” as one of the kinds of revelatory experiences in which new insights were formed.

The next few pages are devoted to the question of whether earliest Christian devotion can be described as “binitarian.”  Bauckham affirms the term, but faults me for not being clearer in stating what I mean in pointing to how NT texts link Jesus with God “in an unprecedented manner.”  He urges that Paul adapts the ancient Jewish confession of God’s uniqueness (the “Shema'”) in 1 Cor 8:4-6, and contends that  I stop short of an adequate articulation of matters.  Perhaps.  But, to my mind, my reluctance to go much beyond what I’ve written arises from the slender basis for saying much more about how Jesus (and especially the “pre-existent” Jesus) is related to God, at least in Paul.  Bauckham endorses here Tom Wright’s emphasis on Jesus as the embodied, personal return of YHWH, but I’m not (or at least not yet) able to see the basis for making this notion quite so central.

The final critique of me is that “it is misleading to limit study of early Christian devotion to Jesus to cultic worship.” Bauckham endorses Chris Tilling’s argument that in Paul we see depicted a relationship between believers and Christ that most closely resembles “the Jewish relationship to YHWH.”  I agree that there are some similarities, but there also seem to me to be some distinctions.   In NT texts generally, Jesus is the unique means by whom believers now have access to God, and their relationship to Jesus is with a view to a redemptive and filial relationship with God.  Jesus doesn’t substitute for, or replace, God, and believers’ relationship with Jesus doesn’t substitute for a relationship with God.

[Addendum:  I hasten to explain that the final sentence in the preceding paragraph is not intended to characterize the views of Bauckham or Chris Tilling.  I simply caution against a possible simplistic inference by others.]

Bauckham’s final words reiterate the generous characterization of my work with which he commences this essay. I’m most grateful for this affirmation, and for his thoughtful and informed critique, even if I am not always able to agree with it.


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  1. griffin permalink

    Would veneration of human lords have stimulated early worship by the apostles?

    • No. Abundant scholarly analysis of Jewish texts of the time shows a firm opposition against worship given to any figure other than the one God. We also know that Jews of the time typically regarded ruler worship with disdain and even disgust. Not likely adopted then.

      • griffin permalink

        Could Christianity have simply begun to differ from Judaism by 70AD?

      • Griffin: There are several unrecognized issues in your question. There’s a terminological issues: Was there a “Christianity” by 70AD (the earliest use of the term “Christianismos” is in Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century). So, let’s go with a less question-begging term, e.g., “Jesus-movement”. Also, what do you mean by “begun to differ”? As I’ve shown in an essay published several years ago, there is clear evidence of opposition of some concerned Jews against fellow Jews in the Jesus-movement, among the earliest is Saul of Tarsus (a.k.a. Paul the Apostle): Hurtado, Larry W. “Pre-70 C.E. Jewish Opposition to Christ-Devotion.” Journal of Theological Studies 50 (1999): 35-58; republished in my book, How on Earth did Jesus Become a God? (Eerdmans, 2005), 152-78.
        So, “differ(ences)”? Pretty early. A “separation”, much later.

      • Rod permalink

        Thank you for interacting with your readers, Professor Hurtado. I just want to clarify your omission of “Christianous” in Acts 11:26 in your previous response. Even if one posits an earlier or a later (80AD) date for Acts, wouldn’t that still make it the earliest recognition of “Christianity”? Could this be an additional (not necessarily adequate) evidence to the historical claim of the early existence of a group of believers who have been identified as worshippers of Jesus?

      • “Christianoi” in Acts 11:26 is a designation of individuals as members of some group, in this case = “Christ-party” or something such (as “Herodianoi” in Mark 12:13), the same term used also in 1 Peter 4:16. In my earlier comment, however, I was referring to the earliest use of the term “christianismos” (“Christianity”), which appears first in Ignatius of Antioch.
        Of course, there were groups who identified themselves with reference to Jesus from the early 30s onward. But initially they saw themselves as a radical new movement within 2nd temple Judaism.

  2. Steve Walach permalink

    Good morning, Larry –

    You refer us to pages 73 – 74 of Lord Jesus Christ to explain what you mean by “charismatic exegesis” and on page 74, you write:

    “These experiences were likely in the context of group worship, which included prayer for and expectations of divine revelations, and other phenomena that raised questions that drove devout believers to their Scriptures searching for new insights and answers.”

    The experiences you describe on pages 72 and 73 are visions of the resurrected Christ, prophetic oracles, etc., and that corporate worship was a “frequent setting for such visions.”

    You infer that the exegesis of Scripture to accommodate if not elevate these charismatic experiences was quite “astonishing,” so much so that Philippians 2: 6 – 11 (“… So that at Jesus’ name every knee should bend …”) manages to find a reference to Christ in “perhaps the most stridently monotheistic passage in the Old Testament (73)!”

    Bauckman and you seem to be in agreement that the experiential revelations prompted innovative – if that’s not too strong a word – exegesis of the Old Testament among First Century Christians.

    However, could the reverse have also been the case; that is, could the exegesis that was meant to make sense of and validate the charismatic experiences have also created a mindset among Christ devotees, priming the pump, so to speak, and thereby inducing additional inspired songs and utterances that were not necessarily as genuine as the originals?

    The religious exaltation of untrained poets expressing genuinely charismatic experiences eventually became codified in the letters of a trained and highly effective essayist like Paul. However, is it plausible that expectations raised by Paul’s testimony and arguments contributed to a snowball effect – devotion that was driven more by the written/oral word, i.e. newly interpreted Scripture or group pressure, than by unconditioned, individual experiences granted solely by grace?

    • I would allow for the dynamics to go to and fro: religious experiences of visions etc. prompting searching of scriptures, and searching of scriptures perhaps prompting experiences, and the searching of scriptures as itself religious experience of new insights/revelations etc. Likewise, initial revelatory experiences may have helped to prompt others to have confirmatory experiences.

  3. I noticed that the book is the #1 new release in religious history on Amazon’s site, so bravo!

    I’ll have to wait for the paperback edition before adding it to my library, though, as this series by T.T. Clark is a bit pricey. Even the paperback editions can be around $80.00, which isn’t outlandish for such studies, but still more than I’m inclined to pay. Then again, maybe Eerdmans, Baker, or Wipf & Stock will pick up the rights down the road, which will help considerably vis a vis affordability.

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