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New Orleans Symposium Wrapup

February 17, 2016

The Greer-Heard Forum held in New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, 12-13 February, was to my mind a healthy  and productive event.  The Friday evening exchange between Bart Ehrman and Michael Bird was intended to set out contrasting approaches to the question of how early Christians came to see Jesus as sharing in divine status, and included minimal grand-standing.

On Saturday, there were presentations by Simon Gathercole, Dale Martin, Jennifer Wright Knust and myself, and all of them (if I do say so) were well prepared, solid and informative.  Martin and Knust spoke openly and forthrightly of their Christian faith, and urged that there need be no fear of historical-critical investigation of the origins of Christian beliefs about Jesus.  I agree.

Gathercole insisted that the earliest Jesus-followers were Jews who held a relatively traditional commitment to the uniqueness of the one God, which makes their readiness to include Jesus in their beliefs about God and their religious practices all the more striking.

In my own presentation I emphasized the following points:  (1) In the ancient Roman world, worship was the key expression of “religion,” not beliefs and confessional formulae; (2) the key distinguishing feature that marked off Roman-era Judaism in the larger religious environment was its cultic exclusivity, the refusal to worship any deity other than the God of Israel; (3) this exclusivity involved refusal also to worship the adjutants of the biblical God (such as angels), not simply foreign deities; (4) in this context, the emergent programmatic place of Jesus in earliest Christian worship and devotional practice represents something highly notable, more significant historically than christological titles and confessional formulae; and (5) the place of Jesus in early Christian devotion can be described in specific ritual actions that allow us to consider any putative parallels, and so to note any innovation.

My contention is that we do see genuine and remarkable innovation in the “dyadic” devotional pattern that was already presumed in Paul’s letters, which take us back to within roughly 20 years from Jesus’ execution.

I understand that the videos of the presentations will be available on the Greer-Heard site soon, and that the written form of the presentations will be published together in an edited volume in due course.

UPDATE:  The videos of the presentations are now online here.

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11 Comments
  1. Donald Jacobs permalink

    The video of your talk says private and doesn’t play.

    • I can’t help you, as I don’t own or operate the videos. Get in touch with the site.

  2. Allen Black permalink

    I enjoyed, and agreed with, Michael Bird’s description of you as “the Guru Swami Ninja Jedi Master Seal Team Six Commander of all things about early Christian christology.”

  3. Bee L. permalink

    It often seems here that say, the dyadic pattern of Christianity does not fit normative, fiercely monolithic, mainstream Judaism. But if so, then where did this distinctively new, different religion, which was eventually called Christianity, come from? If not from judaism.

    • Well, on the one hand, it did fit a “monotheistic” outlook of those Jews among whom this dyadic pattern first emerged. But the prominent place of Jesus in their devotional pattern and beliefs seems also to have caused offence to other Jews, such as the Pharisee Saul of Tarsus, and later to others as well. History is more complicated than we make it sometimes.

  4. Sean du Toit permalink

    Greetings Prof. Hurtado.
    All the talks are available online here: https://biblicalstudiesonline.wordpress.com/2016/02/13/how-did-jesus-become-god-ehrman-and-bird/

    Will you be uploading a manuscript of your talk onto the blog? Or might I trouble you for a footnote to your first point: (1) In the ancient Roman world, worship was the key expression of “religion,” not beliefs and confessional formulae. I’d love to explore this in more detail.

    Many thanks, Sean

    • I think that my point about Roman-era religions is fairly uncontroversial, as can be verified by perusing any scholarly treatment of Roman religion, e.g., Mary Beard, John North and Simon Price, Religions of Rome: Volume 1, A History (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998). Note also Pliny’s statement of what he required of denounced Christians: a set of ritual actions, not a confessional statement (even cursing Christ was more a ritual act). Or read the accounts of Jewish martyrs in 1-2 Maccabees, where the pressure is to acquiesce in ritual performance.

  5. Joyce Bergen permalink

    I watched most of the event via live streaming. It was very informative. I appreciated the expertise you brought to the symposium, Dr. Hurtado, and would now like to read your book, How on Earth did Jesus become a God?
    I found the debate and presentations at biblicalstudiesonline.wordpress.com

  6. Hi Prof Hurtado,

    Is your talk available online anywhere? Or do you have a transcript available?

    Kind regards,

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