New Orleans Symposium Wrapup
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.