Reiterating the Basics on Jesus-Devotion
A recent comment is so chock-full of confusion and erroneous statements that I choose not to post it, but instead to address relevant matters in this posting.
1.) Contrary to the comment, I don’t “assume” that cultic devotion to Jesus erupted early and quickly. Over 30+ years I’ve made and defended the case arrived at inductively through pains-taking analysis of the historical evidence. No assumption involved. So, it’s a bit tiresome to have someone assert that my case is built on an assumption.
2.) Actually, I’m not unique in making the claim that a “high” view of Jesus erupted early. For example, the great master-scholar of the early 20th century, Wilhelm Bousset, in his influential study, Kyrios Christos, reached basically the same conclusion, as did Johannes Weiss, Martin Hengel, and others. Indeed, Bousset judged that what he called the “kyrios-cult” (programmatic treatment of Jesus as worthy of worship) erupted so early and quickly that it was the form of the Jesus-movement that Paul encountered and to which he became an adherent, Paul’s “Damascus road” experience typically dated within the first 2-3 yrs at most after Jesus’ crucifixion.
3.) Further, contrary to the ill-informed comment that triggered this posting, there is no evidence of an equivalent “angel-cult” in any evidence of 2nd-temple Jewish tradition. Check out the major studies, e.g., by Stuckenbruck, Hannah, and others. They all agree that the programmatic place of Jesus in early Christian devotion is at least a major step-change in comparison to the reverential treatment of angels in ancient Jewish tradition.
4.) Likewise, Ehrman’s recent claim that Paul viewed Jesus as an angel lacks clear support from either the evidence or any of the major studies over the last 70 yrs or so, and is not one of the stronger features of Ehrman’s book. So, that’s simply a red-herring, and has obtained no real “traction” among scholars working on the origins of Jesus-devotion.
5.) Chronology is crucial (as Martin Hengel showed a few decades ago in an essay that should be required reading). Uncontestably, our earliest evidence of the Jesus-movement is in Paul’s undisputed letters, which take us back to within ca. 20 yrs of Jesus’ execution, and which draw upon and directly reflect beliefs and practices of still earlier years. It is ignorant to posit the Gospel of Mark as a testimony to some supposedly earlier and “low” Christology. GMark was written likely ca. 70 AD, much later than the Pauline letters. And neither GMark nor the other Synoptic Gospels comprises a theological tractate intended to push some particular “Christology” over against others. Each is an account of Jesus’ ministry, emphasizing his historical, cultural specificity. Moreover, they presuppose 40-60 years of the Jesus-movement, and developments in its beliefs and cultic practices. I’ve analysed the Gospels as expressions of Jesus-devotion in my book, Lord Jesus Christ, at some length. The GMark, for example, quite obviously narrates an account of Jesus in which he functions as the ideal role-model and master of disciples. The author shows no evidence of laying out some distinctive Christological stance, or dissenting from some “high” one.
6.) All early expressions of Christology have a “subordinationist” character, in that they portray Jesus as sent, empowered, vindicated, and glorified by God (“the Father”). They weren’t touched by the concerns and issues that arose in the 3rd century especially. But in the inventory of honorific categories to hand to them, early believers were unhesitating and remarkably free in ascribing to Jesus an unparalleled place in their beliefs and practices. The “high” Christology of the early texts doesn’t consist in saying “Jesus is God Almighty” in some simplistic sense. What’s “high” about earliest Christology is that Jesus is uniquely and programmatically linked with God, both in beliefs and worship, to such an extent that Jesus is essential for any adequate discourse about God and for any adequate worship of God. We have no comparable development in any 2nd-temple Jewish group. I’ve laid out the evidence in publications over the last 30 yrs, as listed on this blog site here (a couple of example given below). So, I ask readers of this blog site to invest in the effort to engage the relevant work, if they’re serious about the matter.
For further reading:
Larry W. Hurtado, One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1988; 3rd ed., London: Boomsbury T&T Clark, 2016).
Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2003)
Martin Hengel, “Christology and New Testament Chronology,” in Between Jesus and Paul (London: SCM, 1983), 30-47.
And, indicative of work on the relevance of angels, Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “‘Angels’ and ‘God’: Exploring the Limits of Early Jewish Monotheism,” in Early Jewish and Christian Monotheism, ed. Loren T. Stuckenbruck and Wendy E. S. North (London: T&T Clark, 2004), 45-70. E.g., p. 68: “in none of the passages discussed is there any hint that in Judaism a cultus was being organised around angelic beings. I am thus convinced that Hurtado’s thesis is essentially corrrect that the sometimes exalted position of angels did not directly contribute to the inception of early Christian devotion to Christ alongside God.”