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Hurtado Books on Jesus-Devotion

December 12, 2017

After mentioning the reduced prices on Kindle editions of three of my books recently (here), some readers have asked for me to give some information on the basic focus of several of my books on the origins of Jesus-devotion.

My first book on this research-programme is not included in this holiday special, as it’s from another publisher:  One God, One Lord:  Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (original edition, Fortress Press and SCM, 1988; 2nd edition Edinburgh:  T&T Clark, 1998; 3rd edition London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2015).  In this book, I explore what conceptual resources there were in ancient Jewish tradition that earliest Jesus-followers may have had available for accommodating a second, distinguishable figure alongside the one God of biblical tradition.

I identify ancient Jewish traditions of what I call “divine agency”, distinguishing three types:  (1) personified divine attributes, such as Wisdom and Philo’s Logos; (2) “exalted patriarchs”–Enoch, Moses, and others; and (3) “principal angels” including Michael and others.  I contend that these all are variant forms of what we can call “chief agent” tradition, in which God is pictured as having a particular figure acting as God’s plenipotentiary or vizier.  I further propose that the early christological statements appear to portray Jesus as God’s unique agent, and so likely drew upon these traditions.

But the striking new feature of the Christian “mutation” of these traditions is that Jesus is accorded a level of reverence that we don’t find given to any of these other figures.  In the final chapter I lay out quite specifically the devotional actions that are reflected already in our earliest Christian texts.  These form a constellation or devotional pattern that seems novel.  I originally referred to this as a “binitarian” devotional pattern (God and Jesus both reverenced), but in more recent publications have preferred the term “dyadic” (because despite my rather clear explanations of how I was using “binitarian” some critics read into it metaphysical categories of much later centuries).

On the cover of the Fortress edition of this book, the late and great Martin Hengel famously referred to it as signalling the emergence of “a new religionsgeschichtliche Schule” (“history of religion school”).  The book certainly drew upon the work of other scholars, both of earlier decades and my contemporaries.  In the 2nd (1998) edition, I added a 5,000 word preface engaging scholarly developments between 1988 and that 2nd edition.  In the 3rd edition (2015), I also added a 20,000 word epilogue in which I discuss developments from roughly 1998 to the date of the 3rd edition.  I consider this book foundational for the ensuing body of my publications on early Jesus-devotion.  I am pleased that it received a positive reception from fellow scholars, and continues to be cited appreciatively.

I turn now to the books in the Eerdmans holiday special price sale.  At the Origins of Christian Worship:  The Context and Character of Earliest Christian Devotion (Eerdmans 1999) originated as a short public lecture series in the British Isles Nazarene College (Manchester).  I discuss the wider “religious environment” of earliest Christian circles, especially worship practices, and then survey characteristics of early Christian worship, and the specific features that gave it a “binitarian shape.”  As the lectures were addressed to a mainly Christian audience, I also have a short concluding chapter on “reflections for Christian worship today.”

My research programme on early Jesus-devotion that began in the late 1970s with the longer-term aim of producing a study on the level of Wilhelm Bousset’s classic work, Kyrios Christos (1913), eventuated in my larger work, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Eerdmans 2003).  In One God, One Lord, I was, so to speak, looking “upstream” from earliest Christian practices to explore precedents and resources in the ancient Jewish tradition.  In Lord Jesus Christ, I explore “downstream”, so to speak, tracing the origins and development of expressions of Jesus-devotion from its beginnings down through the mid-second century CE.  This book received widespread notice (I know of over 50 reviews, nearly all of them positive) and has been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, and Korean.  Whatever its flaws, it is the only work of this breadth and depth of treatment of the evidence.

How on Earth did Jesus Become a God?  Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus (Eerdmans, 2005) developed from a lecture-series by this title given in Ben Gurion University (Beeersheva, Israel) in 2004, prompted by the publication of my book, Lord Jesus Christ.  The first four chapters are essentially the four lectures in that series.  I compare my own approach to that of some other scholars, emphasize the distinctive profile of Jesus-devotion in the context of ancient Jewish “monotheistic” piety, underscore the social and political consequences of early Jesus-devotion, and offer a detailed analysis of Philippians 2:6-11.

I was asked to add material to these lectures for the book, and the remaining four chapters are previously published essays relating to the book’s focus.  These include my essay on “Religious Experience and Religious Innovation in the New Testament,” which originated as the 1998 T.W. Manson Lecture.  My Ben Gurion lectures inaugurated the Deichmann Annual Lecture Series in Ben Gurion University, and were published also in Hebrew by Ben Gurion University Press.  It has also been translated into Hungarian and Chinese.  The book isn’t a digest of Lord Jesus Christ, but more a gathering of treatment of some related issues.

I should also mention my little book, God in New Testament Theology (Abingdon Press, 2010), thanks to the publishers failing to get the book out for reviews one of the best kept secrets in recent publishing history!  In this book I explore how “God” is portrayed in the NT, what consequences for “God” there are in the place of Jesus in early Christian circles.  I also try to place these developments in the context of the Roman-era world, with particular attention to the Jewish matrix in which the Jesus-movement erupted.  I recommend the book for a larger overview of how Jesus-devotion fitted into early Christian beliefs and worship of “God.”

In addition to these books, over the past several decades I have also produced a goodly number of essays in journals and multi-author volumes addressing various issues in the historical study of early Jesus-devotion.  Most recently, I was invited to gather up a bundle of these previously published essays for a book-collection:  Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Early Christian Jesus-Devotion:  The Context and Character of Christological Faith (Baylor University Press, 2017).  This book comprises thirty-two essays that appeared over some forty years of research, addressing quite a wide range of questions about the “scholarly context” (interacting with some other key scholars), and the ancient Jewish context, offering some explanations for the eruption of Jesus-devotion, and treating a number of texts and other expressions of devotion to Jesus in the early Christian circles.

So, there you have a brief summary of the book-length products of some forty years of research work on what is surely one of the most interesting, and also one of the most influential, developments in the history of religions.

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  1. I have purchased your book One God, One Lord. I confess that I have not yet read it from cover to cover. Do you discuss the grammatical issues surrounding John 1:1 in that work or elsewhere? I am very curious how a monotheistic Jew would have understood this verse.

  2. Nemo permalink

    Professor Hurtado,

    Just looking a little further upstream, which factors led to your interest in Jesus-devotion in early Christianity? You mentioned you did your PhD with Eldon J. Epp. Did he have an impact on the direction of your life’s work? Was your PhD thesis related to Jesus-devotion?

    • In the Epilogue to the 3rd edition of One God, One Lord, I comment on the factors that motivated me. One of these was being both impressed and also troubled by Bousset’s Kyrios Christos. A great work, but flawed and already shown fallacious by the 70s.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        Was Bousset’s work shown “fallacious” because new historical data were discovered that contradicted his thesis, or because there were new ways in which scholars in the field look at the same data, or a combination of both?

        In your own work, did you consciously emulate what you see in Bousset’s work as impressive and avoid the approaches that “troubled” you?

      • Nemo: I noted some key defects in Bousset’s book in this article: Larry W. Hurtado, “New Testament Christology: A Critique of Bousset’s Influence,” Theological Studies 40 (1979): 306-17. Republished in my recent collection of essays: Ancient Jewish Monotheism and Early Christian Jesus-Devotion

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        I read your article (here). Just to make sure I understand, is the following a fair summary of Bousset’s and your arguments?

        1. There is a clear distinction between the earlier Jewish and later Greek culture in the early Church.
        2. “Son of Man” is a Jewish title for a future authoritative figure, not a divine figure. Neither can be conferred upon Jesus on earth.
        3. The title “Lord” (Kyrios) is a Greek development, and reflects the influence of pagan religions.

        1. The early Church, even the Jerusalem Church, is bilingual and therefore bicultural.
        2. The Son of Man is Jesus’ self-reference, not a well-known and clear title.
        3. “Lord” (Kyrios) has its linguistic roots in Aramaic-speaking (i.e. “Jewish”) church and can be traced back to the Old Testament.

      • Nemo: You haven’t quite got it. Bousset contended that (1) the earliest christology treated Jesus as the future “Son of Man” (Bousset presuming that this was a well known title/figure); (2) that very early, though in cities under pagan influence such as Antioch, Jesus became the “Kyrios”/Lord of the gathered worship circle, this title stemming from pagan uses of it.
        I’ve noted that (1) there was no “son of man” title or well-known heavenly figure in 2nd temple Jewish texts, (2) that the term “Kyrios” has its Aramaic equivalents used for God in 2nd temple texts, and (3) the evidence indicates that Jesus became the “Kyrios/Mar” of the “cultic gathering” among Aramaic-speaking Jewish circles in RomanJudea.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        Thank you for the clarification.

        When NT scholars talk about “title”, what do they mean by that? “Son of Man” and “The Anointed” sound like descriptions rather than titles to me.

      • A “title” is a fixed term applied to someone or to an office. So, the term “anointed” originated as an adjective (e.g., “anointed priest”) in the OT, but by late 2nd temple time it had become a title given to an expected redeemer figure (as in Psalms of Solomon 17-18), and so will be used with the definite article “The Messiah/Anointed one”.
        There is no instance of the term “the son of man” in all of 2nd temple Jewish literature or in the OT. English translations sometimes give the opposite impression but that’s a translation phenomenon, and the original texts don’t have the articular or definite form. So, the latter wasn’t a “title”, a fixed expression that lots of people knew and recognized. “Messiah”, however, was.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        Let me try to paraphrase what you wrote in layman’s terms:

        The addition of definite article changes a term from a generic term to a specific designation. For example, when a comment by “Charlie Rose” appeared on your blog the other day, I thought, “The Charlie Rose?” The definite article is necessary (only) because the same term can refer to multiple people without it. There is also an implicit assumption of cultural context, e.g., the target audience are familiar with American TV personalities. Taken outside the cultural context, the term is just as vague, even meaningless, with and without the definite article.

        Is my understanding correct?

      • Nemo: As any perusal of the OT and 2nd temple texts will show “son of man”/”sons of men” were used in Semitic languages as a way of designating human beings. But there is no instance of the singular definite/articular form. So, “the son of man” has a particularizing force, “this one”.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        Since I posted my last question, I’ve read many of your posts on the “Son of Man” in the past few years — they are very informative as always. If I understand you correctly, you are saying that 1) in order for a term like “son of man” to be a title proper, it must have a particularized form, i.e., having a definite article prefixed to it, 2) there was not one single instance of the particularized form of “son of man” in the second temple texts 3) therefore “son of man” was never used or recognized as a title.

        That logic is straightforward, as the conclusion does follow from the premises, and I have no intention of disputing it.

        My initial question is really about the notion of “title”, what constitutes a “title”, and whether a term needs to be in a particularized form in order to qualify as a title. In other words, whether premise 1) needs to be true in general, not just for “son of man”. It is more of a linguistic question, rather than a historical or theological question. (I tried to rephrase it using a modern and secular example.)

      • Nemo: Yes. We recognize that terms are “titles” typically (in languages that have definite articles or equivalents) by the use of definite articles or equivalents.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        If that is the case, then terms like “God”, “Lord”, “Chancellor” or “Professor” are not “titles”? Could you clarify?

        What is meant by “confessional title”?

      • A “confessional title” is when someone says something like “I believe that you are X,” or “He/she is X” or such. “The Son of Man” isn’t used in the NT in this manner. Compare this with statements such as “You are the Christ”, or “Jesus is Lord”.
        “Lord” and “Chancellor” are obviously titles, well known and widely used. “The son of man” wasn’t.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        “You are the Christ” and “Jesus is Lord” seem to me two different types of “titles”. “You are the Christ” is connecting “you” with a (prophetic or literary) figure i.e., “Christ”, it is saying “You are he”, the one/figure we are expecting (Luke 7:20); whereas “Jesus is Lord” is speaking of Jesus in and of himself, without reference to another figure.

      • No, Nemo. “Jesus is Lord” = Jesus (a historical figure) is “Lord”, ho Kyrios, a title, status.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        I’m not sure what you’re saying “no” to in your previous reply. I don’t see any contradiction between your statement and mine. Just so I understand this in time for Christmas:

        Lord is a title;
        Son of Man is a figure, not a title;
        Messiah was a figure initially, but became a title (through long usage and recognition?).

        Is that a fair summary?


      • Your summary is ok.

      • Nemo permalink

        Professor Hurtado,

        Is “the Son of God” also a title? There are no clear descriptions of it in the OT. How are we to interpret its usage in the NT?

      • “The son of God” is used in the NT as a title. E.g., Matt 16:16. No one ever says “I believe that you are the son of man”. Don’t you get the difference??

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