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Papyri and Disappointment

Yesterday, I learned of the recent posting on the Egypt Exploration Society website concerning reports of papyri in the ownership of the EES that allegedly were sold on to Hobby Lobby by Professor Dirk Obbink.  The EES statement is here.

To read the EES statement is, for me as well as some others, a shocking and disappointing experience.  For the statement suggests what may have been a persistent practice of selling on papyri that were not Obbink’s to sell.  I met him several years ago, and became impressed with his expertise in papyrology.  When initial claims about his involvement in the improper sale of papyri first surfaced, I found them hard to believe, as I had high respect for his expertise and character.  But, in light of the EES statement and the findings that lie behind it, I can only express my deep disappointment in Obbink.

I don’t regret giving him the benefit of the doubt initially.  It is, however (so it appears), a sad development in the story.  It is right that Hobby Lobby is cooperating with the EES in the full investigation of the extent of improper sales of papyri, and has agreed to return to the EES papyri that were improperly sold.

1 Enoch: An Update on Manuscripts and Cautionary Notes on Usage

At the meeting of the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, 5 August 2019 in Aberdeen, Loren Stuckenbruck gave one of the main/plenary papers (co-authored with Ted Erho) that draws upon his extensive efforts to locate and classify Ethiopic manuscripts of 1 Enoch.  I’m grateful to him for letting me see his paper:  “The Significance of Ethiopic Witnesses for the Text Tradition of 1 Enoch: Problems and Prospects,” and with permission of the authors I cite some of the observations arising from the work of Stuckenbruck and his associates.

1 Enoch is a composite text, the component parts likely written in Aramaic and/or Hebrew variously 3rd century BCE to late 1st century BCE (to go with what is now the dominant opinion).  At perhaps various point (likely in the lst century BCE to 2nd century CE) it was translated into Greek, and then, sometime between the 4th and 7th centuries CE, was translated into Ethiopic (or, more specifically, Ge’ez, the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church).

Fragments of portions of 1 Enoch in Aramaic survive among the thousands of fragments of manuscripts from Qumran (the “Dead Sea Scrolls”), and remnants of a Greek translation also survive (from Egypt).  But the only complete copies that survive are the Ethiopic manuscripts, the earliest of which (thus far) are from the 14th century, but most of them later still.  That is, about a thousand years separate our earliest copies of Ethiopian 1 Enoch from the time in which the translation was made.  Moreover, the Ethiopic shows signs of being translated from the Greek translation, so what we now have is a translation of a translation.

For a number of years now, Stuckenbruck (University of Munich) has given his summers to searching for manuscripts of 1 Enoch in Europe, the Middle East, North America, and especially Ethiopia.  Whereas the available editions of 1 Enoch drew upon a handful of manuscripts, Stuckenbruck has identified more than 150.  So, what are some results from his analysis of them?  I cite just a few of his observations.

“We cannot reconstruct an earliest version of 1 Enoch, even if we restrict ourselves to passages for which the very fragmentary Aramaic evidence is extant” for, in addition to smaller textual variants, “the Aramaic fragments indicate the existence of a longer or substantially different text not preserved in any of the later versions.”

Further, given that the extant Ethiopic text was translated and transmitted by Christians, and read by the Ethiopian Church as part of its Old Testament, this makes it “very difficult, in the first instance, to make the reconstruction of a complete Second Temple text the exclusive, if not ultimate goal.”

Although the Ethiopic manuscripts don’t show major interpolations or omissions, they do exhibit the kinds of smaller variants that happen in the transmission of practically any writing from ancient times.

In the case of those portions of 1 Enoch for which no Aramaic or Greek fragments survive, we have a particular difficulty in establishing what the text may have looked like in the first century CE.  The section called the Parables/Similitudes of 1 Enoch (chaps. 37-71 of the standard editions) is a prime example.  And given the enormous scholarly attention directed to this material, especially among NT scholars, Stuckenbruck’s cautionary words should be noted.  In other portions of 1 Enoch where we can make comparisons with the Aramaic or Greek fragments, we can see “how far removed from the important Aramaic Dead Sea evidence any edition starting with the Ge‘ez version as a point of departure may be, and it is up to textual work and to processes of interpretation to determine the plausibility of anchoring this or that text within a Second Temple context.”

Still more starkly, Stuckenbruck warns, “although descended from a Second Temple Period tradition, the Ethiopic version of Enoch is not in itself a Second Temple Period text” (emphasis his).  We should not disregard 1 Enoch, but we should bear in mind that, “the extant Ethiopic version, more or less better than existing Greek evidence, at best approximates what existed during the Second Temple Period, probably being nearly identical in some places, subtly changed in others, and wildly divergent elsewhere.”  So, “much higher levels of caution be exercised in its application to the world of Antiquity.”

Stuckenbruck’s paper will be published in the Proceedings of the IOSOT meeting in Aberdeen in due course.

Lozano’s Study of “Proskyneo” (“worship”)

I give here a heads-up on a forthcoming book arising from the PhD thesis of one of my students:  Ray Lozano, The Proskynesis of Jesus in the New Testament:  A Study of the Significance of Jesus as an Object of “Proskyneo” in the New Testament Writings (London:  Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2019).  The online catalogue entry is here.  There is an interview with Lozano about the book here.  The book is due to be released on 17 October.

The only previous full-scale study of the Greek term, proskyneo, is now several decades old: Johannes Horst, Proskynein: Zur Anbetung im Urchristentum nach ihrer religionsgeschichtlichen Eigenart, Neutestamentliche Forschungen, 3/2 (Gütersloh: C. Bertelsmann Verlag, 1932).  Scholars have often commented on the term, especially in recent years in discussions about the emergence of “high christology” and the treatment of Jesus as worthy object of worship.  But Lozano’s study is the first full-scale study since Horst, and he goes at the subject in a distinctive and more sophisticated manner.

Lozano’s interview will give a sense of his analysis.  I think it makes a noteworthy contribution to our grasp of how earliest Christian texts treat the reverence of Jesus.  For example, the flexibility of the term allowed authors such as Matthew to deploy the term in describing the obeisance of individuals in the time of Jesus’ ministry, while also alluding to the more robust reverence of the risen Jesus in the circles of Jesus-believers for whom he wrote.

“Humane” Values and Christianity

I’m deep into Tom Holland’s latest book in which he argues at length that values that for many in the West are simply those of any humane, civilized person in fact are shaped heavily by the influence of Christianity:  Dominion:  The Making of the Western Mind (London:  Little & Brown, 2019).  Holland gave the gist of his claim in an op-ed piece in the Spectator in April:  here.

I look forward to finishing the tome (of some 525 pp), but already at nearly the half-way point the line of his argument is fairly clear.  In the sort of developed pictures of various individuals and periods that is Holland’s trademark style, he shows that the values touted by most Westerners (especially intellectuals) have never been universal or intrinsic to societies.  In fact, values such as respect for all individuals regardless of their social standing, wealth, physical or mental health, sex or age are, in the sweep of history, rather odd, and comparatively recent.  They emerged and have developed largely over the past millennia, and in those societies/nations in which Christianity was a prominent cultural force.

One can quibble with various specifics of his discussion.  I for one am not satisfied with his characterization of the Apostle Paul (who in my view remained firmly a part of his ancestral people, and didn’t seek to abolish Torah-observance by fellow Jewish believers in Jesus, so long as it didn’t stand in the way of accepting non-Jews as full spiritual siblings).  And the book will annoy those who assume that their “human” values are simply what any educated person would affirm down the ages.  But it’s not that easily dismissed in my view.

Jesus and Authenticity Criteria

Especially since the 18th century, scholars have devoted much attention to separating out what they thought was “authentic” material about Jesus from subsequent interpretations that derived from circles of early Christians.  Particularly in the 20th century, this effort grew to a crescendo in the various putative criteria devised to identify “authentic” material.  The prolonged efforts of the Jesus Seminar are probably the largest organized project to apply this approach.

But for several decades other scholars have raised penetrating questions about these criteria.  A multi-author volume published several years ago now gathered up critiques of the use of these criteria:  Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, eds., Jesus, Criteria, and the Demise of Authenticity (London: T&T Clark, 2012).  I emphasize that the critiques were directed against the assumptions that underlie these criteria, and their limitations for historical Jesus investigation.  The authors weren’t rubishing the historical Jesus enterprise itself.

That’s important to note, for a newly-published multi-author volume could give readers the impression that the Keith/Le Donne volume represents a “skepticism” about historical knowledge of Jesus altogether:  Darrell L. Bock and J. Ed Komoszewski, eds., Jesus, Skepticism and the Problem of History:  Criteria and Context in the Study of Christian Origins (Grand Rapids:  Zondervan, 2019).  I was asked to give a response to the essays in this volume, and my response is included, pp. 341-50.

I found some of the essays more cogent and on target than others, but I didn’t have space to offer comments on them individually.  So, instead, I chose to make some broad points to bear in mind.  In particular, I emphasize that the Keith/Le Donne volume doesn’t reject the historical Jesus project, but redirects it.  The older criteria-based efforts that they criticize rested on the premise that the Gospels include some pretty well unaltered “authentic” material about Jesus, along with later and interpreted material stemming from early churches.  The task, on this premise, was to devise criteria to identify the unaltered material.

The authors in the Keith/Le Donne volume, however, point out cogently that the Gospels were wholly written to serve the needs of the early believers for whom they were composed, and so all the material is “interpreted”, at least in the sense that it is presented to inspire, shape, and inform believers.  To be sure, the Gospels do reflect a desire to emphasize that the exalted Lord of believers is the Jewish prophet and Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth.  And their narratives are thick with historical context, relating Jewish disputes about Torah-observance, Galilean/Judean geography, housing construction, Jewish dress, Jewish religious parties, and still more topics.  But this historical context is related, not for antiquarian purposes, but to inform the intended readers about who this Jesus of Nazareth is.

Another point that I made in my response is that the older criteria approach tended to focus heavily on the sayings material, to the neglect of the events related.  One of the strong points in the study by E.P. Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, was his emphasis that the narrative of events is also important.  As the great Nils Dahl emphasized, any picture of the historical Jesus must give due attention to the fact that he was crucified as a result of collusion by the Jerusalem temple authorities and the Roman governor. A gentle, humane Jesus, whose greatest offence was a few wise-cracks just doesn’t fit with what happened to him.

We should also take due note of the emphasis in all four Gospels that Jesus was historically connected to John the Baptizer.  Indeed, the rather consistent view of John ascribed to Jesus is one of admiration and affirmation.  Jesus is presented as, in the eyes of some at least, as the successor to John, even though there are also differences in emphasis between John and Jesus.  Certainly, Jesus’ repeated affirmation of John as a true prophet means that in a sense Jesus’ ministry has to be seen as aligned with John’s.

Readers of both volumes will have to judge for themselves, and will have in these two books much food for thought.  I judge that in the end the two volumes aren’t at loggerheads.  Both groups of authors believe that we can make historical judgments about Jesus of Nazareth, and form at least a broad impression of his message and activities.  The “skepticism” about the historical Jesus objected to in the Bock/Komoszewski volume isn’t applicable to the Keith/Le Donne volume, even if the two books approach the task somewhat differently.

A Word of Acknowledgement and Thanks

Especially in the first couple of weeks after my diagnosis of the relapse/return of my leukemia, there were scores of kind and encouraging comments sent via this blog site.  As they were nearly all of a highly personal nature, I didn’t think it proper to publish them.  But I read each one with appreciation and gratitude, but I had neither the energy nor the time to respond to each one.  So I take this opportunity (of a strangely renewed period of energy) to express my thanks collectively to all who sent those comments to me.  It meant a great deal, I assure you all.

The Tragic Case of Ernst Lohmeyer

One of the books I’ve read during outpatient visits to the hospital over the last few weeks is a newly published book on Ernst Lohmeyer, a celebrated NT scholar who will be known to anyone in the field.  Among his numerous publications is his little monograph, Kyrios Jesus:  Eine Untersuchung zu Phil. 2, 5-11 (Heidelberg:  Carl Winters, 1928), in which he pioneered an analysis of the passage that treated it as having hymnic qualities.

The new book in question:  James R. Edwards, Between the Swastika and the Sickle:  The Life, Disappearance, and Execution of Ernst Lohmeyer (Eerdmans, 2019).   Lohmeyer opposed the Nazis, defended Jewish colleagues (especially during his time in the University of Breslau), was a member of the Confessing Church (who opposed the “German Christians” allied with the Nazis), and all the while produced some important scholarly publications.

The Nazi sympathizing leadership in Breslau gave him a disciplinary transfer to a post in the University of Greifswald.  There, he continued to produce scholarly work, and continued also to dissent from the Nazis.  He also was called up for army service, and was a unit commander on the Eastern front, where he behaved with commendable humanity in an inhuman situation.

After a time he was allowed to return to Greifswald and his academic duties.  When the war ended, Greifswald lay in the area of Soviet control.  The local Soviet leaders demanded that anyone who had been a member of the Nazi party should be dismissed from the university.  But Lohmeyer insisted that the policy agreed by the Allied powers should be observed, that only those who had actively engaged in Nazi policies should be dismissed.  This brought him the ire of the local authorities, and led to his fateful outcome.

In 1946 he was elected President of the University of Greifswald.  But on the night before his installation ceremony (March 1946) he was arrested by the Soviet NKVD, taken into custody (with no contact allowed with his wife or others), and then in September was executed.  No official word of what had happened to him emerged, however, and it was only after the collapse of the East German regime in 1989 that access was obtained to the relevant records.

Edwards tells a readable account of Lohmeyer and the circumstances of his life and tragic end.  He enlivens the account by relating his own personal interest in the matter and his efforts to research it.

Jesus-Devotion and Historical Questions

A reader of my previous posting raised several questions and made several assertions (some of them unfounded) that lead me to offer a few comments about the historical issues pertaining to the origins of Jesus-devotion and correct historical method in addressing them.

The first thing is to grasp clearly the questions that I address.  When, where, and in what form did devotion to Jesus emerge, and what forces and factors might have prompted and shaped it?  In particular, we’re exploring the emergence of what Wilhelm Bousset referred to as “the Kyrios cult”, i.e., the treatment of Jesus as in some way sharing in divine glory and reverence.  These are the questions, not whether there may have been some isolated group that didn’t revere Jesus in this manner.

Second, in doing historical work an important principle is chronology.  As to the questions before us, the earliest assured evidence is found in the seven letters of the Apostle Paul that are almost universally regarded as genuinely written by him (1 Thessalonians, Galatians, 1 Corinthians, 2 Corinthians, Romans, Philippians, Philemon).  These are commonly dated ca. 50-60 AD, which means we have reflections of early Christian beliefs and practices from within approximately 18-20 yrs after Jesus’ execution.

But it gets better.  These letters scarcely devote much space to teaching christological beliefs and devotional practices; instead they presuppose them.  Which means that these beliefs and practices emerged and had become traditional well before these letters.  Moreover, Paul’s efforts are evident to align his mission and churches with the Jerusalem church and Aramaic-speaking circles of Jesus-believers.  As, e.g., in 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, Paul expressly says that the Jerusalem figures and he taught basically the same message.  Paul’s collection for Jerusalem also shows how he strove to link his diaspora/gentile churches with Jesus-believers in the Jewish homeland.

There were conflicts, to be sure, especially with those whom Paul referred to as “the circumcision lot”, sometimes referred to today as “Judaizers”.  But if you examine references to these conflicts you’ll quickly see that the issue wasn’t christological beliefs, but, instead, the terms on which gentiles could be accepted as full co-religionists.  Those who opposed Paul insisted that they had to make a full proselyte conversion to the Jewish people, which for males involved circumcision, for, after all, Messiah came to redeem Israel.  Paul, however, held that OT prophecies of gentile peoples coming to the God of Israel were being fulfilled in his mission.  It was essential that they come as gentiles, not as proselytes.  That was the issue, not what to make of Jesus.

Further, Paul’s violent (in his own words) opposition to the young Jesus-movement (which has to be dated within the first few years or even months after Jesus’ execution) means that something serious prompted his actions.  Likely something that he felt endangered the religious integrity of his people.  He portrays the experience that changed him from persecutor to promoter of the Jesus-movement as a “revelation of his[God’s] son” (Gal. 1:15-16).  That is, the content of the experience was a radically revised view of Jesus, and as Paul thereafter joined the Jesus-movement the most likely conclusion is that he came to accept a view of Jesus that he had previously opposed and found unacceptable.  It wasn’t Paul who invented a glorified Jesus; it was his predecessors among the Jewish believers whom he had previously regarded as promoting a dangerous set of beliefs.

Were there other circles of Jesus-followers who didn’t share these beliefs?  If so, we have no evidence of them.  And Paul wasn’t reluctant to indicate or engage issues of difference with others!  So, it’s conspicuous that there is no mention of differences over christological issues.  Without evidence of major christological differences, or of circles that didn’t regard Jesus as glorified and sharing in divine honor, to posit such circles is an exercise in fantasy.  Not good historical practice.  To be sure, there are later references to “Ebionites” who may or may not be actual groups by that name.  But these groups can’t be placed early or function as rival versions of earliest believers, nor is it clear that they denied the glorified status of Jesus.[1]

Oh yes, the Gospels, especially the Synoptics, present us with a Jesus of Nazareth who doesn’t make divine claims and who is treated by people variously as prophet, Messiah, charlatan, or false teacher.  That’s what biographical accounts are supposed to do–give an account of the actual activities of the subject.  And the Gospels can’t be taken as full-blown accounts of the christological beliefs of their authors.  They aren’t that kind of theological treatises.

Moreover, the Gospels are commonly dated ca. 70-100 AD, or somewhere between forty and seventy years after Jesus’ crucifixion, which means forty to sixty years into the Jesus-movement.  Careful analysis shows that the authors presuppose a developed Jesus-devotion, and aim to present the historical roots in the figure of Jesus.  But, as with all the early evidence, the authors regard God’s actions in raising Jesus from death and installing him as Lord and regnant Son as the point at which Jesus receives divine honors and is then to be reverenced accordingly.  So, for example, it is the risen/glorified Jesus in Matthew 28:16-20 who is worshipped (v. 17) and who claims to have been given “all authority in heaven and on earth” (v. 18).

As for the Gospel of John, it doesn’t really offer a much higher christological stance, but, instead, in comparison with the other Gospels presents an account of Jesus more explicitly colored retrospectively by the beliefs of the “post-Easter” believers.  The author accounts for this in the so-called “Paraclete discourse” in chapters 14-16.  (See my essay, “Remembrance and Revelation” here.)

In sum, the evidence indicates that the conviction that God had glorified Jesus and given him divine honor and status erupted first among Jewish believers in Judea.  Contra Bousset, it was not in diaspora settings, but in these Judean churches.  For discussion of the forces and factors that shaped this Jesus-devotion, see my book Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity, pp. 27-78.

[1] See, e.g., the judicious analysis by Oskar Skarsaune, “The Ebionites,” in Jewish Believers in Jesus:  The Early Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaue and Reidar Hvalvik (Peabody, MA:  Hendrickson, 2007), 419-62.

The Origins of Devotion to Jesus in its Ancient Context

(Several months ago, I was asked to write a contribution to a multi-author work on Jesus to be published in French, my contribution to deal with the origins of Jesus-devotion.  I was given a word-limit, and so had to be brief.  The result is something of a capsulized treatment of the matter.  I post below the English version, which will be translated for the French publication.  As will be clear from this posting, I’m still around and actually feeling better than expected, at least for now.)

Reverencing Jesus in prayers, hymns, and other devotional actions may be so familiar a part of Christian life and worship that we may not realize how much it was an innovation in the historical setting in which it first appeared.  To be sure, in the larger Roman religious environment of the early first century A.D. there were many deities and divinized human figures, all of whom received worship of various types in the general populace.  But the Jesus-movement (which became “Christianity”) emerged in the more specific setting of ancient Jewish tradition, in which the exclusivity of the one biblical deity was of paramount concern.  In Jewish practice, public worship, including especially sacrifice, was to be restricted solely to the God of Israel, and it was considered idolatry to worship any other figure.  The many gods and deified heroes of the larger Roman world were regarded in Jewish tradition as false and blasphemous.  In this context, the inclusion of Jesus in the worship practices of the early circles of the Jesus-movement was a remarkable and, indeed, unique development.

This gave earliest Christian devotion a distinctive “dyadic” shape, with God and Jesus both featuring centrally in beliefs and worship.  Over against the polytheistic pattern of the larger pagan world, early Christian teaching advocated an exclusivity, with solely one God, and this same exclusivity applied to the one Lord Jesus.  In the context of ancient Jewish tradition, the duality in early Christian beliefs and devotional practice was also distinctive.  The duality did not comprise a di-theism of two deities, however.  Instead, Jesus was reverenced in his relationship to God “the Father,” as the unique Son of God, the Image of God, and Word of God, who had been exalted by God to be Lord of all creation.

It is also important to note that this development happened quite early and quickly, and was more like a volcanic explosion than an incremental process.  Already, in the earliest Christian texts, the undisputed letters of the Apostle Paul, we see reflected a body of christological claims and beliefs, and a pattern of devotional practices that are more taken for granted than explained.  This indicates that by the time of these letters (from ca. 50 A.D. and thereafter) all these phenomena were familiar features of the religious life of circles of the Jesus-movement, both in the various diaspora cities where Paul founded his congregations and also in the Jewish homeland.  So, for example, in these letters Paul refers to Jesus as God’s unique “Son,” indicating a distinctively close relationship of Jesus with God (e.g., Galatians 2:20; Romans 1:4, 9; 8:32.  He also still more frequently refers to Jesus as “Christ” (= Messiah), indicating Jesus’ role and status as the agent of divine redemption (among many examples, Romans 1:1, 8, 21.  Moreover, some two-hundred times Paul refers to Jesus as “the Lord” (Greek:  Kyrios) who has been exalted to supremacy over all things by God (e.g., Philippians 2:9-11).  In these texts, for believers in particular, the exalted Jesus is their Lord to whom they owe obedience and reverence.

Moreover, Paul’s letters also reflect the understanding of Jesus’ crucifixion as part of the divine plan of redemption, and foretold in the Old Testament scriptures (e.g. Romans 3:21-26; 4:24-25; 1 Corinthians 15:1-7).  Already by the time of these Pauline letters, believers had been searching their scriptures and discovering foreshadowings of Jesus in them.  As well, Paul’s letters show the belief that Jesus had been designated from before creation, and, indeed, had been “pre-existent” and was the agent through whom all things were created (e.g., 1 Corinthians 8:4-6).

In addition to these titles and christological claims, Paul’s letters also reflect a developed devotional practice in which Jesus was integral and central.  This included, for example, the invocation and ritual confession of Jesus in early Christian circles.  We see this reflected in Paul’s reference to the confession “Jesus is Lord” and to the ritual invocation of Jesus:  “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).  In this statement we have a biblical expression (“call upon the name of the Lord”) that originally referred to the invocation and worship of God, adapted here to designate the invocation of Jesus (e.g., Genesis 13:4; 21:33; Psalm 116:4, 13).  Indeed, Paul refers to believers simply as “all those in every location who call on the name of our Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 1:2), and this ritual acclamation of Jesus as Lord is also reflected in 1 Corinthians 12:3.  Note also Acts 2:21.  Moreover, Paul also refers to this invocation or acclamation of Jesus in an Aramaic expression in the concluding lines of his letter to the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 16:22).  The expression used here, “Marana tha,” (“Our Lord, come!”), reflects the ritual appeal to the risen Jesus as “Lord” in circles of Aramaic-speaking Jewish believers as well as his own Greek-speaking churches.  Paul does not translate the Aramaic expression here, probably because he had conveyed it to the Corinthians earlier in his time with them.  Similarly, in other texts Paul refers to the practice of addressing God prayerfully in the Aramaic expression “Abba” (“Father,” Galatians 4:6; Romans 8:15).  Paul apparently used these two Aramaic expressions and practices, one addressing God as “Father” and one addressing Jesus as “Our Lord,” to give verbal links between his Greek-speaking converts and the devotional practices of their Aramaic-speaking brothers and sisters.

To cite other devotional practices, the early Christian initiation rite, baptism, was from the first distinguished from other water rituals such as the baptism of John the Baptizer by being done “in Jesus’ name” (e.g., Acts 2:38; 8:16; 10:48; 19:5).  This likely meant that those who were baptized called upon Jesus by name as part of the ritual, and were thereby marked as belonging to him.  Unlike many other water rituals, early Christian baptism was a one-time rite of initiation into Christian fellowship, which was identified specifically with reference to Jesus.

Early Christian circles also typically had a shared meal as part of their gatherings.  In a text where Paul addresses some problems about this meal in the Corinthian congregation, he refers to it as “the Lord’s supper,” and connects it specifically with Jesus’ redemptive death and his future return (1 Corinthians 11:17-34, especially v. 20).  He also likens this corporate meal that honors Jesus to the sacrificial meals in honor of pagan deities, the cup and bread of the Christian meal comprising a sharing (koinōnia) in the blood and body of Christ.  As a further indication of the strong liturgical meaning of the Christian meal, he demands an exclusivity of believers, who are to desist from all such pagan rites and participate only in “the table of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 10:14-22).

In other early Christian texts, we have references to ritual healings and exorcisms done “in the name of Jesus,” which likely means that they too involved calling upon the risen Jesus to effect these deeds (e.g., Acts 3:6; 16:18).  As noted already, the Gospels portray Jesus as himself a healer and exorcist, and the early Christian healing and in one sense exorcism practices are a continuation of his ministry.  But, whereas the Gospels accounts have Jesus healing and exorcising without invoking any other name or power, the early Christian practice of invoking Jesus by name means that his name and power were regarded as the power by which they were able to perform these acts.

As further reflection of the high and central place of Jesus in the early Christian circles, notice the dyadic formula of greeting in Paul’s letters, “grace and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 1:7; 1 Corinthians 1:3; 2 Corinthians 1:2).  Similarly, he refers to “the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1).  These formulae link God and Jesus uniquely as the sources of grace and the basis of the churches.  Paul’s letters also typically conclude with a benediction from Christ, as in 1 Thessalonians:  “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you” (1 Thessalonians 5:28, with slight variations also in Philippians 4:23; Galatians 6:18; 1 Corinthians 16:23; Romans 16:20, and there is also the triadic benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:10).  These expressions at the beginning and ending of his letters are now commonly thought to be Paul’s use of phrases that originated in group worship settings, and Paul appears to have used them to fit his letters for reading in the churches to which the letters were sent.  On this basis, these expressions also give us glimpses of how Jesus was included with God in liturgical practices of greeting and blessing in early Christian circles.

Indeed, Paul’s letters also reflect the practice of including Jesus in prayer-appeals as co-recipient with God, as in 1 Thessalonians, “Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you.”  And Paul continues with a prayer-wish that “the Lord” (Jesus) may cause the Thessalonian believers to increase in love and be strengthened in holiness (1 Thessalonians 3:11-13).  In another letter, Paul refers to his own repeated prayer-appeals directly to Jesus to remove an affliction (2 Corinthians 12:8).  In still another context, where he directs the Corinthian church to discipline an erring believer, Paul refers to pronouncing judgment “in the name of the Lord Jesus,” and to acting “with the power of our Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).  This apparently involved a ritual expulsion of the offender from the church, but the point here is that the authority and power of the ritual is ascribed to the risen Jesus.

In all of these beliefs and devotional practices (and still others) the risen and exalted Jesus is central, and is joined with God as unique focus of faith and co-recipient of reverence.  Note, for example, how Acts refers to the church in Antioch “worshipping the Lord” (Jesus), who is then depicted as speaking through Christian prophets, directing that Paul and Barnabas should be commissioned for the ensuing mission-travels related in the ensuing chapters (Acts 13:2-3).  In a vision-scene, the book of Revelation portrays heavenly worship of God (“he who sits on the throne”) and the risen Jesus (“the lamb”) jointly, which likely reflects the sort of dyadic worship pattern long familiar to the author (Revelation 5:9-14).  To underscore the chronological point here, this body of beliefs and practices clearly emerged and became familiar features of circles of believers within the scarcely two decades between Jesus’ crucifixion and the earliest of Paul’s letters.

Indeed, we should probably judge that this remarkable development emerged within the very earliest years, perhaps more accurately within the earliest months, after Jesus’ death, ca. 30 A.D.  For prior to the experience that produced his profound religious re-orientation, Paul (then a zealous Pharisee) was a determined opponent of the young Jesus-movement seeking, in his own words, to “destroy” it (Galatians 1:13-16; Philippians 3:4-6).  Paul refers to the “Damascus road” experience that produced his remarkable change in his religious stance as a “revelation” of Jesus as rightfully God’s unique Son (Galatians 1:16).  This suggests that the core content of the experience was a radical revision of his view of Jesus in particular, whom Paul may initially have regarded as a false teacher and perhaps even as accursed by God.  Now Paul’s revelatory experience is commonly dated within one to two years after Jesus’ crucifixion.  So, already at that point, in the earliest years after Jesus’ crucifixion, this young Pharisee, who professes to have been exceptionally zealous for his ancestral tradition, found the young Jesus-movement sufficiently offensive to generate his outrage and his efforts to oppose it strenuously.

As to what may have generated his outrage, it is a reasonable proposal that the sort of strong claims about Jesus and the devotional practices that are reflected in his letters were at least one factor.  That is, initially he likely found these christological claims and practices to be blasphemous infringements on the exclusivity of the one God that all Jews were expected to maintain, but his revelatory experience led him to embrace the very stance that he had opposed.  In his sense of being specifically called to conduct an evangelical mission to gentiles, Paul seems to have felt a distinctive role.  But in the core christological beliefs and devotional practices reflected in his letters, Paul was neither distinctive nor creative.  Instead, he reflects beliefs and devotional practices that he accepted as part of his religious re-orientation from opponent to proponent of the gospel message.

One of the factors that generated this remarkable devotion to Jesus in earliest Christian circles was, of course, the impact of the historical figure, Jesus of Nazareth.  During his own lifetime he generated and became the leader of a movement that was identified specifically with him.  Jesus was regarded by his immediate followers and more widely as an authoritative teacher, a healer exercising miraculous power, a prophet sent from God, and perhaps God’s Messiah.  But he also generated opposition.  With the collusion of the Jerusalem temple authorities, Jesus was executed under the authority of the Roman governor.  This appears to reflect the judgement that he claimed to be, or at least was acclaimed by his followers as, the Messiah-king, which amounted to sedition against Roman rule.  On the other hand, his followers especially, but also others such as those who sought his favour in healing, revered him, as reflected in the many Gospels scenes where supplicants approach him.  But there is no indication that this reverence included the sort of devotional practices that we see reflected in Paul’s letters.  In short, although Jesus became the polarizing issue for followers and opponents already during his earthly activity, and was even held to be Messiah by at least some of his followers, he was not given the remarkably high level of reverence that appears to have erupted quickly and early after his crucifixion.

So, additional factors and forces must have played a role in generating what was an unprecedented “mutation” in Jewish devotional practice.  Indeed, it is likely that self-identifying Jews could have given Jesus the sort of devotion that we have noted only if they believed that God demanded it.  The conviction that God had exalted Jesus to a supreme status and now required him to be reverenced accordingly is reflected in texts such as a passage in Paul’s letter to the Philippians, which declares, “God highly exalted him [Jesus] and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).  Similarly, the Gospel of John makes the claim that God requires “that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father,” and that “anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him” (John 5:23).  So, how could early believers have come to this remarkable conviction?

At the earliest stage, we should probably posit powerful experiences as a factor.  These likely included visions of the risen and exalted Jesus, perhaps prophetic oracles declaring his exaltation, and also a fervent searching of scriptures to find the meaning and validation of their experiences.  As noted already, Paul certainly claimed that his own affirmation of Jesus’ high status was generated in an experience that he took to be a divine revelation.  The early encounters with the resurrected Jesus such as those recounted by Paul to the Corinthians likely conveyed more than simply the joy that he had been made alive again (1 Corinthians 15:1-8).  Those who had these experiences seem to have been convinced that Jesus’ resurrection also included his installation as Lord over all things.  This seems reflected, for example, in Paul’s linkage of Jesus’ resurrection and his supreme rule in a passage in 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 15:20-28).

But the exaltation of Jesus to such a lofty status did not involve any diminution of the primacy of God.  In fact, practically every christological claim in the New Testament texts is at the same time a theo-logical statement.  It is, for example, God who raised Jesus and installed him as supreme Lord.  Jesus did not displace God in the beliefs and devotional practices of early believers.  Instead, as noted already, their beliefs and practices formed a dyadic pattern involving both the one God and the one Lord, and their reverence of Jesus was understood as obedience to God, and to the glory of God.

For further reading:

Larry W. Hurtado, Lord Jesus Christ:  Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Grand Rapids/Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2003).  French edition:  Le Seigneur Jésus Christ: La devotion envers Jésus aux premiers temps du christianisme.  Paris:  Éditions du Cerf, 2009.

Larry W. Hurtado, God in New Testament Theology (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2010). French edition:  <<Dieu>> dans la théologie du Nouveau Testament.  Lectio Divina.  Paris:  Éditions du Cerf, 2011.

Health Issues and Blogging

The leukemia (AML) for which I was treated here last summer has reactivated, after some 9 months of remission.  The further treatment options are quite limited, and may only be palliative care of various sorts.  In any case, I am now fully occupied with exploring various arrangements for the situation and aftermath of my death on my wife and others.  So, I shall have no time for blogging or my scholarly work.  Signing off unless further notice.  I hope that the archives on the site will continue to prove useful to interested readers.

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