Monday, December 12, 2016

Making Jesus Into God: Four Reviews (Part 1)

AP: Back in 2013 I wrote a review article for Revista de Libros (RdL). The title is "La divinización de Jesús" or, in English, "The Divinization of Jesus." This is obviously a very important issue in the field of New Testament studies. For the article, I included the following four books, all but one published within the last five years:
1. William Horbury's Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ (London: SCM, 1998)
2. Larry W. Hurtado's ¿Cómo llegó Jesús a ser Dios? Cuestiones históricas sobre la primitiva devoción a Jesús (Salamanca: Sígueme, 2013)
3. James D. G. Dunn's ¿Dieron culto a Jesús los primeros cristianos? Los testimonios del Nuevo Testamento (Estella: Verbo Divino, 2011)
4. Daniel Boyarin's Espacios fronterizos. Judaísmo y cristianismo en la Antigüedad tardía (Madrid: Trotta, 2013).
These books offer answers to one of the most important important questions posed in the field of New Testament studies: How in the world was it possible for a man, the "rabbi" Jesus of Nazareth, to be made into a God by his followers very shortly after his death? This took place in history and, as a result, means we have to study it from the perspective of historian. In other words, we need evidence and we need a method to analyze this scientifically. And we ought to ask whether this making a person into a divine being was unique and unparalleled in history. What follows is a review of these important books on the subject at hand. It is taken from the original on the RdL page, which is in Spanish. If you'd like to see it, you can do so by clicking here.

We first turn our attention to William Horbury's Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ. Unfortunately, this book is the only one of the four chosen for this series that has not been translated into Spanish. Really, it ought to be translated. The author, William Horbury, is Professor of Judaism and Primitive Christianity at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge. The book offers a new approach to two central themes for the Christian creed. The first is the importance of messianism in Second Temple Judaism (from the reconstruction of the sanctuary of Solomon in the 5th century BC to its destruction in AD 70 after the Great Jewish Revolt initiated in AD 66). Unfortunately, it is less recognized by researchers than it should be. The second, the origin of the cult of Christ, is a clear example of the Hellenization of Christianity for many scholars, but whose roots, according to Horbury, must be sought in Judaism.

The book begins with an excellent introduction to "messianism" in the Old Testament. This is absolutely necessary, since we find only an indirect messianism. As Florentino García Martínez (editor and translator of the manuscripts of the Dead Sea [published by Trotta]) rightly affirms, of the thirty-nine times that the word "messiah" appears in them, none of them mean in those contexts what we mean by that word today. But in the Old Testament texts are found the conceptual roots that would later become the title "Messiah." The blessings of Jacob (Gen. 49:10), the oracle of Balaam (Num. 24:17), the prophecy of Nathan (2 Samuel 7), and the royal psalms (such as Psalm 2 and Psalm 110) will be developed by Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as they awaited a future messianic heir to the Davidic throne. The promises concerning the restoration of a priesthood in Jer. 33:14–26 and Zechariah 3 are the origin of a belief in a priestly messiah. Likewise, the mysterious figure of Yahweh's servant from Isaiah 40–55 will result in the development of the hope of a "suffering messiah." And the announcement of Mal. 3:1 that God is going to send his "angel"as a messenger to prepare for his coming will allow the development of the belief of an eschatological mediator of non-terrestrial origin.

Horbury accurately describes the messianic prototypes: Moses, David, the Son of Man of Daniel, the Suffering Servant, special angels like Michael, Old Testament figures that will influence Christian messianic ideas, etc. and he exposes how in the Second Temple period Messianism becomes common currency among the hopes of the Jewish people. The fact that the Hebrew Bible was translated into Greek (called the Septuagint) in the Diaspora––from 270 BC. onwards––contributed remarkably to the consolidation of messianism, since all of it became a sort of messianic argument for the task of editing: certain transformations of the Hebrew base text voluntarily made it from one language to the other. Horbury rightly insists on this point. Messianism in the corpus of the Old Testament Apocrypha, almost all of it prior to Christianity, and equally in the writings of Qumran, also provides the basis for affirming the centrality and importance of the pre-Christian Messianic hopes.

Interesting, isn't it? We will pick up with this tomorrow. See you then.

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