Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Making Jesus Into God: Four Reviews (Part 3)

AP: Part 1 of the series is available here. And you can find Part 2 here. In this post we turn our attention to Larry W. Hurtado's ¿Cómo llegó Jesús a ser Dios? Cuestiones históricas sobre la primitiva devoción a Jesús (Salamanca: Sígueme, 2013). My review was based on the Spanish translation of the original How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus.

This book by Larry Hurtado, Professor Emeritus of Language, Literature and Theology of the New Testament at the University of Edinburgh, first appeared in 2005, though it was most certainly the fruit of previous research conducted by the author for a number of years (e.g., One God, One Lord. Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism [Philadelphia: Augsberg Fortress], 1988). In 2008, a translation of his book Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity (Señor Jesucristo. La devoción a Jesús en el cristianismo primitivo) was published by Sígueme. These books have been slow to pour into Spanish out of fear that the book might have some sort of negative ramifications in light of its content, which is quite clear in the book we are looking at for this review: How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? One can deduce from the title that, from the author's perspective, Jesus was not God by nature, but that he came to be viewed as God and was deified by men.

The first chapter of Hurtado's work takes for granted the "divinization" of Jesus (we quote it because our author will affirm that this term is not a good one or correct) and briefly but surely analyzes the most important theories that account for this process. First is the famous and influential of Wilhelm Bousset, expressed in his book Kyrios Christos, published in 1933. He postulated that this step was taken by under the clear influence of pagan processes of worship of the demigods and heroes who previously lived among Christians, of Gentile origin, who inhabited the Syrian area in the mid-1st century AD. This explanation has been commonplace for decades. It has been held to and propagated by many scholars with some variations, such as, for example, delaying this process from the middle of the first century to the end of the century, the time of composition of the Gospel of John (e.g., Maurice Casey in his work From Jewish Prophet Gentile to God: The Origins and Development of New Testament Christology [Cambridge: James Clarke, 1991]). The theory of the influence of the pagan apotheosis is attractive, since it is difficult at first glance to see how the Jews, who were strictly and fanatically monotheistic, could take a similar step, even though more plausible, among people who came out of a system of polytheism.

Hurtado considers this presumption of Bousset-Casey absolutely impossible for two reasons. First, there is a chronological issue. Considering the letters of Paul––who converted to faith in Jesus as the Messiah only one or two years after the death of the Master and who was the author of the first Christian writings (from 1 Thessalonians to Romans, around AD 58)––the deduction must necessarily be made that the cult of Christ was not an evolutionary process, which would require decades, but it exploded like a volcano after the death and resurrection of Jesus. The second issue is as follows: In those early decades, almost all of Jesus' followers were Jews. The pagans who believed in a Jewish Messiah were very few; they could hardly exert influence, therefore, in the devotion to Jesus. Consequently, if those who deified Jesus were Jews, it would be better to seek the cause within the Jewish milieu, since it is highly implausible that monotheistic Jews could imitate a pagan process, in itself idolatrous, to deify the being by whom they would be wiling to give up their lives.

The second theory criticized by Hurtado is defended by William Horbury in Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ, which we have already discussed. Hurtado's criticism of Horbury is brief but harsh. Horbury defines the "cult" in a vague and useless way for the reader to think that he could induce any kind of effective worship of Jesus. Horbury ignores in all his work the Jewish commitment to distinguish between God and other beings, including heavenly ones, and detracts from the remarkable difference between the Jewish cultic praxis of the time and the type of devotion offered to Jesus in early Christianity.

The third theory of the divinization of Jesus, collected and criticized by Hurtado, is defended mainly by Richard Bauckham and Timo Eskola. Both postulate that the cause of the worship of Jesus is attributed to the theological convictions of the early followers of the Nazarene. The Christians, after firmly believing that God had raised Jesus from the dead and placed him in heaven, that is, had enthroned him, were spontaneously convinced that it was convenient to worship him. This veneration might also have another, though dubious, foundation: His followers believed that Jesus, as Messiah, had somehow participated in God's creation of the universe, and after sharing the divine throne after his resurrection, participated in its conservation and in the process towards the final consummation of its history. The authors of the Old Testament spoke of these functions as actions of the Divine Wisdom, but the Christians referred them to Christ. The equation Christ = Wisdom could also lead to worship.

We will pick up here tomorrow.

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