Thursday, December 15, 2016

Making Jesus Into God: Four Reviews (Part 4)

For the previous parts in this series, see the following:  Part 1Part 2, and Part 3.

AP: We are still looking at Larry W. Hurtado's ¿Cómo llegó Jesús a ser Dios? Cuestiones históricas sobre la primitiva devoción a Jesús (Salamanca: Sígueme, 2013) in this post. Remember that 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. Here we go.

Hurtado praises the two purposes of Bauckham and Eskola: (1) situating the explanations of the cult of Jesus within the Jewish environment of the first century, and (2) defending the position that such veneration appeared very soon in the Christian group. But he thinks these two proposals are insufficient. He asks why we have no evidence that the Jews worshiped the Divine Wisdom, like Jesus, in personified and most exalted terms? If this is a logical and spontaneous result, then why did exalted and exalted figures in Judaism (e.g., the archangel Michael, the prophet Enoch, or Moses) not result in an similar veneration among the Jews?

Hurtado then deduces that the cult of Jesus lacked a true analogy in the Jewish world, and the ancient one in general, and that it was an unprecedented phenomenon. And if such worship is only witnessed among Christians by irrefutable texts, it is clear that the veneration of the incarnate Logos, Jesus, is a novum, a "mutation" ( a term used by Hurtado) in the history of religions, introduced by the followers of Jesus.

This may be true but, as we shall see by the thesis Boyarin that follows later, it can be qualified that, although this novum as a cult phenomenon is undeniable, the belief that sustains the existence of divine intermediaries, those that are close to the human level, was already of great importance within Hellenistic Judaism and was nothing new. I agree with Hurtado on the idea that from Paul's letters it must be deduced that this veneration to Jesus was very early; that it was alive already in the first two decades after the death of the Master; the Gentile converts were certainly few in those moments to have influenced notably; the Jews who converted to the Messiah would not be very willing to imitate a pagan process of deification. Therefore, it seems plausible to Hurtado's refusal to conceive the deification of Jesus as an evolutionary process in the style of Bousset and Casey. I also agree that it is not enough for a purely theological belief to occur between the first followers to give birth to a true cult, because in Judaism it did not happen that way.

Hurtado advances in his reasoning and test, first, thanks to the study of the Christian cultic praxis–- hymns to Christ; prayer to God through Jesus; invocation of the name of the latter; belief that the divine spirit of the Messiah was shared by the Christian prophets––that such veneration was a totally tangible phenomenon. And he adds that cultic praxis was undoubtedly linked to christological conceptions (visible in the titles conferred on Christ, from Messiah to Son of God, etc.), since they were those that contributed essentially to the "constitution" of the object of worship . And once its existence is affirmed, Hurtado then says the explanation of the genesis of such cult lies in the verification of two verifiable historical facts. First, Jesus' followers had remarkable revelatory experiences after the death of the Master, i.e., the appearances of the Risen One. He does not develop this very much, just mentions them in passing, but the reader supposes that Hurtado believes in their historical accuracy. The further implication is that the author also believes that the enthronement of the Messiah in heaven by God is a strong proof of his divine character. Second, the first Christians came to the conviction, by various celestial signs (Hurtado does not develop them in this book), that the biblical God wanted to see this cult worship directed to the Messiah.

By maintaining that Jesus was divine and, as a result, worshiping him, Hurtado argues that the early Christians crossed the path of "binitarianism," but not those of "ditheism." He clearly distinguishes between the two. Binitarianism is the belief that postulates the existence of a unique God who wishes to preserve its transcendence in relationship to the world. For that reason it relies on an agent who is "at his side" and subordinate to him. Such agent is a divine figure related to the first and distinguishable from it in importance; The first is fully God; the second participates in that divinity. According to binitarianism, Jesus is divine, but in "second order." Ditheism, on the other hand, refers to two equal gods. There is no first and second order, because both have the same characteristics, properties and powers, without distinction. According to Hurtado and many other scholars, binomial monotheism is also part of the Jewish thought of this time, because it does not break strictly with the one God who is radically demanded by the Israelite faith. Ditheism would, on the other hand, be blasphemous idolatry.

Hurtado argues, finally, that, strictly speaking, there is no deification in the proper sense: "Jesus did not become a God. Rather, they offered him a devotion that expressed the typically Christian recognition that Jesus was the exclusive emissary of God in whom the glory of God was singularly reflected and for whom God the Father demanded total adoration as for a God" (pp. 55–56, my translation from the Spanish). These expressions are typical among believing researchers. Although Hurtado does not say it, I think that he would fully accept the thesis of the Fourth Gospel: Jesus was God––always. When Jesus is born as man, by divine design (the Fourth Gospel does not enter into these precisions), in him the whole divinity is introduced, incarnated you could say. It can not be clear to me, given the brevity of the treatment, if Hurtado forces into agreement the Christology of John and Matthew 1–2 and Luke 1–2, for whom Jesus is not pre-existent (but begins to be a child of God at the moment of his conception by the mysterious work of the divine Spirit). Christian theology usually mixes the two conceptions, although they are incompatible with each other.

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