Friday, October 12, 2012

Blasphemy and Cultic Devotion

I'm still reading Larry Hurtado's How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?  Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus.

In my latest reading, Hurtado argues that the claims by Jewish leaders in the synoptic Gospels that Jesus was a blasphemer reflects Jewish concerns about Jewish-Christian claims regarding Jesus.  And what were those claims?  On pages 161-162, Hurtado says that, in the Gospel of Matthew and Luke-Acts, "Jewish Christians of the first few years of the Christian movement are portrayed as practicing a religious devotion to Jesus that involves attributing to him powers and a status that are closely linked to God".  On page 168, Hurtado maintains that the Christological claims of the sort that we find in Mark 14:61-62, "accompanied by a devotional practice in which the exalted Jesus was invoked, hymned, and acclaimed in gathered cultic settings", struck certain Jews as blasphemy.  Mark 14:62 says that the Son of Man will sit on the right hand of power and come in the clouds of heaven.

While Hurtado acknowledges that Second Temple Judaism regarded various beings as principle agents of God----and thereby endowed with God's name or aspects of God's power----Hurtado maintains that what separates early Christianity from these trends was that early Christianity actually worshiped Jesus, whereas Second Temple Judaism did not worship the principle agents of God.

In my reading so far, Hurtado has not really provided a lot of evidence that there was early cultic devotion to Jesus.  Perhaps he does so in other things he has written.  As Hurtado notes, there are hymns in New Testament writings, but I wonder if those hymns reflect acts of worship towards Jesus, or are merely celebrations about Jesus?  I do not have the entire New Testament in my head right now, so I don't know.  I did a search on "Lord Jesus Christ", however, and I think it's probable that early Christianity emphasized Jesus more than Second Temple Judaism did the principle agents of God----as Paul blesses people in Jesus' name, and stresses Jesus in other ways.  But I'd like to see the evidence for early cultic devotion to Jesus fleshed out more.  Perhaps I'd have to consult other works by Hurtado for that, unless he fleshes out his evidence later in this book.

(UPDATE: On pages 198-199, Hurtado refers to his book, One God, One Lord, in which he discusses the early Christian reverence towards Jesus and how that differed from Jewish treatment of God's agents.  According to Hurtado, early Christianity had hymns sung about and to Jesus, prayers that were to Jesus himself or were in Jesus' name, the use of Jesus' name in "public cultic actions (i.e., baptisms, exorcisms, excommunication, etc.), confession of Jesus, the Lord's supper, and prophecy in the name of Jesus.  Hurtado may base this on the New Testament, for there are some places in the book I'm currently reading where he cites New Testament passages in arguing that early Christianity worshiped Jesus within a cult.)

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