I finished Larry Hurtado's How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus.
reading this book, I still have questions. First of all, Hurtado
argues that the hymn in Philippians 2----and the fact that Paul expects
for his audience to regard it as authoritative----indicates that there
was not controversy early on in Christianity that Jesus was divine. If
early Christianity was so uniform about Jesus being divine and
pre-existent, however, why do the synoptic Gospels appear to present a
different picture, as least on the issue of Jesus' pre-existence? I
tend to agree with James Dunn that we see different views on when Jesus
became the Son of God within the Gospels----Matthew and Luke place the
time at Jesus' birth, Mark puts it at Jesus' baptism (or so some have argued), and John says that
Jesus was pre-existent.
I'm still open to the idea that even the synoptics depict Jesus as divine, though.
When Mark says that John the Baptist was preparing the way for the
Lord, he may be saying that Jesus was this Lord, for, in a sense, John
the Baptist is preparing the way for Jesus. If you buy into Markan
priority, Matthew appears to correct Mark to make Jesus look more divine
and less human, as when Jesus in Matthew 9 does not ask who touched him
after the woman with the blood-problem touches his garment and is
healed, whereas Jesus in Mark 5 does inquire that. And Jesus in the
synoptics walks on water and stills the sea, things that God in the
Hebrew Bible does. But, in my opinion, the synoptics do not
really present Jesus as pre-existent. How would Hurtado deal with what
appear to be different Christologies in the Gospels? Would he even
acknowledge that there are different Christologies?
Hurtado argues that Jewish authorities sought to kill Jewish Christians
because of the Jewish Christian belief that Jesus was divine. For
Hurtado, Jewish authorities considered that belief to be blasphemous,
the sort of sin for which the Torah prescribed the death penalty. I'm
not going to argue that there's nothing to Hurtado's case, for there may
very well be something to it. I have to admit that there is plenty in
the New Testament about Jewish authorities wanting to put Christians to
death, and part of that may have related to how Christians
conceptualized Jesus. But why were there times when Jewish authorities
did not seek to put Christians to death? Why did Jewish authorities
flog Paul as someone under their leadership, rather than putting him to
death? Shouldn't Paul get something more serious than flogging,
if he were (in the eyes of many Jews) either undermining the Torah or
encouraging the worship of another god? And why does Josephus relate
that James was highly regarded by a number of Jews (see here), if James was regarded as transgressing Jewish monotheism?
my latest reading, Hurtado argued that Jewish Christians concluded that
Jesus was divine on account of revelations that they received after
Jesus' death. Hurtado does not think that Second Temple Jewish belief
in agents of God----beings who carried God's name or had certain divine
powers----was sufficient to give rise to the Jewish Christian worship of
Jesus as divine, for agents of God were not worshiped in Second Temple
Judaism. And Hurtado does not seem to believe that Jesus' activity
during his ministry was enough to give rise to the notion that he was
divine, for, while Hurtado appears to believe that there were
indications, Jesus' divinity was not exactly explicit. Therefore, for
Hurtado, Jewish Christians had to get their idea that Jesus was divine
from elsewhere, and Hurtado contends that it was through visions.
I first read this, I rolled my eyes, for I thought that Hurtado was
making an apologetic move----that he was suggesting that the Jewish
Christians could not have gotten their controversial idea that Jesus was
divine from anything in history, and so they had to get it from God.
But that's not Hurtado's goal. Hurtado appeals to social
scientific studies to argue that visions can give rise to new ideas
(against those who maintain that visions only reinforce ideas that
people already had), and this is the case for a variety of religions.
In short, Hurtado is not privileging early Christianity. Moreover,
Hurtado acknowledges that, historically-speaking, the early Christians
could have hallucinated. But Hurtado's point is that the early Christians had some experience that convinced them of Jesus' divinity.