Monday, October 15, 2012

Completing Hurtado's How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?

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

After 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?

Second, 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?

In 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.

When 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.

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