Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado - Part 2: Introduction

I am now going to more systematically post on the book Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity. 

Why Part 2? This is not actually the first response - I posted an insight inspired from my initial "unwrapping" of this wonderful gift a few posts back, where I had hit on an absolute nugget, around the idea of unsuccessful mutations. Please check that out - it is going to be key for what I end up proposing as a theory for the development of the late fourth-century doctrine of the Triune God, and I will certainly be referring back to that idea sparked by Hurtado.

That's a great queue for what I would like to say for the book as a whole: it's sparky. As I read through it with my usual critical approach I am finding whole new areas relevant to the development of the church and its theological, christological and pneumatological categories rise up and take up three-dimensional space in my mind. Read with a mind already initiated to some historical factors behind the rise of Christianity, and you cannot help but find yourself interacting with Hurtado's perspectives - probably endorsing many, questioning some others and perhaps disagreeing with a few too. Before I read it (and I'm not done yet), I didn't really have much of a view about "the Son of Man", or the "Q Source" (theoretical document used to explain the material common to Matthew and Luke but absent from Mark), or Jesus-worship in Pauline churches and Jesus-worship in Johannine churches, or the Greco-Roman bios writing genre adopted and adapted by the canonical gospel writers, or how radical it would have been for monotheistic Jews to give cultic devotion to Jesus alongside God and what could have enabled that, and on and on. But that's the point of thinking. Once you do think about something, you are changed by that thought (this could even be true of the thorny issue of slavery in the Bible - once the church did think about slavery, it was forced to have an opinion about it)

So this really is such a great book in the way it draws you in, but on so many other levels as well; overall, I think it's the combination here that I feel I so particularly stimulating: the way in which the ideas and first century data draws you into having your own critical viewpoint, the careful review of the scholarly work already done in the field Hurtado is covering, non-simplistic (interactive) coverage of the time periods examined and smooth integration of the ancient and modern sources. It's academic in style, but not at all inaccessible to lay readers like me (and maybe readers of this blog) and very clear. In fact, it is this clarity of presentation, I think, that also fuels the analyses and ideas being sparked off in the reader's mind. In reading it, you should still find some extra mental resources available for questioning, comparing, developing etc., instead of scratching your head and searching in vain for a sentence from where you think you can jump back on the train of thought. It's never like that.

Before I go, a couple of words of reminder about why I am covering this book and how I will cover this book. I initially wanted to hold off until I had read the whole thing - but it is Hurtado's life work, weighing in at over 700 pages. Despite its extremely accessible style and structure, the sheer size of the "package" got to a critical mass when I reached chapter 4, at which point I realised I was going to have to do some critical summaries to consolidate my learning as I went along. Now, this book is fascinating enough in its own right. But I'm not just reading it because I am so interested in first century Christianity, or even first-to-fourth century Christian developments, but because I am researching for the second part of my book/manuscript, the working title of which is Mutated Faith & the Triune Hub. That gives me a purpose as I read, I am zooming in on this critical read on any material that helps account for Trinity development really. Since this book is so committed to "binitarian" (two) worship practice, I am predisposed to require Hurtado to more fully account for the Holy Spirit in his model. Sometimes the Spirit seems accounted for, sometimes less so. You can look out also for a request by me to more carefully distinguish the Pauline from the Johannine worship practices, in which Hurtado certainly makes an impressive start and even provides most of the material needed without fuelling stating the conclusions I would see them serving.

All in all, the thesis of this book is a huge asset to the idea of a refashioned, reshaped, mutated Jewish-Christian hub. I had initially hoped to compress my findings into a single chapter, but from what I'm seeing so far that is going to be a hard ask! Anyway, these posts shall hopefully provide the groundwork for that/those chapter(s).

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