Friday, 30 June 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado, Part 8: the line no-one ever crossed

ANGELS MUST NOT receive worship in either Jewish or Christian texts, says Hurtado, referencing Richard Bauckham's early work on this motif of refusal.

(Today we resume our "Hurtado Cruise", an interactive exchange with the text and even author - see previous post - over his magnum opus 2003 work, Lord Jesus Christ, crucial in building my own case for a first century Judeo-Christian trinity).

In our day and age, angels are seen by many folk as either a symbol for a very kind person or a legendary type of character in the same category as fairies and elves. Even within the church, there can be a sense of mystical or even magical allusion in talking about modern day experiences of them, which is removed from the context in which belief in these agents of God arose. The point is that the belief of such figures was also highly developed by the time that Christianity first flourished into the ready-made Roman empire-located network of synagogues, in such a way that some angels and exalted humans like Moses and Enoch carried huge divine responsibilities and rank. This was even to the point that they could "bear the Name" of God, literally be his representative. But Jesus broke that "rule". Correction, God broke that rule and required worship from Jewish followers of Jesus, to his own ultimate glory. Not only that, but Hurtado notes that the angel-refusal texts like in Revelation are the same texts that require worship of Jesus, which makes the contrast all the more striking.

My only critique of Hurtado, as I have already mentioned in my presentation of my exchange with the author, in no way downplays the striking nature of how God has Jesus 'cross the line' that must never be crossed. Like any established author, he has developed his own favoured linguistic resources, and "alongside God" is one of them, which dovetail well with other expressions like 'binitarian worship practices', one receives the worship alongside the other. Of course he will in his Paul chapter go into some depth on Philippians 2, and we too will make a port of call there on our own cruise of his work, but I felt this would have been a good time to develop how mediation and God's use of agents worked in a from God direction and in a to God direction. The latter description would have benefitted in particular from a description of how the priestly function facilitated worship to God without being through the priest. The key conclusion here is that Jesus is still made to cross the line but in a particular sense of mediation. Never before had an agent of God mediated worship back to God. This might however require a more Dunn-like distinction that I think Hurtado doesn't want to permit.

Back to Chapter 1: Forces and Factors - Hurtado now checks that monotheism is indeed functioning within the Christian New Testament and affirms it is, even in those contexts which extol Christ. Time for a quote:

[W]e have no analogous accommodation of a second figure along with God as recipient of such devotion in the Jewish tradition of the time, making it very difficult to fit this inclusion of Christ as recipient of devotion into any known devotional pattern attested among Jewish groups of the Roman period. [KL 919, my emphasis]

So how did monotheism affect Christ devotion? That's the subject of the next post!

Tuesday, 27 June 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado, Part 7: Response from Dr Hurtado

OVER THE LAST couple of years, I have been amazed at both the opportunities created through the digital age to interact with scholars - regardless of credentials (I have virtually none in the field) - and the openness of some Christian scholars to discuss.

I have previously had some interaction and interest with Dr. Hurtado over my work on the LXX's translation tendency to remove the article to Kyrios as a pre-Christian translation of the Hebrew divine name for God, Yahweh. (That work is currently on hold, but I do intend to continue it).

On this occasion, Dr. Hurtado responded to my previous post in this series on the disagreement with James Dunn - you can consult that post here.

In that post, we were exploring a section on Hurtado's review of monotheism as a factor contributing to Christian "binitarian worship" of Jesus and the Father. His interaction with James Dunn there was fascinating. For Dunn, that kind of worship was progressive: through the humble pre-Pauline beginnings to the full-blown binitarian worship of Jesus "alongside" the Father, to use Hurtado's term, an event that was perceived by the Jewish establishment to finally break their monotheistic requirements of worship to Yahweh alone. Hurtado wants to disagree: all of the first-century expressions of "successfully mutated" Christianity from its Jewish heritage (please see here for what is meant here by "successful", it was an important post in developing my view) were properly binitarian in their worship practices.

At this point, my Ricoeurian viewpoint kicked in. How can both be true? My viewpoint is that it is both useful and important to remember that hermeneutics does not begin after the close of the Christian canon. The New Testament authors were interpreting one another, along with their own theological and practical settings, and of course in line with their own revelation (a question for another day: is there really a fundamental difference between divine inspiration and divine interpretation?) That is the case of Luke with respect to Mark, and of Matthew with respect to both of them, plus their other aforementioned concerns. John, a representative of a late first-century Christian practice, may not have any literary dependence on the Synoptics, which is significant for discussions on its authorship (I'm back on board with the apostle), but ignorance of Pauline and earlier Christianity and worship practices is obviously absurd. I then attempted to present the two Dunnian views diagrammatically, in order to attempt to highlight the potential for deeper convergence of views despite the surface-level disagreement between our two scholars.

It is both possible that my subsequent explanations were insufficient, and that due to his time restraints Dr. Hurtado read it en diagonal. Although maybe not: I had said:

The break-through nuance of (1) is that whereas second temple Judaism knew some striking examples of divine agents, acting in the Name of Yahweh (or Name of LORD), this is the first time that an agent can mediate a hitherto divinely reserved right back to God. That, combined with exclusion from the Jewish synagogues and Jewish communities, and the image of Christ reigning and God's right hand, may have led later Christian communities to interpret the earlier nuance in a new, more "alongside" fashion...

Dr. Hurtado perceived my presentation of the Johannine worship as dualistic. He reminded me to be cautious with John's gospel: 

... [it] is a tricky text:  It both presents a highly exalted picture of Jesus and also emphatically makes him the unique Son/agent of the one God.  And even where the text asserts that Jesus is to be reverenced "just as the Father" (5:24-25), it makes it clear that this was the Father's fiat for this to be so.

Needless to say, I felt a little humbled and wondered if I had overstepped. But if I look back to my presentation, it really is not a defence of Dunn's development, and I don't think I ever intended Dunn to imply that, and certainly not that I was implying that. If that had been the case, then the undoubtedly oversimplified diagram of the Johannine picture would not have commenced with a single arrow that split to the Father and the Son, but simply two arrows.

Dr. Hurtado's other comments regarding Paul simply seemed on the one hand to confirm the "through" aspect I was highlighting of worship to Jesus, who would naturally mediate that back to the Father, although on the other hand provided me with fresh fodder for the "alongside" development/interpretation idea with Paul's consistent joint grace/peace greetings from God and Jesus.

Finally, a couple of comments on a 2013 paper Dr. Hurtado very kindly shared with me, which highlights the dangers of adopting "trajectory" development models of early Christianity. The scholars who have advocated this in the past and whose work Hurtado is critiquing, I haven't yet read so can't comment specifically. But this paper is much more than a critique, it is a proposal for a model that integrates both interaction and diversity of the early Christian movement. As I read this paper, I was reminded of my early concerns of Ricoeur that I shared with my friend, Barney Aspray. I was worried that the ideas he was sharing with me (absolutely new to me) could not integrate precisely these same two central characteristics of diversity and interaction that prompted Dr. Hurtado to also share with me his paper, that it was too linear.

But I think that is not at all characteristic of the Ricoeurian model - Ricoeur is defiantly opposed to a simplistic ontological understanding of the world, including biblical texts. There are no shortcuts to his voie longue, which questions our relationship to the matter at hand, asking lots of tricky why questions. Like why am I interested in Christian origins? Why am I writing a blog, and why are you reading it? I am still on the lookout for an explicit rejection of linearity with Heidegger's hermeneutical circle as I slowly plough through Ricoeur's Le Conflit des Interprétations, but perhaps the point is that a line must always be traced between you and your interpretation of events. It sounds kinda like philosophical mumbo jumbo, but interpretation would be said to reside within your sense of being. This prods us to humbly realise that we are probably unable to have a direct access to truth, one that bypasses this process. 

So my response is again to highlight that I am neither siding with Dunn or Hurtado in this matter - I am trying to ask how we might perceive the hermeneutical circle functioning between these perspectives highlighted of Paul and John, which indeed embraces the interaction and diversity between the two and the communities they represent. If John is more "alongside" in worship practice and Paul more "through", neither (as I already emphasised in the post in question) would need to be positionning Christ less centrally, and neither would need to be devoid of the other emphasis. Both interpret according to what precedes them, which, I wholeheartedly agree, is the extraordinary resurrection-ascension event of the Messiah to the right hand of God.

My thanks once again to Dr. Hurtado for such a stimulating conversation!

Wednesday, 21 June 2017

Taking on some mythicists and an update on how my "sting" evolved

MY APOLOGETICS ALERT meter is going beep - beep...

Here's why.

Have you ever heard of mythicists? Maybe not. Their basic view is that Jesus never existed, and the legend that developed around "Jesus Christ" borrowed from a number of pagan and middle eastern sources, not least of which being Zoroastrianism. Their views do not represent a mainstream historical perspective, regardless of religious commitment.

Since I am currently privileged enough to have the time and the resources of Hurtado's most significant contributions (Lord Jesus Christ and One God & One Lord), I realised I may be in a position to politely engage and defend the historical grounding of Jesus. If you'd like to see how I am getting along and watch the mythicist video I disagree with, you may do so here. Strangely, I seem to have been granted the last word!

I have also been fortunate to interact with Evan Powell, who is the author the website, which I can really recommend - although it is also where I got a faith "sting", mentioned in my previous post. I'm pleased to say that I have recovered from it, but with a fresh realisation of how some of the resurrection evidence fits together. The reason why I got stung by Evan's research and analysis, is that while he brought extra clarity and weight to my conviction that Matthew not only was later than Luke and Acts (which is important to note when researching the factors surrounding the emergence of a proto-trinitarianism in the first century), he also reports that Matthew's treatment of the burial story in Mark and Luke shows the story's weakness.

I think the reason why his views particularly affected me was because of how deeply I shared his other convictions about Matthew - and that should be a lesson to anyone. You probably agree with everyone about something, and you should probably check that you disagree with everyone about something. That's part of what makes you, you and me, me. And it certainly is true for theology.

Fortunately, I revisited his page about the burial and pushed him on it. We have had a very friendly and respectful exchange since then, and I have come to a conclusion I will probably now carry with me to my grave - and I am better for it. The point is this - it doesn't matter what you do with the existing evidence. You can realign it, reconstruct it. But if the basic building blocks are the same, you will *always* run into the following problem if you want to explain what happened to Jesus' body: at the time, the evidence pointed in favour of believing that Jesus had been raised by God back to life by his followers. Now, I'm a big sceptic when it comes to apologetics - the number of times I have dabbled in it positively on this blog could probably be counted on the fingers of one hand.

I'm not going to say to people, the evidence means the only possible explanation is that Jesus was raised. In my exchange with Evan, I came up with a scenario according to what I understood his interpretation of the facts required. But it was incomplete and created fresh problems that are hard to explain.

In his reply, Evan told me that I was creating an unnecessarily complex situation - all it would have taken was for Joseph of Arimathea to move the body at the end of Saturday. My complex situation had included that Joseph was ignorant of someone having removed Jesus' body, that someone perhaps being the indignant family tomb owner. Evan's brushing aside of the need for Joseph's ignorance shouldn't satisfy. How could this designated member of social and religious standing be recalled so positively by all four gospel writers as a positive witness to the events that unfolded during the first Easter if he had, in fact, moved the body to another location? Would he not have clarified the situation? Apologists are correct (I admit) that the recipe is something like this:


The simple fact that brilliant minds and millions of people believe that this miracle could indeed have taken place should give us all pause for thought. Something strange happened to Jesus' body. If there *were* a simple explanation, then Christianity simply wouldn't have taken off. We wouldn't even be having this conversation. However, to my Christian friends who want to go take this and slam dunk their atheist friends, we must remember that strange things do happen (see an in-depth analysis of this natural and unpredictable phenomenon in The Black Swan). We must remember that we have sound reasons for believing what we believe, that we don't have all the answers. We also live in a surprising and unpredictable world in which we have to bind our beliefs to time-tested and storm-blasted foundations. Abandon them at your peril.

In my next post, I will feed back on my exchange with Professor Larry Hurtado! Yes, my theological hero responded to my post on his disagreement with James Dunn. We are also not done yet on a late Matthew. Back soon.

Monday, 19 June 2017

Block, technical issues, faith kick [+ mise à jour]

[MISE A JOUR 26/06/17 - Un commentaire important en français en bas de cet article ajouté, suite à une question d'un lecteur français]

Hi. Apologies for the slow-down on the journey into Hurtado first century Christian binitarian worship territory. I felt like I was on a real charge doing a post every day or every other day, then a few things happened.

Like anyone, I sometimes experience "block": just that inability to engage my mind with the same clarity I enjoy at other times. I am also going through a period in my life when my mind actually totally saturates as well, which increases this effect when it occurs. This effect was either caused or worsened by learning that although SPCK found my book proposal interesting (it definitely sounded from their personalised response that it had been discussed between several members of their editorial staff), they weren't going to be able to pursue it further. So that was a downer.

Then, I had this really weird technical issue with Kindle notes. I don't know if you have tried it, but kindle notes and highlights are a great way of interacting with a book. Kindle have recently decided to revamp their online interface and call this new area simply "notebook", with a nice thumbnail of the cover of each book to hit to see your highlights and notes. For some devilish reason, all my Hurtado notes and highlights on which I was relying for this first century blog cruise we're on are present on their old system and totally absent on the new one. With my wife we probably have a couple of hundred of books on Kindle, and Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ is the only book that this glitch is affecting. And to make matters worse, the old site where all the content is intact will die on July 3rd. Oh, and I'm getting nowhere with Amazon.

Urggh. This all leads to feeling a bit down about it to be honest, and in a world and market which frankly is just not as interested in trinitarian theology as I have been, I'm beginning to wonder if it's worth carrying on.

Sorry for such a depressing post - I'll also share one more thing about faith. From time to time I read or hear something that makes me really question my faith. I'm delighted about that because it means I am engaging with the criticisms out there and have usually bounced back. My research into first century expressions of proto-trinitarianism led me at various points to the Gospel according to Matthew, which time and again seemed late to me, by which I mean late first century. This actually is another small series of blog posts I need to write, and very important with respect to Matthew's relationship to baptism and John the Baptist in particular. Suffice it to say that there are others that share this view, and that Matthew had access to Luke (it's sometimes called the Matthean posteriority hypothesis, MPH) - one of these proponents made some analyses on this basis about the synoptic burial narratives that stung me. So that hasn't helped either.

Looking forward to a more upbeat post soon, and especially a solution to resume the Hurtado cruise.

Thursday, 8 June 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado, Part 6: mid-first century and late-first century Christian worship perspectives

MONOTHEISM IS NOT a dry, crusty constraint, some sort of doctrinal binding placed on a particular religious group. Of course, nothing prevents it from becoming that in a spiritually dead context, but the point for first century Judaism in the Roman period is that Jewish faith and practice were holistically fused into not just a cerebral understanding of Israel's God being the One True God, but that he was the one to whom worship was due, and to him alone. It is what Torah requires. Torah - roughly the first five books of the Old Testament - is so clear about this point, especially in Deuteronomy: stay true.

That is a key point for Hurtado as he now develops what he means by monotheism, because although he has answered some critics of his position on Jewish monotheism (see previous post), he also senses the need to redefine what monotheism means for those who have seen it is a pure constraint for second temple Jews. Either monotheism is "in force" or it is "broken"; cultic practice is not sufficiently taken into account. The three scholars Hurtado particular wants to refute here are Harvey, Casey and Dunn, but it is Hurtado's interaction with Dunn that I particularly want to focus on today.

James Dunn argues for a later Christological development than Hurtado, and particularly distinguishes Pauline church faith and practice from Johannine church faith and practice:

It seems very important to Dunn to attribute a mental monotheistic “reserve” to Paul that was “soon lost to sight” in Johannine Christianity. (KL 860), and: Dunn has not sufficiently appreciated the import of the devotional pattern that is already attested in Paul’s writings. (KL 863)

Here I would like to add a point that Hurtado does not make, which is not surprising since it appeals to a philosophical framework that is insufficiently utilised by this kind of historical-biblical inquiry. So while Hurtado may be correct that Dunn has not looked enough at the "binitarian" devotional pattern in Pauline Christianity, neither Dunn nor Hurtado seem able to recognise how Johannine material might be interpreting the Pauline corpus (along with other first century beliefs, practices and texts no longer extant) or earlier Christianity more generally. The hermeneutical question asks: what must we do in today's context in order to preserve what was taught before? That question will become critical in exploring why God became Triune, and it will become important at seeing why baptism became trinitarian toward the close of the first century. It is what Paul Ricoeur means when he says: Interpretation, let us say, is the work of our thought that consists in decoding the hidden meaning within the apparent meaning, and lay out the various layers of meaning implicated within the literal meaning (my translation, from Le Conflit des Interprétations: Essais d'herméneutique, Ed. du Seuil, 2013, p. 35: l'interprétation, dirons-nous, est le travail de pensée qui consiste à déchiffrer le sens caché dans le sens apparent, à déployer les niveaux de signification implliquées dans la signification littérale).

In Hurtado's case, although he issues in a good number of statements that he wants to avoid linear developments and simplistic analysis, he nonetheless would advocate a binitarian worship pattern that is consistent across the New Testament. In Dunn's case, he would see Jesus worship kicking Christianity out of Judaism when it later came to threaten Jewish monotheism in John's writing era (end first century), something which was not the case in Paul's era.

Biblical interpretation is often seen as a preservation of the initial model meaningfully into a new context, but it has not yet been (as far as I can tell) sufficiently within the canon itself. In a bid to make uniform the fundamental first century worship dynamic, as I fear Hurtado may be doing here, is to risk ignoring the interpretive work of the Johannine communities as our models par excellence on how to do hermeneutics. To overly separate the Pauline from the Johannine, as I fear Dunn does, is to fail to see the early emergence of an all-new worship practice in even pre-Pauline Christianity.

Let's lay out simplistically, then, how the two first century perspectives may, in fact, have differed and attempt to define quite what "binitarian" might mean between the two.

These two structures are indeed different. However, they do satisfy Hurtado's framework in that Johannine devotion remains "binitarian", if we are to define binitarianism loosely as two recipients of a single worship practice. I actually think that this might be what Hurtado has in mind, although he does use the term "alongside" without necessarily connecting his referred instance to one configuration or the other since, since he may view them as fundamentally *the same*. I say that because for me, when Hurtado talks of Christ receiving religious devotion alongside God, that language speaks more of this Johannine model. If I were the sort of interlocutor that Hurtado would answer, then he might reply to assert that Christ being seated (or stood) at the right hand of God goes back a lot earlier in the first century than the Johannine window in question. To that, I would wholeheartedly concur, pointing out that this is precisely why the worship practice might have evolved away from the nuanced earlier practice in (1) above, exemplified famously in Philippians 2, if indeed it did. In this very early text cited in Philippians 2, Jesus receives divine worship, but it is to the glory of God the Father, i.e. not ultimately for his own glorification. That is perhaps why humility is such an important factor of Jesus' character for the early church, in order that such a religious intensity of worship would not "go to his head", so to speak. To receive that quantity and intensity of worship would surely need an equivalent depth of humility to pass it all on to his God and Father.

The break-through nuance of (1) is that whereas second temple Judaism knew some striking examples of divine agents, acting in the Name of Yahweh (or Name of LORD), this is the first time that an agent can mediate a hitherto divinely reserved right back to God. That, combined with exclusion from the Jewish synagogues and Jewish communities, and the image of Christ reigning and God's right hand, may have led later Christian communities to interpret the earlier nuance in a new, more "alongside" fashion, while carefully (at that time) ensuring that God still remain the greater of the two (which I failed to encapsulate in the diagramme). Ensuring ultimacy to the Father was by no means a "given" in the context of the new emergent worship practice.

That, I think, is more than enough for today. Suffice it to say I think this disagreement between Hurtado and Dunn provides a perfect illustration of how Ricoeur's Conflit des Interprétations can provide fresh insights for our historical analysis.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado, Part 5: Forces and Factors: "the decisive criterion"

"THE REAL CHALLENGE in historical understanding is to figure out not only what happened, but also how it happened and why." (p. 27)

If you were only to read one chapter of this book (comprising in all ten chapters), this would be the one to read. It's not that the book is anticlimatic or anything, it's simply that the subsequent chapters will be trauling through carefully demarked parcels of historical data to validate the hypothesis laid out here in chapter one. What a fantastic quest: it's not trying merely to say whether or not Jesus-worship took place in Jewish circles, it is, as Hurtado points out in the epigraph to today's post, to see how and why Christ devotion developed so early, so powerfully and in such a monotheistic context.

Before I outline the key parts of this chapter, I realised I have forgotten to mention up until now that in terms of chapter summaries, Hurtado himself usefully provides these at the close of each chapter. Because I am not on a general fact-finding mission but rather zeroing in on data useful to my own research project on first century trinitarianism including (thanks perhaps in part to Hurtado's own goals) the how and why of such an early Father-Son-Spirit emergence, I may not need to read the whole text. (By the way, I have, I think, stumbled over some exciting new ideas about this! I can't wait to share them on the blog, but am allowing some mulling and critical analysis time before airing them.)

Chapter "Forces and Factors" outline

  1. Jewish Monotheism (later we will see in worship, prayer
  2. Jesus (the polarising figure, just like Marmite...)
  3. Religious Experience (see also Religious Experience: Inside the "furnace")
  4. The Religious Environment
  5. Summary

1. Jewish Monotheism

Look at the context in which Christianity arose, says Hurtado: Roman-period post-exilic Judaism. In refererence to pp. 17-39 of One God, One Lord, he advocates again as he did thirty years previously that this period of Judaism represented a "defiantly monotheistic stance" - surprisingly, this is not a unanimous scholarly position. Some, like Heiser (mentioned before on this blog), Fossum (to whose work Hurtado responds in One God, One Lord), Peter Hayman, Margaret Barker and several more (whom Hurtado will tackle in the current chapter) maintain that some aspects of Jewish religious perspective on divine agency anticipated binitarian faith, via the Angel of the LORD or the hypostasized Name (of Yahweh). Hurtado doesn't buy into it ("I am not persuaded that a postexilic Jewish binitarianism has been demonstrated", One God, One Lord, p. 39). 

But weren't Jews spread out across the Roman world? Wasn't pagan Roman culture infused with worship to scores of deities? Surely Jewish belief in the pagan world must have been affected, right? Wrong - that is not where the evidence points. Hurtado, citing Lester Grabbe, "Language, dress, dining practices, intellectual categories and themes, sports, and many other things were widely adopted, but there could be no negotiating away the monotheistic posture of Jewish religion. As Lester Grabbe put it, “For the vast majority, this was the final barrier that could not be crossed; we know from antiquity of only a handful of examples of Jews who abandoned their Judaism", p. 30 (my emphasis). So, precisely where the roman world did not make firm distinctions between their culture and religion, hellenized Jews did, as inheritors of a tradition of the "jealous God" who covets the exclusive worship of his people.

So how on earth does Christ fit into this picture? There is no precedent. As Hurtado puts it: "In short, the incorporation of Christ into the devotional pattern of early Christian groups has no real analogy in the Jewish tradition of the period." p. 31.

Here ensues Hurtado's maintained position of defiant Jewish monotheism in the Roman period against Hayan and Barker. Against Barker, Hurtado points to a failed recognition on her part that something genuinely new emerged in Christian devotion to Jesus, stating at Kindle Location (KL) 666: "[significant and creative development of reconfigurations or variant forms of the religious tradition] is what I argue happened in the emergence and development of Christ-devotion in early Christianity: the reconfiguring of Jewish monotheistic practice and thought to accommodate Jesus with God as rightful recipient of worship under the impact of a set of factors". I note here that all this "reconfiguration" and "variant" talk here is directly equivalent to "mutation" language, as Hurtado himself concedes (refer back here; by the way, in One God, One Lord, Hurtado feels considerably freer with the use of the term prior to its criticisms, using it up to 62 times and often without the quotes). Here Hurtado is setting out why this is such a startling mutation in light of the strict monotheism he reports from the Roman Jewish worldview. In fact, it's a double Jewish refusal, since it not only refuses incorporation of outside deities from the pagan world into the Jewish matrix, but it also shuts shop to internal Jewish figures that rose greatly in prominence during the post-exilic period (Enoch, Moses, Yahoel, etc.), which is where Hayman had wanted to argue from. In neither case can there be found suitable recipients of cultic reverence. In Hurtado's most recent book Destroyer of the gods (2016), I believe he attempts to explain why the Jews were not subjecto the same pressures as the early Christians with regards to their refusal to comply with pagan worship rites.

A good final quote, actually, I think it's great, comes from KL 723: The evidence . . . shows that it is in fact in the area of worship that we find “the decisive criterion” by which Jews maintained the uniqueness of God over against both idols and God’s own deputies. . . even to the point of martyrdom, seems to me to reflect a fairly “strict monotheism” (my emphasis). Don't you just love Hurtado's understated style?! But he is correct - see Jan Assmann on a cultural understanding of Maccabean Jewish martyrs as the first example of any religious martyrdom as the fulfilment of a distinctively (and "intolerantly") monotheistic faith, Monotheism and its Political Consequences, 2005,  p145-146.

In the next post we will finish off Hurtado's assessment and defense of Jewish and Christian monotheism while introducing a couple of criticisms of my own. I also need to find a simple way to insert some simple diagrammes... Back soon!

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Important Trinity article: Women theologians and Jenson's primary vs secondary distinction

Let me please interrupt my series on Hurtado's Lord Jesus Christ book to share what for me was an important article recently written for Christianity Today by Fred Sanders: you can read it here. Entitled, We Actually Don’t Need a Trinitarian Revival, it drew my attention to two important points. Firstly, that there have been important contributions made to Trinitarian theology by female theologians of whom I confess to total ignorance; indeed I lament their absence in my manuscript of Mutated Faith & the Triune Hub.

Secondly, Sanders emphasises that there are indeed two distinct stages of trinitarianism, and even refers to Robert Jenson as the possible inaugurator of "primary trinitarianism" vs "secondary trinitarianism" distinctions. Robert Jenson has been described by Dr Stephen Holmes as (my rough paraphrase according to memory) the greatest living theologian. Clearly I have some reading to do - I promise to update the blog in the future about the female contributions (Catherine Mowry LaCugna and Cynthia Bourgeault, maybe others) and precisely how Jenson stakes out this distinction, and (critically) if he attempts to show how primary led to secondary.

Back soon...

Saturday, 3 June 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado - Part 4: No to history-of-religions explanations; No to naive christian apologetics explanations.

IT IS POSSIBLE to resume the remainder of Hurtado's introduction fairly succinctly - I will try to hold back on Triune Hub compatibility comments unless there are key links to be stressed.

Hurtado does not hold back on his thesis - I think that's excellent to get it out there so quickly. I have felt tempted in my own manuscript to allow the journey slowly unfold for the reader in a fashion similar to my own experience, but that does not necessarily constitute good writing. So his thesis in three points about Jesus worship is that
1. religious devotion to Jesus took place phenomenally early, waaay before Paul,
2. expands on point 1 to say that it was very intense and diverse (not entirely sure if the diversity is illustrated quite as well by Hurtado as the intensity, but let's put that question on hold for now)
3. expands on points 1 and 2 to underscore that all this was going on within the Jewish "matrix" of monotheistic religious thought and practice. This is Hurtado's groundbreaking argument really, which is aptly summarised at Kindle location 200 (sorry no page number available): Jesus functions as divine in the religious life of Christian groups of the first two centuries. If we link that to his opening sentence's usage of the word "centre", upon which we reflected here, then I feel confident that Hurtado could agree that "divinity" in the context of monotheistic "function", is fairly equivocal with his own usage of (quasi-spatial) religious centrality. However - Hurtado is not presuming to mean here in his Introduction anything akin to what Dunn labels "Jesus-olatry", making an idol of Jesus. Hurtado in this book will refer to Dunn at various junctures (as anyone writing in this field would have to; likewise for Hurtado), but is in agreement on that this binitarian devotion is only possible as through (extraordinary) appointment by God himself. One of my critiques of Hurtado will nonetheless be an insufficiently vigorous analysis of the distinctions between through and alongside with respect to Jesus' reception of worship, and where the respective emphases might lie between Pauline and Johannine churches.

Remember what I said yesterday: being religious, as Hurtado will point out in outstanding clarity, is not just about what you believe; it is also about what your beliefs bring you to do, which is why the study of worship patterns are so important in mapping out the evolution of Christian belief from within Judaism.

Hurtado is going to take on a major project here mapping out Jesus devotion in the first two centuries, but he senses, correctly in my view, that he does this in opposition to two critical pressure points, themselves opposed to one another. One of these is a liberal historical-critical method inspired by 20th century and earlier German theologians, which assumes that it can reconstruct the emergence of Jesus as a divine figure through normal historical (by which he might mean "merely human") process of inquiry that involved the syncretism of various worldviews. I think Hurtado also means by this that it does not require religious experience to account for Jesus' meteoric rise.

The second pressure point is from Christian apologetics, who would want to assume that no such historical inquiry is of any use since the New Testament - divinely inspired - has it all neatly laid out already, then any further work is probably a waste of time.

Hurtado will convincingly show both positions to be false: both the naive view and the familiar history-of-religions view are wrong in portraying early devotion to Jesus as basically simple, unremarkable, and not difficult to understand. (Kindle location 243). It was not simple inserting Jesus into a monotheistic framework and to find the suitable language (and reshape the framework without compromising it critically) - so the naive view is wrong. And its religious intensity is argued cogently in this book to be too early for the history-of-religions methodology, which downplays the necessity of religious experience. This earliness is underlined by an assumption (which I believe is justified, but that is another big body of research - feel free to click on "lord" as keyword on this blog to see some references and work into the LXX translation of Yahweh) that the earliest Christian Jews would have been familiar with "Lord" language and its associations for their fellow Greek-speaking Jewish converts. That said, from the chapters I have read so far, particularly chapter 1 that develops the thesis, that assumption and its limitations are not developed sufficiently in my view (e.g. widespread usage of Kyrios in ways that do not imitate LXX usage, c.f. even the flawed efforts to present 1 Cor 8:6 as "splitting of Shema", see 1 Cor 9, which immediately applies Kyrios to Christ in a non-LXX/Yahweh compatible fashion. Sorry. Pet topic.

That's the end of the introduction. In the next two posts I will summarise the first chapter of the book as it sets out the explanations for how and why Jesus worship arose in Christian circles. I hope you are excited - it really is a brilliant chapter.

Part 5 coming next...

Friday, 2 June 2017

Lord Jesus Christ, by Larry Hurtado - Part 3: Opening words of "Centrality" hit the nail on the head

THE OPENING WORDS of Hurtado's magnum opus were instant confirmation to me that I was holding the perfect book for my area of interest. Page 1, line 1, reads:

The indisputable centrality of the figure of Jesus in early Christian devotion is the premise for this book.

My emphasis. Being the theological nut that I am, I had to share this line with a friend instantly. I knew there was going to be overlap between my thesis and Hurtado's, but the opening line?! What am I so excited about here exactly? Everyone knows that Christians worship Jesus, he's the big deal Christians are so excited about, right? The point is, as will become apparent, is that the first Christians weren't just random folk who wanted their sins forgiven. They were Jewish. It has taken me a fair while to move from "ok, sure, so they were Jews" to really allowing this thought to take root and truly marvel at the ramifications. The first followers of Jesus understood their master to be a Jew and themselves to be Jews, and saw no reason for them to quit their heritage and ethnic identity. The first Christians did not convert to Christianity from Judaism. They remained Jews and continued to attend synagogue meetings where possible.

The reason why word three of this 650 page (100 pages of references as well) epic is so meaningful to me is that "centrality" is what a hub is all about. There is an as-yet underdeveloped semantic tool that will be able to help us better understand what is going on when religious people apply words like "divinity", and it is to do with religious centricity. The religious hub is the dynamic centre around which all else turns, yes, like a wheel. Being religious, as Hurtado will point out in outstanding clarity, is not just about what you believe; it is also about what your beliefs bring you to do. What Hurtado calls "devotion" is a catch-all phrase that he will later go on to define with a number of other technical terms, like "giving obeisance", reverence, prostration, song... it's dynamic action. But for a monotheistic faith like Judaism, there is only one who occupies that central dynamic core with which the people interact in such a way. Until now. Now those Christian "converts" who remained Jewish had integrated Another into the key interaction point of the very core of their belief system: worship. So I like "centre"; I like "centricity"; I like "core"; I like "heart". The reason why my absolute favourite is "hub" finally as the most suited term for the incredible Jewish revolution that is going on through Christ, is that a hub is both perfectly central and moving.

Sorry for that excursion - I just wanted to make it clear why I place so much value on the general emphasis of the book. Let's get back to Hurtado's own introduction and stated aims, my emphases again:

"I have proposed that in this development we have what amounts to a new and distinctive “mutation” or variant form of the monotheistic practice that is otherwise characteristic of the Jewish religious matrix out of which the Christian movement sprang. In this book my aim is to offer a full-scale analysis of the origin, development, and diversification of devotion to Christ in the crucial first two centuries of the Christian movement (ca. 30-170 C.E.)." [p. 2]

Not much comment required here really, as it simply confirms my earlier comments. Regarding the extended analysis into the second century, this is an interesting inclusion which follows Bousset's own presentation, which Hurtado explicitly affirms as his useful trailblazer. For me, the latter sections of this analysis will also be useful given my conviction that the philosophical work done around the hermeneutical circle are correct in their methodology. Therefore, if we are to understand texts that seem to us of deep importance written 1950 years ago, a great way to fill out the understanding is to see how the first interpreters emphasised and prevented from "misconstrual". By decompressing the New Testament canon as Hurtado does very successfully in my view, we can see evidence of the hermeneutical circle already at work. Hurtado's "mutation" is put in quotes simply because he does not want to put off the readership by a term that has been viewed by some as pejorative (see p. 50). However, it prepares the reader well for the dramatical inclusion of God's divine "vehicle" (yes, he quite likes that term in this book) in the sacred centre reserved for the one true God of Israel.

Part 4 coming soon.