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...

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