This post is a continuation of my reading of Larry Hurtado‘s LORD JESUS CHRIST: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity: see my initial impression here, Hurtado on Historical Criticism.
LWH’s significant quote that hints at his thesis, before he actually gives it, is
““To come clean, I confess to being guilty of the Christian faith (though, Christians being what we are, not every one will be satisfied with my version of Christian faith!). But I do not believe that the religious validity of a Christian christological conviction necessarily rests upon the time or manner of its appearance in history. [...] I do not think it is necessary for Jesus to have though and spoken of himself in the same terms that his followers thought and spoke of him in the decades subsequent to his crucifixion in order for the convictions of these followers to be treated as valid by Christians today.”
Lord Jesus Christ, page 9″
Later in this post, I will briefly discuss whether theology returns in this work, but for now, I will talk about Chapter One’s premise. First, and I side with LWH in this, is that Hurtado bases his study using evidence of early Jewish monotheist PRAXIS over and against the use of just texts. I find this approach refreshing. There is a trend in theological and religious studies to study everyday practices of communities, and Hurtado’s work, in biblical studies, points to this trend. Hurtado takes on Crispin Fletcher-Louis who contends that ancient Jews were more than willing to worship human figures alongside YHWH (see his “Worship of Divine Humanity” in The Jewish Roots of Christological Monotheism). One of the texts Fletcher-Louis relies on is Sirach 50:1-21,arguing that the Jewish congregation is actually worshipping the high priest Simon II. Upon reading this passage, it’s obvious to even lay leaders that the Most High is receiving devotion, while Simon II leads them in that worship.
Hurtado’s point of prioritizing praxis over discourse (in this case, letters, sacred texts, and other writing) is proved of much use.
Other factors that Hurtado studies is the life of Jesus and the relevance thereof to the early Jesus movement as well as Jewish apologetic stances against Roman imperial polytheism.
The other factor that Hurtado adds is the religious experience via revelation. At this point, his study of a history of Jesus-Devotion crosses over from Biblical studies and historical criticism to religious studies and does a sidewinder into theology! I understand the critique (and much needed) of social scientific analysis as seeing religious experience as purely being drawn from the traumatic, but looking at religious experience as a ‘direct’ and ‘creative force’ geared toward the purpose of ‘creative transformation’ within a particular religious setting is a very theological opinion, one that presupposes a personal God. Hurtado remains silent on whether or not these direct revelations still happen or not, but for the early church, these events did happen.
Up next: Chapter Two on the apostle Paul