- Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity
Larry Hurtado's big new book, Lord Jesus Christ, takes as it prototype and anti-type Wilhelm Bousset's 1913 classic, Kyrios Christos (1-26). Hurtado promises to concentrate not on texts or on doctrines so much as on early Christian practices, specifically on those that attest to "devotion to Jesus." In so doing, he hopes to demonstrate the falseness of Bousset's view that elevated Christological claims measure the penetration of non-Jewish, specifically pagan Hellenistic ideas, into early Christian proclamation. On the contrary, urges Hurtado, devotion to Jesus as a very elevated figure traces back to the very earliest post-resurrection community in Jerusalem. Thus, it represents a spectacular mutation of Jewish monotheism ("Christian binitarianism"), but not a deviation from it; on this issue Paul and the earliest community were joined. And this tradition was most valued and best preserved by those streams of the Christian movement that we can now identify as proto-Orthodox.
To understand how Hurtado gets where he goes with his presentation of second-century Christianity (ch. 9, "Radical Diversity," and ch. 10, "Proto-Orthodox Devotion"), we need to grasp what he establishes in his preceding 518 pages. Hurtado begins with Jewish monotheism. Since ancient Jews, as "scrupulous" monotheists (his term), avoided worshiping any divine figures other than God, the earliest Christians (scrupulous Jewish monotheists themselves) by praying to and calling upon Jesus together with God embarked upon worship practices that were strikingly innovative. Hence Hurtado's "binitarian" coinage for this liturgical "novum": "The incorporation of Christ into the devotional pattern of early Christian groups has no real analogy in the Jewish tradition of the period" (31). Conclusion: these groups thereby claimed a unique and uniquely elevated status for Jesus extremely early on, well before anyone even thought of taking the good news to the Diaspora. Hurtado's definition of Jewish monotheism thus enables him to knock away one of the pillars of Bousset's argument. What chance of Gentile Hellenistic influences, if these practices (and, implicitly, Christological claims) originated in Judea in the very first months and years of the movement?
From this the rest falls into place. The early elevation of Jesus did not mean [End Page 537] that these earliest Christians denied his full humanity. On the contrary, Pauline vocabulary and the fact that the earliest narratives of Jesus present him as an historical character point in the opposite direction: though Jesus was extremely, uniquely divine, he was also fully human. These texts' insistence on Jesus' Davidic lineage makes the same point. And while the question of Gentile members' status was initially snarled on the issue of Torah-observance, no one in the earliest movement questioned that their proclamation was in a straightforward way congruent with the essential message of the Jewish scriptures.
By the time we reach chapter 9 and Hurtado's discussion of "Radical Diversity," his categories are well established. Earliest Christianity was monotheist, incarnational, and congruent with rather than contrasting to Jewish scriptures. (His reference to these scriptures throughout as the "Old Testament" is confused and confusing because neither the category nor the concept "New Testament" was conceived until the mid-second century and then, as we shall see, by a "deviant.") Valentinus and Marcion, we are thus unsurprised to learn, represent "major innovations and rival interpretations . . . over against the comparatively more traditional preferences that marked proto-orthodox circles" (519).
Valentinians with their graduated pleromas and superfluity of divine figures were not as "serious" as their proto-orthodox counterparts about maintaining or protecting monotheism (529 and elsewhere). They "downplayed" the Old Testament and its narratives (530), they emphasized redemption from bodily existence as the index of salvation (47), and their Christology was docetic. This Docetism in turn accounts for their disinclination to be martyred (unlike the proto-orthodox 619-625). Marcion, like Valentinus, also deviated from proto-orthodoxy and was on that account expelled from the Roman church (549), setting up his own churches instead. He composed his New Testament canon from a larger body of...