Two weeks ago, I posted my tribute to Larry Hurtado upon his death from a long bout with cancer. Since, others have offered tributes as well, including those by Chris Keith, Greg Lanier, Tommy Wasserman, John Stackhouse, Helen Bond, Michael Bird, as well as by Larry’s own Doktorvater, Eldon Epp.
In addition, I have received a number of inquiries about how to get a quick introduction to Larry’s work, especially his contributions on early Christology. After all, his Lord Jesus Christ is a bit lengthy for a quick overview of his arguments. So, let me recommend his briefer volume, How on Earth Did Jesus Become God? (Eerdmans, 2005).
To give a little background, we need to rewind the tape and remember his groundbreaking work One God, One Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Fortress Press, 1988; third edition, T&T Clark, 2015), Hurtado laid forth the argument that worship of Jesus amongst early Christians was much earlier than previously thought—a monumental fact given that such devotion arose within circles of Second-Temple devout Jews.
How On Earth Did Jesus Become a God? is a more compact presentation of this prior research and pulls together a number of other previous publications on the subject (mainly journal articles) as well as material from the Deichmann Annual Lecture Series at Ben-Gurion University in Israel.
All the chapters in the volume are helpful, but the first two are the most foundational. In chapter one, Hurtado gives us the lay of the land by surveying the variety of other approaches to Jesus devotion within early Christianity, offering a brief critical review of each of them, so that his own approach can be seen in contrast to its scholarly competitors.
In particular, he sets his sites on the “evolutionary” approach most aptly represented by William Bousset’s Kyrios Christos (1913), which argued that worship of Jesus arose with Gentile Christian circles heavily influenced by the pagan Greco-Roman cult.
It is here that the key historical issue at hand is crystallized. The challenge, argues Hurtado, is not simply explaining how Jesus was seen as divine by early Christians, but rather the challenge is explaining the manner in which he was seen as divine. [Read more…]