A Hurtado Cortado image

A Hurtado Cortado

Larry Hurtado's work on early Christian devotion to Jesus has been enormously influential, and provides important correctives to alternative academic (Bousset) and popular (Ehrman) genealogies. But because it has been communicated through multiple scholarly monographs, rather than popular paperbacks, it has been hard for most readers to access. Most Christians have never heard of him. We have been waiting for a short, intense shot of his work, which condenses his key ideas into a few pages (in this case 75), yet which is also accessible through having its sharpness offset by a small dash of warm milk. A Hurtado Cortado, if you will.

Now, thanks to Mike Bird and Lexham Press, we have one. Here, in Hurtado’s own words, is the basic argument of the book:

1. In the ancient Roman world, worship was the key expression of “religion”, not beliefs and confessional formulas.
2. The key distinguishing feature that marked off Roman-era Judaism in the larger religious environment was its cultic exclusivity, the refusal to worship any deity other than the God of Israel.
3. This exclusivity involved refusal also to worship the adjutants of the biblical God, not simply foreign deities.
4. In this context, the emergent place of Jesus in earliest Christian worship and devotional practice along with God in a “dyadic” devotional pattern represents something highly notable, even more significant historically than the familiar christological titles and confessional formulas.
5. The place of Jesus in early Christian devotion can be described in specific actions that allow us to consider any putative parallels, and so to note and confirm any innovation in comparison with the Jewish religious context in which devotion to Jesus erupted.

In other words, if you are trying to trace early Christology, you don’t just want the titles and the prooftexts; you want the worship practices. It took twenty years at most, and probably a good deal less, for the early Christians to start praying to Jesus, invoking and confessing Jesus (in Aramaic as well as Greek, hence the Marana tha), baptising people in the name of Jesus, making Jesus the subject of their cultic meal, singing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs to and about Jesus, and prophesying in the name of Jesus. That, Hurtado argues, both reframes and redates our view of how early Christology developed:

The programmatic inclusion of the exalted Jesus with God in the corporate cultic devotional practice of earliest circles in the Jesus movement certainly constituted a novel, apparently unique, “dyadic” devotional pattern. Although the theological consequences of this occupied Christians in the following centuries, the decisive step in treating Jesus as sharing in some way in divine glory and status was taken remarkably early, and was expressed both in christological rhetoric and, most importantly, distinctively and remarkable in this dyadic devotional pattern.

It is a super little book, from a super little series, and you can get it here.

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