If you frequent this blog, you know I think highly and appreciatively of Larry Hurtado. (Just search the blog for “hurtado” and you’ll find pointers to a wealth of resources produced by him). Here, I thought I would briefly offer what I find more helpful about his work and distinguish it from what I find less helpful.
What’s Particularly Helpful
- He gives us history more than theology. That is, he focuses on facts – not just what the earliest Christians said, but what they did.
- He focuses attention on the all-important period of 30-50 A.D. – that is, the initial period of Christianity when the important issues were established.
- He uses broadly-accepted sources and opinions so that his findings can be justified in both liberal and conservative scholarly circles.
- He writes in a pleasant, conversational style (though he never abandons academic protocol). He uses fresh vocabulary and non-polemic terms.
- He has convictions and presses them, but he doesn’t fight unnecessary battles. Therefore, he can be firm without being pugilistic.
What’s Less Helpful
- Though he rightly invokes principal-agent traditions to explain how the earliest Christians got their heads around what Jesus had done, he under-emphasizes the messianic expectations of the age that perceptions of Jesus could draw upon.
- He is vague and variable on what he means by “worship.” One minutes he’s establishing the evidential basis for saying that the earliest Christians exalted Jesus in a way unprecedented for any other human figure and the next minute he’s talking about Jesus being a “co-recipient” of worship without having actually established that additional step. Related to this I think his use of terms like “binitarian” and “dyadic” are anachronistic and a departure from his typical circumspect approach.
- As he under-emphasizes messianic expectations he also under-emphasizes the effect of Jesus’ resurrection on his disciples. Of course, Hurtado’s goal is to talk about what people did and one could say the effect of the resurrection the disciples is constantly implied.
- While he objects strongly to those who would say that ideas of Jesus’ divinity evolved over time, he himself uses the evolutionary metaphor “mutation” (also “variant” and “big bang”) to describe the high veneration given to Jesus almost immediately after the crucifixion (resurrection) . These are very unfortunate terms. They are not felicitous as they should be for the subject being addressed, nor are they informative. They keep the whole discussion of early devotion to Jesus under the cloud of vague evolutionary rhetoric.