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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WORLD FAMOUS BIBLICAL SCHOLAR ON THE ORIGINS OF CHRISTIANITY
Anyone who has read anything in the field of biblical studies knows Martin Hengel. In "The Son of God" he asks how an obscure Galilean is described by Paul about 25 years later "as a preexistent divine figure" (p 1).

This book, which was written in the 70s, answers those believers in the History of Religions theories. Hengel points out that "The Hellenistic...
Published on April 28, 2006 by Amazon Customer

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20 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What's wrong with perfected Platonism?
Martin Hengel is a Christian theologian of the more "traditional" bent. Personally, I'm not a Christian at all. Still, I enjoyed his book "The `Hellenization' of Judea in the first century after Christ". Hengel argues, quite persuasively in my opinion, that *both* Jesus and Paul might have been Hellenized Jews, since Palestine and Palestinian Judaism were Hellenized...
Published on February 20, 2011 by Ashtar Command


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23 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars WORLD FAMOUS BIBLICAL SCHOLAR ON THE ORIGINS OF CHRISTIANITY, April 28, 2006
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Anyone who has read anything in the field of biblical studies knows Martin Hengel. In "The Son of God" he asks how an obscure Galilean is described by Paul about 25 years later "as a preexistent divine figure" (p 1).

This book, which was written in the 70s, answers those believers in the History of Religions theories. Hengel points out that "The Hellenistic mysteries did not know of sons of gods who died and rose again" (p 25) anymore than did the cults which featured dying vegetation dieties like Osiris. After examining and disposing of all these theories, he takes on the gnostic myths. Here he points out the tiresome error of many (for example, a certain Mr. Crossan) who try to place gnostic texts that were written in the third century back into the first century. "Gnosticism itself is first visible as a spiritual movement at the end of the first century at the earliest" (p 34) he points out tartly.

Other interesting points: Hengel argues for an inner consistency of the belief in Christ, Jesus' unique relationship with "Abba", Jesus' position in comparison to that of all the angels, and the differences between early Christianity and other religions.
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20 of 30 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars What's wrong with perfected Platonism?, February 20, 2011
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This review is from: The Son of God: The Origin of Christology and the History of Jewish-Hellenistic Religion (Paperback)
Martin Hengel is a Christian theologian of the more "traditional" bent. Personally, I'm not a Christian at all. Still, I enjoyed his book "The `Hellenization' of Judea in the first century after Christ". Hengel argues, quite persuasively in my opinion, that *both* Jesus and Paul might have been Hellenized Jews, since Palestine and Palestinian Judaism were Hellenized during the period in question. There is therefore a certain continuity between Jesus and Paul, rather than the sharp break postulated by modern higher criticism. While Hengel's agenda is theological (no surprise there!), his arguments in "The `Hellenization' of Judea" are nevertheless quite strong. Reading a response from, say, Bart Ehrman would be interesting.

"The Son of God", unfortunately, is more overtly theological than the book on Hellenization. Hengel attempts to prove that the idea of Jesus the dying and resurrecting god-man is unique and therefore cannot be explained in terms of influence from pagan or Gnostic sources. Now, I don't deny that the Christian concept of Jesus in many ways *is* unique, but is it unique in the sense that nothing whatsoever preceded it in terms of influence and inspiration? Not even Hengel believes so, but he is at pains to prove that "the Son of God" is a Jewish rather than a pagan or Gnostic idea. He mentions various intermediary redeemer figures from the Jewish tradition, discusses the Jewish concept of God's Wisdom (which was often personified), analyzes Philo's philosophy, and even makes parallels to Jewish mysticism.

There is just one problem with all this.

Ancient Judaism was Hellenized, remember?

Already in his book on the Hellenization of Judea, Hengel puts "Hellenization" within quotation marks, claiming that it was impossible to draw the line between the Jewish and the Hellenized elements, both being a seamless Jewish whole at the time of Jesus. This is unconvincing, since the same Hengel has written several volumes on exactly what in Judaism was Hellenized! Hellenism, of course, was "pagan", and that's why Hengel tries to have it both ways. If Judaism was Hellenized, then "Jewish" influences on early Christology might have been "pagan" or at least hybrid. This is the Pandora's Box that Hengel attempts to shut with this little volume, I think.

God's Wisdom was often personified...as a woman. Hengel never really discusses this, swiftly rejecting any Egyptian influences in a footnote. Others, of course, are not so sure. Since Judaism lacked a goddess, it's rather logical to search for pagan influences in this case. Further, Hengel himself points out that Philo was a Middle Platonist, but somehow believes that this makes him immune to influences from the mysteries or from the Egyptian surrounding. A more reasonable position, surely, would be the opposite. Hengel also admits that Philo somehow combined the Platonist concept of the Logos with the personified Jewish idea of Wisdom. This is obviously a forerunner to the famous Johannine prologue in the New Testament, but once again it's difficult to see in what sense this is a typically "Jewish" idea, rather than an idea developed from perhaps three different strands: Greek Platonism, Jewish tradition and (perhaps) Egyptian religion. Nor does Hengel discuss the curious fact, that Philo allegorically spoke of a virgin birth!

The similarities between Jesus as the Son of God and various figures from Jewish mysticism (such as Metatron) are striking, but since these sources are *later* than Christianity, it's unclear why Hengel uses them. He rejects similarities between Christianity and the mystery religions on the grounds that these are only known from late sources, and might therefore express Christian influence on the mysteries, rather than the opposite. But if so, why use late Jewish sources? Metatron might also be a Christian influence, this time on later Judaism.

An issue never discussed by the author at all, are the Platonic parallels to the crucifixion. Doesn't Plato mention that the righteous man might be hanged on a pole? Doesn't Plato also talk about The Son of God who is suspended crosswise in the universe? Justin Martyr certainly knew of this, and even uses it as evidence *for* Christianity, claiming that the Christian message is "perfected Platonism"! While it's true that most pagans (and Jews) considered the crucifixion to be a scandal, Justin's apologia shows that the opposite reaction was also possible. And Justin, of course, was a converted pagan.

In "The `Hellenization' of Judea", Hengel (apparently somewhat tongue in cheek!) mentions that Jesus turned water into wine - a miracle traditionally associated with Dionysius - and that there were Dionysian cults in the vicinity of Cana. In "The Son of God", the author also mentions the Corinthians, who had misunderstood the Pauline preaching of freedom in a somewhat Bacchanalian fashion. However, he never wrestles with the possible implications...

How theologians grapple with these issues, is a bit outside my jurisdiction, but they should at least pose the problem as it stands. C.S. Lewis wasn't afraid to do so, and came up with the solution that we should expect certain similarities between Christianity and paganism. Apparently, Lewis didn't think that this threatened the unique character of Jesus. Hengel, it seems, fear that it just might. His "The Son of God" therefore feels like an apologetic in the bad sense of that term.

I mean, what on earth is wrong with perfected Platonism, anyway?
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