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How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?: Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus Paperback – November 2, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 23 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

The Bible Today
"Written with clarity, cogency, and great erudition, [this book] is a joy to read and a strong challenge to much of contemporary scholarship."

John Koenig
— General Theological Seminary
"Larry Hurtado is changing the face of New Testament studies through his persistence in searching out the origins of the extraordinary devotion to Jesus by his earliest followers. Here he presents his arguments with force and clarity while adding an important chapter on the high cost of Jesus-devotion to first-century believers within their sociopolitical and family systems."

Calvin Theological Journal
"The pendulum has finally swung back! In stunning and dramatic fashion, Larry Hurtado has shifted the Christian world away from tired questers into the direction of high Christology."

Choice
"[How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?] is the best short and mature introduction to the bulk of [Hurtado's] earlier work. . . Highly recommended."

Westminster Theological Journal
"Not only enhances our understanding of NT Christology, but it also makes a valuable and unique contribution to our historical understanding of the origins of Christianity."

From the Back Cover

In "How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God?" Larry Hurtado investigates the intense devotion to Jesus that emerged with surprising speed after his death. Reverence for Jesus among early Christians, notes Hurtado, included both grand claims about Jesus' significance and a pattern of devotional practices that effectively treated him as divine. This book argues that whatever one makes of such devotion to Jesus, the subject deserves serious historical consideration.

Mapping out the lively current debate about Jesus, Hurtado explains the evidence, issues, and positions at stake. He goes on to treat the opposition to -- and severe costs of -- worshiping Jesus, the history of incorporating such devotion into Jewish monotheism, and the role of religious experience in Christianity's development out of Judaism. The follow-up to Hurtado's award-winning "Lord Jesus Christ" (2003), this book provides compelling answers to queries about the development of the church's belief in the divinity of Jesus.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 246 pages
  • Publisher: Eerdmans (November 2, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802828612
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802828613
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (23 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #253,906 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Virgil Brown VINE VOICE on October 14, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
About 112 CE (or AD if one prefers), Pliny the Younger wrote a fascinating letter to emporer Trajan. In it Pliny tells Trajan that during Christian gatherings, Christians "chant antiphonally a hymn to Christ as to a god." But when did early Christianity first recognize Jesus as divine? The compendium of opinion (following Wilhelm Bousset's 1913 _Kyrios Christos_) has contended that Christianity began as a small group of messianic Jews in Roman Judea and the worship of Jesus began when Christianity emerged in Hellenistic circles. The divination of Jesus emerged in the larger pagan religious environment. Hurtado believes that the evidence demands a better explanation.

Hurtado writes that worship of Jesus was an explosively quick phenomenon. In our earliest Christian writings such as 1 Cor 1.2 (mid 1st century), cultic devotion to Jesus is presupposed. It is reflected in the way Christians understood Psalm 110 where Christians saw Jesus in the opening words "And the Lord said to my lord, 'Sit at my right hand...' "

Hurtado explores Phil 2.9-11 in detail and concludes that Jesus is the rightful recipient of the reverence portrayed in Is 45.23. Jesus Christ is Lord; it is the name above all other names, the divine name itself, God.

There are two main factors that point to the early date and the Jewish setting of the early reverence of Jesus. The writings of the Apostle Paul are the earliest in the New Testament and contain a wide range of honorifics about Jesus. Jesus is "christos" or messiah, "Lord," "God's Son," etc. But of even greater significance is the fact Paul's conversion experience occurred just a handful of years after Jesus' death.
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Format: Paperback
Larry Hurtado has done it again. His previous work, "Lord Jesus Christ" is one of the best, the most thorough, not to mention the most readable, explorations of earliest Christianity on the market. Don't miss it.

With "How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God" Hurtado ponders the question: when did the primitive Christian community come to believe Jesus was God?

Some modern scholars have suggested that the idea evolved. Bousset, for example, believed that in the primitive Palestinian community "Jesus was simply revered as the divinely appointed 'Son of Man'" (P 12) rather than as God himself.

Hurtado proves this wrong. "The devotion to Jesus was without true analogy" (P 23) as were the early devotional practices, and all of them suggest that from the very first Jesus was regarded as divine.

Paul's letters, which are the first written records we have, presuppose a divine Christ. This is so even in the first letter believed to be written, 1 Thessalonians. Furthermore, in the epistles Paul refers to devotional practices which were given to believers before Paul visited them, thus pushing the chronology back very close to the death of Jesus, making any kind of evolution impossible. "Among the devotional practices of earliest Christian circles ...were such things as invoking Jesus' name in healing and exorcism" (135).

Those who doubt that the earliest Christians believed Jesus was a God have no explanation for the persecutions that the Christians experienced. Why did Paul harry the believers? Why was Stephen killed? And "Paul's reference to...'forty lashes minus one' obviously indicates the punishment..was .most likely carried out by local synagogue authorities" (72).
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This book is mis-titled. The title should be "When on Earth Did Jesus Become a God" because this is the question Hurtado answers. He actually says very little about "how," other than telling us that it was due to "powerful revelatory experiences." Despite the misnomer, however, I still give the book five stars because answering "when" as effectively as he does is a big, big deal.

The core of the book is Part I, consisting of four chapters. This material was first delivered as a series of lectures to Israelis at Ben-Gurion University. Two appendices by sponsors of the lectures give the context for the series (better communication between Jews and Christians about areas of common historical interest). Part II is comprised of four stand-alone essays, originally published in various journals, brought together here because they each reinforce an aspect of the lectures' topic.

Hurtado takes an historical approach to the subject rather than a theological one. Thus he pays close attention to the practices disclosed in the New Testament and other documents of Second Temple Judaism. He is cautious in drawing conclusions and seldom, if ever, pursues red herrings. His goal is to demonstrate that veneration of Jesus to a godlike status came almost immediately in the wake of Jesus' resurrection. It could not have arisen decades later as a result of syncretic influences from Gentiles. Here, he has arrived at a conclusion and he presses it with indefatigable zeal. Scholars may quibble with the edges of his argument, but its core is unassailable: it was Jewish believers who first gave Jesus godlike devotion, not Romans, Greeks, or anyone else.
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