Friday, April 15, 2011

Diversity and Equal Opportunity

As a part of a faculty-wide process of reflection on the question of Diversity and Equal Opportunity, the Research Unit of Biblical Studies organized a meeting on Friday, April 8, 2011. The Research Unit followed its own approach to this process.

The meeting commenced with a short presentation of the status quaestionis of 2 Samuel 11 – the story of David and Bathsheba. Alexander Abasili presented a wide range of approaches to the first sexual encounter between David and Bathsheba. This event has been interpreted in exegetical literature on the one hand as an abuse of power, power rape, rape with the pen, sexual assault or sexual rape. On the other hand, there is the theory that blames Bathsheba for what happened seeing her as tempting David in an effort to improve her status. For discussion of these various positions see: Alexander I. Abasili, “Was it Rape? The David and Bathsheba Pericope Re-examined,” VT 61 [2011] 1-15: 15.

The reflection on 2 Samuel 11 was a departure point for the debate about equal status of faculty members with regard to their power(position in the faculty), gender, religion, culture, status etc.

The discussion continued in small groups. The results of the meeting will be collated and presented, when the faculty meets as a whole to discuss the topic at a symposium on April 27, 2011.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Jesus - god as every other or God as no other? Larry Hurtado’s Antwerp Lecture on Jesus Devotion

A large group of students of the Biblical RU from Leuven attended the seminar and lecture offered by Prof. Larry Hurtado in Antwerp last Monday, April 4th. Hurtado himself claimed that his lecture dealt neither with New Testament Christology nor with early Christian Christology but with Christian doctrines on Jesus Christ. It has to be noted that Hurtado uses very cautious language, for instance, he says “convictions” instead of “dogmas” with regard to early Christian claims about Jesus.

Hurtado’s lecture entitled “How on earth did Jesus become God?” dealt with the significance of the resurrection in the early Jesus-devotion. There are three factors which are crucial for the devotion of Jesus: (1) personal continuity between the Galilean teacher and the risen Christ, namely that the risen Jesus and pre-paschal Jesus is the same person, (2) the fact that Jesus has been raised – passive voice on purpose, due to the fact that Jesus devotion was essentially related to devotion to God, the Father and (3) that “the risen Jesus” is depicted as an exalted figure. Moreover, Hurtado underlined the importance of the revelatory religious experiences of Jesus’ disciples after his resurrection. For his perspective it does not matter whether God really spoke to these people, he investigates the fact that these people were convinced that God spoke to them.

Whether or not one believes or not that Jesus is/was g(G)od is not actually a matter of dispute either for Hurtado. His aim is rather to show the process of shaping the conviction that Jesus is a divine figure in Early Christianity. It is known that the ancient Roman religion had many gods. New gods appeared, old ones were removed from the cult on a daily basis. The only criterion of being a god was being the object of a cultic worship. It did not matter whether one believed in a certain divinity or not. Only the cult and sacrifices testified that someone was a god. In the margin Hurtado noted that the definition of atheism radically changed since Antiquity: then an atheist was one who did not worship, while today an atheist is someone who does not believe in God. Early Christians were accused of atheism in the Roman Empire. So, what was unique and special with regard to the “deification” of Jesus? According to Hurtado there are three main differences: (1) this cult appeared very early among the followers of Jesus. In Hurtado’s opinion this devotion commenced even before the Damascus-event [conversion/call? of Paul], so about 15-20 years after Jesus’ execution. The proof for this is that Paul in his letters does not refer to any debate on Jesus’ status – his divinity is taken for granted. (2) Truly remarkable diversity and intensity in the Jesus-devotion unparalleled among the other cults. (3) The cult of Jesus happened in the framework of a monotheistic religion. Hurtado refers to a number of categories of beings residing in the divine spheres, i.e., angels or divine angels. However, Jesus does not stand as another God, nor as simply a divine agent. His divinity was indeed entirely dependent on the divinity of the Father: therefore Jesus is depicted as “son of God,” “lamb of God,” etc. of God. Hurtado agrees that from today’s perspective this kind of devotion can be labeled as “subordinationism.” However, for example in the fourth gospel the evangelist struggles to find a balance in describing the relationship between Jesus and God: equal, intimate or subordinate. So Hurtado’s view appears to be rather controversial.

During the seminar discussion many fascinating topics emerged. For example, the relationship between teaching and devotion. Namely, what was first? Hurtado’s opinion is in line with the following chain: god – dance – myth. So at the beginning God revealed himself, then appeared devotion/cult and at the very end came the formulation of teaching. That is why different teachings are based on the same devotion, not the other way around.

Although Hurtado’s claims seems reasonably we raise some criticism. For instance, what is the historical evidence for his hypothesis of the radical religious experience of Jesus' followers? Since the only criterion of being god in Antiquity was that someone was the recipient of veneration (cult - praxis/liturgy) we have to ask about early Christian liturgy. Is our knowledge sufficient concerning early Christian liturgy to allow Hurtado to make such claims?
Moreover, we note that Hurtado doesn't touch upon major issues that would be of value to his hypothesis (as, for instance, the pericope of true worship in John 4). Finally, although the lecture and seminar were really insightful and fascinating, neither of them actually offered an answer to the question posed in the title: “how on earth did Jesus become God?”

Saturday, April 2, 2011

The earliest Christian writings (probably)

BBC reports that in northern Jordan a substantial amount of writings has been recently found. The collection contains circa 70 items. Since they are (1) in a form of a book, not a scroll, they (2) have an image of Menorah and a cross and (3) they enclose an expression to be found also in the Book of Revelation (I shall walk upright) is has been argued that this writings might have been of the Christian origin.

However, “Christianity” of these writings raises serious questions. Firstly, since menorah is clearly not a Christian symbol, we may ask whether a cross was really Christian symbol in the first century CE. Secondly the text of Revelation is not specific text, everyone can go uprightly, not necessarily a/the Messiah, etc.

Do You think that this discovery may teach us something on the Christianity in times between Jesus’ crucifixion and first writings of the New Testament?

Also see a discussion on
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