A couple of recent blog reviews of Jesus Monotheism Volume 1

I am grateful for a couple of blog posts dedicated to Jesus Monotheism 1 that have appeared in recent weeks. One by Derek Rishmawy is entirely fair and appreciative.

The other, at The Two Cities site, is by Max Botner at St Andrews. It is also appreciative, though a little more probing. He makes some valuable observations on my approach to Christological origins and I’d like to comment on a couple of points he makes.

At one point, Botner says:

“While Fletcher-Louis agrees with William Horbury that the ruler-cult offers a partial precedent for the worship of Jesus, he argues that the evidence is to be found in priestly rather than royal messianism.”

It is true that I am going to argue for the importance of priestly precedents for the earliest Christology. And, to be fair to any readers who might have gained the impression that I think “priestly” messianism “rather than” royal messianism is the key, in my discussion of Ruler Cult (in JM 1 ch. 6) I do argue that priestly categories have been neglected and there has been an over-emphasis on kingship in much of the scholarship. At least, scholars who come at the pre-Christian Jewish material looking for answers to NT questions have missed the considerable evidence (highlighted by a long line of non-NT specialists) that the high priesthood and priestly messianism was rather important to Second Temple Jews.

But I do not see a sharp “rather than” between priesthood and kingship as precedents for NT Christology. Biblical prophecies, and first century Jewish expectations, of a coming king are very important for Christological origins. (This is why Joshua Jipp’s new book Christ is King is so important). Also, for many, if not most, Jews the high priest was a royal figure. For some he was, indeed, a king. So Israel’s high priesthood necessarily means “and also” not “rather than” royal messianism. Against this background, I will argue in volume 4, the fact that Jesus is both a high priest and a messianic ruler in the line of David means the peculiar character of his kingship stands in sharp relief. Paying attention to the role that the high priesthood paid in the Bible and in Jesus’ historical context means Jesus’ royal self-consciousness was far more important than mainstream NT scholarship has hitherto realised.

On another point, Botner makes this striking comment:

… Fletcher-Louis’s decision to build his argument from the “emerging consensus” has its strengths and weaknesses. Its strength is that it allows him to focus on issues within early high christology models which have hitherto gone unaddressed. Its weakness is that the project hinges, in part, on whether or not one comes to the book already persuaded by the “emerging consensus.” For readers who are persuaded, such as this reviewer, this move is of little consequence; for others, however, I suspect that the book’s minimal engagement with scholars who do not align with this “consensus” may be deemed problematic.

I am a little surprised by this comment. It is true that volume 1 does not have a chapter titled “scholarship outside the emerging consensus”. But every chapter bar the first one engages with questions and issues that have led some specialists to reject the findings of the emerging consensus. And on several key points (esp. chs 3–7) I have voiced my agreement with those who have raised objections to the approach adopted by Hurtado and Bauckham. (I agree with Dunn and Casey that a lack of persecution of christians for Christ devotion is a problem that Hurtado and Bauckham have not adequately addressed. I agree with leading voices of the Enoch Seminar that the Similitudes of Enoch and a Jewish Son of Man expectation must have played a more important role in Christological origins than the likes of Hurtado and Bauckham admit. And so on … more of this in volume 2).

I wonder, if there is some truth to Botner’s comment, is it simply because there really has not been much critical reaction to the “consensus” that I discern gathering around the work of Hurtado and Bauckham. Have I missed any critical publications of their work? 

There is perhaps a problem here which I did not describe explicitly in JM 1. There are, no doubt, scholars who remain committed to an older paradigm who reject some/all of the emerging consensus findings. But they have not explained (in print) why they remain committed to older views. One hope I have had in writing Jesus Monotheism is that it will provoke a deeper and wider conversation. If there are weighty arguments against those points of the emerging consensus that I have endorsed and that I have missed I would love to hear them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *