Larry Hurtado’s Destroyer of the Gods– Part Ten


BEN: In the third chapter your main point seems to be that early Christians were distinctive in that they tried to establish a religious identity separable from one’s ethnic identity, and even more distinctive asked for exclusive devotion to their deity. Of course the latter was also true of Jews, and the former was true of Isis worshippers around the Empire, which was not tied to a particular Egyptian ethnic identity either. So maybe the term, ‘somewhat distinctive’ would be better. You also point out the voluntary nature of association with Christ followers, but that would also be true of practitioners of the mysteries, and many practitioners of the Isis religion. Nevertheless, I think your point is right that we owe to early Christianity more than anything else the idea of religious identity distinguishable from and not dependent on ethnic, city, hereditary identity. Comments?

LARRY: Yes, the differences that I cite are sometimes in major degrees, not black and white. I wouldn’t, however, agree that Isis-worshippers promoted a religious identity separate from ethnic identity, for adherents weren’t required to refrain from the other gods, especially gods of family, city, nation. Isis-adherence (as with the other so-called “mystery cults”) was more kind of add-on to one’s religious practices and identity. And, yes, Jews were to practice an exclusivity of worship also affirmed by the Jesus-movement. But, again, this exclusivity was promoted among Jewish people, not demanded of pagans. The early Jesus-movement did, however, require this exclusivity of all its adherents, regardless of ethnicity.

BEN: The term Christianoi is important, especially now that it can be confirmed to have been found in a graffito from before A.D. 79 in the Vesuvian towns. And as you surmise, even in the graffito, it appears to be a term outsiders use of an identifiable group of devotees to Christ in that city. But by the time of Ignatius, Christians were already using it of themselves (and I would say already in the time of 1 Peter). All of this suggests that Jew and Gentile in Christ were not seen as just an extension of Judaism in some mutated form, but rather a new entity. This brings us to the discussion of the fact that Paul carefully avoids called the church ‘Israel’ in Rom. 9-11 (and I would argue elsewhere), because of his eschatology (he thinks God is not reneging on his promises for redeeming Israel). This is certainly different from later supercessionism in the second century. And yet, phrases like priesthood of all believers etc. are applied to the early Christians in NT literature. Do you think that Paul, Peter, James saw their Jewish movement as the fulfillment or proper development of Judaism, not least because Jesus was the Jewish messiah, or were they already tending towards Christianity as a new thing altogether? Thoughts?

LARRY; I judge that Jewish adherents of the Jesus-movement such as Paul, Peter, James, et alia, saw themselves as part of a divinely ordained development that both spoke to biblical prophecy and pointed in unforeseen dimensions of fulfillment. This eschatological development was new, not simply Judaism as usual, but I don’t think that they thought of themselves as founding a new religion.

"Thank you for posting Dr. Ben!"

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