While I was away a meme has been going around, which in its latest permutation asks Biblical scholars to list 5 primary sources that have influenced them. Ken Brown tagged me, and since most primary sources have already been mentioned, and because I’m reading Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the God of Israel with an aim to reviewing it here, I thought I’d combine the two and offer five primary sources which have influenced me to think differently about monotheism and Christology than Richard Bauckham does.
I begin by noting that the title of Bauckham’s book is, inexplicably, Jesus and the God of Israel rather than Jesus as the God of Israel. Bauckham’s book focuses on the notion of “divine identity” and repeatedly refers to Jesus’ inclusion in that divine identity. What it means for a person to be included in another’s identity is never explained, but as many of the sources I mention below make clear, the divine identity as Bauckham defines it is something that God shares with others in Jewish literature from this period. Perhaps a close analogy would be adoption, in which parental/family identity is shared as a new member is incorporated into it. But Bauckham certainly doesn’t want to understand Christology in terms of adoption, much less adoptionism. He does clearly want to view Christianity as having done something that is without precedent, and that apologetic aim colors his reading of texts that seem to provide precisely the sorts of precedents that he denies exist.
Here are the five primary texts I’ve chosen (more could have been mentioned):
1) Philo, Who is Heir of Divine Things? chapter 42 (§ 206)
In this famous instance, Philo wrote that the Word (Logos) is “neither being uncreated as God, nor yet created as you, but being in the midst between these two extremities, like a hostage, as it were, to both parties: a hostage to the Creator, as a pledge and security that the whole race would never fly off and revolt entirely, choosing disorder rather than order; and to the creature, to lead it to entertain a confident hope that the merciful God would not overlook his own work.”
We could easily leave matters there. All claims that Jewish thought drew a clear and unambiguous line between the one supreme God and everything else stumbles over this verse, which does not show that there was no sense of God’s distinctiveness, but does show that the dividing line was itself the Logos (and other similar concepts), which was inherently a both/and (or neither/nor) concept in this period.
2) Justin Martyr’s First Apology ch.6
At one point Justin defends Christian faith against the charge of atheism as follows: “How can they with any justice be called atheists, who reverence and worship the Father of all Righteousness, the Son Who came from the Father and taught us this, the whole Host of Angels and the Prophetical Spirit?”
Justin played a key role in articulating the Church’s developing understanding of the Word, and he (perplexingly for most modern readers) mentions in conjunction with (and in between!) his mention of the Father, the Son and the Spirit also the “whole host of angels”. Does this not suggest that the distinction Bauckham draws, between personified divine attributes intrinsic to the divine identity, and angelic functionaries subordinate and separate from the divine identity, was lost on one of the better minds of the early post-NT church?
Ironically, although he rejects the distinction between function and ontology that has traditionally been made, Bauckham’s own discussion of “divine identity” is largely about functions (creation and rule) rather than more obvious characteristics of identity, such as personal name. The irony is that, even more clearly than divine prerogatives and functions, God can be found sharing his own personal name, the tetragrammaton (YHWH), in the literature of this period (not to mention later Rabbinic sources, including 3 Enoch, and Samaritan sources). The angel Yahoel in Apoc. Abr. 10 is a key example of this, and this deserves more attention from Bauckham than he has thus far accorded it.
4) The Similitudes of Enoch
Bauckham refers to the Son of Man in 1 Enoch as “the exception that proves the rule” by exercising divine judgment and receiving worship. It is not clear what Bauckham thinks that phrase means, but (to quote Inigo Mentoya) “I do not think it means what you think it means”. An exception that proves the rule means a case where, because of highly unusual circumstances, something happened that would not normally have. Yet Bauckham offers no explanation of what precisely was exceptional or extraordinary in the context, thought and/or composition of the Similitudes. And so rather than offering an exception that proves the rule, he fails to realize that he has offered an example that disproves his rule. The rule, as it happens, had already been disproved centuries earlier by the author of 1 Chronicles 29:20-23, where we are told that Solomon sat on the throne of YHWH and the people worshipped (i.e. prostrated themselves before) God and the king (one verb with two objects).
5) The Book of Revelation
Finally, let me include a New Testament text in this list as well. Bauckham famously claimed that the Book of Revelation makes a point about Christology and monotheism by contrasting the worship of Jesus and God with angels’ refusal of worship. This claim runs aground on Revelation 3:9, where it is said that Christians will receive worship.
I’ve offered five key primary texts here, but I intend to return to a more traditional format review in the coming days. (There have been other blog review series: see Jared Calaway’s and Nick Norelli’s). I might also mention that my own recent book on monotheism and Christology was completed before Bauckham’s book came out, but since his book is a collection of earlier studies, it seems that all the criticisms of Bauckham’s conclusions I published in The Only True God continue to apply to Jesus and the God of Israel. Indeed, the texts mentioned above are among those discussed in my book.
I won’t tag anyone specific with the meme I mentioned at the beginning, since I don’t have time to check who has and has not yet been tagged before. But if you haven’t been tagged yet, feel free to keep this meme going!