Larry Hurtado’s Destroyer of the Gods– Part Seven

Larry Hurtado’s Destroyer of the Gods– Part Seven August 26, 2016


BEN: One of your major theses seems to be that while Jews were viewed as peculiar, and even perverse, because of their worship of only one God, their God, nevertheless, because they were a specific ethnic group, it was largely written off as a peculiarity of that ethnos. But the problem for Christianity was, in your view, that it involved a considerable number of Gentile converts from paganism, and this was what was problematic. But even in Paul’s churches, there were both Jewish and Gentile followers of Christ, and Paul’s co-workers involved various Jews as well, so perhaps it would be a better thesis to say that the reason for so much contumely against Christians is that, like Jews, they insisted on monotheism, but unlike Jews, they were not a particular ethnos, but rather multi-ethnic. I agree that the conversions would have caused particular consternation to some Gentile family and friends, but then, those same family members presumably would have been just as upset if their family member joined the Jews and refused to participate in pagan religion any more for that reason. I would suggest it was not just what converts left behind, but the new thing they were embracing that caused huge offense. How would you respond?

LARRY: Yes, a pagan family would likely have taken offense at a member becoming a proselyte-convert to Judaism. But what such a convert did in a sense fitted the basic notion of “religion” tied to “ethnicity.” They abandoned their ancestral gods, and so also changed their ethnic ties and identity. What pagans did when they became Christians was something different. They ostensibly remained Greeks, Egyptians, etc., and sought also to remain members of their families, but they were to avoid participation in the worship of their own traditional gods. There was no real precedent, no recognized pattern for this.

But, yes, there were likely things about early Christian beliefs that also upset pagans. The notion of personal resurrection, for example, likely seemed ludicrous or even odious. But I emphasize the “ground-level” social disturbance that Christianity represented.

BEN: While I agree that the extent to which early Christian emphasized a love ethic is distinctive of early Christianity it would appear, nevertheless of course this comes right out of the Pentateuch, as Jews such as Jesus and the author of 1 John suggest, so I don’t think this can be said to be distinctive of the early Christian movement, except perhaps in the degree to which love was emphasized. Right? It is easier to distinguish Christian belief and praxis from pagan belief and praxis, but not so easy to distinguish Jewish and Christian belief and praxis. This applies also to having a once a week corporate worship day— both Jews and early Christians did.

LARRY: True, as I note in Destroyer at various points, a number of features of what became “Christianity” derived from the Jewish tradition in which it arose. So, yes, the commands to love God and love your neighbor come from biblical texts/tradition, and the weekly corporate worship gathering likely shows the precedent of weekly synagogue meetings. More broadly, the behavioral teaching (in such matters as sex, for example) largely also derive from Judaism. It was the more aggressive trans-ethnic propagation of these teachings that distinguished early Christianity from its Jewish parent.

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