Summer – a time for catching up, relaxing, exploring, starting new projects, or perhaps completing work in progress.  Reading, of course, is key in all of these.  With this in mind, we asked some faculty members at St. John’s about books that have influenced them personally or professionally. 

Dr. Raymond Bulman, a professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies, writes:

A recent book that I have found influential is How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus.  In this illuminating scholarly work, Larry Hurtado,  Professor at Edinburgh University, Scotland, explores the earliest Jewish Christian devotion to Jesus.  During the first few decades following the death of Jesus, his disciples and followers were almost exclusively pious Jews in Roman occupied Judea.  Using the best methods of biblical and historical scholarship, Hurtado shows that these devout Messianic Jews, from the very beginning of the Jesus movement, consistently offered a devotion to Jesus that was equivalent to divine worship–while insisting at the same time on their fidelity to their monotheistic Jewish roots.  These early Jewish followers of Jesus, were convinced that he was not only God’s unique emissary, but that it was the will of God (the Father) that they should show Jesus full reverence “as to a God.” 

Hurtado also maintains that these early Jewish disciples of Jesus paid a “severe cost” for their extraordinary devotion to Jesus in terms of alienation from their friends and relatives in the larger Jewish community.  No doubt, their worship of Jesus was a radical innovation within the strictly monotheistic society of Second-Temple Judaism.  Hurtado claims that this sudden change in religious practice was the result of a powerful revelatory experience within the community of Jesus’ first followers.  He makes this case by a careful analysis of the earliest New Testament texts, such as the writings of St. Paul, which point to such intense religious experiences. The book’s thesis undermines the scholarly theories that either the divine worship of Jesus was the result of a gradual evolutionary process or was later introduced into Christian practice by the growing number of Gentiles who eventually entered the Christian church.

Hurtado’s careful study is especially fascinating and important to me, because it competently addresses some of the most difficult historical questions that have been with me since graduate school.