Part 2: Larry Hurtado and 2nd Temple Jewish Monotheism

It turns out that Weaver had a different essay/book in mind. The message is still the same, however. These are my notes on chapter 1 of Larry Hurtado, “Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity” 2003.

Some summary bullet points:

  • Hurtado describes God’s uniqueness not in terms of ontological attributes (species uniqueness as Heiser calls it) but in terms of worship-worthiness. The Jews are “monotheistic” because they offer cultic/liturgical worship to only one individual, the God of Israel. Hurtado distances himself from Bauckham who argues that God was seen as conceptually/doctrinally unique.
  • The Jews recognized other “divine” figures besides the one God, exalted humans and angels, who serve God. The Jews honor and reverence them, but do not worship them.
  • Hurtado does not discuss any nuance the word “divine” carries in his usage, and he refers to lesser exalted figures as well as God as “divine”.
  • Hurtado does not discuss the exact meaning of the word “god” either. However, he does not refer to any individual but God as a “god” when discussing 2nd Temple Judaism.
  • The only mention Hurtado makes of creatio ex nihilo is in criticizing another scholar (Peter Hayman) who places that limitation on the definition of “monotheism.”

When discussing 2nd Temple Jewish monotheism and modern Mormonism I find it very easy for two individuals to talk past each other. The terms “divine” and “god” can be ambiguous if not specifically defined. We may find that we are equivocating on those terms if we are not careful. For example, D&C 132 describes exalted men as “gods”, but other scholars (such as Hurtado) might consider a “god” to be only that which is worshipped (though he doesn’t specify). LDS do not consider exalted men to be worthy of our worship. Thus, confusion and miscommunication are companions to any discussion of these issues unless terms are very carefully and specifically defined.

If “monotheism” is defined as the worship of only one god, then Mormonism definitely qualifies as monotheistic. The Book of Mormon and the D&C clearly teach that God the Father, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are “one God.” One might question how the inclusion of various members of the Godhead fit into that formula, but that is a question that other Christians likewise must wrestle with. The acceptance of Jesus Christ as being worthy of worship but as being distinct from the Father was a radical development in Jewish monotheism, but was one that was not seen by its adherents as breaching monotheism. That is a subject for another post, however. The bulk of Hurtado’s book is dedicated to that topic. Here we only examine his description of 2nd Temple Jewish Monotheism.

Below are some selected excerpts from chapter 1 of  Hurtado’s book.

Pg 30: “Although the Hebrew Scriptures present Israel as summoned from the first to an exclusive worship of Yahweh, and as condemned for worshipping other deities, the earliest and clearest expressions of a genuinely monotheistic belief (that is, a denial of the efficacy or reality of any other deity) are found in Isaiah 43-48, in a section of the book that is widely seen among scholars as coming from the period of the Babylonian exile (sixth century B.C.E.).”

Pg. 31, “Grabbe’s wording nicely conveys my point: to engage in the worship of other deities was to abandon Judaism. For devout Jews, the core requirement of Judaism was the exclusive worship of Israel’s God.”

Pg. 31, “For assessing the historical significance of the devotion given to Jesus in early Christian circles, with Jesus represented variously as unique agent of God “the Father,” it is still more important to note that the Jewish resistance to worshipping any figure but the one God of Israel was manifested not only against the deities of other peoples and traditions but also with reference to figures that we might term “divine agents” of the God of Israel. Even the angelic figures that formed part of God’s vast heavenly entourage and that feature so prominently in some Jewish writings of the Greek and Roman periods, and also the great human heroes in the Bible (e.g., Moses) or of postbiblical history (e.g., the Maccabean heroes), were not treated as rightful recipients of cultic worship in any known Jewish circles of the time.

Pg. 31 footnote 10: “Because the word “worship” and its Greek and Hebrew equivalents can connote a variety of degrees and forms of reverence, I wish to make it clear that by “worship” here I mean the sort of reverence that was reserved by ancient devout Jews for God alone and was intended by them to indicate God’s uniqueness. I use the term to designate “cultic” worship, especially devotion offered in a specifically worship (liturgical) setting and expressive of the thanksgiving, praise, communion, and petition that directly represent, manifest, and reinforce the relationship of the worshipers with the deity.”

Pg. 34: “Moreover, the issue is Roman-era Jewish worship practice: how and to whom Jews prayed, offered sacrifice, and otherwise gave what they intended as worship of a divine figure. For this, we have in fact a good deal of evidence that devout Jews were quite scrupulous in restricting full worship to the God of Israel alone.”

Pg. 34: “None of the texts in question gives evidence of public, corporate cultic devotion given to figures other than the God of Israel among Jews who identified themselves with their ancestral religious traditions. There is, for example, no evidence of an “angel cultus,” that is, worship offered to angels as part of the devotional pattern of any known Jewish group of the time.”

Pg. 35: “Ancient Jews certainly saw the heavens as full of angels and made ample space for the involvement of various figures from God’s heavenly entourage in the operation of God’s sovereignty over the world and God’s redemptive purposes. But in the expression of their religious beliefs, they showed a concern to preserve God’s uniqueness, and even more significantly in their cultic worship they maintained an exclusivity.

Pg. 36: [Speaking of an earlier essay,  Hurtado, “First-Century Jewish Monotheism,” 9-14] “As I concluded in that essay, two major themes or concerns come through the monotheistic rhetoric of ancient Jews: (1) God’s universal sovereignty as creator and ruler over all, even over the forces that oppose God; and (2) God’s uniqueness, expressed by contrasting God with the other deities of the religious environment, but also expressed in contrast or distinction between God and God’s own heavenly retinue, the angels.”

Pg. 36: “Thus, for example, it is possible to mistake Philo’s reference to the Logos as “the second god” (ton deuteron theon, in Quaest. Gen 2.62) as evidence of a ditheistic outlook unless we take account of the larger context of these statements and Philo’s emphatic affirmation that worship is to be restricted to the one God of Israel alone (e.g., Decal. 65).

(Note below that Hurtado considers God’s uniqueness to be one of worship-worthiness, not of “attributes and functions”.)

Pg. 36-37: [Quoting from an earlier essay, Hurtado, “First-Century Jewish Monotheism,” 21-11] “ Jews were quite willing to imagine beings who bear the divine name within them and can be referred to by one or more of God’s titles … beings so endowed with divine attributes as to make it difficult to distinguish them descriptively from God, beings who are very direct personal extensions of God’s powers and sovereignty.  About this, there is clear evidence.  This clothing of servants of God with God’s attributes and even his name will seem “theologically very confusing” if we go looking for a “strict monotheism” of relatively modern distinctions of “ontological status” between God and these figures, and expect such distinctions to be expressed in terms of “attributes and functions.”  …The evidence … shows that it is in fact in the area of worship that we find “the decisive criterion” by which Jews maintained the uniqueness of God over against both idols and God’s own deputies.  I may also add that the characteristic willingness of Greco-Roman Jews to endure the opprobrium of non-Jews over their refusal to worship the other deities, even to the point of martyrdom, seems to me to constitute a fairly “strict monotheism” expressed in fairly powerful measures.”

(Note below that Hurtado refers to other heavenly beings as “divine”)

 Pg. 43: “Second, like a good many other scholars, Harvey portrays Jewish monotheism (and early Christian developments too) in terms of doctrines and concepts, giving insufficient attention to the cultic/liturgical practices and scruples involved. But these are the matters emphasized in ancient Jewish tradition as the key boundary markers that distinguished the one God from other heavenly/divine beings and that set apart valid devotion from its idolatrous counterfeits.”

Pg. 47: “Bauckham’s essay was influential in shaping the questions I pursued in One God, One Lord, where I demonstrated in some detail that in Second Temple Jewish traditional there was an impressive interest in various figures pictured as God’s principal agent, and that the crucial line of distinguishing these figures from God was in worship. God was to be worshiped, and worship was to be withheld from any of these figures. I contend that this was the decisive and clearest expression of what we call Jewish “monotheism.”…To underscore two important points: Jewish monotheism of the Roman period (1) accommodated beliefs and very honorific rhetoric about various principal-agent figures such as high angels and exalted humans like Moses, and (2) drew a sharp line between any such figure and the one God in the area of cultic practice, reserving cultic worship for the one God.

(Note below that Hurtado distances himself from Bauckham.)

Pg. 47, footnote 66: “In more recent publications Bauckham seems to back away a bit from his earlier emphasis on worship as the crucial criterion and manifestation of Jewish monotheism, and on the worship of Christ as the crucial indicator of Christ’s significance in early Christian groups, preferring to characterize both Jewish monotheism and early Christ-devotion mainly in conceptual/doctrinal terms. Both Jewish monotheism and Christ-devotion obviously involved beliefs about God’s uniqueness and about Christ’s significance. But I remain persuaded that the key way that Jews and Christians distinguished God and Christ from other honorific figures was in giving and withholding worship.”

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2 comments on “Part 2: Larry Hurtado and 2nd Temple Jewish Monotheism

  1. […] another addition to his blog, James quotes extensively from another Hurtado book. One quote is this: […]

  2. Rameumptom says:

    Great posts, James. Clearly there were many divine beings with God’s attributes. Rev 19 tells of John worshiping the angel, representing Christ, and was rebuked for doing so. This fits in perfectly with the concept that there are many divine beings, but only one worthy of worship.

    In such a definition, LDS are equally as monotheistic as other Christians.

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