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Larry Hurtado’s Critique of How Jesus Became God

One of the leading scholars of early “Christology” (i.e., early portrayals/beliefs about Christ) in the English speaking world is Larry Hurtado, emeritus professor of New Testament at the University of Edinburgh.   Larry is an established New Testament scholar, with additional expertise in such fields as the Gospel of Mark and textual criticism – the area of his dissertation work in the 1970s.   I first came to know Larry in connection with textual criticism.  He was probably 10 years ahead of me in the field, but our dissertations dealt with roughly similar subjects.  He has written two particularly important books on Christology, one a short piece and the other fairly massive.  He is widely seen as an expert.

Larry has a blog and on it he has written a critique of How Jesus Became God, which, as you know, is a kind of Christology for popular audiences.   Much of what Larry says in his blog post is positive, but some, as you would expect, is negative.  I agree completely with his positive comments and with none of his negative ones.  🙂

Some of the negative comments are actually misreadings of my views.   When his post appeared a few days ago, I wrote him an email indicating that what he charged me with saying or assuming in fact was NOT something that I either said or assumed.   After several email exchanges back and forth, Larry graciously agreed to set the record straight about my views, as set forth in my book.   This is important because once these points are set straight, there are really very few negative points in his review, and these few are areas of genuine disagreement where I think we can have a genuine academic discussion.

If you want to see Larry’s original post, it is here:  http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2014/05/29/how-jesus-became-god-per-ehrman/  ;   if you would like to see where he clarifies the points where he has misread me (well, in two of the three instances; for some reason he didn’t cite the third one – but it’s not a huge point in any event), it is here: http://larryhurtado.wordpress.com/2014/06/02/ehrman-on-jesus-amendments/

What I’ll do in subsequent posts is first, indicate where he has misread me (and show how or possibly why he has misread me), and  second, engage with him on the points that remain where he has not misread me but where we simply disagree.

Before doing that, I should make a comment on Larry’s opening salvo of the original review, in which he said the following:…

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  1. Avatar
    JEffler  June 2, 2014

    This will be interesting to follow!

  2. Robertus
    Robertus  June 3, 2014

    When he says “seems to,” I don’t think that implies that you have an ulterior motive, but merely that he is being cautious about describing what he perceives to be your intent.

    I think his point with #1 is that he (and others) have contributed more to the scholarly literature on this topic than you, which you “seem to” acknowledge in #2.

    I look forward to your more detailed treatment of the ‘son of man’ questions and wish Maruice Casey were still around to engage further on this topic, as well.

  3. Avatar
    toejam  June 3, 2014

    The two snarks refering to your financial success are a bit below-the-belt IMO.

  4. talitakum
    talitakum  June 3, 2014

    I just finished your book. Besides some theological disagreement with Hurtado, it seems to me that you share the same historical views on early eruption of high Christology claims. This possibly makes you – willing or not (!) – a member of the Early High Christology Club. How does it feel? 🙂

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 3, 2014

      Yes, he’s asked me to join them in their annual celebration over a bottle of single malt!

      • talitakum
        talitakum  June 4, 2014

        A bottle of single malt? I can read the “Scottish source” behind this proposal 🙂 And once the bottle is gone, I suspect you may even find a solution to the “Son of Man” problem !

      • Robertus
        Robertus  June 4, 2014

        Early high christology from above is all well and good; it cannot be denied in the texts of Paul, but you should insist that the christology be gounded. Hence, you should insist on a very peaty Scotch. I am on my own quest for the peatiest Scotch. Larry must know some good ones.

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 5, 2014

          I’m a peaty guy myself. Around here about all you can get is Talisker and Laguvulin (I refuse to drink 10 year Laphroig), but there are even better options across the pond.

          • Robertus
            Robertus  June 6, 2014

            Ledaig is also available over here fairly commonly. But nothing like over there.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  June 6, 2014

            Yes, one of the best single malts I had was a single cask Ledaig that I got in Edinburgh at Cadenheads. Thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

  5. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 3, 2014

    I had already read Dr. Hurtado’s two blogs, but did not fully grasp the issues so I appreciate your upcoming clarifications. Keep going.
    Dr. Hurtado’s two blogs seem respectful at times and a “retraction” of anything these days is most unusual. His description of the “intention” of your book, however, seemed off base and unkind both to you and to those who read your books and blogs. Maybe most of us are just trying to increase our understanding of something, early Christianity, that is very important to us.

  6. Avatar
    thelad2  June 3, 2014

    Bart: I continue to admire your practice of posting videos and writings of those scholars (and non scholars) whose views are contrary to your own. The Larry Hurtado review of “How Jesus Became God” is another good example. One question I do have concerns Hurtado’s understanding of the Son of Man. He claims it has long been established that Jesus saw the title as some kind of self designation. From my readings of your works, I know you see it as the title for a coming cosmic judge. What are your thoughts on this topic?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 3, 2014

      I’ll address these eventually; if you want to see my fuller views, I lay them out a bit in How Jesus Became God or in my other earlier book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium. Short story: I see they authentic Son of Man sayings as apocalyptic references to a judge of the earth (other than Jesus).

  7. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  June 3, 2014

    P.S. Hurtado’s ending comment about you increasing your bank account also seems nastier than necessary.

  8. Avatar
    Wilusa  June 3, 2014

    At this point, my reaction to all this is, “Huh??” The only thing I’m sure of is that Hurtado is a rude, insulting, thoroughly nasty man.

    On one of the points where he thinks you and he are in *agreement*…isn’t he overstating the importance (especially from the Romans’ point of view) of the term “Messiah”? I didn’t think you believed the Romans would have crucified anyone for calling himself *that*. “King of the Jews,” yes; “Messiah,” no. And the Jews hadn’t expected the Messiah to rise from the dead, so a person’s supposedly being resurrected shouldn’t have convinced anyone he was, specifically, *that*. (His followers had to do a lot of picking and choosing of out-of-context quotes to come up with “prophecies” to share with the less literate; that took time.)

    And where you convinced Hurtado you were really in agreement about usage of the term “son of man”…I’m totally confused. Wasn’t the “Son of Man” understood to be the supernatural Being referenced in the Book of Daniel? With, in your opinion, the authors of the Synoptics believing Jesus *was* that Being, Jesus himself not believing it?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 3, 2014

      We’re not in agreement on the Son of Man. The only thing we agree on is that there is no evidence that hte title “Son of Man” was a widespread and fixed title in the days of Jesus. I think Jesus used if of an apocalyptic judge of the earth different from himself, Hurtado thinks that Jesus used it as a cryptic self-reference.

      • Avatar
        Rosekeister  June 4, 2014

        What do you think of Daniel Boyarin’s ideas on the Son of Man in “The Jewish Gospels?” I don’t have the book in front of me so I may be mangling this but he seems to trace the idea of the Son of Man from Daniel all the way back through the history of Jewish beliefs to the time before when Yahweh was becoming separate from the Canaanite religion of El. He thinks it shows a beginning to the later Christian concept of the Trinity with Wisdom presumably being the forerunner of the Holy Spirit. It’s an interesting idea but I’ve never seen it anywhere else.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  June 4, 2014

        But isn’t the only reason for calling a “cosmic judge” the “Son of Man” an identification of him with the Being referred to in Daniel? Not, necessarily, giving the Being a name beyond that, or assigning him a specific place in the angelic hierarchy. But if not for the reference in Daniel (to a Being coming in the form of a human, as opposed to an animal form), why would anyone *think of* calling a “cosmic judge” that?

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  June 4, 2014

          Yes, the question is whether this identification of the cosmic judge as “the Son of Man” was widely made in Judaism apart from Jesus. (See today’s post)

    • talitakum
      talitakum  June 4, 2014

      “The only thing I’m sure of is that Hurtado is a rude, insulting, thoroughly nasty man”.

      Really? You know that “as you have been judging, so you will be judged”. I don’t see how personal attacks on a blog can help the scholar debate and knowledge share. We have the privilege to follow an ongoing discussion between two respected scholars on a very interesting subject, both of them doing their best to establish a positive communication channel over the web. They are sharing knowledge in a way that would otherwise cost us a lot of money and time in buying and reading all the secondary sources (I don’t even mention access to primary sources). Let’s enjoy this “free meal” and take advantage of what they kindly share with us, in my opinion we’d better encourage this discussion rather than exacerbate it with ad-hominem arguments.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  June 4, 2014

        I find it hard to believe you actually read what Hurtado wrote.

        Beyond that, I’ll say merely that I have as much right to express my opinion – in language permissible in the blog, of course – as you have to express yours.

        • talitakum
          talitakum  June 6, 2014

          I find it hard to believe that you read what I actually wrote: I never denied your right to express any opinion.
          The only right you don’t have it’s to expect that everybody agree with you.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  June 6, 2014

            OK gang! I think we can call an end to this one!!

  9. Avatar
    Peter  June 3, 2014


    Do you know how Hurtado views Jesus’ ministry? Does he see him as an Apocalyptic prophet or a healer or a philosopher etc?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  June 3, 2014

      I don’t know!

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  June 4, 2014

        Wow – that’s a big point to be unsure of. I’m surprised his – and every New Testament scholar’s! – writings don’t make that clear at the outset.

        • Robertus
          Robertus  June 4, 2014

          Many of the 20th century *critical* NT scholars in Europe belonged to an older school of thought that did not think the gospels were much use as historical sources for the reconstructing a life of Jesus. That changed with the *rediscovery* of the Jewishness of Jesus and a relaxing of the criteria of dissimilarity. I agree with that, of course, but I still identify with the older school of thought–what can I say, I’m really old, I guess, because I don’t believe there’s very much we can appeal to in terms of independent attestation. For example, if one does not assume that the gospel of John was not even ****indirectly**** dependent on at least one of the synoptic gospels, then the cleansing of the temple is not independently attested. That is typically one of the most central ‘facts’ used to reconstruct Jesus’ life.

  10. Avatar
    Hon Wai  July 8, 2019

    Hi Bart, I chose this post relating to Larry Hurtado’s work to point out his recent post regarding his health, something you may not be aware:
    Like yourself, Larry has done an exemplar job of popularising cutting edge research to the wider public in recent years.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 9, 2019

      Yes, I do know about it, and will be posting on it tomorrow. Thanks.

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