Yesterday I started a thread dealing with things that I learn, discovered, or changed my mind about in the course of doing the research on How Jesus Became God. This then is the second post on the topic. In this instance I was struck with a blinding realization of something that I guess I knew for a long time, but it had never nailed me between the eyes before. Once it did, it completely changed how I decided to write the book. Fundamentally changed it. I realized – duh!!! – that the environment within which Christians were calling Jesus God was *everything*, not just a minor side note (as it is often treated by NT scholars).
This realization assaulted me one day when I was minding my own business, snooping around an archaeological site in Turkey. Here’s the story as I tell it in the book, at the beginning of chapter 2.
When I first started my teaching career in the mid 1980s I was offered an adjunct position at Rutgers University. My teaching load was three courses a semester. The tenured faculty there taught three courses as well, and were, of course, considered full time. But since I was only an adjunct, my three courses were considered part time. As a part time faculty member, I was not entitled to a decent salary or benefits. To make ends meet, I worked other jobs, including one at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton.
There was a long-term project underway there called the Princeton Epigraphy Project. It involved collecting, cataloguing, and entering into a computer database all of the inscriptions (writings carved on stone) in major urban centers throughout the ancient Mediterranean. These then were eventually published in separate volumes for each location. I was the research grunt for the person in charge, who, unlike me, was a highly trained classicist who could read inscriptions like the newspaper. I had the job of doing all the dirty work of entering and editing the inscriptions. One of the localities that I had responsibility for was the ancient city of Priene, on the west coast of Turkey. I had never even heard of Priene before that, but I collected and catalogued all the inscriptions that had ever been found and previously published from there.
Move the calendar up to 2009 and my life was very different indeed. By then I held an endowed chair in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina and, among other things, had the ability to travel far and wide. And I did. That summer, I decided to tour around Turkey with my good friend Dale Martin, Professor of New Testament at Yale. Our idea was to check out various archaeological sites. We spent two weeks there, with very few advance plans, simply going wherever we wanted to go. It was terrific.
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