Creating Jesus: How Jesus Became God (1)

Several people have been e-mailing me following my lecture on Jesus the Jew and the Jewish beginnings of Christianity at the Museum of Natural Science. The question they want answered is how this rabbi became God in the Christian communities.

This has always been the central question to studies of Christology and there have been many scholarly models which have varying amounts of success taking into account the vast amount of written evidence. What is certain is that Jesus was not being worshiped as a god by his disciples during his life. This came later after his death. The question is how long it took to happen, and how it happened that a "monotheistic" Jewish sect took on the worship of a second god.

I have worked out my own model and published the bones of it in a piece called, "How We Talk about Christology Matters," in Israel's God and Rebecca's Children. But I have decided to run a series of posts on the subject following Easter, the day of the resurrection. We will explore many items here, without Christian apology, to determine from the written evidence what likely happened all those years ago.

I want to begin by ditching the language of Christology that we have used in the past, particularly the "high" and "low" narrative. This is apologetic language developed out of Protestant seminaries that places judgment on the Christological narratives of the early Christians. If a Christian text says that Jesus had human parents and was a prophet, it is said to be "low" Christology and "adoptionist" because God adopted Jesus as his son. If a Christian text says that Jesus was of virgin birth and was the Son of God, it is said to be "high" Christology and "incarnational".

This language locks us in a paradigm of development from "low" (which must be earlier) and "high" (which must be later). It locks us into a view that "high" Christology is preferable to "low" Christology (a contemporary church view for certain!). And it breaks down once we get a text that says that Jesus was born of human parents but was worshiped as God (a branch of Ebionites), or that Jesus was a created being (a super-angel) and yet was worshiped as God (Arius), or a number of other known cases. Even Paul (whose letters make up our earliest testimonies) is hard to discuss within these categories, so we practically have to bend over backwards to "make" his testimonies "fit" our pre-conceived paradigms.

So it is time to get rid of the old language and paradigms, and put something new in place, something that we grow out of the evidence, without apology for Christian theology which has its own agendas. It is this new paradigm that I intend to blog about.

Next time: what made the first Nazoreans, the first Christian Jews, christologize in the first place?