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March 3, 2017

8:10 AM

Worship of Jesus as Evolutionary Development

The first essential observation from which to proceed is that, in the context of ancient Jewish monotheistic scruples (inherited by earliest Christians from the Jewish religious matrix of the Christian movement), the worship of Jesus is truly an extraordinary phenomenon. It is entirely reasonable, thus, that various scholars have seen this devotion to Jesus as conceivablenly as an evolutionary development that was somehow linked to the
changing nature of the Christian movement across the first century C.E.

The specifics vary from one scholar to another, but common to all of the evolutionary proposals is the claim that the worship of Jesus as divine cannot  have been a part of the devotional pattern that characterized earliest strata and circles of Jewish Christians. In order to assess any such proposal, it is necessary to be acquainted with the basic shape of the development of
earliest Christianity. For those who may not be familiar with the matter, I offer a very brief sketch before we proceed farther. What became early "Christianity" originated as a small but vigorous messianic group among Jews in Roman Judea,2 and then quickly spread to
Jewish Diaspora locations where non-Jews, "Gentiles," were also among those recruited/converted (initially, perhaps, among those "God-fearing" Gentiles who had become interested in Jewish religion through contacts
with Jews in the Diaspora).3 Especially (but not exclusively) through the programmatic efforts of the figure known as the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus),
by about 60 C.E. (i.e., within the first three decades after Jesus' execution) small clusters of converts were established in various cities of Roman Asia and Greece, and (through the efforts of other, largely anonymous believers) in other key places such as Antioch, Damascus, Rome, and perhaps also Egypt. As well, especially in these Diaspora sites, the Christian movement included increasing numbers of Gentiles along with a continuing
and influential core of Jewish believers. By the final decades of the first century, however, Gentile converts probably outnumbered Jewish believers by a significant margin, and developments within Judaism of the post-70
C.E. period included an increasingly sharp rejection of Jewish Christians.4


2. In the first century C.E., the Roman province of "Judea" was the area later renamed "Palestine," comprising the traditional component-areas of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
3. For a discussion of various responses of Gentiles to Jewish religion in the Roman period,
see S. J. D. Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," Harvard Theological
Review 82 (1989): 13-33. In the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, the stories of Philip
and the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-40) and of Peter at the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius (10:1 48) reflect the presence of Gentiles whose conversion to Christian faith had been preceded by their interest in Judaism.
4. It is widely thought that in the post-70 C.E. period Jewish Christians were put under on The specifics vary from one scholar to another, but common to all of the evolutionary proposals is the claim that the worship of Jesus as divine cannot have been a part of the devotional pattern that characterized earliest
strata and circles of Jewish Christians. In order to assess any such proposal, it is necessary to be acquainted with the basic shape of the development of earliest Christianity. For those who may not be familiar with the matter, I
offer a very brief sketch before we proceed farther.
What became early "Christianity" originated as a small but vigorous messianic group among Jews in Roman Judea,2 and then quickly spread to Jewish Diaspora locations where non-Jews, "Gentiles," were also among
those recruited/converted (initially, perhaps, among those "God-fearing" Gentiles who had become interested in Jewish religion through contacts with Jews in the Diaspora).3 Especially (but not exclusively) through the
programmatic efforts of the figure known as the Apostle Paul (Saul of Tarsus), by about 60 C.E. (i.e., within the first three decades after Jesus' execution)
small clusters of converts were established in various cities of Roman Asia and Greece, and (through the efforts of other, largely anonymous believers)
in other key places such as Antioch, Damascus, Rome, and perhaps also Egypt.  As well, especially in these Diaspora sites, the Christian movement included increasing numbers of Gentiles along with a continuing
and influential core of Jewish believers. By the final decades of the first century, however, Gentile converts probably outnumbered Jewish believers
by a significant margin, and developments within Judaism of the post-70
C.E. period included an increasingly sharp rejection of Jewish Christians.4
2. In the first century C.E., the Roman province of "Judea" was the area later renamed "Palestine," comprising the traditional component-areas of Galilee, Samaria, and Judea.
3. For a discussion of various responses of Gentiles to Jewish religion in the Roman period,
see S. J. D. Cohen, "Crossing the Boundary and Becoming a Jew," Harvard Theological
Review 82 (1989): 13-33. In the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament, the stories of Philip
and the Ethiopian eunuch (8:26-40) and of Peter at the house of the Roman centurion Cornelius (10:1 48) reflect the presence of Gentiles whose conversion to Christian faith had been preceded by their interest in Judaism.
4. It is widely thought that in the post-70 C.E. period Jewish Christians were put under great pressure by fellow Jews to renounce Jesus or to sever their connection with their Jewish community. There are references to Jewish believers being expelled from the synagogues in the Gospel of John (9:22; 12:42; 16:2). Scholars debate the question of whether the Birkhat
ha Minim (the "Benedict ion against the Heretics," the twelfth benediction of the synagogue

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