Bart Ehrman has a new book out, looking at the historical development of Jesus becoming God. Although I’m not religious, I still find the history of religion interesting, and of the Judeo/Christian tradition in particular fascinating. I have his book on my reading list.
Jesus was a lower-class preacher from Galilee, who, in good apocalyptic fashion, proclaimed that the end of history as he knew it was going to come to a crashing end, within his own generation. God was soon to intervene in the course of worldly affairs to overthrow the forces of evil and set up a utopian kingdom on earth. And he would be the king.
It didn’t happen. Instead of being involved with the destruction of God’s enemies, Jesus was unceremoniously crushed by them: arrested, tried, humiliated, tortured, and publicly executed.
And yet, remarkably, soon afterwards his followers began to say that — despite all evidence to the contrary — Jesus really was the messiah sent from God. More than that, he was actually a divine being, not a mere human. And not just any divine being. He was the Creator of the universe. After long debates among themselves they decided that he was not secondary to the one God of Israel, the Lord God Almighty himself. On the contrary, he was fully equal with God; he had always existed for eternity with God; he was of the same essence as God; he was a member of the Trinity.
Negative reactions so far seem to come from some devout believers, who think any talk of theological development is wrong headed, and from the atheist community of Jesus mythicists, who insist that Jesus was entirely the creation of the later Christian community.
I’ve already posted on the problems with mythicism, but the resistance of some believers to this kind of investigation also strikes me as misguided. Even if Jesus was in fact God, tracing how that came to be understood historically has a lot of value for both believers and non-believers. Of course, this requires a certain amount of open mindedness, on both sides.