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How Was Jesus God?
Monothiesm and Christology in the New Testament
by Richard Bauckham
79 pp.; $12, paper
The virtues of this superb book lie as much in its critique as in its constructive proposal. In a thin volume—compressed from his Didsbury Lectures at the British Isles Nazarene College, slightly revised and lightly annotated—Richard Bauckham lays out the outlines for a decisive shift in contemporary approaches to New Testament Christology. The compression of Bauckham's argument comes at a cost. He leaves out the fuller marshalling of textual evidence to support his claims, and he promises a volume that will take up that task in the near future. Yet there is a sense in which this support is not necessary to the central theses of his argument, because the argument does not primarily depend on bringing new evidence to bear on an old problem. Rather, Bauckham proposes a new—clearly superior—way of reading the evidence about the relationship between the New Testament's claims about Jesus' identity and the identity of God as understood within the context of Second Temple Judaism.
Over the past generation, the most common way of presenting New Testament Christology has been a History of Religions approach, which seeks to relate the New Testament's claims about Christ to conceptions of monotheism current in early Judaism. On this view, the more strict the monotheism of the Second Temple period, the more difficult it becomes for the first Jewish followers of Jesus to attribute real divinity to him.
The solution, from a History of Religions standpoint, lies in revising our understanding of Jewish monotheism at this time by attending to the numerous semi-divine intermediary figures who appear in Jewish literature of the period. Such an approach reveals that early Judaism did not conceive of monotheism as strictly as one might think. Hence the first Christians could rely on views about these intermediary figures for the conceptual and theological ...