Devotion to Jesus and Second-Temple
Jewish Monotheistic Piety
For those who are observers of Christian tradition from outside it as well as for adherents, devotion to Jesus is perhaps the most familiar distinguishing feature of Christian piety and belief. In particular, the characteristic reverence given to Jesus as divine is perhaps the most crucial distinction in belief and devotional practice between Christianity and its two sibling, “Abrahamic” religions of professed monotheistic stance. Indeed, down through the centuries, for many devout Jews and Muslims the reverence given to Jesus has probably been the most objectionable feature of Christian faith.1 If candor be allowed, from the standpoint of devout Jewish and Muslim monotheistic scruples, Christian reverence for Jesus as divine may be regarded as ridiculous, and even blasphemous. In historical terms, it may seem very difficult to see how this devotion to Jesus as divine could have arisen in the Second-Temple Jewish matrix of earliest Christianity.
As we noted in the preceding chapter, the high status of Jesus in traditional Christian devotion is often explained in historical terms as essentially the result of pagan influences of the Roman period, especially the ancient pagan readiness to divinize human figures such as heroes and rulers (apotheosis). Under these influences, so a commonly recited theory goes, a supposedly “purer” monotheistic piety of the originating circles of Jewish followers of Jesus was transformed into the more familiar pattern of Christian belief and devotional practice. In a number of publications
1. E.g., from the second century c.e., note Trypho's characterization of devotion to Je-
sus as blasphemous (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Trypho 38:1).