Forces and Factors
The real challenge in historical understanding is to figure out not only what happened, but also how it happened and why. The accurate logging and description of the sources and all relevant data is crucial, of course, and is itself a fully worthy and demanding historical task. But the difficult intellectual tasks are to identify the forces and factors that prompted and shaped people and events, and to understand how these forces and factors operated. Probably every scholar who has examined any aspect of early Christ-devotion has had some notion of these things, but, to judge by their publications, few seem to have made these how and why questions much of a conscious or explicit focus. As I stated in the introduction, a good many scholars have simply subscribed to the syncretism theory of the religionsgeschichtliche Schule and have fitted their readings of the historical sources into this scheme. Of those who have explicitly attempted to offer a theory of their own (e.g., Casey, discussed below), none seems to me to have done adequate justice to the range of relevant data and the particularities of early Christ-devotion, and none seems to have drawn adequately upon what we can learn from other relevant disciplines about the rise and development of new religious movements.
When we are dealing with something as remarkable and historically significant as early Christ-devotion, it is all the more crucial to try to grasp the factors involved.1 The more unusual something is, however, the more difficult it is to explain, especially because modern historical understanding is so unavoid
1. There is no denying the historical significance of the emergence of Christ-devotion, as
it led to Jesus becoming perhaps the best-known figure in human history. In One God, One
Lord: Early Christian Devotion and Ancient Jewish Monotheism (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1988; 2nd
ed., Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1998), I demonstrated that it was unusual and cannot be fitted
easily within a pattern of analogous developments of the time.