“Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God” (book by M. David Litwa Ph.D.)

iesus deus.jpg

I came across a very interesting book, during my on going investigation into early christian devotion to Jesus (p) by author David M. Lita, titled “Iesus Deus: The Early Christian Depiction of Jesus as a Mediterranean God”. After checking the author credentials (He has a polished qualifications on greek and ancient greek studies and being a historian and Greek specialist rather than a theologian, he does not seem biased in his approach to the sources in question), it is hard to resist no to purchase this book, luckily for me  being available on Kindle, meant I can splurge on the spot (with considerable less $ than its printed version)  and now have finished skimming through it.
This is not a review of this book but just a brief outline of Litwa’s argument of his book:

The principal thrust of this book is that  early Christians depicted Jesus as being a rival to Graeco-Roman gods. Litwa researches several stages  how this happened:  Jesus’ birth → Childhood  → Miracles  → Transfiguration, Resurrection  →  Exaltation.

Litwa criticise some scholarship trend in the past decades which attempted to isolate early christology from all Graeco-Roman influence. According to Litwa the emerging Christian faith  used common language, images, and symbols found throughout the Mediterranean as a means to articulate their beliefs about Jesus.

What particularly interesting is Litwa’s inquiry into Jesus’ childhood when He devotes this one chapter to the Infancy Gospel of Thomas (IGT). Litwa’s striking interpretations is that the Jesus in the IGT is more comparable to the Jesus in the high christology Gospel of John than the Jesus in any of the Synoptic Gospels: An adolescent demigod who seems to be so malevolent can found parallel in virtually all Greco-Roman deities.


On Miracles, Litwa contends that Jesus miracles stories were inevitably being set alongside  with the stories known by Celsus. The discussion of the transfiguration stories, Litwa argues that Mark’s portrayal of Jesus, was recognisable that supernatural light , combined with the response of awe and  worship signaled the presence of the divine a common cultural conception on that era. In ascension,  Litwa gives reason that ascension was the mythic consciousness during that time to help christians to imagine Jesus as deity.  And in discussing “The Name Above Every Name,” Litwa believes that in the Graeco Roman world, the tradition of theonymy implied deification. Early christians assumed and exploited  theonymy in the liturgy and literature  to help them exalting Jesus in the framework of mediterranean in other words  we see an embracing of Greco-Roman conceptions of divinity as the use of a language that would appeal to a wider Greco-Roman audience.

As a whole this book is persuasive to the claim being made that early christians imagined and depicted Jesus with the basic traits common to  Greco- Roman divinities and divine men.


Categories: Biblical scholarship, Christianity, Recommended Reading

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12 replies

  1. As salamu alaykum. Can you help me with reconciliation between forged Infancy Gospels and the narrative from the 19-th sura about Jesus’ speaking in the cradle (which is a direct copy from the passage found in Arabic Gospel of Infancy with only a few semantic alterations), and also between narratives of Jesus making a bird etc. and that story found in the 3-rd century Infancy Gospel of Thomas (If I’m correct). I clueless what to think of all that.


    • ‘which is a direct copy from the passage found in Arabic Gospel of Infancy’

      This is not accurate. Have you really read them both?


    • Almost directly borrowed and then reinterpeted:

      the Gospel: “He has said that Jesus spoke, and, indeed, when He was lying in His cradle said to Mary His mother: I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos, whom thou hast brought forth, as the Angel Gabriel announced to thee; and my Father has sent me for the salvation of the world.”

      And then the Qur’an:

      “But she pointed to the babe. They said: “How can we talk to one who is a child in the cradle?” He said: “I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet; And He hath made me blessed wheresoever I be, and hath enjoined on me Prayer and Charity as long as I live; (He) hath made me kind to my mother, and not overbearing or miserable; So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)”! Such (was) Jesus the son of Mary: (it is) a statement of truth, about which they (vainly) dispute.”


    • Very different stories


    • How isn’t that obvious? A new born baby speaking from a cradle, and the Qur’an repeats it the same. Furthermore, the Qur’an changes the story by a very unsophisticated way – superficial (though sematically constitutive) replacement, as Jesus begins the speech by a dogmatic self-introducing: “I am Jesus, the Son of God, the Logos…”, in the Qur’an he does essentially the same: ““I am indeed a servant of Allah: He hath given me revelation and made me a prophet…”.


    • Wa alaykum salam

      Ramin, there is parallel, but these are different stories. As this is about miracles, to me the Quran narratives confirm the truthfulness at least a partial information of those books deemed extra canonical by just some fallible early christian church. We never know which gospel narratives were the true biographies of Jesus and Mary do we?

      Talking about scholars from what I understand the first things that the scholars of the history of Church and Jewish history notices on approaching the Qur’an is it virtually never actually quotes the Bible. The intertextuality (scholars have put it)  of the Qur’an with associated literatures of Jewish and Christian reflects an intermingling of traditions, motifs, and histories in the days prior to the Qurʾan, as muslims we can only rely the information given in the Qur’an to differentiate truth from falsehood.


    • My next read from Bart Erhman:

      Jesus Before the Gospels: How the Earliest Christians Remembered, Changed, and Invented Their Stories of the Savior


  2. while it’s known from a scholarly consensus that these stories present a gradual late forgery.


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