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What Led Jesus to be Called the Son of God? An Historical Investigation of how an Appellation of Alexander the Great and of the Roman Emperors came to be used of Jesus.

BROAD, WILLIAM,E,L (2012) What Led Jesus to be Called the Son of God? An Historical Investigation of how an Appellation of Alexander the Great and of the Roman Emperors came to be used of Jesus. Masters thesis, Durham University.

PDF (MLitt Thesis) - Accepted Version


Abstract of a Master of Letters Degree, Durham University

The Reverend Canon William Ernest Lionel Broad M.A., Durham University

By 100 CE the principal appellation of Jesus of Nazareth had become ’Son of God’; a title of such importance to his followers that one of their principle activities for the succeeding 350 years was to define its meaning. Yet this dissertation maintains that widespread belief that the title originates in the Hebrew Scriptures is misplaced. Investigation of Jewish literature leads to the discovery that the title ‘Son of God’ was seldom used in it and never in such a way as to justify it becoming Jesus’ most significant appellation. The aim of my thesis is to examine where else in the ancient world the appellation ‘Son of God’ was used, and, when it was used, to see if it could provide the basis for describing Jesus by this title. The objective of the dissertation is to establish that the use of this title by Greeks and Romans provided the model for Jesus of Nazareth to be called ‘Son of God’.
Chapter 1 examines the religions of Persia, Egypt and Greece and finds that, in the world of mythology, Greek heroes were born as a result of intercourse between a god and a human being and were called sons of the gods. Chapter 2 examines the career of Alexander the Great and especially his visit to the shrine at Siwa and finds that he was there proclaimed a son of god. It establishes that this proclamation transformed the appellation ‘Son of God’ from a mythological to a historical title and led to Alexander’s deification. Chapter 3 examines the Hebrew Scriptures and other Jewish literature with the results described above. Chapter 4 examines the use of the title ‘Son of God’ in the New Testament and discusses the development of this title in the unfolding history of the first century church. It finds that the title was first used of Jesus in Greece during Paul’s ministry to the gentiles and that it provided the motif for Mark’s Gospel. Chapter 5 assesses the use of ‘Son of God’ in post apostolic literature and establishes that, though this literature shows a development of the appellation, it provides no further clue as to it origin. Chapter 6 investigates the effect that the titling of Augustus and subsequent Roman emperors as sons of god had on the way Jesus was portrayed by the evangelists. In particular, it finds that Augustus, originally called a ‘Son of God’ because his father was deified on his death, is portrayed as a figure of such excellence that he was deified during his lifetime.
Chapter 7 concludes the thesis. It shows that Alexander, a person whose historical doings more than justified his being described as ‘the Great’ and who was surrounded by fabulous legends, provided a precedent for a human being to be called a ‘Son of God’ and hence for Jesus of Nazareth to be so described. It indicates how events at Siwa were a precursor of the baptism of Jesus, how one of the temptations was clearly modelled on Alexander’s experiences at Siwa and how Jesus’ reported age at his crucifixion was perhaps chosen because it was Alexander’s age when he died. It also shows how the widespread titling of Roman emperors as sons of gods seriously influenced the way Jesus was perceived as ‘Son of God’. Three appendices examine the birth stories of Alexander, the Messiah as ‘Son of God and some of the titles of Augustus that are relevant to the thesis.

Item Type:Thesis (Masters)
Award:Master of Letters
Keywords:Alexander the Great: Augustus: Son of God
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Theology and Religion, Department of
Thesis Date:2012
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:31 May 2012 09:22

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