Larry Hurtado is, rightly, one of the most respected historians of early Christianity. His massive Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity is much cited. To new reader, I would recommend his later and shorter How on Earth Did Jesus Become a God? Historical Questions about Earliest Devotion to Jesus as a good starting point. Also notable is his God in New Testament Theology.
Goaded by once fashionable theories that worship of Jesus arose in the second century or later, Hurtado has pulled out all the stops in looking at all the historical evidence, both in and beyond the New Testament. He shows that an intense devotion to Jesus alongside God arose very quickly, and very early, in the first generation of believers in the risen Christ.
I think his work is insightful, and while I disagree with his exegesis of some texts, I find him in general an astute commenter on them, one who is committed, rightly, to understanding them in their own terms, and not reading into them what we would like them to say.
He has never much pursued the theological implications of his discoveries. It is clear to me that he does think the NT strictly identifies the one God with the Father, and with the one god Yahweh of the OT. He’s clear, unlike many Christians, that Jesus and God are two, that they are not numerically identical. He seems to acknowledge that later catholic tradition says that the one God is numerically identical to the Trinity. But he never discusses the fact that this is logically incompatible with the one God being identical to the Father alone. This is hardly just the translation of the NT gospel into the terminology of a different culture, as Hurtado sometimes suggests. He’s holding out hope that some sort of (vaguely social?) trinitarian belief truly does fit well with the NT. That remains to be seen, though, because he says precious little about what such a theology would be. (See e.g. Lord Jesus Christ, 651; God, 99-113; How on Earth, 55)
In this post, I want to highlight one of Hurtado’s key insights about early christology – one which theologians and apologists should pay attention to. I happened to hear a public discussion of his (linked here, last file). Just after the 27 minute mark, Hurtado says
“…I don’t think that we can account for the worship of Jesus, or the level of cultic devotion that was given, on the basis of his historical ministry and reminiscences of that alone.