Thursday, December 28, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 7: N. T. Wright)

N. T. Wright’s approach to the historical Jesus (1992, 1996)[1] follows Ben Meyer and E. P. Sanders in placing the Kingdom within the larger hope for the restoration of Israel. The Kingdom of God expresses the hope that God will vindicate Israel from exile, deliver them from the oppression of their enemies and rule over the whole world as King through them.[2] This hope included the fulfillment of the Torah and the cleansing of the land of Israel. This basic vision was ‘completely unsystematized’[3] – often involving a messianic figure who was commonly associated with David, although Davidic expectations were often merged with other images, particularly Daniel’s “son of Man.” Wright cites Horbury:

At the beginning of the Christian era, the Davidic hope already constituted a relatively fixed core of messianic expectation, both in Palestine and in the Diaspora. Exegetical interconnections attest that the ‘son of man’ is likely to have acquired, within its wide range of meaning, definite associations with this hope.[4]

The Kingdom in Jewish thought therefore involved national and political aspirations. Most importantly, though, it involved the expectation that God would once again rule as King.

According to Wright, Jesus interpreted the hope of restoration “theologically.” He believed that through his ministry the Kingdom of God was present inasmuch as God was establishing his rule as King by defeating Israel’s true enemies, the powers of evil.[5] Through his call to repentance Israel was being cleansed and restored to God. Wright writes that it was this radical rejection of the national-political hope that eventually led the Jewish leaders to put him to death.[6]

Wright’s books have played an important role in the re-vitalized interest in the role of restoration expectations in Second Temple Judaism.[7] However, Wright’s foundational assertion that Jews believed they were in exile because they were under Roman oppression is problematic. Wright believes Jews equated Roman occupation with exile—hence restoration is primarily understood as deliverance from foreign rule.[8] Yet, there is little evidence that Jews living in Palestine truly believed they were living in exile.[9]

Craig Evans has shown that Wright has also ignored a major element in Jewish eschatological visions: the hope for the restoration of the twelve tribes.[10] Before the southern kingdom of Judah was exiled to Babylon the northern tribes had already been scattered among the nations by the Assyrians in the 8th century. Although the Jews (residents of the southern kingdom of Judah) returned, the northern tribes taken by the Assyrians were never heard from again. Yet, Jewish hopes for their ingathering in a future age persisted. This belief is found throughout the biblical material,[11] the intertestamental era[12] and even in the sectarian writings at Qumran.[13]

Furthermore, Dunn has critiqued Wright’s assertion that the “end of exile” functioned as the controlling motif of Jesus’ ministry.[14] He mentions many other elements that may be found in Jesus’ work: healing, a great feast, an eschatological pilgrimage of the nations, the
land as the inheritance of the meek, suffering, the defeat of Satan and (final) judgment.[15]
Dunn does not completely discount the imagery of restoration, but thinks that it is only one
among many.[16]
[1] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (vol. 1 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press,1992); Jesus and the Victory of God (vol. 2 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1996). Since his third installment deals with questions regarding the Resurrection we will not deal with it here. N. T. Wright, The Resurrection of the Son of God (vol. 3 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).
[2] N. T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God (vol. 1 of Christian Origins and the Question of God; Minneapolis, Minn.: Fortress Press,1992), 302: “The ‘kingdom of god’, historically and theologically considered, is a slogan whose basic meaning is that Israel’s god is going to rule Israel (and the whole world), and that Caesar, or Herod, or anyone else of their ilk, is not.”
[3] Wright, New Testament and the People, 302.
[4] Wright, New Testament and the People, 319; William Horbury, “The Messianic Associations of ‘the Son of Man’” in Journal of Theological Studies 33 (1985): 54-5.
[5] Wright, Jesus and the Victory, 459-67.
[6] Wright, Jesus and the Victory, 472-4.
[7] See for example, Carey C. Newman, ed., Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999).
[8] Wright, New Testament and the People, 268-9.
[9]F. G. Downing, “Exile in Formative Judaism,” in Making Sense in (and of) the First Christan Century (JSNTS 200; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 2000; Craig Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N. T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God (ed. Casey C. Newman; Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1999): 78; Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 474-475.
[10] Craig Evans, “Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel” in Jesus and the Restoration of Israel, 77-100.
[11] Shemaryahu Talmon, “’Exile’ and ‘Restoration’ in the Conceptual World of Ancient Judaism,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (vol. 72 in Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; ed., James H. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 107-146; David E. Aune and Eric Stewart, “From the Idealized Past to the Imaginary Future: Eschatological Restoration in Jewish Apocalyptic,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; ed., James H. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 147-77.
[12] Sir 48:10; Tob 13:5, 13; 14:5; Aune and Eric Stewart, “From the Idealized Past,” 147-177.
[13] Pss. Sol. 17:4, 21, 26-28; CD 7: 10-21; Jub. 16:17; T. Naph. 5:8; T. Ash. 7:2-7: T. Benj. 9:2; 10:8-11; 2 Bar. 78:4-7. See also Lawrence H. Schiffman, “The Concept of Restoration in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives (vol. 72 in Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism; ed., James H. Scott; Leiden: Brill, 2001), 203-21.
[14] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 470-77.
[15] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 475
[16] Dunn, Jesus Remembered, 476.

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