As some of you may know, I wrote my dissertation on Jesus and the ancient Jewish hope for the return of the lost tribes of Israel. It focused on Jesus' expectation of the eschatological ingathering of the exiled Israelites and the Gentiles to a new Jerusalem, under the headship of the Messiah. In this book, I argued that this was one of--if not the--central hopes of ancient Jewish eschatology.
Obviously, I chose this topic because I thought it was important; but I had no idea how important the Rabbis themselves thought it was. While studying this morning, I found this reference in the Babylonian Talmud:
Rabbi Jochanan said: The reunion of the Exiles is as important as the day when heaven and earth were created, for it is said, "And the children of Judah [2 tribes] and the children of Israel [10 tribes] shall be gathered together, and they shall apoint for themselves one head [the Messiah], and shall go up out of the land; for great shall be the day of Jezreel" [Hos 2:2]; and it is written, "And there was evening and there was morning, one day" [Gen 1:4]. (Babylonian Talmud, Pesachim 88a; ed. Epstein).
Wow! How many doctoral students can say their dissertation topic was as important as the creation of the world!?
I wonder if Rabbi Jochanan would be willing to write a blurb for my next book.