Thursday, November 30, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 2)

Photo: Geza Vermes
1.1. A Survey of the Kingdom in the Third Quest
Throughout the history of Jesus research many aspects of Jesus’ life and teaching have been debated. However, one element of the Gospel record is uncontested: Jesus preached about “the Kingdom of God.”[1] Conclusions regarding the self-understanding of the historical Jesus are therefore necessarily framed by how Jesus’ language regarding the Kingdom is interpreted.[2] Here we will survey some of the most influential works by Third Quest scholars and attempt to find some common consensus as to how Jesus’ message was related to Second Temple beliefs.

The first major work we might mention is Geza Vermes’ Jesus the Jew (1973).[3] The portrait of Jesus in Vermes’ work is that of a charismatic Galilean miracle worker, much like Honi the Circle Drawer and Hanina ben Dosa.[4] Vermes traces the development of Jewish thought regarding the Kingdom through the Old Testament to the first-century.[5] Four basic formulations emerge. The first model originates in the pre-exilic period, where God is believed to reign through an earthly king. The second model emerges with the exile as expectations emerge that God will restore his reign over the world through a future Davidic king. The third view dates from the intertestamental era and looks forward to a cataclysmic cosmic conflict in which the host of God will defeat the powers of evil. In the spiritual realm the victory would be given to the angel Michael, while on earth Israel would have dominion. The last concept may be traced back to the exilic and post-exilic period and is found in Deutero- and Trito-Isaiah (e.g., Isa 60:1-6). This vision of God’s Kingdom is related in spiritual terms, wherein God’s sovereignty over Israel and the Gentiles is realized not through war and violence but in Torah-obedience.

For Vermes, therefore, Jewish beliefs regarding the Kingdom shift from the political to the spiritual and abstract Reign of God.[6] Jesus’ view of the Kingdom follows along these more intangible lines. He observes that Jesus rarely used “royal” terminology for God, had no concern for earthly political power and was mostly concerned with the present reality, not future cosmic battles.[7] “Jesus, the existential teacher, was more concerned with man’s attitude and behavior towards the Kingdom than with its essence or nature.”[8]
To be continued...

[1] “There is, however, one area in the testimony of the gospels to Jesus the authenticity of which is agreed on by virtually all New Testament scholars—namely, the teaching of Jesus on the kingdom of God.” G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Kingdom of God (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986), x.
[2] In addition to Beasley-Murray’s, Jesus and the Kingdom of God, Bruce Chilton has done much work on the meaning of the phrase in the Targums. Bruce Chilton, Targumic Approaches to the Gospels: Essays in the Mutual Definition of Judaism and Christianity (Lanham: University Press of America, 1986), 99-112; Bruce Chilton, God in Strength: Jesus’ Announcement of the Kingdom (Studien zum Neuen Testament und seiner Umwelt B/1; Freistadt: Plöchl, 1979, 277-98. See also, Michael Lattke, “On the Jewish Background of the Synoptic Concept, “The Kingdom of God” in The Kingdom of God (ed., B. Chilton; Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984): 72-91. Other sources which deal with Jesus and his Jewish context include discussions on the Kingdom in Jewish thought, though the question is not dealt with specifically, for example, James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1988).
[3] Geza Vermes, Jesus the Jew (London: William Collins Sons & Co., 1973). Vermes is not typically associated with the Third Quest. However, since his work focuses on Jesus’ Jewishness it seems appropriate to mention it here.
[4] Vermes sums up his description of Jesus as “a charismatic prophetic preacher and miracle-worker, the outstanding ‘Galilean Hasid’ who, thanks to the ‘sublimity, distinctiveness and originality’ of his ethical teaching (Joseph Klausner), stood head and shoulders above the known representatives of this class of spiritual personality.” Geza Vermes, The Religion of Jesus the Jew (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993), 5.
[5] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 121-135; Geza Vermes, Jesus and the World of Judaism (London: SCM Press, 1983; repri., Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1984), 32-5.
[6] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 121: “‘Kingdom’ being essentially a political notion, it is not surprising that its metaphorical association with God first retains an element of the original significance, i.e. a nation and territory ruled over by a (divine) king, before turning into a more abstract notion of the universal sovereignty and limitless power of the Deity.”
[7] Vermes, World of Judaism, 35-36.
[8] Vermes, Religion of Jesus, 137.

Continue to the next post in the series...

Complete outline (with links) of "Jesus and the Restoration of the Kingdom" series

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