Monday, December 04, 2006

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 3: Ben Meyer)

In The Aims of Jesus (1979),[1] B. F. Meyer examines the connection in Jewish tradition between language concerning “the reign of God” and the expectation of the “restoration of Israel.” In particular Meyer singles out the Psalms of Solomon (11:2), Isa 52:7-9 and the prayers of the Qaddiš and the Tephilla (eleventh benediction).[2] For him, the “reign of God” is understood in the larger context of the “restoration of Israel.” He argues that “the dissociation of the ‘reign of God’ and its proclamation from the ‘restoration of Israel’ is a priori implausible.”[3]

Furthermore, citing biblical passages referring to the Davidic king and Davidic messianism (Ps 2:7; 89:3-5, 20-38; 110:3; Hag 1.1; 2:20-23; Zech 6:12; 2 Sam 7:12-14; 23:5; Isa 9:5-6) as well as 4QFlor 1-13, Meyer argues that it was believed that this restoration would come about through a Davidic Messiah. Meyer concludes that Jesus saw himself as the messianic son of David through whom Israel would be restored.[4] Jesus’ actions, such as appointing “twelve apostles,” evoke the hope of the re-constitution of Israel.[5] That Jesus was executed “as a claimant to kingship (= a messianic pretender)” attests “beyond any reasonable doubt that there had been some pre-paschal thematization of Jesus as Messiah.”[6]

According to Meyer, the restoration begins in Jesus’ preaching of repentance. Saucy sums up Meyer’s understanding of the Kingdom as follows:

For Meyer, the Kingdom is present when Jesus announces God’s will for Israel to repent and when he begins to ‘restore’ Israel religiously; it is future in the imminent and final act of the history and the posthistorical restoration of all humanity.[7]
Nevertheless, in Meyer’s view Jesus does not simply spiritualize the eschatological hope of Israel. He argues that Jesus also believed that the hope for the salvation of all humanity hinges on “the historically rooted restoration of Israel.”[8] Although Meyer never mentions Vermes, The Aims of Jesus is an important response to his treatment of the question of Jewish expectations in Jesus’ time. Meyer devotes little space to first-century material, but the little he does say is important. By citing sources such as the Psalms of Solomon and 4QFlor 1-13 he reveals that Vermes has obfuscated the presence of messianic and restoration hopes in the Second Temple period. While Meyer could be criticized for ignoring other aspects of first-century Jewish eschatology—something Sanders will later emphasize—Meyer demonstrates well that it was clearly an important part of Jesus’ milieu. Furthermore, his recognition of restoration images in Jesus’ ministry, e.g., the “twelve apostles judging the twelve tribes,” indicates that Jesus was indeed intent on evoking these specific Jewish hopes.
[1] Ben. F. Meyer, The Aims of Jesus (London: SCM, 1979).
[2] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 133, 138-9.
[3] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 133. See also Ben F. Meyer, Christus Faber: The Master-Builder and the House of God (Princeton Theological Monograph Series 29; Allison Park, Pa.: Pickwick Publications, 1992), 119: “Under no hypothesis was the restoration of Israel optional.”
[4] According to messianic expectations, the Messiah would rebuild the Temple. Jesus fulfills this spiritually in the Resurrection and in the Church – the spiritual temple of God. Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 181-222.
[5] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 154.
[6] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 178.
[7] Mark Saucy, The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus in 20th Century Theology (Dallas: Word Publishing, 1997).
[8] Meyer, Aims of Jesus, 137.

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