Thursday, January 04, 2007

Jesus and the Restoration of the Davidic Kingdom (Part 8: Meier)

Of all the major works on Jesus in the Third Quest, John P. Meier provides one of the most extensive surveys of the Kingdom in Jewish literature in A Marginal Jew, volume 2 (1994).[1]After looking at biblical and non-biblical material, Meier concludes that the phrase most often refers to “the notion of God powerfully ruling over his creation, over his people, and over the history of both.”[2] In most cases, the term carries an eschatological dimension, which most frequently is associated with the restoration (and improvement) of the Davidic kingdom.[3] Other eschatological visions include a return to paradise on earth, or an otherworldly, heavenly realm.”[4]

Meier offers a critique of Chilton’s work on the Targums. He explains that Chilton’s assertion that the Targums describe the Kingdom as God’s dynamic rule flies in the face of the obvious meaning of many of the prophetic passages and seems dictated by [his] own theological program, which includes removing apocalyptic traits from Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom.[5] He notes that even Targum Jonathan, especially singled out by Chilton, “often does carry an eschatological tone.”[6] The Targumic tradition do preserve older traditions though—the prophetic vision of restoration.[7] Chilton’s use of the Targums is further complicated by the fact their final form is to be dated to a much later period.[8]
Meier concludes that Jesus’ use of the term “Kingdom” included an eschatological element.
If. . . Jesus did not want his use of the symbol to embody eschatological hopes for the future, it would have been absolutely necessary for him—unless he did not care about being misunderstood—to make clear that he did not intend an eschatological dimension when he employed the symbol.[9]
At the same time, Meier thinks that Jesus believed the Kingdom was already present somehow in his ministry.[10] Meier does not believe the paradox of how the Kingdom is present and future can be readily solved.[11] Jesus’ image of the Kingdom should simply be recognized as a “tensive” symbol, whose primary purpose is to “tell a story.”[12]
In A Marginal Jew, volume 3 (2001),[13] Meier does an extensive survey of the biblical and non-biblical sources which describe the restoration of the twelve tribes from exile.[14] He explains that Jesus’ selection of the “twelve” should be seen within the larger context of the eschatological hope of re-gathering the twelve tribes of Israel from exile. In addition to the appointment of the twelve he points out that Jesus’ fasting, his meals with sinners, his exorcising of demons, his ‘triumphal entry’ into Jerusalem, and his cleansing of the temple all show that Jesus was acting within the larger eschatological prophetic tradition.[15]
Meier goes on to say that although he did not encourage speculations that he was the Davidic Messiah, Jesus’ actions likely fueled them. In exorcising demons he evoked the image of the son of David, Solomon, who was believed to have been the greatest exorcist of all.[16] Furthermore, Jesus’ “triumphal entry” and “cleansing of the temple” evokes images of the son of David, the original builder of the temple.[17] In fact, Jesus was ultimately killed on the very charge of claiming be king.[18]
[1] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 2 of The Roots of the Problem and Person; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 1994).
[2] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:240.
[3] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:240.
[4] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:241, 243-70.
[5] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:264.
[6] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:264.
[7] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:264.
[8] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 264. In addition, we may mention Saucy’s critique: “[T]he potential for his success in this venture raises questions as to why the other rabbinic genres of Midrash and Mishnah are not just as likely to preserve older traditions. A second critical point for Chilton concerns the stages of Targumic development…. surely the insults to Jewish pride, the nationalistic, and the messianic ideas do predate a. d. 70, as seen in the Old Testament, the Apocrypha and Pseudipigrapha, Qumran, the New Testament, and Josephus.” Also see George Wesley Buchanan, Jesus: The King and his Kingdom (Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1984), 32.
[9] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:270.
[10] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:398-54.
[11] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:451.
[12] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 2:242.
[13] John Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (vol. 3 of The Roots of the Problem and Person; ABRL; New York: Doubleday, 2001).
[14] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:148-53; 176 n. 53.
[15] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:153.
[16] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:495.
[17] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:495-96.
[18] Meier, A Marginal Jew, 3:496.


Johnny Vino said...

At the same time, Meier thinks that Jesus believed the Kingdom was already present somehow in his ministry.


That sort of phraseology has always rubbed me the wrong way. I've heard priests question aloud in homilies whether Jesus "believed" he was this or that. People like Richard McBrien write and talk about Jesus this way as well - like he was a person who went through life trying to figure things out like the rest of us. To me it seems like a means of objectifying Christ and putting our analysis of his life and mission above him.

I'm not saying you or John Meier are doing that, but don't you think that forays into that mentality are problematic - that they put up obstacles in attempts to truly understand scripture? Shouldn't we, in faith, start by at least assuming that Christ knew who he was and the fullness of his purpose in history?

DimBulb said...

Mister Barber,

I was putting up links to your "Restoration" posts and noticed that either part 6 of your series is missing, or, you mistakenly labeled your post on N. T. Wright as "Part 7" when in fact it should be "Part 6."

Anonymous said...

Have no idea about what you said, But good luck !
Chloe Jones