Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Jesus and the Eschaton (Part 2.1.: Apocalyptic as Metaphor [Cont.])

These passages in which cosmic imagery is related to historical events mentioned above are most likely drawing from the Exodus tradition, in which the land of Egypt was shrouded in darkness immediately prior to the climactic plague of Passover that led Israel out of the land (Exod 10:21-23).[1] In fact, it is interesting to note that, with the exception of Joel 2 which describes the destruction of Jerusalem, all of the above prophecies are immediately followed by the description of the deliverance of the captives of Israel who had been exiled after the Assyrian and Babylonian conquests (Isa 14:1-2; Isa 35:1-10: Ezek 32:9-10).[2] In other words, all of these prophecies are linked with the New Exodus hope (involving the destruction of Israel’s captors and the return of the exiles to the land).

Another passage which is relevant to our discussion here is Daniel 8, which, in highly symbolic language, relates the end of the Medo-Persian kingdom (the “ram with two horns,” cf. Dan 8:20), the emergence of the Greek empire (“he-goat,” cf. Dan 8:21), and the rise Antiochus Epiphanies (cf. Dan 8:23). The sacking of Jerusalem by Antiochus is then described with cosmic language, as the stars of heaven are cast down and trampled (Dan 8:10). Significantly, although this vision clearly relates historical events, the prophet is told, הָבֵ֣ן בֶּן־אָדָ֔ם כִּ֖י לְעֶת־קֵ֥ץ הֶחָזֹֽון (Dan 8:17; RSVCE, “Understand, O son of man, that the vision is for the time of the end”).[3]

Having alluded to these prophecies, scholars then go on to interpret Jesus’ cosmic language in the Olivet Discourse as relating to the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.[4] Such a view works well since the destruction of Jerusalem is clearly in view in the immediate context. This is apparent from certain elements in the larger context of the sermon: (1) all three synoptic writers place this sermon within the context of Jesus’ prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Matt 24:1-2//Mark 13:1-2//Luke 21:5-6); (2) Jesus clearly alludes to Daniel’s description of the Antiochus’ defilement of the temple as the “desolating sacrilege” almost a century earlier, using the term to describe an as yet future event (Matt 24:15//Mark 13:14//; cf. Dan 8:13);[5] (3) the language of a flight from Judea seems to indicate a localized disaster (Matt 24:16//Mark 13:14//Luke 21:21).[6]

Yet, despite the strengths of this position, there remain a number of problems.

[1] For further discussion, see Richard D. Patterson, “Wonders in Heaven and on the Earth: Apocalyptic Imagery in the Old Testament,” in JETS 43/3 (2000): 385-403: “As a major covenantal theme, [the Exodus’] familiar images provided a ready vehicle for the judgment and salvation oracles of the early pre-exilic prophets, especially as the two became intertwined in the prophetic kingdom oracles” (386). In addition to the darkening of the heavenly lights, Patterson mentions other imagery drawn from the Exodus traditions in the prophetic oracles including that of an earthquake (Exod 19:16, 18; cf. Judg 5:4-5; Isa 13:13; 29:6; Joel 3:16 [4:16] and the creatures of the plagues, e.g., locusts (Exod 10:3-20; Amos 4:10-11; 7:1-2; Joel 2:2-12).
[2] See Pitre who points out that restoration follows the oracles in Isaiah and Ezkeiel. Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile, 335. Indeed, there are also other passages which, though not mentioning the celestial bodies per se, speak of a coming day of judgment in terms of darkness and which likewise go on to describe the restoration of Israelite captives (Isa 8:21-9:7; 60:1-22; Ezek 34:12-16; Joel 3:15-21). Again, the imagery here evokes the Exodus tradition in which Israel was delivered through a series of cataclysmic events.
[3] For more detailed explanations see John E. Goldingay, Daniel (WBC 30; Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 194-222; John J. Collins, “Temporality and Politics,” in Apocalyptic in History and Tradition (JSPSup; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 2002), 29-36; Ben Witherington, Jesus the Seer: The Progress of Prophecy (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1999), 220-21.
[4] Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 359-60; Ben Witherington, Jesus, Paul and the End of the World (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1992), 43-44.
[5] The Danielic background is further confirmed by the fact that the “desolating sacrilege” (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως) is linked with the phrase, “let the reader understand” (ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω) in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14. It should be mentioned that some have seen this phrase as an allusion to a pre-Markan “little apocalypse” source. This is the view put forth famously in Timothée Colani, Jésus-Christ et les croyances messianiques de son Temps (2d ed.; Strasbourg: Treuttel et Wurtz, 1864), 201–3, and taken up more recently by Gerd Thiessen, The Gospels in Context: Social and Political History in the Synoptic Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991), 128-65. According to this view, Jesus’ reference to the “desolating sacrilege” was originally only describing a desecration of the temple, not its destruction. This view, of course, necessitates a reading which dislodges the sermon from the clear description of the destruction of the temple at the beginning of the sermon (Matt 24:1-2//Mark 13:1-2//Luke 21:5-6). It also must distance the sermon from the event of the cleansing of the temple, where, in all three synoptic gospels Jesus’ alludes to Jeremiah 7:11 (Matt 21:13//Mark 11:17//Luke 19:46; σπήλαιον λῃστῶν), a prophecy describing the coming destruction of the temple. However, as stated above, the phrase is probably best understood not as an indication of Markan editorial work, but as an allusion to Daniel 12:10-11, which closes the section of which Daniel 8 is a part and which also links the appearance of the “desolating sacrilege” (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως, 12:11) with “those who understand” (οἱ νοήμονες). For a fuller discussion see, Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile, 303-13.
[6] Of course, space prevents us from discussing a number of other issues involved here, including, but not limited to the question of the literary unity of the sermon and the objections often raised to this sermon’s authenticity. For a fuller discussion see Craig Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (WBC 34b; Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2001), 290-291; Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Apology for the Cross (Grand Rapids: Erdmans, 1993), 752-82; Beasely-Murray, Jesus and the Last Days, 407-8; Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of the Exile, 294-301, 348-377; Martin Hengel, Studies in the Gospel of Mark (London: SCM, 1985), 16-7; David Wenham, The Rediscovery of Jesus’ Eschatological Discourse (Gospel Perspectives 4; Sheffield: JSOT, 1984); Brower, “’Let the Reader Undestand’: Temple Eschatology in Mark,” in Eschatology in Bible and Theology: Evangelical Essays at the Dawn of a New Millennium (K. E. Brower and M. W. Elliot, eds.; Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1997), 140-2.


Edwardtbabinski said...
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Edwardtbabinski said...
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Edwardtbabinski said...

I've tried tackling some of these same questions myself in an online piece, "The Lowdown on God's Showdown," which examines not just the passages attributed to Jesus in the Gospels, but other N.T. passages.

I've also been very intrigued by the sorts of predictions and expectations found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. During the intertestamental period was when prophecy became apocalyptic. So simply citing O.T. hyperbole as if one could understand N.T. words and expectations in the exact same sense misses that such verses had come to be understood differently during the intertestamental period.

And the soon expected "return of Jesus" to judge the world was going to be an event unlike any found throughout the O.T.