“The need for this restoration is seen in the common second-temple perception of its own period of history. Most Jews of this period, it seems, would have answered the question ‘where are we?’ in language which, reduced to its simplest form, meant: we are still in exile.” 1
Indeed, it is difficult for us to overstate the nature of the exile to the development of second-temple thought - it becomes the watershed event which defines the context of the nation.
Interestingly, Wright’s perspective has been challenged by two theses which are quite similar in scope: Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006) and Michael E. Fuller, The Restoration of Israel: Israel’s Re-gathering and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish Literature and Luke-Acts (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2006). Although many have challenged Wright’s various proposals before these two, both include an altered approach as fundamental to their own work. At present, I will deal primarily with Fuller’s work.
Fuller states, “Wright is correct in noting the significance of the exilic model of restoration in the period of Second Temple Judaism, but he overstates its prevalence, ignoring or downplaying large bodies of Jewish (and Gentile) literary and archeological data that suggests many Jews understood their context and lives in much more positive terms than exile.” 2 The question remains: If the exile was the pivotal event which defined a nation, then what sort of definition was it? In other words, how did the exile come to shape the people of Israel?
I agree with Fuller (and also Pitre) that while N. T. Wright is correct in bringing the issue of the exile to the forefront of second-temple investigations, he does not seem to present a fully developed notion that Jewish understandings of exile go beyond the simple reality that life was under Roman rule. As both of these theses demonstrate, the re-gathering of Israel seems to be a major component of eschatological expectation for the second-temple period. If this is the case, then it is imperative to see how this exile shaped various levels of theology and nationalistic thought. Only then can we appreciate the level at which Jesus engaged such expectations.
Over the next few weeks, this blog will seek to interact with both Pitre and Fuller to examine their perspectives on this issue. By reviewing their primary works in this area, I will make an evaluation of their positions and (hopefully) offer some critical insights which I believe will be helpful to lead us to a greater understanding of the role of judgment in this context. In short, building upon these works I will seek to demonstrate the important role of judgment within the overarching goal of Israel’s restoration and re-gathering.