30 October 2007

re-gathering of israel :3

Although Fuller spends a good deal of time reviewing the various aspects of Israel’s re-gathering from a human perspective (and involvement), he also examines divine intervention as part of the necessary events leading to the eschatological kingdom (148 ff.). Some of the writers in the early Jewish literature envisage much human participation in the events while others place more emphasis on ‘the divine intervention of God and his heavenly agents’ (149). He begins by reviewing Daniel, noticing the prophet’s heavy reliance on divine expectation and briefly compares it to Pseudo-Philo, who advocates the nation to hope in God’s intervention alone. Interestingly, this waiting becomes somewhat of an active role in partnering with God to usher in his eschatological kingdom:

‘By resisting, waiting, and dying righteously, Israel may play an active role in precipitating God’s intervention in bringing about her restoration and other eschatological benefits (i.e., heavenly exaltation)’ (151, emphasis in original).

More in depth, this section deals with the Testament of Moses and some of the works of Josephus. Regarding the Testament of Moses, Fuller posits that the author has painted Jerusalem as the religious center (though now displaced by misguided goals) which still awaits the coming re-gathering as the necessary event of the coming eschatological kingdom (cf. 154). The role of the nations in this work are seen as being aligned with the devil - thus making way for the desire that ‘the appearance of the kingdom of God marks the end of the devil as well as the Gentiles’ (156, emphasis in original). Clearly, a more spiritual element is entered into the expectation here, to the point where divine intervention alone is able to overcome the obstacle. Perhaps this sentiment helps us understand the trend of apocalyptic literature and imagery which was present in the intertestamental and Second Temple Jewish literature.

If this ‘highly spiritualized’ understanding of the early Jewish literature is accepted, then it is a natural move that, ‘The climax of Israel’s history no longer occurs in the Land, but in heaven’ (157). This significant development of the fundamental covenant theme demonstrates a noteworthy move in the overarching theology found in eschatological expectation. Yet, Fuller maintains, the notion of Land is not abandoned. . .’but its importance is reconfigured’ (157). The notion of reinterpreting or re-approaching the covenant themes is not particularly new to the period of literature in Second Temple Judaism, but was an ongoing process of understanding the covenant promises while living in circumstances which often challenged such religious beliefs. At this point, the Land is neither abandoned nor considered lost. It is, however, reinterpreted to answer the immediate context of the Second Temple period, which is the survival of Israel (157). Furthermore, ‘The author contends that the deaths of righteous Jews are not meaningless; on the contrary, he asserts they carry redemptive value for Israel’s survivors’ (157-158). Again, the only way in which this can be considerable is in the movement of heaven - the Land is reinterpreted to the framework of divine interaction, thus re-drawing the geographic boundaries of Israel. Perhaps there is more to be found on this particular concept alone, in which Israel’s perceived ‘implicit holiness’ which is centered on the Land plays a particular role.

The next section turns to the writings of Josephus as he speaks of Israel’s passivity. Fuller asserts: ‘At the heart of his argument is the point that vengeance is not Israel’s prerogative, but God’s alone’ (158). In his (rather selective) telling of Israel’s history, Josephus recounts both negative and positive examples of God’s interaction, ranging from the punishment which comes through other nations to the deliverance through world events. Perhaps reflective of the wider thought of his time period, Josephus admonished Israel to ‘[understand] Jerusalem as the religious center of the world, even while accepting Rome as God’s designated nation to rule the world’ (160). This is definitely a both-and approach to reconcile the importance of Jerusalem and the important religous events of the day with the stark reality that world events were being driven by the political might of Rome. In essence, Josephus constructs his history (and theology) between two very important realities: Jerusalem and Rome.

From this point, Fuller turns to the theme of Israel’s Warrior King by providing a reading of the Psalms of Solomon. The perspective of this piece of literature is that sinful Jews are responsible for the dilemma which has plagued their country - which is here expressed in terms of exile.

‘The author writes on behalf of a righteous group of Jews who understand (true) Israel’s fate to lie with them. The author envisions the arrival of a Davidic messiah, who will cleanse the Land from all enemy inhabitants and lead Israel in her restoration’ (163).

From this perspective (closely linked to the messiah), the reign of yhwh over the earth is tied to the rule of his anointed earthly agent. Thus, it is up to the Davidic messiah who will ‘manifest’ and ‘inaugurate’ the rule of God himself (cf. 164). This presents a particular problem for those Jews who have submitted to the corrupt powers in Jerusalem and Rome, for they have (in contrast to the perspective of Josephus) hindered the work of God and kept Israel from achieving the eschatological kingdom. Yet, what makes the message of this work interesting is that it does not allow for a simple revolution - rather, there is an element of the divine at work, for the power of the Davidic king originates from God and not from military or political might (166). Ultimately, restoration is bound up with the appearance of the Davidic messiah and his deliverance of the people of God.

Fuller is correct to 1) question the (lacking) methodology of many approaches to understanding the messianic expectations and 2) presenting N. T. Wright’s perspective that the overarching tasks of the messiah center around the liberation of Israel and the re-establishment of the people of God (cf. 170-171). Although there are many nuances which may be (or may not, depending on criteria) identified, the basic function of the messiah is quite straightforward as emerging from the context and literature of the Second Temple period.

The final section of Chapter Two, Gentile Sovereignty and Israel’s Restoration, considers the restoration of Israel with the reality of foreign superpowers at work in the world. Is it possible that God would restore Israel through the dominance of these other nations? Fuller contends, “. . .the dominant world view of many Jews was that God (now) ruled the world through Gentile kingdoms or kings that he appointed’ (184). Thus, the perspective is that these other nations have a political and military sovereignty, but that it was granted under the ultimate sovereignty of God (as are all powers). The accommodation that is found in the perspective of the literature which is examined (Sibylline Oracles: Book Three) is that restoration is now reinterpreted to be compatible with the reality of a dominant power in the world (186).

The interesting development in the Sibylline Oracles is the expectation of an Egyptian king, which seems to be ‘on behalf of a Jewish community who wishes to convey its support of one Gentile power over and against other nations, especially Rome’ (187). Still, the Jewish nation is portrayed as central to the unfolding events of world history - with the eschatological age to appear when the temple is restored, regardless of which power dominates the political landscape (with exceptions made for Rome). The figure which is expected is ‘the king from the sun’ who would be hailed by both Gentiles and Jews as the messianic figure of the world (195). This particular development and interpretation of the Davidic messiah is a striking move - as it reinterprets the covenant promise of the Davidic lineage. But, as was mentioned earlier, it appears that the context of survival is the underlying motivating factor. And it appears that ‘many Jews seem to have accepted the inevitability of Gentile rule (196).

[Next = Chapter Three: Israel’s Restoration in Luke-Acts]

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