02 October 2007

re-gathering of israel :1

Michael Fuller’s book, The Restoration of Israel: Israel’s Re-gathering and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish Literature and Luke-Acts (Berlin: Walter deGruyter, 2006), examines the motif of exile and restoration as seen through the Jewish hopes of re-gathering as it provides the context for early Christian expectation, especially in Luke-Acts.

In Chapter One Fuller reviews Early Jewish Literature (EJL) and the theme of re-gathering Israel as a part of the eschatological restoration of the nation. He subdivides the chapter into discussions of (1) Israel’s historic re-gathering, (2) future re-gatherings, (3) the re-gathering as return from the Diaspora, (4) the re-gathering of Israel from within Israel, and (5) Philo’s approach to seeing Israel’s return as a symbolic motif of a spiritual journey to God.

The discussion on Israel’s Historic Re-gathering (15-23) focuses primarily upon the prophetic messages of Haggai & Zechariah and Ezra-Nehemiah. Fuller asserts that the message found in these writings suggest a hope of a “greater conclusion” than was experienced in the exilic return from Persia. The return itself seems to have been bound to certain events which helped define the eschatological era - such as the rebuilding of the temple. While Haggai holds to this hope, Zechariah seems to point more toward a greater expectation which came out of the event (16). For Ezra-Nehemiah there are more theological problems which arise from those they encounter in the Land than those who remain in Persia (19). Yet there is still an emphasis on a rebuilt temple as a precursor for that which is to come before the eschatological age. Although Fuller’s thesis is strongly built upon the idea of a specific definition of the re-gathering of Israel, I question his endorsement of Bedford to say that it is not residence in the Land that brings about their legitimate return from exile (20-21), to this point see his discussion on Diaspora. Understanding the issue, this is perhaps still too simplistic a statement as there still seem to be definite ties to the return and re-gathering to the Land (and the temple) which continue to define Israel’s expectations. Interestingly, exile is often seen as a prerequisite rite of passage before the experience of restoration (22).

The next section speaks more directly to the future re-gathering of Israel, in which the motif of exile-return becomes a popular pattern to the notion of restoration (23). Fuller acknowledges the little attention which has been given to the variety of interpretations on this aspect of re-gathering, yet reserves much of his own comment for discussions that will follow.

In exploring the EJL Fuller moves to a discussion of the re-gathering as a return of the Diaspora, an important theme for this topic. There seems to be a distinction between “negative” and “positive” views of the exile. As Jews found themselves in the Diaspora they increasingly found ways to survive and thrive while retaining their own Jewish identity. Consistently, one finds the focus on particular geography as part of the theology and narrative which supports Fuller, “The underlying assumption in these passages is that geography matters, for it is profoundly theological” (26). Ultimately, there is a belief that until everyone who is in exile returns from exile there will be no final restoration of Israel (cf. 26) - even those who remain ‘in the Land’ will be considered in exile.
Out of this, then, emerges the idea that faithfulness is indeed possible while living in the Diaspora, demonstrating the perspective that deliverance might be experienced (28). Furthermore, the nations in which the Jews are scattered have their fate connected with that of those in exile, as Fuller points to from his reading of Tobit 13 (that God “will have mercy unto the nations where you have been scattered”) (29). All of this points toward, contends Fuller, a better and more complete eschatological temple as part of the understanding for restoration and renewal (cf. 31f.). The primary characteristic of this temple (in the context of re-gathering) is that all of the righteous from Israel and the nations will make “pilgrimage to the place of God’s abode” (32).

A similar perspective is seen in Sirach, where Israel is linked closely to the welfare of the other nations and is identified as a source of great beneficial wisdom to the world (34). A point which is slightly different from the overview given of Tobit is that the restoration of Israel comes after the defeat of the nations in Sirach (cf. 37). Although there is the ability to benefit and prosper, to remain faithful to Judaism while in exile, ultimately exile must end for true restoration to occur. This completion of exile comes through the defeat of the nations. Of special note for Fuller is the role of Elijah (41f.). Looking to Elijah, the book of Sirach awaits for the appearance of the prophet at the appointed time to “reestablish the tribes of Jacob.” Thus, tied into the expectations of Israel is the definite appointment of a time when Israel would be restored and re-gathered as an end to exile. The overarching theme, however (here and in Maccabees), is that if there is any portion of Israel which is in exile, then all of Israel is in exile and awaiting an end to the shared condition of the nation (47). In connection to the Abrahamic covenant, there is an integral bond between the people of God and the Land - but perhaps it may be said that a shift was underway about who would occupy the land itself.

The next section of the chapter seeks to explore the question of who would be participating in the re-gathering of Israel. Fuller begins with Wright, who tightly weaves the themes of forgiveness of sins and the end of exile together (cf. 49). Is Wright on the correct path with this? Perhaps, but only if one recognizes that it is not simply equating one with the other; if the exile was a result of Israel’s sin and unfaithfulness then a return from exile would indicate that Israel had been forgiven of their sins. But when Jesus forgives individuals, Wright seems to say that he declares that the exile has/is occuring at present. It is interesting to consider when Jesus marked the return from exile - different scholars have different points of view.

A distinct development within the theme of re-gathering, which Fuller addresses, is that a marking of of Israel from within Israel begins to occur - the developing remnant theology of those who will return from exile (cf. 51f.). Fuller examines the Damascus Document to illustrate the notion of a ‘true return from Babylon’ where those who are returning are recounted in light of their exile to demonstrate a redemptive value of their return (55-60). This ties into the theme mentioned above that an experience of exile was somewhat expected in order for true restoration to occur. Further demonstrating this is Fuller’s examination of the Animal Apocalypse of 1 Enoch, where God’s withdrawal from Israel is a key portion of the story (cf. 62f.). This will lead to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple and demonstrate that Israel’s geo-political problems have a heavenly origin as her unfaithfulness leads her to exile. This, however, is seen by Fuller to be a negative counterpart for the positive portion of re-gathering (69), perhaps interpreted in a more deterministic outlook since he mentions how the nations receive no eternal judgment within the account (71). One cannot help but wonder if this point is indeed accurate to the general belief of Israel, since the destruction of the nations remains such a powerful idea.

What is seen quite clearly is the destruction of the designation between Jew and Gentile. This has been abandoned for a clearer picture of the true people of God who emerge from exile. Thus, the exiled tribes are not “lost” (75) in the sense that they can achieve faithfulness and participate in the re-gathering. The remnant becomes representative of all Israel and indicates the (small) faithful who will be gathered at the messianic age (78-79). When the messiah comes to Israel, he achieves victory as the nations are destroyed - brought about by his re-gathering of Israel over the nations which had kept Israel in exile (cf. 82). What restoration ultimately means - coming out of this discussion - is the “imminent appearing or uncovering of what is already present in Ezra’s time” (83). The ultimate establishment of that which Israel already confesses: the reign of God over his people and his kingdom.

At this point, Fuller discusses the nuanced approach of understanding exile given by Philo. He mentions up front that his notion is not necessarily representative of the nation of Israel as a whole, but is nevertheless important to the development of Jewish exilic and restoration thought. Since I agree that Philo is quite nuanced in his approach and understanding, I will skip over this section of the chapter for the present and will return to Philo in a later post.

More than a political and geographic problem, the exile of the Israel was a spiritual problem which was to expected to be solved with the return and re-gathering of the true Israel. Chapter Two of Fuller’s study, “The Fate of the Nations and Other Enemies,” will be reviewed shortly.

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