19 December 2007

Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile: pt. 2

Chapter Two: The Messianic Tribulation and the End of the Exile in Late Second Temple Judaism
This chapter surveys a number of texts from late Second Temple Judaism to uncover data and discover perspectives on 1) how the eschatological tribulation is depicted, 2) the precise literary context of the texts, 3) how
messianic plays a particular role in the eschatological viewpoints, 4) what scriptural basis is provided for such expectation, and 5) what connection exists between the eschatological tribulation and the restoration of Israel as the end of exile (42-43). Rather than summarize Pitre’s summaries or make an attempt to survey each of his interactions, I will simply point out certain sections of his overview which hold particular interest to my own range of study and interest.

The first work which is engaged is The Apocalypse of Weeks (1 Enoch 93:1-10; 91:11-17) (2.2), which emphasizes a period of tribulation which is to precede the era of salvation (44). More specifically, this era is one which will be characterized by Israel’s apostasy and the widespread deceit and violence. Pitre sees four particular points emerge: 1) it appears that the primary function of this tribulation is to inaugurate the final judgment, 2) there is no direct reference to a messianic figure in the text (the only “king” is God himself), 3) history seems to move on the typical apocalyptic understanding of predetermined patterns, and 4) the eschatological tribulation seems to be directly connected to the exile and the restoration of all Israel (45-46). From this the author sees the tribulation as “the climax of Israel’s exilic sufferings” (47).

Third on Pitre’s survey is The Book of Daniel (2.4), which focuses on “the latter period of the wrath” and the “time of tribulation” (52). Daniel’s famous vision of the four beasts and the judgment scene before the “one like a son of man” and the Ancient of Days introduces a messianic element to eschatological expectation. Pitre’s exegesis of these events shows unparalleled and worldwide tribulation with the rise of an eschatological tyrant, and a period of war, lawlessness and persecution of the saints (53). The eschatological framework is found in that it will precede a time of judgment to establish an “everlasting kingdom” (Daniel 7:18, 26-27). The emphasis given in Daniel on the period of tribulation is seen as “the eschatological climax of Israel’s continuing exile” (59). Thus, it is the expectation of the messianic figure, whose death atones for the sins of Israel will also lead them out of exile (61).

The Psalms of Solomon (2.8) appear seventh in Pitre’s survey, of which he states, “There is absolutely no question that the tribulation described in the Psalms of Solomon is messianic” (79). There are two initial descriptions given of the messianic tribulation (both which appear to refer to the same set of events): it is a time of divine judgment upon an apostate Israel and defiled temple cult as well as a period of suffering (80). This period of suffering is twofold in its effect, serving as both a time of testing for the righteous and a purgation for the sinful. From this is gathered the perspective that both righteous and sinful will experience the great tribulation. It is interesting to note, then, that one of the principle tasks of the Messiah is “to gather the dispersed people of Israel, at least some of whom were ‘scattered over the whole earth’ in the eschatological tribulation itself” (83, emphasis in original). Such expectation demonstrates the hope of Israel in an increasingly lawless and defiled system, disfigured by their apostasy.

A brief note of interest regarding The Testament of Moses (2.9) is that “the suffering of a righteous remnant within an apostate Israel during the tribulation somehow inaugurates the coming of the [sic] God’s kingdom” (89, emphasis in original).

Interesting points in 4QPsalms Pesher (4Q171) (2.11) are found in the scroll’s emphasis on the return from exile and the restoration of the community. In the coming period of affliction, the righteous will take the suffering upon themselves. Somehow the righteous will be delivered from the suffering, demonstrating some sort of atoning or redemptive significance (97). Pitre points out that “the vocabulary of this redemptive act is couched in terms of a return from exile” (97). Thus, there is a necessary trial for the righteous which is has a purging function emerging from the tribulation (98). “In other words, the persecuted righteous will atone for sin and thereby be restored to the land precisely by suffering the eschatological tribulation” (99, emphasis in original).

Also of interest is 1QWar Scroll (1QM) (2.15), which speaks of “the day of calamity” and the “time of distress” which Pitre interprets as consistent with his ongoing investigation and working definition of the eschatological tribulation. The tribulation is also designated as “the trial of God,” which further emphasizes its function as testing and purging the true people of God (113). The eschatological battle which is described in this document makes a strong connection between the eschatological tribulation and the end of exile (115). It is the tribulation which would bring about the return of the twelve tribes of Israel from exile, as well as see the defeat of the sons of darkness and the restoration of Jerusalem (116). The pattern of suffering and tribulation as preceding restoration remains.

Although Pitre surveys 17 various documents and fragments from late Second Temple Judaism, only a few points have been listed here. His findings are well presented and there appears to be a consistency which allows him to make solid summaries and conclusions. His final subsection (2.18) brings together several of his key points. He begins with the assertion, “Before the destruction of the Second Temple, there was clearly a widespread expectation that a time of suffering and catastrophe would in some way be related to the advent of the eschatological deliverer of the last days” (127). Thus, suffering and catastrophe have a place in the advent of the last days of Israel’s exile, just prior to the end of exile. Second, he maintains that the expectation of messianic tribulation can be found in a diverse range of various genres of Jewish literature from the period (127-128). This demonstrates the wide-spread belief of such themes which shaped (and was shaped by) messianic expectation. Finally, Pitre summarizes his results by cataloguing several major aspects of the tribulation which existed within Jewish belief. They are (listed in order of frequency):

1. The tribulation is tied to the restoration of Israel and the End of the Exile.
2. A
righteous remnant arises during the tribulation.
3. The
righteous suffer and/or die during the tribulation. This sometimes includes the suffering and/or death of a messianic figure.
4. The tribulation is tied to
the coming of a Messiah, sometimes referred to as the “Son of Man.”
5. The tribulation precedes
the final judgment.
6. The tribulation is depicted as
the eschatological climax of Israel’s exilic sufferings, often through the imagery of the Deuteronomic covenant curses.
7. The tribulation has
two stages: (1) the preliminary stage, and (2) the Great Tribulation.
8. The tribulation precedes
the coming of an eschatological kingdom.
9. An
eschatological tyrant, opponent, or anti-Messiah arises during the tribulation.
Typological images from the Old Testament are used to depict the tribulation.
11. The tribulation is tied to
the ingathering and/or conversion of the Gentiles.
12. The tribulation has some kind of
atoning or redemptive function.
13. The
Jerusalem Temple is defiled and/or destroyed during the tribulation.
14. The tribulation precedes the
resurrection of the dead and/or a new creation (Pitre, 128-129).

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