20 December 2007

Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile: pt. 3

Chapter Three: The Tribulation and the Enigmatic Sayings of Jesus
In the next chapter of his thesis, Pitre build his study around four main teaching sections from the gospel accounts: Matt. 6:9-13//Luke 11:1-4; Matt. 11:12-13//Luke 16:16; Mark 9:11-13; Matt. 10:34-36//Luke 12:51-53 (Gos. Thom. 16). The author states that his reasoning for selecting these particular passages is to demonstrate the wide impact made by the tribulation upon the ministry of Jesus (131). Further, there is material taken from different form categories, which helps Pitre interact with the independent tradition.

Matt. 6:9-13//Luke 11:1-4
“Lead us not into peirasmos” (Matt. 6:13) seems to be one of the more important texts which highlights Pitre’s work (133, see also the Introduction on p. 1). Again, the author interacts closely with N. T. Wright, who interprets this prayer as an expression of “the ancient Jewish hope for a New Exodus” (137, emphasis in original). Wright’s approach to the text stems from his connection of the overarching Old Testament texts which speak of a new exodus and the end of exile. Pitre acce
pts this claim, but seeks to strengthen Wright’s position through his own analysis and exegesis (138f.). A key text is found in Exodus 4:22-23, where God’s fatherhood of Isr
ael is seen as being connected to the exodus event, but more specifically to the deliverance which is provided through Passover (138). Such a background image serves to strengthen the petition which Jesus makes when addressing Father (Matt. 6:9) to set the appropriate context for his prayer.

The reference to God’s name being hallowed and the call for the kingdom of God to come (Matt. 6:9-10) also finds connection with the Old Testament narrative. Indeed, Pitre sees a strong link between 
the parallels of this sentiment with the theme of a new exodus as found in Ezekiel 36:22-28 and Micah 4:5-8 (140). An examination of these texts demonstrates the expectation of the coming kingdom of God being a time when Israel would see the very name of God hallowed throughout the land (e.g. 141). Regarding the coming of the kingdom, Pitre asserts that such can be envisaged when viewed not as a geographic entity (not even an abstract reign of God), but rather a people who are emerging from exile (143).
Pitre further examines the petitions for the daily provision of bread (Matt. 6:11) as well as the forgiveness of debts/sins (Matt. 6:11). Quite simply and straightforwardly, the exodus event can be seen in parallel with the request for daily bread as one considers the sustenance of manna in the wilderness, suggesting that the return from exile has indeed begun (144). The notion of forgiveness finds connection to the messianic Jubilee which is quite present in the Old Testament and various messianic expectation. Building upon Wright, Pitre contends that forgiveness of sins is equivalent to return from exile (145).

All of this leads up to the clause, “lead us not into peirasmos,” which must be considered in light of exilic return and new exodus if the preceding verses held such a strong connection (cf. 146). Even more so, Pitre suggests that this phrase is also related to the eschatological tribulation (146). The question and scope of the eschatological tribulation comes into play for Pitre who, along with W. D. Davies and D. Allison, asserts that Jesus understood as beginning with the persecution and death of John the Baptist (150-151). Therefore, “all trials and tribulations - even those that were to take place on a daily basis - could be interpreted as manifestations of the eschatological time of trial” (151, emphasis in original). He goes on to state:

“Because the very notion of the final ingathering of the lost tribes of Israel was fundamentally eschatological in nature, there is good reason to believe that in context the peirasmos is referring to the eschatological tribulation that would precede the end of the age and the coming of the kingdom of God. In support of this is the fact that the eschatological tribulation was specifically connected by several early Jewish texts to the coming of an eschatological kingdom” (151, emphasis in original).

The prayer for deliverance from the time of trial is understood by Pitre as the prayer for deliverance from the tribulation itself, a position he shares with Schweitzer and Wright (153).

Matt. 11:12-13//Luke 16:16
In approaching an understanding of this difficult text from Scripture, Pitre begins with the observation that two primary points appear to be made by the two versions: 1) “First, the law and the prophets somehow lasted up until the time of John, with his appearance marking the in-breaking of the kingdom of God,” and 2) “Second, the ‘kingdom’ of God currently suffers some kind of ‘violence’” (163-164). There is much to be said regarding this passage, and the author surveys a number of suggested options. His overall suggestion is that the key to unlocking the passage is found in the tribulation, which includes aspects of both the rise of lawlessness and the period of eschatological strife (166-167).

Not a few scholars link together violence enacted against the kingdom with the eschatological tribulation. Also, the survey of Second Temple Jewish literature also demonstrates an expectation of tribulation which is to precede the coming kingdom (e.g. The Apocalypse of Weeks) (166-167). The connection with a period of lawlessness is also present in this passage, as is part of the eschatological expectation. It is thus Pitre’s position that the persecution and death of John the Baptist inaugurated the eschatological period, which is now being characterized by the final tribulation of lawlessness and violence (168f., esp. 171). One particular outcome of this reading is that Jesus’ inaugurated eschatology is seen in this passage as the tribulation which is part of the kingdom appears (176-177).

Mark 9:11-13
The next section appears in the wake of Mark’s account of the transfiguration, a scene which points to the future resurrection (Mark 9:9). Pitre identifies “three formal elements” which comprise Jesus’ response to his disciples in vv. 12-13: 1) “an affirmative answer to the disciples question (Yes, Elijah is coming to restore all things)”; 2) “a scribal-type riddle” and 3) “an enigmatic declaration of the fulfillment of prophecy” (179). Pitre’s analysis of this section challenges traditional scholarship’s misplaced emphasis on Elijah as a forerunner to the Messiah, instead making the assertion that the Old Testament and early Jewish texts suggest “that [Elijah’s] coming was almost certainly linked with the eschatological tribulation” (181). He lends support to this claim by referring to Malachi 4, Sirach 48, 4QMessianic Apocalypse, 4QVision, and 4 Ezra, each of which he sees as showing the crucial point “that Elijah will return during a final period of interfamilial and interpersonal strife” (182, emphasis in original).

It becomes clear through Pitre’s reading of these texts that there was a strong expectation for Elijah to precede the eschatological tribulation. This point serves to underline Jesus’ own link between the coming of Elijah with persecution and suffering (183). Further, the author asserts that Jesus points to the events of interfamilial and interpersonal strife as evidence of the arrival of the eschatological tribulation (184). A second point regarding Jesus’ ministry is seen in the connection he draws between the suffering of Elijah and the suffering Son of Man, both being connected to the time of tribulation (186). In both cases, there is an element of Jesus’ own interpretation and use of the Old Testament and early Jewish texts in order to demonstrate the fulfillment of their expectation.

Of final note regarding the authenticity of this passage: Pitre challenges the position taken up by J. Meier that this text emerged from Gospel traditions which do not adequately reflect this historicity of John or Jesus (189f.). After providing three “flaws” in Meier’s argument, Pitre seeks to demonstrate that the passage meets the criterion of discontinuity with the early church on three specific accounts (191f.). He convincingly argues that the passage is indeed authentic as an accurate representation of the historical Jesus.

Matt. 10:34-36//Luke 12:51-53; Gos. Thom. 16
The final text which Pitre examines in this chapter comes as one of the more disturbing of the sayings of Jesus. It is pointed out that in both Matthew and Luke the saying comes in the context of references to the eschatological tribulation (200). Although some interpreters, such as B. Ehrman, read this passage as an indication of Jesus’ mission being “antifamily” (i.e., 207), it is more likely the case that, as stated by F. F. Bruce, “familial strife in only the effect of his coming, and not its purpose” (208, emphasis in original). Micah 7:5-6 clearly stands behind the text as it reads in Matthew and Luke, and Pitre’s exegesis of the text further points to “this future period to the return of an eschatological remnant of scattered Israel” (209, emphasis in original). Thus Micah is placing the period of familial strife just before the restoration of Israel and the ingathering of the scattered tribes.

All of this points to Jesus’ words as being an indication that “he must first unleash the time of strife that will precede the restoration of Israel and the End of the Exile” (210, emphasis in original). This understanding allows the reader to see this gospel text as pointing to the eschatological division which is part of the messianic restoration of Israel. Taken with the previous evidence, this means that Jesus is here using the imagery of Micah to mark the beginning of the tribulation which would inaugurate the last days before Israel’s restoration (e.g., 211).

Summary and Conclusions
After pulling together some of his key points, Pitre sets forth several implications for his reading of these four key texts. First, he recognizes that in order to understand some of Jesus’ most enigmatic sayings one must uncover Jewish expectation regarding the eschatological tribulation (217). Furthermore, an examination of these key texts “also show that Jesus, unlike some modern versions of eschatology, went to great lengths to insist upon the fact that the coming of salvation could in no way be detached from a time of suffering and tribulation” (217). Rather, he seems to place a necessity of an era of tribulation to come before the time of renewal and restoration (Pitre here says that before an era of salvation, which I believe *might*be an overstatement based upon other key gospel texts).  

Pitre’s final implication is that these passages reveal how “Jesus’ message contained an element of realized eschatology that often goes unnoted” (217-218). By appealing to Jesus sense that the kingdom of God has already begun, one must also recognize that Jesus believed that a period of tribulation (the last days) had also already begun. Eloquently put: 
“If this is true, then he would have perceived his ministry as not only standing in the morning-glow of the dawn of the kingdom of God, but also under the shadow of the eschatological tribulation” (218).

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