Jesus And The Victory of God | Reflections & Notes

N.T. Wright. Jesus And The Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God, vol. 2. Fortress Press, 1996. (741 pages)


REFLECTIONS


This, the second in the Christian Origins and the Question of God series (the first being The New Testament and the People of God – “NTPG”), expands and focuses Wright’s historical analysis of Christianity, now centered on the person of Jesus. In short, this is a compellingly revolutionary Jesus that evokes the prophetic imagination, and commissions us all for global transformation. I have much upon which to reflect.

First, this book, like NTPG, traveled with me through Israel. I have fond memories of reading Jesus and the Victory of God (“JVG”) on the lower hills of Galilee overlooking the sea. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to travel, learn, and teach “in the land.” How the brilliance of the events of the Jesus story have reached across thousands of miles and years is truly wondrous. In addition, anyone who has ever traveled there will know the somewhat astonishing absurdity of how that place became the seedbed for the largest religion and one of the most influential philosophies in the world.

Second, however, much like a journey with your feet on the ground in Israel takes intentionality and resources, so too does reading about it. The mere physical weight of this book is intimidating, analogous to the content written on the pages. Even college and seminary students are overwhelmed by the potential task of comprehending all that Wright has written. How an “everyday Christian” would ever access the treasure trove of insights and wisdom here is beyond manageable. This brings me to what I consider to be one of the greatest dilemmas of trying to be true to the “real/historical” Jesus.

I am troubled by the non-historical, abstracted, self-reflected, and modernized Jesus found in the everyday expressions of American Christianity (the only context to which I can speak with personal experience). I’ve been involved in some kind of Christian ministry now for almost 30 years. Throughout this time, I have heard quite literally thousands of sermons, talks, seminars, and lectures – including my own – that have been based upon a version of Christianity that is moralistic, therapeutic, euphoric, and individualistic. “Who Jesus is” really was nowhere to be found in the flood of declarations of “who Jesus is to me.” In some sort of perverse kind of parasitic theology, the person – and really in many instances, just the name – of Jesus is merely the host to our politically, religiously, and moralistically informed fabrication of reality and faith. We celebrate “Jesus,” worship “Jesus,” pray “in Jesus’ name,” but who the historical person of Jesus was and is, is all but irrelevant. We don’t actually know the historical Jesus, nor do we care to. We instead perpetuate a Christian violation of the prohibition, “thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain.”

And this has real-world consequences not least of which is the demise of the vision of humanity Jesus has commissioned his followers to carry forth. Ideas have consequences, and to replace the ideas of the historical person of Jesus with our own ideas creates an idolatrous worldview.

I could easily forgive this kind of religious expression as mere anthropology and sociobiology “working itself out with fear and trembling.” There is plenty of good reason to suggest that people need some metanarrative or metaphysical substrate to make sense of one’s existence. Man does live on bread alone, but by the narratives and stories we tell. I suppose I can even grant grace to the other theological assertion that the eternal “Christ” transcends history, and meets us each individually, here and now, in very personal ways. But for me, the tensions and paradox still lie within the dilemma of how and why the historical revolution of Christianity became juvenile, facile, and self-consoling. The incoherence of this modern and esoteric experience of Jesus and the Jesus of history will continue to be a thorn of theodicy in my side for what I am now projecting will be the rest of my life.

And so, it is to this challenge that I continue to “upload” my offerings, in hopes that more would at the very least consider reframing their Christian faith around the historical person of Jesus, and perhaps lay down the “Christianism” that has, and continues, to plague many expressions of religion under that name. This hope will take work, commitment, and – to be honest – the leveraging of resources and privilege. But if you, the kind reader of this post, would take upon yourself the same commission that Jesus gave his first followers, to dedicate oneself to learning and teaching “everything that I [Jesus] have commanded you,” perhaps we can redeem even self-centered Christianity, for the sake of the world.

Jesus and the Victory of God (JVG) is a tremendous explication of the historical Jesus, the prophet, whose aim was to upend the destructive orders of the world and embody and commission a whole new world order, a life in accordance with the full weight of the Jewish tradition that begins and ends in the Genesis storyline. Admittedly, these ~700 pages are a mere introduction. Content-wise, there were moments when I wondered if Jesus was going to collapse under the weight of what Wright was heaping upon his shoulders; everything from the creation of the world, to the Temple and other religious symbols, to the voice of the prophets and the wisdom of the sages, to the sects of Judaism, and the sins of humanity. All this and more creates a literary, theological, and historical “Gethsemane,” a crushing weight. But just as Jesus rose again to conquer the evils of this world while bearing its wounds, so too shall students of the historical Jesus conquer the plight of a concocted Jesus even while bearing the wounds of that very same religion. To that end, I commend my reflections and notes.


NOTES


Preface

I

‘The historian of the first century…cannot shrink from the question of Jesus.’ That was the conclusion I came to near the end of the first volume in this series, on whose shoulders the present work rests all its weight. [The New Testament and the People of God (hereafter referred to as NTPG), 468.] I argued that the study of first-century Judaism and first-century Christianity forces us to raise certain specific questions about Jesus: who was he? what were his aims? why did he die? and why did early Christianity begin in the way that it did? The present book is my attempt to answer the first three of these questions, and to point towards an answer to the fourth. (xiii)

I have come to believe that these questions about Jesus are vital, central and as yet not fully answered;… (xiii)

II

…’The Gospel in the Gospels’. (xiv)

III

First, I have continued to use the lower case ‘g’ in ‘god’, and to refer to Jesus as ‘Jesus’ rather than ‘Christ’. (xvi)

Second, I have taken it for granted that Jesus of Nazareth existed. … It would be easier, frankly, to believe that Tiberius Caesar, Jesus’ contemporary, was a figment of the imagination than to believe that there never was such a person as Jesus. (xvi)

Third, this book is largely based on the synoptic gospels. (xvi)

Fourth, what I said about secondary literature in the Preface to NTPG is even more the case here. (xvi)

Fifth, there is a problem of scale which I have not really attempted to solve. (xvi)

Sixth, a word about method. In reading the sayings of Jesus, we must of course guard against over-exegesis. (xvii)

Seventh, the book does not attempt to follow the synoptic accounts of Jesus’ life straight through, but rather arranges the material by themes. (xvii)

Eighth, I argued in NTPG that most first-century Jews would have seen themselves as still, in all sorts of senses, ‘in exile’. …would any serious-thinking first-century Jew claim that the promises of Isaiah 40-66, or of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, or Zechariah, had been fulfilled? That the power and domination of paganism (xvii) had been broken? That YHWH had already returned to Zion? That the covenant had been renewed, and Israel’s sins forgiven? That the long-awaited ‘new exodus’ had happened? That the second Temple was the true, final and perfect one? Or–in other words–that the exile was really over? (xviii)

IV

V


PART I Introduction


1 Jesus Then and Now

1. Angels, Giants and Jigsaws

Just as many Jewish scholars have preferred to study Talmud rather than Tanakh, the rabbis instead of the Bible, so twentieth-century Christian theologians have expended more and more energy on the early church and less and less upon Jesus. It appeared, after all, safer. (4)

What we say about Jesus is thus inextricably intertwined with what we say about the first century as a whole. (5)

…it has been realized that Jesus must be understood in his Jewish context. (5)

…almost every book on Jesus has carried the implicit presupposition that when we ‘really’ find what Jesus was like we will have discovered the pearl of great price, the buried treasure that will set us up for life… History, not least this bit of history, can never be done in a vacuum. …what should we believe, and how should we behave, in the modern world? (7)

It is often suggested that ‘faith’ must bridge the gap between what can be known or ‘proved’ by ‘history’ and what ‘must be true’ if Christianity is to survive–or, mutatis mutandis [having changed what needs to be changed”], if it is to be modified or transformed. History, it is said, can take us only so far; we have to travel the rest of the journey by faith. But this is a misconception. All history involves imaginative reconstruction. …There is always a leap to be made between the actual evidence and the fully-blown reconstruction. This move could be called ‘faith’; but it has very little to do with any specifically Christian meaning of that world. The really interesting relation, then, is not between ‘history’ (conceived positivistically as a provable series of events, a collection of mathematically certain data) and ‘faith’ (conceived as a leap in (8) the dark over the gap where such data is not available). It is between real history, in all its complexity of hypothetical reconstruction, and real faith, in all its glory as the constant exploration of, and trust in, a god whom Christians believed to be, among other things, intimately and passionately involved in the historical process itself. (9)

…we are all heirs and successors to the giants and their jigsaws. … To those who still say, enlarging somewhat the scope of Nathanael’s objection to the provenance of the Messiah, ‘Can any good thing come out of History?’, the best answer I can give is Philip’s: ‘Come and see.’ [Jn. 1.46. At a late stage in the production of this book there appeared Johnson 1995 (The Real Jesus. San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco), which does its best to hold history and theology apart. It would take us too far afield to enter into detailed debate with Johnson in the present work. Suffice it to note that when he speaks of the ‘fateful link’ between history and theology (69), the opposition between the ‘historical’ and the ‘real’, or the disjunction of ‘fact’ and ‘meaning’ (160), I find myself in such total disagreement that I wonder if we are even talking the same language. In one sense, actually, we are not; Johnson limits ‘history’ and its cognates to ‘that which people write about the past’ rather than ‘that which happened in the past’ (cf. NTPG ch. 4, esp. 81f.)](9)

It is true…that icons can sustain faith when other aids fail. But they must never be mistaken for the real thing. (10)

This book, then, is unashamedly about Jesus. … Jesus is almost universally approved of, but for very different and indeed often incompatible reasons. … But the question as to which Jesus we are talking about will not go away. (10)

Christianity appeals to history; to history it must go. [See Caird 1965, 3: ‘Anyone who believes that in the life and teaching of Christ God has given a unique revelation of his character and purpose is committed by this belief, whether he likes it or not, whether he admits it or not, to the quest of the historical Jesus.’] (11)

2. Procedure

There was not just one ‘Messianic secret’, as has sometimes been imagined, but three interlocking secrets. The first of these, his belief about his own role vis-à-vis Israel (chapter 11), the disciples more or less grasped. The second, his belief about how his mission would be achieved, they did not, though Jesus tried to teach it to them (chapter 12). The third secret, Jesus’ belief about himself, could not even be spoken except under a thick veil. We can, however, hypothesize that Jesus himself held this belief, on the grounds of actions which make sense only on this assumption (chapter 13). (12)

We are thus committed to the historical argument. And, since it has been in full swing for some little while, it is necessary that we find out what has been going on. (13)

3. The ‘Quests’ and their Usefulness

(i) Jesus Through History

…in the event to which the gospels really do point, the death and resurrection of Jesus, which is to be understood not as the execution of an (13) awkward figure who refused to stop rocking the first-century Jewish or Roman boat, but as the saving divine act whereby the sins of the world were dealt with once and for all. (14)

The reformers had very thorough answers to the question ‘why did Jesus die?’; they did not have nearly such good answers to the question ‘why did Jesus live?’ (14)

It would not, then, be much of a caricature to say that orthodoxy, as represented by much popular preaching and writing, has had no clear idea of the purpose of Jesus’ ministry.If the main purpose of Jesus’ ministry was to die on the cross, as the outworking of an abstracted atonement-theology, it starts to look as though he simply took on the establishment in order to get himself crucified, so that the abstract sacrificial theology could be put into effect. This makes both ministry and death look like sheer contrivance. (14)

…the failure to ask about the theological significance of the ministry of Jesus, and the failure to treat the gospels with full seriousness as they stand, that is, as stories — are among the chief causes of much present confusion, and that they can and must be remedied. (15)

| The reformers, then, focused not on the Jesus of history for his own sake, but on the results, the ‘benefits’, of his work. (15)

Within post-reformation circles, both Catholic and Protestant, there has been a general use of the gospels as sourcebooks for ethics and doctrine, for edifying tales or, smuggled in behind the back of the sensus literalis, allegory. What else was there to do with them? (15)

The hypothesis I shall propose shares the reformers’ concern for theology, but not their uncertainty about the value of the history of Jesus’ life in relation to the theological and hermeneutical task. 916)

(ii) The Rise of the Critical Movement: from Reimarus to Schweitzer

The thesis is devastatingly simple. History leads away from theology. Cash out the ancestral inheritance, and you will end up feeding the pigs. Jesus was no more than a Jewish revolutionary; the gospels hushed this up in the interests of the new religion. Go back to the beginning, and you will find your faith (and the European way of life which was based on it) resting on a failed Messiah and a fraudulent gospel. The ‘Quest’ began as an explicitly anti-theological, anti-Christian, antidogmatic movement. Its initial agenda was not to find a Jesus upon whom Christian faith might be based, but to show that the faith of the church (as it was then conceived) could not in fact be based on the real Jesus of Nazareth. (17)

He [Reimarus] claimed that the gospels were records of early Christian faith, not transcripts of history… Jesus did not support the Jewish national resistance to Rome, but rather opposed it. …it is to acknowledge that the challenge of the Enlightenment might, despite itself, benefit Christianity as well as threatening it. (17)

One looked at the history in order then to look elsewhere,… (17)

On the other hand, nineteenth-century historians frequently ignored the Jewishness of Jesus, trying as hard as they could to universalize him, to make him the timeless teacher of eternal verities. This strand of their work, which served the interests of the romantic-idealist interpretation of Jesus, means that very few of their historical judgments can now stand unaltered. I share their desire to do both history and theology; but their governing hermeneutical programme, and consequent historical method, mean that I cannot in the end proceed in the same direction as they did. (20)

The Wredestrasse insists that we know comparatively little about Jesus, and that the gospels, in outline and detail, contain a great deal that reflects only the concerns of the early church. The Schweitzerstrasse places Jesus within the context of apocalyptic Judaism, and on that basis postulates far more continuity between Jesus himself, the early church, and the gospels, while allowing of course for importantly different historical settings in each case. … Do we know rather little about Jesus, with the gospels offering us a largely misleading portrait (Wrede)? Or was Jesus an apocalyptic Jewish prophet, with the gospels reflecting, within their own contexts, a good deal about his proclamation of the kingdom (Schweitzer)? (21)

(iii) No Quest to New Quest: Schweitzer to Schillebeeckx

On 23 October 1953, Ernst Käsemann, aware (as in all his work) of the dangers of idealism and docetism, insisted that if Jesus was not earthed in history then he might be pulled in any direction, might be made the hero of any theological or political programme. …the New Quest, ironically enough, did not represent a turning to history in the fullest sense. (23)

For this reason, much time has been devoted to method, and in particular to discussing the appropriate criteria for reconstructing the life of Jesus — a concern which leads, with a sad inevitability, to books filled with footnotes, in which the trees are so difficult to discern that one never even glimpses the forest itself. Attention has been focused on sayings of Jesus, both within and outside the synoptic tradition. This, again, is true to the reformation emphasis: the purpose of Jesus’ life was to say things, to teach great truths in a timeless fashion. It was also true of idealist philosophy: what matters ultimately is ideas, not events. (24)

(iv) Two Hundred Years of Questing

What did the Quest achieve in the two hundred years between Reimarus and Schillebeeckx? It put the historical question firmly and irrevocably on the theological map, but without providing a definite answer to it. Theologians cannot honestly ignore the questions of who Jesus was, whether he said and did roughly what we find in the gospels, the reasons for his death, and the reasons for the rise of Christianity. (25)

2 Heavy Traffic on the Wredebahn: The ‘New Quest’ Renewed?

1. Introduction

My own study has led me to conclude that, however many details may need adjusting, it is Schweitzer’s route that is in principle to be preferred. (29)

2. The ‘Jesus Seminar’

The agenda and practice of this Seminar contains three important features. First, all relevant Jesus-material is to be included. The net is cast far wider than the canonical gospels, bringing in Thomas and numerous other works, several of them fragmentary. Second, voting takes place in four categories,… Third, the Seminar (29) publishes its results as widely as possible, recognizing that it is not only scholars who may be interested in the results. (30)

There are two points in particular, however, at which criticism must be levelled. (31)

First, the initial flyer advertising the seminar spoke in classic positivist terms of ‘the quest for fact and history, for honesty and candour, for the truth and its consequences’. It invited as participants those who preferred ‘facts rather than fancies’, ‘history rather than histrionics’, and ‘science rather than superstition’. It even used the old phrase ‘the assured results of historical-critical scholarship’;… this positivistic mood is, as I argued in NTPG Part II, quite out of place in serious historical scholarship. It also accords ill will with the actual practice of the Seminar, and the methodological pronouncements of some of its leading members. It quickly became clear with the first voting that, as Burton Mack wrote, ‘we have no common categories for actually making sense of things even among ourselves’;… The Seminar appears, then, to hover uneasily between a positivistic public image and an inner methodological uncertainty. (31)

…the laudable desire to communicate the results of the Seminar’s deliberations has lead to some astonishing oversimplifications. In the Introduction to the red-letter text of Mark (presented again in The Five Gospels), we are told that scholars are united on the major premises that underlie all critical work on the gospels. Unfortunately, the whole point of a premise is that it is not a conclusion,… (32)

What is afoot, at least in the ‘results’ available thus far, is not the detailed objective study of individual passages, leading up to a new view of Jesus and the early church. Itis a particular view of Jesus and the early church, working its way through into a detailed list of sayings that fit with this view. Once this is recognized, it should also be seen that the real task, still awaiting all students of Jesus, is that of major hypothesis and serious verification, not pseudo-atomistic work on apparently isolated fragments. (33)

The ‘New Quest’ was an explicitly Bultmannian movement, an attempt by some of the Bultmann’s followers to recover something of the historical Jesus, by building outwards from the Bultmannian understanding of the kerygma of the cross and resurrection. (34)

3. Burton L. Mack (and the Question of Q)

cf. A Myth of Innocence: Mark and Christian Origins

The Seminar announced to its public that the real Jesus was innocent of the wicked apocalypticism with which so many Christians, not least in the conservative American churches against which American academics react so strongly, had for so long associated him. (39)

But, if our suspicions are aroused by the ease with which his Jesus, and his early Christianity, conform to one particular agenda, our critical faculties must likewise reject his proposal both in outline and in detail. (39)

| I have already argued that the proposal of a ‘Q-and-Thomas‘ early form of Christianity is extremely tenuous. I have demonstrated in some detail (a) that popular Judaism in the first century was eagerly expecting Israel’s god to act decisively to get rid of the Roman overlord, (b) that this expectation regularly expressed itself in terms of Israel’s god becoming king, and (c) that the apocalyptic language of some of its favourite writings, not least the book of Daniel, had nothing to do with a supposed end to the space-time order, and everything to do with the great climax of Israel’s history, the final liberation of Israel from her pagan enemies. I have argued that, though Mark is indeed in some sense a Christian ‘apocalypse’, this has nothing to do with a negative attitude to the world or to history. In particular, I have shown in some detail that the whole synoptic tradition, both in its pre-literary and in its literary forms, carried the intention to refer to the actual Jesus of Nazareth, not to some cult-figure, nor to some quasi-mythical figure to whom could be attributed words of prophecy that the original Jesus could not have spoken. This point could be amplified further by a full consideration of the nature of oral tradition in the middle-eastern village life of the period. We may add, in advance of a fuller demonstration, that the evidence for a Cynic presence in Galilee is slight to the point of invisibility; that Jesus’ claim to be fulfilling the scriptures, and indeed the whole history, of Israel, can only be written out of the text by major and drastic surgery comparable to cutting off an arm and a leg; that the vital split between ‘prophetic’ and ‘wisdom’ traditions, or between ‘apocalyptic’ and ‘sapiential’ sayings, is warranted by nothing stronger than frequent repetition in certain limited scholarly circles; and that the attempt to discover social contexts within which the tradition could undergo the huge developments necessary for Mack’s theory to work is almost entirely (since there is no real evidence for it whatsoever) an exercise in creative imagination. We just do not have the evidence to be able to postulate with any hope of accuracy the groups, the locations, the cultural influences and so forth which Mack presents to our dazzled gaze. We actually know very little about early Christianity. What we do know points in a very different direction. (40)

First, to treat Q as a ‘gospel’ runs way beyond the evidence. Even if it did exist as a separate document, the word ‘gospel’ means ‘good news’, and the force of that phrase comes precisely from the sense of Israel’s god bringing her history to its appointed goal… (41)

The point is simply that scholars who have immersed themselves in the study of Q every bit as much as Kloppenborg, Mack and some other North Americans have returned with a rather different tale to tell. Gone is the firm support, in Q, for an early, non-apocalyptic, largely non-Jewish, non-prophetic form of Christianity, into which such elements are introduced as secondary deviations or corruptions. Gone is the Cynic-like community intent simply on ‘living with verve in troubled times’. It disappears back whence it came, which turns out to be the mythology of the counter-cultural movements of the 1960s and the environmental protests of the 1980s. Gone, in particular, is the sense of certainty that Q was a ‘gospel’ whose omissions (the crucifixion, for instance) were as significant as its inclusions. (43)

Mack’s proposal, in short, is a historical hypothesis, to be verified according to the normal canons; and by those canons it fails. It does not do justice to the data: it chops up texts with cheerful abandon and relocates them all over the place, radically misreading first-century Judaism and completely marginalizing the theology and religion of Paul — which is one body of literature we not only actually possess but which we know for certain was produced within thirty years of the crucifixion. (43) … Those who want to continue with serious research on Jesus will need different foundations and building materials. They may conclude that they require a different architect as well. (44)

4. J. Dominic Crossan

(i) Introduction

His major work The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant is a book to treasure for its learning, its thoroughness, its brilliant handling of multiple and complex issues, its amazing inventiveness, and above all its sheer readability. … | It is all the more frustrating, therefore, to have to conclude that the book is almost entirely wrong. (44)

Crossan’s own admission that he is primarily interested in the Jesus-tradition, not in Jesus himself… (46)

[The Jesus-tradition] is not a mnemonic but a hermeneutical tradition. It is one which challenges us not to obedient repetition but to interpretive decision. [ Crossan 1985, 61.]

(ii) Basic Features

Three basic features call for immediate discussion: the treatment of sources, the historical method, and the implicit epistemology. (47)

Crosssan sets out a substantial ‘inventory of the Jesus tradition’. This is arranged first by chronological stratification, and second by independent attestation; the aim, of course, is to be able to see which parts of the material are both early and well attested. (47)

…Chrossan’s chronological strata must be seen for what they are. Though he offers them as starting-points, they are in fact conclusions drawn from his basic thesis about Jesus and early Christianity. … I submit that his inventory is the result, not the ground of a position about early Christianity adopted for quite other reasons. (50)

…if, as I have argued elsewhere, one likely scenario of Jesus’ ministry is that he said the same or similar things in many places at many times, it is highly likely that we would have what look like similar or even dependent accounts which are in fact independent. (51)

[via: Do we have other examples of this in antiquity?]

The treatment of the sources, just outlined, is the small-scale level (the ‘microcosmic’). The regular task of ancient history, the reconstruction of the world of the Eastern Mediterranean in the first century, is the middle level (the ‘mesocosmic’). Overarching both of these, at the ‘macrocosmic’ level, comes an analysis at the level of social anthropology. (52)

…different societies operate with different worldviews and social norms. (52)

The passage (Luke 10.38-42) has thus been the subject of millions of homilies on the priority of prayer over housework. But as soon as we get inside the culture of a first-century Palestinian village, a much more subversive note is struck. Mary has refused to be confined to the women’s quarters:

Jesus’ remark to Martha serves to vindicate Mary’s exceptional presence in space not expected of her; the story consciously upsets the native perception of how things out to be. [Malina and Neyrey, in Neyrey 1991, 62. I was first alerted to the point about Mary and Martha through an unpublished paper by Dr Kenneth Bailey.] (52)

There was no real ‘middle class’. Power and influence were ‘brokered’ through the informal but all-important patron/client system, in which well-placed clients of wealthy and powerful patrons became patrons to others in their turn. Society hinges upon these ‘brokers’ who sustain a double relationship, ‘one as client to a patron and another as patron to a client’;… (53)

And what if the patronage system does not deliver the goods? The alternatives are, basically, destitution and banditry. (53)

Rejection of spurious objectivity cannot mean collapsing back into the private world, the closed circle, of mere subjectivism. The honesty of the critic is correlated to the publicness of the discourse. Without honesty there can be no genuine publicness, only publicity. (55)

It is clear that the book possesses a certain inner tension: the stated claim to avoid spurious objectivism sits uncomfortably alongside the implicit claim that here at last is the solid historical ground that generations of Jesus-researchers have been waiting for. … Crossan sees the need for appropriate reconstruction, but has not yet articulated a way by which this can actually be achieved. Unless we can do this — and I submit that a serious ‘critical realism’ goes at least some way towards such a goal [cf. NTPG Part II.] — then history will remain a matter of brokerage, of the historian as patron and the reader as client. ‘Critical realism’, in other words, is an attempt to provide, in the sphere of historical method, what Crossan thinks Jesus was offering in the sphere of first-century peasant life: a brokerless kingdom. (55)

(iii) Historical Reconstruction of Jesus

…Crossan is absolutely right to stress that when Tacitus says ‘all was quiet under Tiberius’ he does not mean that there were no movements of protest, no social groundswell of anti-Roman feeling. All he means, importantly, is ‘that under Tiberius there were no revolts in Palestine necessitating intervention from the Syrian legate backed by his legionary forces‘. (56)

I have argued elsewhere that ‘apocalyptic’ writings, and Daniel in particular, were read in the first century as describing not ‘the darkening scenario of an imminent end to the world’ but the radical subversion of the present world order. (57)

Jesus thus ‘sets the Kingdom against the Mediterranean’. … ‘The heart of the original Jesus movement’ was ‘a shared egalitarianism of spiritual and material resources’. (58)

Just because Jesus may well have had what may be described as a social programme, this does not mean he did not have a Jewish programme, stemming from the belief that Israel’s god was the one true god and would vindicate his people at last. (59)

There is, of course, no such thing as uninterpreted historical narrative; … But if the sign of interpretative activity is the give-away clue that the history has been invented, how then can there ever be any history at all? …in these events the story of Israel has come to its goal. That, after all, is what ‘according to the scriptures’ means. (60)

…Jesus’ action in the Temple was a symbolic destruction; that some words of Jesus about this destruction are original; and that these words and this action followed with a close logic from the rest of Jesus’ agenda, the programme enacted in healings and meal-sharings. (61)

(iv) The Early Church

…any theory about gospel traditions is also a theory about how the early church developed. (62)

…there is ‘Thomas Christianity’. … ‘Pauline Christianity’ … ‘Q Christianity’. (62) … ‘exegetical Christianity’. (63)

Josephus is concerned to correct the idea that Israel’s scriptures prophesied the rise of a Jewish world ruler. He transfers the prediction to Vespasian. (65)

5. Jesus the Cynic?

Who were the Cynics? … They were, more or less, popular philosophers operating within the Greco-Roman world. Their basic line of argument, or at least assertion, was that society as it now is is corrupt and worthless, and that the best thing for humans to do is radically to re-evaluate their attitudes to themselves, their property, their whole lives. The word ‘Cynic’ itself comes from the Greek kyon [κυον], meaning ‘dog’: the Cynics barked at society, snapped (66) at its heels (we must remember that dogs were normally scavengers, not family pets, in the Greco-Roman world), warning people, waking them up, harrying them into thinking differently about their lives. (67)

| Traditionally, Cynicism goes back to one Antisthenes, a pupil of Socrates. … He was followed, according to tradition, by Diogenes of Sinope (fourth century BC), who is portrayed as witty and acerbic. He in turn was followed by Crates of Thebes (c.360-280 BC; Zeno, the founder of Stoicism, was a pupil of his); he, by Menippus of Gadara in the first half of the third century BC. These, and others of the period, are described by Diogenes Laertius in his Lives of the Eminent Philosophers, written around 200 BC. … Some first-century AD Cynics are known, such as Demetrius the friend of Seneca; Seneca himself, as well as his near contemporary, the ex-slave-turned-philosopher Epictetus, have plenty to say about the Cynic way of life. …Lucian of Samosata wrote an account of two Cynics in particular, Demonax and Peregrinus. Evidence continues for three hundred or more years beyond this, ending with the sixth-century Sallustius. (67)

Their teaching eschewed the complexities of the more serious education of the day, and aimed simply at challenging received opinions, ‘altering the currency’ in the phrase attributed to Diogenes, and advocating a life lived in harmony with nature rather than with the enslavement and immorality that accompany (67) wealth. Freedom, self-sufficiency, and self-control: these were the Cynic’s goals, and almost any means to express them for oneself, or to shock others into seeing their value, was acceptable. (68)

There are obvious parallels between some Cynic sayings and actions and some passages in the New Testament. Diogenes has a child teach a philosopher a lesson, just as Jesus exalts the child in the presence of the disciples. Malherbe has argued that Paul’s hearers would have recognized some features of his self-description, not least in his writing to the Thessalonians, as an echo of some aspects of the Cynic style. What is new in the recent wave of study is the suggestion that Jesus himself, in some important senses, actually was a Cynic: that he deliberately chose a style of life and teaching which embodied Cynic ideals, and that this would have been clearly recognized by his contemporaries. (68)

So what of Jesus? (69)

He teaches on his own authority. He engages in banter with a foreign woman who accepts the designation ‘dog’. He refuses flattering respect. His parables subverted the conventional norms. He travelled light, trusting his god to provide. ‘He comes as a physician for social misfits.’ He repudiated the conventional wisdom about authority structures and the importance of money: ‘Jesus maintains a Cynic disparagement of wealth as such – while giving it a Jewish name, Mammon.’ He urges his hearers to live as if the rule of god were already a reality: ‘again his terminology is Jewish, but what Jesus presses is an absurd Cynic trust in the possibility of living fully by living simply, as (69) things are. (70)

[F. Gerald] Downing is right, I believe, to highlight the fact that Jesus, and his earliest followers, challenged their hearers to understand themselves and their world in an entirely different way. They subverted the normal way of looking at things, as much by their behaviour as by their teaching, casting suspicion on received wisdom, and offering an alternative self-awareness. (70)

…when we find solid historical ground under our feet in the first century of Christianity, we find ourselves still in a very Jewish world, even if transplanted to Rome, Smyrna or Thessalonica. (71)

As Downing himself notes, finding Cynic traits in a Christian writer does not mean a Cynic worldview. (71) … If Christianity shares some features with Cynicism, which seems to be the case, I submit that this is essentially superficial, and comes about because its essential Jewishness led it to confront the world of paganism, and to do so with all the subversive weapons available, rather than because an essential Cynicism led it to abandon the world of Judaism. (72)

The Jesus-tradition…is replete not just with the timeless challenge of the Cynic but with the very specific note that Israel’s god, the creator of the world, is bringing Israel’s and the world’s history to an awesome climax, so that urgent action is called for if Israel is to escape cataclysmic judgment. (72)

What he [Downing] totally fails to explain is why this Cynic teacher should have started a movement that so quickly spread throughout the known world, with results significantly different from those either of Cynicism as a whole or of any particular Cynic teacher. (73)

One of the reasons why the Cynic model has appealed to this group seems to be the possibility that it offers of evading the ‘horizontal’ eschatology of traditional Judaism (i.e. the belief that Israel’s god would act within history in the future). Instead, we are offered the ‘vertical eschatology’ in which Thomas and other writings ‘translate’ eschatological language into the ‘vertical’ dimension of an escape from the space-time world. (73)

…to make Jesus a first-century Palestinian Jew does not necessarily mean that he will be, so to speak, recognizably ‘Jewish’ through and through. (74)

6. Marcus J. Borg

7. Conclusion: the New ‘New Quest’

If the categories crumble in the next decade or so, that will be an excellent thing for the discipline. (79)

| But that will only happen if the residual weaknesses in the New Quest are seriously addressed. … First, there is the continued Bultmannian reliance on the sayings of Jesus as the primary material. (79)

This reliance on sayings leads, second, to a spurious idea that history can be done by assessing these sayings through ‘criteria’ of various sorts. (79)

The renewed New Quest works, third, with an overall picture of Christian origins that ought now to be abandoned. (79)

[Schweitzer’s] basic position (Jewish eschatology as the context for Jesus, joining forces with scepticism to confront naive traditionalism, but then defeating scepticism with appropriate historical reconstruction) survives intact, and the present work intends to promote it further. …how can a first-century apocalyptic prophet have anything to say in the twentieth century? (81)

3 Back to the Future: The ‘Third Quest’

1. Breaking out of the Straitjacket

The ‘New Quest’ was the first sign that the wall of resistance to serious study of Jesus had begun to crack. Now the dam has burst altogether, allowing a flood of scholarly and seriously historical books on Jesus to sweep the market in the space of a very few years. […until the new paradigm has become fully established, it is almost impossible to say anything about one detail without setting out an entire argument, including some discussion of method, and showing at least in outline how the whole hypothesis works?] (83)

First,…some general remarks about the Third Quest. There is now a real attempt to do history seriously. (84) … There is a real willingness to be guided by first-century sources, and to see the Judaism of that period in all its complex pluriformity,… Certain basic questions emerge: Jesus’ message is evaluated, not for its timeless significance, but for the meaning it must have had for the audience of his own day, who had their minds full of poverty and politics, and would have had little time for theological abstractions or timeless verities. (85)

Jesus must be understood as a comprehensible and yet, so to speak, crucifiable first-century Jew, whatever the theological or hermeneutical consequences. (86)

…timidity is not a virtue in pursuing truth. (87)

| And the pursuit of truth–historical truth–is what the Third Quest is all about. …enquiry is proceeding by means of a proper, and often clearly articulated, method of hypothesis and verification. (87)

Of course, sources…have their own point of view, which must be taken carefully into account. (88)

…the gospels are to be seen as texts, works of literary art, in their own right. (89)

The attempt to set Jesus credibly within his historical context, then, is once again widely regarded as a reputable scholarly task. Within this, the Third Quest can claim certain solid advantages. First, it takes the total Jewish background extremely seriously. Second, its practitioners have no united theological or political agenda, unlike the quite monochrome New Quest and its fairly monochrome renewal; the diverse backgrounds of the scholars involved serve to provide checks and balances, so that one scholar’s reading of a particular passage (say) in Josephus is balanced by another’s, and a measure of critical realism is both possible and increasingly actual. Third, there has increasingly been a sense of homing in on the key questions which have to be asked if we are to make progress. (89)

2. The Questions

(i) How does Jesus fit into Judaism?

First, we can put Jesus so thoroughly within his context as almost to camouflage him into invisibility. (91)

…this general thrust, of a very Jewish Jesus who was nevertheless opposed to some high-profile features of first-century Judaism, seems to me the most viable one if we are to do justice, not just to the evidence of the synoptic gospels (they, after all, are easy game for any critic who wants to avoid their implications) but more particularly to the requirements of consistency and clear historical line in our historical reconstruction of Jesus himself. (93)

A further point at which our answer to the first question depends upon a careful reconstruction of one aspect of first-century Judaism is the question of Jesus’ relation to the hopes and aspirations of Israel. (94)

…did Jesus, or did he not, expect the end of the world, i.e. of the space-time universe? (94) …if Jesus expected the end of the world, then he was mistaken, so was he perhaps mistaken about all sorts of other things as well? (95)

First, what are we talking about in discussing first-century Jewish hopes? … It is possible,…to take the idea in quite a different sense: that Jesus and some of his contemporaries expected the end of the present world order, i.e. the end of the period when the Gentiles were lording it over the people of the true god, and the inauguration of the tie when this god would take his people and reign and, in the process, restore the fortunes of his suffering people. (95)

…first-century Judaism, and Jesus as firmly within it, can be understood only within a climate of intense eschatological expectation, whose character I have (96) already tried to make clear. If this position is taken, it becomes possible to move…to the claim that Jesus’ warnings about imminent judgment were intended to be taken as denoting (what we would call) socio-political events, seen as the climactic moment in Israel’s history, and, in consequence, as constituting a summons to national repentance. In this light, Jesus appears as a successor to Jeremiah and his like, warning Israel that persistence in her present course will bring political disaster, which in turn should be understood as the judgment of Israel’s own god. But Jesus is not merely a successor, one in a continuing line of prophets. His warnings include the warning that he is the last in the line. This is, I think, what Jesus’ eschatology is all about. Israel’s history is drawing to its climax. (97)

To tell all sides that their vision for the nation is wrong, and to act as if one has glimpsed, and is implementing, a different vision, is to invite trouble. The strength of this analysis, applied to Jesus, is that it makes him, as we said before, both comprehensible and crucifiable. (98)

(ii) What were Jesus’ Aims?

What was Jesus seeking to do within Judaism? (99)

Was Jesus trying to change individuals, to change society, to change the world, or all of the above–and if so how? (99)

First, we must study the worldview of the society or culture, or subculture, concerned. … If, for instance, a future historian of the Second World War were to study the Japanese Kamikaze pilots, she would fail to understand the whole phenomenon unless she managed to get inside the worldview of the Japanese of that period, in which human life, including one’s own, was counted cheap in comparison with the coming victory of the race as a whole — not an idea that would necessarily occur at once to a modern western historian. (100)

Second, we must study the mindset of the individual concerned. (100) … There is nothing in principle magical or mystical, nothing in principle inaccessible, about the settled intentions, aims, or ambitions of an individual. … In searching for the aims of Jesus, we are looking for a particular mindset within a particular worldview, quite possibly challenging that worldview in some ways, but with intentions that make sense in relation to it. This quest is in principle possible; I hope to show that it can be realized in practice. (101)

There are two interlocking questions which emerge from this brief survey. First, did Jesus remain true to one set of aims throughout his life, or did he change his mind at a particular stage? Second, did Jesus go up to Jerusalem with the intention of dying there? (102)

The further question, whether Jesus intended to found a church (or even the church), clearly needs more refinement. (103) …If…we…see Jesus’ aim as the restoration, in some sense, of Israel, beginning with the highly symbolic call of twelve disciples, then the apparently peculiar idea of Jesus ‘founding’ a community designed to outlast his death gives way to a more nuanced, and perfectly credible, first-century Jewish one: that of Jesus restoring the people of God, and doing so in some sense around himself. Anyone who cherished such a goal was ipso facto intending to leave behind a community, a renewed Israel, that would continue his work. (104)

A third question that is aroused by the wave of current study is, of course, whether Jesus’ aims included a sense of personal vocation: in other words, whether he believed himself to possess a special role in the kingdom he was proclaiming. (104)

What then did Jesus aim to do, and how did this work out in specific intentions. The answer, from within most of the Third Quest, seems to have something to do with the kingdom; something to do with the Tempe; something to do with Jesus himself; just possibly something to dow ith his death; conceivably something to do with a group of people continuing his work after his death? …since the first generation of Jesus’ followers regarded themselves as in some senses continuing his work and mission, and as in some sense the heirs of his teaching and actions, and the beneficiaries of his death, it is natural that they would tell stories about him which made it appear that he had indeed intended all of this. (105)

(iii) Why did Jesus die?

Whether or not one concludes that Jesus himself intended to die, it does not follow that this intention was a sufficient cause of his crucifixion. …we still need to know what the Romans thought they were doing when they crucified him. Granted that they crucified quite a lot of people, it is still only the extreme historical sceptic who will suggest that there was anything random or accidental about their execution of Jesus. (106)

One obvious answer, given among Jews from at least the time of the Talmud, is that Jesus died because he was perceived as a deceiver of the people. Another…is that he was executed simply because he was a revolutionary. … Someone, or more likely some group, wanted Jesus out of the way for somewhat less obvious reasons. (107)

…we may note that in the Third Quest one particular strand is emerging as vital and central, namely Jesus’ attitude to the Temple, and the possible connection of that with his death. (108)

There is still, of course, the question of the ‘trial’ which Jesus may have undergone. In the synoptic tradition, this consists of a hearing before the chief priests, followed by a hearing before the governor, Pilate. (108)

If we manage, by whatever means, to arrive at a satisfactory answer to the historical question as to why Jesus died, there remains still the theological question. … ‘Christ died for our sins‘ was already a traditional formula within a few years of the crucifixion;… (109)

(iv) How and Why did the Early Church Begin?

The understanding of any event is not only bound to involve, but may well be enhanced by, the understanding of its sequel. (109)

It is only in the light of what happens next that you can hope to understand and explain what has been happening. – Meyer, 1979

First-century Jews looked forward to a public event … in and through which their god would reveal to all the world that he was not just a local, tribal deity, but the creator and sovereign of all … The early Christians … looked back to an event in and through which, they claimed, Isreal’s god had done exactly that. – NTPG, 456, 458, 476: italics original

Faced with the defeat of their leader, followers of such figures would either be rounded up as well or melt away into the undergrowth. The other possibility was to latch on to a new leader: … In not one case do we hear of any group, after the death of its leader, claiming that he was in any sense alive again, and that therefore Israel’s expectation had in some strange way actually come true. (110)

…why and how did the early disciples, shattered as they had been by the crucifixion of their master, regroup and go out to face persecution for declaring that in him the hope of Israel had quite literally come to life? Why did they then organize themselves and act in the way that they did, and, in particular, why (granted their abiding commitment to Jewish-style monotheism) did they begin very early on to worship Jesus, and to include him in Jewish-style monotheistic formulae? (111)

There were no other groups in the ancient world going around claiming to be the human race. [I owe this whole point to Bishop Rowan Williams.] (111)

This book will aim to…demonstrate, at least preliminarily, the continuity, as well as the clear discontinuities, between Jesus and the early church. (112)

(v) Why are the Gospels what they Are?

First-century Judaism, and the gospels, are opposite edges, and all discourse about Jesus must take place between them. (112)

(vi) The Five Questions Together

Together they form the jigsaw of Jesus himself, which is itself a piece in the larger jigsaw of the rise of Christianity as a whole. The five questions can, in fact, be drawn together under two headings: Jesus’ relation to Judaism on the one hand and to the early church on the other. (113)

(vii) The Sixth Question: Agenda and Theology

How does the Jesus we discover by doing ‘history’ relate to the contemporary church and world? …all history is of course a dialogue between student and sources, not a positivist’s fantasy in which a ‘purely objective’ point of view is attained by an observer who is, for the purpose of the argument, a negligible mathematical point. (117)

…if one locates Jesus in first-century Palestine, one risks the possibility that he might have little to say to twentieth-century Europe, America or anywhere else–except, of course, by happy, or maybe contrived, coincidence. (117)\One of the initial impulses (not the only one) towards the Third Quest has, I suspect, been the desire to make Jesus more Jewish; this has been reflected in a tendency towards a rather self-conscious philo-semitism. … The ‘constraint of monotheism’ meant that Jesus could not have thought of himself as divine, but only as ‘son of god’ in the sense of the accredited agent of the one god (Harvey). (119)

What if (a) it is in fact much harder to distinguish between Jewish and non-Jewish ideas than used to be thought, and (b) we reject the belief that one can evaluate ideas by associating them with one culture or the other? (120)

Do we read them [the gospels] to find out more about Jesus ‘as he really was’, or to reinforce the faith of the gospel writers that, no matter who or what Jesus was in his earthly life, he is in fact the incarnate son of god, who died for us? Can these two levels of reading be combined, or are they mutually self-contradictory? (120)

3. Conclusion: Future Directions of the Third Quest

I wish in the present work to share the concern of the former for rigorous historical construction, and also to work towards a new integration of history and theology which will do justice, rather than violence, to both. (122)

I am convinced that the way out is forward, not backwards. We must take the historical questions and challenges on board; we cannot retreat into a private world of ‘faith’ which history cannot touch (what sort of a god would we be ‘believing’ in if we did?). The forward direction may not be comfortable, either for scholarship or the church. Forward directions seldom are;… (122) … If there is discomfort here, I share it. (123)

…when the New Testament writers speak of their encounter with Jesus as an encounter with Isreal’s god, they are redefining what ‘god’ (or even ‘God’) means at least as much as they are redefining who Jesus was and is. The dichotomies between event and interpretation, between fact and value, are not ultimate, and it is precisely when we are studying Jesus that they break down in disarray. … What we know, with the kind of ‘knowledge’ proper to all historical enquiry, may turn out to generate theological and practical significance far in excess of, and perhaps quite different from, anything that recent scholarship, and recent Christianity, has imagined or wanted.I suggested that a far greater relevance will result from a more serious historical enterprise, although we cannot predict in advance what this relevance may be. As the first Christian century discovered, whole-hearted discipleship of Jesus by no means leads to unthinking support for he status quo, whether in religion or in politics. (123)

Authentic Christianity, after all, has nothing to fear from history. (123)

4 Prodigals and Paradigms

1. Jews, Peasants and Prodigals

History proceeds by telling stories. (125)

This [Luke 15:11-32] is an explosive narrative, designed to blow apart the normal first-century reading of Jewish history and to replace it with a different one. (126)

…in Jesus’ day many, if not most, Jews regarded the exile as still continuing. The people had returned in a geographical sense, but the great prophecies of restoration had not yet come true. (126)

Exile and restoration: this is the central drama that Israel believed herself to be acting out. … Israel’s history is turning its long-awaited corner; this is happening within the ministry of Jesus himself; and those who oppose it are the enemies of the true people of god. (127)

…Luke 15 and Acts 15. In both, people are being welcomed in from beyond the boundaries of normal acceptability. The crucial passage in Acts 15 is the quotation from Amos 9.11f.:

After this I will return,
and I will rebuild the dwelling of David, which has fallen;
from its ruins I will rebuild it, and I will set it up,
so that all other peoples may seek the Lord –
even all the Gentiles over whom my name has been called.
Thus says the Lord, who has been making these things known from long ago. [Ac. 15.16f.]

In other words, it is time for the Gentiles to come in, because Israel’s exile is at last over, and she has been restored. … Israel’s Messianic restoration, and the consequent theological rationale of the mission to the world, are to be found (to look no further) as striking themes within Matthew and Paul as well, and for that matter in story after story of the pre-synoptic tradition. (128)

And, in the middle of it, the father himself was being reckless, prodigal, generous to a fault. …The story ends, within its cultural context, too soon; it demands a last scene, preferably a reconciliation. (129)

But the thrust of the story, the emphasis on the prodigal love of the father, is felt much sooner, and sustained much longer. Exile, as some of the greatest prophets had seen, was itself part of the strange covenant purposes of Israel’s father-god. Israel could be allowed to sin, to follow pagan idolatry, even to end up feeding the pigs for a pagan master, but Israel could not fall out of the covenant purposes of her god. (129)

Jesus is acting, … (129) …as if he is simply bypassing the Temple system altogether. He is claiming to admit all and sundry into the renewed people of Israel’s god. … What is more, Jesus is claiming that, when he does all this, Israel’s god is doing it, welcoming sinners no matter whether they have passed all the normal tests for membership, as long as they will accept the welcome of Jesus. … For Israel’s god to act in this way is not an innovation; it is consistent with his character as revealed throughout Israel’s long and chequered history. This is who he is, who he will be. (130)

The parable does not ‘teach’, in the sense of teaching abstract or timeless truth; it acts. It creates a new world.Jesus is claiming to be ushering in Israel’s long-awaited new world; and he is doing it, apparently, in all the wrong ways. … The parable creates a new situation, in which the hearers are confronted with a choice, a warning, and an invitation. (130)

Jesus is reconstituting Israel around himself. This is the return from exile;… The strange announcement of resurrection, twice within the parable (verses 24, 32), makes excellent sense in this context. … It points, within his own teaching, to a final clash with the authorities, who will wish him dead and act on that wish. Like any good Jew, he believes that if he faces this, in obedience to the divine plan, he will be vindicated. And the word for that is ‘resurrection’. (131)

2. From Parable to Paradigm

(i) Towards a Hypothesis

The parable only makes sense as a retelling of Israel’s story; but it also only makes sense as a profoundly subversive retelling of that story. (131) … Along with the much-discussed ‘criterion of dissimilarity’ must go a criterion of double similarity: when something can be seen to be credible (though perhaps deeply subversive) within first-century Judaism, and credible as the implied starting-point (though not the exact replica) of something in later Christianity, there is a strong possibility of our being in touch with the genuine history of Jesus. (132)

(ii) Of the Telling of Stories

[Again I acknowledge my debt to the work of Kenneth Bailey, this time in his 1991 article.] …Part of the trust of the parable within peasant society comes from the fact that the whole village would know what the younger son had done, and would have told the awful and shocking story of his behaviour over and over again. …a peasant village which thrived on narrative. Not mere gossip, either: the community would order its life and thought by telling and retelling important events which had made them who (133) they were. … It is the world of informal but controlled oral tradition. (134)

They are informal in that they have no set teacher and students. Anyone can join in – provided they have been part of the community for long enough to qualify. They are controlled in that the whole community knows the traditions well enough to check whether serious innovation is beings smuggled in, and to object if it is. (134)

| Bailey divides the traditions that are preserved, in this informal yet controlled way, into five categories. There are proverbs,…narrative riddles, in which a wise hero solves a problem. …poetry, both classical and contemporary. …the parable or story. Finally, there are accounts of important figures in the history of the village or community. The control in each case is exercised by the community. (134)

…the assumption that the early Christians were not interested in history becomes untenable. To remember the words and deeds of Jesus of Nazareth was to affirm their own unique identity. The stories had to be told and controlled or everything that made them who they were was lost. [Bailey]

Several persons in a village are qualified to retell the village’s key stories, and the same is true within early Christianity. … [Paul] belongs within an extended network in which the traditions, the stories, would be told and retold, under conditions of informal but quite definite control. It was only with the major social disruption of the Jewish-Roman war that the normal life, and story-telling, of the primitive Palestinian Christian communities would have been broken up. That, of course – rather than the usual explanation that the world had not after all come to an end – provides the perfect reason, sociologically and historically, for the committing of the traditions to writing. [Another reason would be, of course, the need for the traditions to be available in missionary settings way beyond the original communities. (135)

…the narrative form is unlikely to be a secondary accretion around an original aphorism: stories are fundamental. (136)

The community’s vital interest in affirming its identity by means of telling Jesus-stories, so long regarded within some critical circles as a good reason for reducing the stories to terms of the community, is in fact nothing of the kind. That reductionism turns out to be an ahistorical assumption, based on a flawed epistemology and a misreading of the Jewish worldview, and characterized by an over-active zeal for detecting conspiracies. If we wish to object to the historicity of some part of the tradition, we must do so on good historical ground, that is, in terms of putting forward serious hypotheses about the whole subject-matter, not on the assumption that the stories were never intended to refer to anything other than the community that told them. The stories of Jesus that circulated in the first generation are in principle to be taken as just that: stories of Jesus. (135)

…if I am anywhere near the mark in my discussion of early Christianity (NTPG Part IV), and if bailey is anywhere near the mark in his analysis of Mediterranean peasant oral culture, then the case for Mark-the-film-script-writer melts away like morning dew. (137)

But the long story of chilly relationships between history and theology, or between serious questioning and serious faith, cannot be allowed to end with mutual suspicion, recrimination and hostility. Precisely because we are studying Jesus himself, we may perhaps hope, despite all the problems still to be worked through, that by this means the reconciliation of the brothers may at last take place. (137)

(iii) Worldviews and Mindsets

It will be as well briefly to recapitulate the outline of the model itself. Worldviews are the lenses through which a society looks at the world, the grid upon which are plotted the multiple experiences of life. Worldviews may be studied in terms of four features: characteristic stories; fundamental symbols; habitual praxis; and a set of questions and answers (who are we? where are we? what’ wrong? what’s the solution? and what time is it?). (138)

First, we can move from event to mindset. … Where some action or activity of Jesus is securely established, we can ask what beliefs, aims and intentions it reveals, granted the prevailing Jewish worldview whose basic shape, it is assumed he shared. (139)

Second, we can move from an already established mindset-within-worldview to hypotheses about actions. (139)

These two sorts of enquiry – from action to mindset, from mindset to action – form the constant process by which history does its work. (139) … All scholars start off with a few very basic facts about Jesus. They move quite quickly, often immediately, to a hypothetical reconstruction of his mindset: … This then forms the basis for the reflex process, reasoning from mindset-within-worldview to deeds and words,… This in turn may give rise to modifications in the hypothesis about the mindset: … Thus history proceeds in a spiral of knowledge, or at least guesswork. (140)

We can thus use particular actions to deduce particular intentions, and from there work back, with suitable caution, to the entire model of a mindset within a worldview. … Actions, especially symbolic actions, speak louder than words. Studying actions, especially symbolic actions, is a far better starting-point for the historian than studying isolated sayings. (141)

I should emphasize again, in case of possible objections, that this study of worldview and mindset, of aims and beliefs, is a matter of history, not of psychology. We can sometimes say more or less what happened (Caesar was murdered). We can sometimes also find out more or less why it happened (his imperial ambitions made staunch republicans anxious). … But this remains a matter of history, not covert psychology. (143)

…if it is true that Jesus ultimately fits no known pattern within the first century, it is more or less bound to be true that he fits none within the twentieth. (144)

By such means, I suggest, history may be written: a penitent history, I hope, not arrogantly seeking to take over the family home, but a history that should be welcomed as what it is. The historical method I have described offers itself as the long and dusty road back to reality, to confrontation, and perhaps to reconciliation. (144)


PART II Profile of a Prophet


5 The Praxis of a Prophet

1. Jesus’ Career in Outline

He was most likely born in what we now call 4 BC… He grew up in Galilee, in the town of Nazareth, close to the major city of Sepphoris. He spoke Aramaic, some Hebrew, and probably at least some Greek. He emerged as a public figure in around AD 28, in the context of the initially similar work of John the Baptist. He summoned people to repent … and announced the kingdom, or reign, of Israel’s god, using parables in particular to do so. He journeyed around the village of Galilee, announcing his message and enacting it by effecting remarkable cures, including exorcisms, and by sharing in table-fellowship with a socio-culturally wide group. He called a group of close disciples, among whom twelve were given special status. (147) …he was handed over to the Romans and executed in the manner regularly used for insurrectionists. (148)

Jesus engaged in an itinerant ministry. …he travelled to Jerusalem and carrier don his activities there,… He was often found in prayer,… we must of course note his use of ‘Abba’ as an address for Israel’s god. It is used to be thought that (148) this address was unique, and that it was a child’s familiar term, meaning ‘Daddy’. Both of these ideas have been shown to be misleading. (149)

We may therefore safely conclude that Jesus habitually went about from village to village, speaking of the kingdom of the god of Israel, and celebrating this kingdom in various ways, not least in sharing meals with all and sundry. These actions and words must therefore be seen not as incidental behaviour, irrelevant to his worldview or mindset, but as part of at least of the praxis through which we can bring that worldview into focus. (150)

I want now to argue that the best initial model for understanding this praxis is that of a prophet; more specifically, that of a prophet bearing an urgent eschatological, and indeed apocalyptic, message for Israel. (150)

2. Jesus’ Context

(i) First-Century Judaism

The means of liberation were no doubt open to debate. The goal was not. (151)

In both cases the prophet is seen as the one who would reveal the will of YHWH on matters of the highest importance. (151)

Prophecy of various sorts,…seems to have continued unchecked in the second-Temple period. (152) …there were ‘clerical prophets’, holders of priestly (and perhaps also royal) office, possessing prophetic powers apparently in virtue of their office. This applies particularly to John Hyrcanus and to Josephus himself. Second, there were ‘sapiential prophets’, wise men belonging to various sectarian groups such as the Essenes, or the Pharisees. We may perhaps add in this cluster a reference to Philo and the author of Wisdom, for whom prophecy was still a live possibility, and occurred as and when ‘wisdom’ inspired people. Third, there were ‘popular prophets’, with a further subdivision: ‘leadership popular prophets’ and ‘solitary popular prophets’. (153)

The first type, copying Moses or Joshua, attempted, with promises of salvation, to initiate and lead a movement of liberation. The second, copying some parts at least of the work of the classical Hebrew prophets, announced oracles which warned of impending doom. (154)

In some technical senses, then, ‘prophecy’  might be held to have ceased in the second-Temple period, but in all sorts of ways it was still very much alive and well. (154)

…the prophets who gained a following often engaged not only in teaching and oracular pronouncements, but also in symbolic actions. These regularly involved leading people into the wilderness, often around the Jordan. They sometimes appear to have focused on a stylized symbolic entry into the land,…. These symbolic actions were not random. No historical purpose is (154) served by ignoring the fact that people who act in this way, as leaders or as led, do so in obedience to a controlling story, a metanarrative which underlies their whole programme and agenda. The sense of expectation which induced this strange behaviour is, quite simply, only explicable if we understand those involved to have been obedient to an underlying story within which their actions made sense. (155)

Retelling, or re-enacting, the story of the exodus, then, was a classic and obvious way of pre-telling, or pre-enacting, the great liberation, the great ‘return from exile’, for which Israel longed. … It was as a prophet in this basic mould, acting symbolically in ways that would be understood, and were designed to be understood, according to this basic metanarrative, that Jesus made his decisive impact on his contemporaries. (155)

(ii) Bandits, Peasants and Revolt

The word ‘bandit’ (let’s in Greek [λεστες])…meant someone doing something of which the present authorities, and perhaps the writer, disapproved. (155)

…bandits were simply common criminals, and could be treated as such, rather than with the grudging respect accorded a noble foe. (156)

…all the ‘bandits’ we meet in Josephus were in fact outlaws; Josephus was indulging in the ancient art of polemical definition. (158)

…it would be wrong to suggest that there was no undercurrent of violent revolutionary intentions in the world addressed by Jesus, and hence to deduce that Jesus could not have been speaking of, or to, such violent movements. It would be equally misguided to insist that, in speaking of the kingdom, Jesus must have been aligning himself with the peasant aspirations that may have led some within that class to support, for some of the time, such actual ‘banditry’ as there was. Jesus cannot be pinned down that easily. (159)

(iii) John the Baptist

…a figure of some importance and notoriety…an ‘oracular’ prophet …he gathered followers around him and gave them sufficient coherence to continue as a group after his death. Josephus take note of him, as he does of other prophetic figures. John announced imminent judgment on the nation of Israel, and urged her to repent, warning that her status as YHWH’s covenant people would not be enough, by itself, to deliver her from the coming disaster. (160)

| This activity was, clearly, ‘political’ as well as ‘religious’, partly in that Herod Antipas may well have been a prime target of John’s invective, but also because anyone collecting people in the Jordan wilderness was symbolically saying: this is the new exodus. Anybody offering water-baptism for the forgiveness of sins was saying: you can have, here and now, what you would normally get through the Temple cult. Anybody inviting those who wished to do so pass through an initiatory rite of this kind was symbolically saying: here is the true Israel that is to be vindicated by YHWH. By implication, those who did not join in had forfeited the right to be regarded as the covenant people. In these ways, completely credibly within the history of first-century Judaism, what John was doing must be seen, and can only be seen, as a prophetic renewal movement within Judaism – a renewal, however, that aimed not at renewing the existing structures, but at replacing them. (160)

…it is clear that Jesus regarded John as an important fixed point at the beginning of his own ministry. … There is good reason to think that John himself did indeed prophesy a coming figure who would complete the work that he had begun, and that Jesus applied this to himself. (161) … Though his followers came to regard him as more than a prophet, they never saw him as less. (162)

3. Jesus as “oracular’ and ‘Leadership’ Prophet

The early church is highly unlikely to have invented the many sayings, isolated but telling, scattered throughout the gospels, which call Jesus a prophet. Several of them are on his own lips. By the time the gospels were written down, the church had come to believe that Jesus was much more than a prophet. It might well have seemed risky theologically to refer to him in this way: it might have appeared that he was simply being put on a level with all the other prophets. It is therefore extremely probable that these sayings represent thoroughly authentic tradition. The arguments advanced in chapter 2 above should be sufficient to make us wary of accepting the main alternative reading currently available, namely that Jesus was a teacher of aphoristic wisdom only, and that the ‘prophetic’ traits in the gospel portraits are to be ascribed to a stage in the development of the early church. (162)

…the great bulk of the relevant evidence does not point to Jesus being seen in terms of Deuteronomy 18. (163)

| Rather, I suggest that Jesus was seen as, and saw himself as, a prophet;… …a prophet like the prophets of old,… …I shall now suggest that he was announcing a prophetic message after the manner of ‘oracular’ prophets, and that he was inaugurating a renewal movement after the manner of ‘leadership’ prophets. He was, in fact, to this extent very like John the Baptist, only more so. (163)

…Jesus was modelling his ministry not on one figure alone, but on a range of prophets from the Old Testament. Particularly striking is his evocation of the great lonely figure Micaiah ben Imlach (1 Kings 22),, who, when asked about the coming battle, predicted the death of Ahab, king of Israel, by saying, ‘I saw all Israel scattered upon the mountains, as sheep that have no shepherd. (166)

Jesus’ ministry is so like that of Elijah that they can be easily confused. He too is announcing to the faithless people of YHWH that their covenant god will come to them in wrath. But at the same time he is also acting out a different message, one of celebration and inauguration, which bursts the mould of the Elijah-model. (167)

Like Elijah or Jeremiah, Jesus was proclaiming a message from the covenant god, and living it out with symbolic actions. (167) … All were accused of troubling the status quo. When people ‘saw’ Jesus as a prophet, this was the kind of model they had in mind. (168)

4. A Prophet Mighty in Word and Deed

(i) Jesus as a ‘Leadership’ Prophet

…he also clearly belongs in the other category of ‘popular’ prophets. …an ‘action’ prophet…a ‘leadership’ prophet; or, as Luke would have it, ‘a prophet mighty in word and deed’. (168)

| He conducted his work by going from village to village in Galilee, gaining support there while apparently omitting the larger centres of population like Tiberias or Sepphoris,…and on at least one occasion performed symbolic actions there reminiscent of the events of the exodus. (168)

Nobody doubts that Jesus called disciples, and regarded them as a distinct group. This creates a context in which it makes sense, despite some recent doubts, for Jesus to give his followers a special prayer, and to speak of them as a new community, a ‘little flock’. (169)

He was combining in a new way the prophetic styles of oracular prophets on the one hand and leaders of renewal movements on the other. …he was itinerant; he gave extensive teaching which, as we shall see, carried a not of even greater urgency than that of John; and he engaged in a regular programme of healing. (169)

(ii) An Itinerant Prophet

he went from village to village, saying substantially the same things wherever he went. …if he told a parable once he told it dozens of times, probably with minor variations;… The chances of his finding totally new things to say all the time, so that everything he said he said once and once only, must be reckoned at nil. (170)

Within the peasant oral culture of his day, Jesus must have left behind him, not one or two isolated traditions, but a veritable mare’s nest of anecdotes, and also of sentences, aphorisms, rhythmic sayings, memorable stories with local variations, and words that were remembered because of their pithy and apposite phrasing, and because of their instantly being repeated by those who had heard him. Again and again he will have said cryptic words about having ears to hear, about the first being last and the last first, about salt and light, and particularly about Israel’s god and his coming kingdom. My guess would be that we have two versions of the great supper parable, two versions of the talents/pounds parable, and two versions of the beatitudes, not because one is adapted from the other, or both from a single common written source, but because these are two out of a dozen or more possible variations that, had one been in Galilee with a tape-recorder, one might have ‘collected.’ (170) …once one hears the lecture or sermon two or three times, even if it is delivered impromptu with local variations, one will be able to reproduce considerable parts of it. …with close accuracy to the original. (171)

(iii) Mighty in Word

(a) Authority and the Kingdom

Jesus was known, among many other things, as someone who could speak with power and authority. But it is the sort of things he said which marked him out in particular. When the synoptic evangelists say that ‘he taught as one having authority, and not as the scribes’, they are not merely referring to his tone of voice. …Rather, they are saying something, backed up by all the words they record, about the actual content of his proclamation. (171) …Jesus was more like a politician on the campaign trail than a school master; more like a composer/conductor than a violin teacher; more like a subversive playwright than an actor. He was a herald, the bringer of an urgent message that could not wait, could not become the stuff of academic debate. He was issuing a public announcement,…a public warning…a public invitation,… The fact that he was not arrested sooner was due to his itinerant style, and to his concentration on villages rather than major cities, not to anything bland or unprovocative about the content of his message. (172)

the old picture of Jesus as the teacher of timeless truths, or even the announcer of the essentially timeless call for decision, will simply have to go. … Jesus could not have used the phrase ‘the reign of god’ if he were not in some sense or other claiming to fulfil, or at least to announce the fulfilment of, those deeply rooted Jewish aspirations. The phrase was not a novum, an invention of his own. It spoke of covenant renewed, of creation restored, of Israel liberated, of YHWH returning. (172)

At the same time, of course, a good deal of the preaching of Jesus, at least as set out in the synoptic tradition, consists of parables and other sayings in which he is patiently, but often cryptically, redefining the meaning of the term ‘kingdom of god’.  This is what the reign of Israel’s god is like: it is like seed growing secretly, like treasure hidden in a field, l like leaven in a lump, like a net full of all sorts of fish. This presents us with a puzzle. Is Jesus simply changing the meaning of the term entirely, like somebody saying ‘this is what Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony really means’, and handing us a wet fish, or perhaps a hand grenade? Or is he (as Buchanan argues) offering a cryptic programme of revolution: this is how the kingdom will come, the violent revolution for which you have been waiting – with small beginnings, with plans kept secret until the harvest time at last we shall put in the sickle? (173)

| The answer, I believe, is neither of these. … Jesus was affirming the basic beliefs and aspirations of the kingdom: Israel’s god is lord of the world, and, if Israel is still languishing in misery, he must act to defeat her enemies and vindicate her. Jesus was not doing away with that basic Jewish paradigm. He was reaffirming it most strongly – and, as I shall argue later, in what he saw as the only possible way. He was, however, redefining the Israel that was to be vindicated, and hence was also redrawing Israel’s picture of her true enemies. (173)

Jesus’ moral teaching, so-called, cannot be reduced to the level of timeless ethics. …much of it was not particularly new. NOr can it be seen simply as instruction for the ongoing life of ‘the church’,… (173) …the material we think of as ‘moral teaching’,…must instead be thought of as his agenda for Israel. (174)

There is no reason a prior why Jesus could not have taught in extended discourses;… …within the persona of a prophet, who was engaged in carrying out new ways of being a prophet, there is no reason to deny, and every reason to affirm, that the different genres of sayings and teachings that we find in the gospels present in principle a coherent overall picture. In worldview terms, this total praxis relates directly to the broad category of ‘story’. Jesus made a regular practice of retelling the story of Israel in such a way as to subvert other tellings, and to invite his hearers to make his telling of the story their own. That will be the theme of the next three chapters of this book. (174)

(b) Parables

…the parables followed well-known Jewish lines. Several of them are taken from Old Testament models: the vine or vineyard is a regular image for Israel, the sheep and shepherd speaks of Israel and her king, and so on. …the stories would already be functioning at a variety of levels. (175) …Jesus was articulating a new way of understanding the fulfillment of Israel’s hope. He had radicalized the tradition. This,…is how stories work. They invite listeners into a new world, and encourage them to make that world their own, to see their ordinary world from now on through this lens, within this grid. The struggle to understand a parable is the struggle for a new world to be born. (176)

…the parables, by their very form, place Jesus firmly within his Jewish context. … The parables are not simply information about the kingdom, but are part of the means of bringing it to birth. They are not a second-order activity, talking about what is happening at one remove. They are part of the primary activity itself. They do not merely give people something to think about. They invite people into the new world that is being created, and warn of dire consequences if the invitation is refused. Jesus’ telling of these stories is one of the key ways in which the kingdom breaks in upon Israel, redefining itself as it does. They also function, for the same reason, as explanation and defence of what Jesus is doing. …the parables are not merely theme, they are also performance. They do not merely talk about the divine offer of mercy; they both make the offer, and defend Jesus’ right to make it. (176)

…the parables can and must be understood as falling within precisely the Jewish prophetic tradition. …a new exodus, a new world, a new creation. (177)

The closest parallel to the parables thus turns out to be the world of Jewish apocalyptic and subversive literature – when properly understood. (177)

This means that we must give up the false distinction between allegory and parable, and the false dichotomy between steno- and tensive symbols. (178)

Such parables (and most of Jesus’ parables fit this model one way or another) are Israel’s-story-in-miniature, Jesus’ telling of the Israel-story in order to undermine the present way of understanding the nation’s identity. (179)

Someone who is telling strangely familiar stories and meaning the wrong things by them will land up in trouble. … If people really understood what was being said, a lynching would always be on the cards. This ties in, of course, with the use of apocalyptic, which (as we now know) is at least in part to be understood as the literature of subversion, of the cryptic undermining of a dominant and powerful worldview, and the encouraging and supporting of a revolutionary one. … If they were really to see or understand there might be a riot. (179)

[The parables] are the ideal vehicle for the paradoxical and dangerous campaign which Jesus was undertaking, expressing the very heart of his message in their form as well as their content, in their style and language as well as their particular imagery and apocalyptic or allegorical meaning. (181)

  1. The most immediate literary background to the parables is that of apocalyptic.
  2. Jesus used parables a good deal.
  3. The parables made sense only within the whole context of Jesus’ career.
  4. The parables functioned…by inviting hearers into the world of the story.
  5. The parables were therefore,…subversive stories, told to articulate and bring to birth a new way of being the people of god.
  6. The parables were therefore essentially secretive. …something necessarily cryptic… (181)
  7. The secretive function of the parables worked by analogy with other Jewish hermeneutical models,…
  8. Narrative analysis of the parables is as yet in its infancy,…

…[Jesus] shared another characteristic with the canonical prophets and with his immediate predecessor John: that of issuing solemn warnings about imminent judgment. (182)

(c) Oracles of Judgment

Prophets in the Jewish tradition characteristically announced the judgment of the covenant god upon his rebellious people, and (sometimes) announced also the inauguration of a new movement, a time when Israel’s god would again act graciously for his people. (182)

If Jesus’ public persona was that of an oracular prophet, then such warnings as these, or most of them, would be perfectly natural, and indeed might be expected. Part of the prophetic vocation and role was to announce to Israel that she was pursuing a path that led to ruin. It would be surprising if Jesus were seen as a prophet if he had said nothing of the kind. (184)

At the heart of the disaster would be the ruin of the Temple. … Actually, it hardly took a prophet to foresee a major disaster if Israel kept up her present attitude to Rome. … Jerusalem is the city that kills the prophets, and stones those sent to her;… (185)

(iv) Mighty in Deed

(a) Introduction

…we can only explain the evidence before us if we reckon that Jesus did indeed perform deeds for which there was at the time, and may well be still, no obvious ‘naturalistic’ explanation… (186) …Jesus’ contemporaries, both those who became his followers and those who were determined not to become his followers, certainly regarded him as possessed of remarkable powers. The church did not invent the charge that Jesus was in league with Beelzebul; but charges like that are not advanced unless they are needed as an explanation for some quite remarkable phenomena. (187)

To insist at the beginning of an enquiry, whose results (like those of all important enquiries) may call basic worldviews into question, that some particular contemporary worldview is the only possible one, is simply to beg the question, to show that all we really want to do is to hear the echo of our own voices. (187)

| The very word ‘miracle’ itself, and for that matter the words ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’, are in fact symptomatic of a very different range of possible (187) worldviews from those which were open to Galilean villagers in the first century. The evangelists used words like paradoxa, things one would not normally expect; dunameis, displays of power or authority; terata or semeia, signs or portents. The closest we come to ‘miracle’ is the single occurrence of thaumasia, ‘marvel’, in Mathew 21.15. These words do not carry, as the English word ‘miracle’ has sometimes done, overtones of invasion from another world, or from outerspace. They indicate, rather, that something has happened, within what we would call the ‘natural’ world, which is not what would have been anticipated, and which seems to provide evidence for the active presence of an authority, a power, at work, not invading the created order as an alien force, but rather enabling it to be more truly itself. (188)

‘miracles’ are not advanced as a ‘proof’ of anything much. What matters far more is intention and meaning. What did Jesus think he was doing, and why? What did his deeds mean to those involved, and to those who passed on the tradition? (188)

…’the miraculous activity of Jesus conforms to no known pattern’. The new pattern that we find, however, fits into the prophetic profile of Jesus that we are building up. (189)

…miracles have to do with the gracious act of a god, while magic is all about human manipulation of divine or quasi-divine forces. …‘magic is to religion as banditry is to politics’. (189)

Jesus performed mighty deeds, which did in fact call forth the charge that he was a magician, in league with demonic forces. But what does this charge mean? It means, not least, that Jesus was perceived to be posing a serious threat to the social, cultural and religious world of his day. … He was going outside the system. (190)

The mighty works possess, it seems to me, exactly the same kind of troubling ambiguity that characterized Jesus’ whole career. (190)

…his mighty works will have been interpreted within the context of his overall proclamation: they would be seen as signs that the kingdom of Israel’s god was indeed coming to birth. (191)

(b) ‘Mighty Works’: Interpretation

For a first-century Jew, most if not all of the works of healing, which form the bulk of Jesus’ mighty works, could be seen as the restoration to membership in Israel… (191)

This means that Jesus’ healing miracles must be seen clearly as bestowing the gift of shalom, wholeness, to those who lacked it, bringing not only physical health but renewed membership in the people of YHWH. (192)

…By extension of the same point, Jesus’ touching of the dead and raising them to life should certainly have brought him uncleanness, but in fact had the effect of restoring them. So too his miracles performed for Gentiles, and for a Samaritan, bear witness to the inclusion within the people of YHWH of those who had formerly been outside. (192)

| The effect of these cures, therefore, was not merely to bring physical healing; not merely to give humans, within a far less individualistic society than our modern western one, a renewed sense of community membership; but to reconstitute those healed as members of the people of Israel’s god. (192)

Other signs of covenant renewal include the multiplication of the bread in the wilderness, and the stillings of the storms, both carrying overtones of the exodus. … The evangelists, in their editorial notes, sometimes highlight the fact that in first-century terms the main thing that would be ‘see’ in the mighty works was not a supernatural display of power for its own sake but the coming of Israel’s god in power to save and heal, to do for these individuals what had been promised (it was thought) to the nation as a whole.  … The works of power were a vital ingredient in the inauguration of the kingdom. (193)

Thus it is not surprising that we find echoes in the gospels of strange events in which Jesus exercises power over the natural order, bringing it into a new harmony with itself and with the divine saving purpose only previously seen at odd (193) moments such as the crossing of the Red Sea. … In all of these, as in the ‘mighty works’ as a whole, what was ‘seen’ within the first-century Jewish worldview would be the restoration of creation, which Israel had expected to happen when her god became her king and she was vindicated by him. (194)

[Mark 5.1-20] … Jesus is among Gentiles. …the situation is about as unclean, from a Jewish point of view, as it could be. …symbolic of what the Jews desired to do with the unclean Romans. (195)

All this reinforces and fills out the conclusion to which this chapter has been arguing. Jesus believed himself called to work as a prophet, announcing the word of Israel’s god to his wayward people, and grouping around himself a company who, according to all the partial precedents and parallels, would be regarded as the true people of YHWH. This, however, is not the end of the story. There are plenty of indications that he saw himself, not just as one prophet among many, nor simply as the prophet spoken of in Deuteronomy 18, but as the prophet through whose work Israel’s history would finally reach its climactic moment. (196)

5. More Than a Prophet?

How then was Jesus perceived by the villagers who saw and heard him? All the evidence so far displayed suggests that he was perceived as a prophet. … Furthermore, we must conclude that Jesus was conscious of a vocation to be a prophet;… (196)

We can be sure that the early church did not invent the saying according to which John the Baptist is said to be ‘more than a prophet’; but if that is said of John, what must be said for Jesus himself? (197)

6 Stories of the Kingdom (1): Announcement

1. Introduction

In each case, the single statement demands to be ‘heard’ within the context of a full implicit plot, a complete implicit narrative. The meaning of a word is the job it performs in a sentence; the meaning of a sentence ist he job it performs within a story. (198)

…I intend to demonstrate two things: first, that when Jesus spoke of the ‘reign’ or ‘kingdom’ of Israel’s god, he was deliberately evoking an entire story-line that he and his hearers knew quite well; second, that he was retelling this familiar story in such a way as to subvert and redirect its normal plot. (199)

…that Jesus retold Israel’s story, both explicitly and implicitly, as part of his prophetic work. To refuse to see this is, ultimately, to refuse to think historically. (199)

2. Contexts

(i) The Jewish Hope

(a) Eschatology

The most important thing to recognize about the first-century Jewish use of kingdom-language is that it was bound up with the hopes and expectations of Israel. …a Jewish way of talking (202) about Israel’s god becoming king. And, when this god became king, the whole world, the world of space and time, would at last be put to rights. (203)

The phrase ‘kingdom of god’, therefore, carried unambiguously the hope that YHWH would act thus, within history, to vindicate Israel; the question, why he was taking so long about doing so; and the agenda, for those with watchful hearts, not only to wait for him to act, but to work, in whatever way was deemed appropriate, towards that day. Furthermore, the idea of YHWH’s being king carried the particular and definite revolutionary connotation that certain other people were due for demotion. Caesar, certainly. Herod, quite probably. The present high-priestly clan, pretty likely. (203)

…the idea of the true god being king was tied in with the dream of holy revolution. (203) … Symbolic actions kept the story fresh. (204)

It is scarcely surprising that, when a prophet appeared announcing that this kingdom was dawning, and that Israel’s god was at last becoming king, he found an eager audience. (204)

The story itself, though enormously varied in its several expressions, basically ran as follows:

  1. The first Temple, built by Solomon, was the place where YHWH chose to dwell. (204)
  2. Temple and royalty belonged closely together.
  3. The symbolism of the Temple was designed to express the belief that it formed the centre not only of the physical world but also of the entire cosmos…
  4. The destruction of the Temple by the Babylonians was a catastrophe at every level, theological as political.
  5. The longing for return from exile thus contained, as a major component, the equal longing for the return of YHWH to Zion. (205)

It cannot be stressed too strongly that the ‘kingdom of god’, as a theme within second-Temple Judaism, connoted first and foremost this complete story-line. (206)

…there is no single clearly defined ‘messianic expectation’ in second-Temple Judaism. The reason for this was that such hopes formed simply one part of a larger expectation,… (206) … The point is that such ideas took their place within a much wider-ranging narrative, which could be evoked in a number of ways that appear quite distinct until one grasps their overall coherence. (207)

Because I deny that second-Temple Jews (including Jesus) characteristically believed in this, one or two colleagues have, amusingly enough, accused me of ‘abandoning eschatology’. … In this sense, all serious social reformers and revolutionaries are ‘eschatological’;… Jesus is ‘eschatological’, while firmly denying that he belongs within ‘apocalyptic’. (207)

Many if not most second-Temple Jews, then, hoped for the new exodus, seen as the final return from exile. The story would reach its climax; the great battle would be fought; Israel would truly ‘return’ to her land, saved and free; YHWH would return to Zion. This would be, in the metaphorical sense, the end of the world, the ushering in at last of YHWH’s promised new age. From the perspective of covenantal history, this complex event would be climactic, and not merely a paradigmatic example of a general principle (such as the importance of social justice). Moreover, this whole set of ideas and themes belongs together as a whole, not as a collection of abstract ideas, but precisely as a story. And the whole story clearly has to do with the kingdom of god, even when that phrase itself, or something like it, does not occur. This, I suggest, is the proper and historically appropriate context in which to understand Jesus’ sayings about the kingdom, or kingship, of Israel’s god. (209)

(b) A Non-Apocalyptic Kingdom?

cf. The Wisdom of Solomon; Psalm 2; Daniel 1-6.

I am reminded of Schweitzer’s comment on those who try to explain Paul’s very Jewish thought on the basis of Hellenism: they are, he says, ‘like a man who should bring water from a long distance in leaky watering-cans in order to water a garden lying beside a stream’. (213)

We may conclude, therefore, that when we come upon a first-century Jew talking about the kingdom of god, we are correct to assume, at least to begin with and until solid evidence is produced to the contrary, that the language must take its meaning from the traditional Jewish story. Within that story, the meaning was not escapist or dualist, but revolutionary. (214)

Sufficient for the moment to note what people would have heard when Jesus talked about the kingdom of Israel’s god. The extent to which he reaffirmed their expectations, and the extent to which he redefined them and indeed replaced them with new proposals, is a main theme of this whole Part of the book. (214)

(ii) The Christian Reappropriation

First, the early Christians spoke of the kingdom quite frequently, and with an assumed reference. …it almost functions like ‘the Way’ in Acts: it was a means whereby Christians could identify themselves their very raison d’être. (215)

Second, this language still possesses the major features it had had in Judaism. …excludes the worship of idols and the absolute claims of pagan rulers. (215)

Third,…the early Christian use indicates that a substantial redefinition has taken place within this basic Jewish framework. (215)

…the kingdom is referred to as belonging not only to the true god but also to the Messiah. (216)

The point of the present kingdom is that it is the first-fruits of the future kingdom; and the future kingdom involves the abolition, not of space, time, or the cosmos itself, but rather of that which threatens space, time, and creation, namely, sin and death. (218)

We are not faced with a new story altogether, but with a new moment in the same story. The shape of the narrative is recognizably the same as that of the Jewish stories: it is the story of the creator god fulfilling his purposes for Israel. … Their thorough reworking of symbol, praxis, and answers to questions was generated, not by the abandonment of the classic Jewish story, but by the belief that they were living in its long-awaited new phase. (219)

(iii) The Kingdom in recent Scholarship

As far as first-century Jews were concerned, most of the redefinitions offered in modern scholarship would have been simply irrelevant. Inner peace of mind would not enable one to eke out a living under heavy taxation. The end of the space-time universe could scarcely be the sign that YHWH, the creator of heaven and earth, had vindicated himself and his people, and cleansed their land. Jewish hope was concrete, specific, focused on the people as a whole. (223)

The question is not, did ‘kingdom of god’, for Jesus, still mean ‘Israel’s god, the creator, at last asserting his sovereign rule over his world’, with the connotation of the return from exile, the return of YHWH to Zion, the vindication of Israel by this covenant god, and the defeat of her enemies? That simply was its basic, irreducible meaning within first-century Palestine. The question is, in what sense did Jesus affirm this meaning, and how did he redefine the concept in such a way as to give rise to the meanings that emerge among his earliest followers? (224)

3. Kingdom Redefined: The Announcement

(i) Introduction: Summary Announcements

(ii) Stories of Israel’s Paradoxical History

(a) Introduction

(b) The Sower

I propose that, in Jesus’ use of it, the parable of the sower…tells the story of Israel, particularly the return from exile, with a  paradoxical conclusion, and it tells the story of Jesus’ ministry, as the fulfilment of that larger story, with a paradoxical outcome. (230)

For someone (232) announcing the kingdom to tell a story about the seed being sown, then, would be to say: the remnant is now returning. The exile is over. Your god is at last sowing the good seed, creating his true Israel. (233)

The parable, therefore, not only informs, but, as has been pointed out often enough, it acts. It creates the situation where having ears to hear is itself one of the marks of the true remnant. (234)

…precisely because it is telling the story of Israel, the parable also tells the story of Jesus’ own ministry as the encapsulation, not merely the climax, of that story. (235)

…hence encapsulation or recapitulation, of that prophetic heritage. For Jesus, Isaiah was both an earlier part of the story, one of his predecessors in the long line, one (moreover) whose own commission contained a most striking statement of the inevitable (236) rejection of his message – and one whose ministry, and its results, were being climatically recapitulated in his own work. (237)

The ‘mystery’, the whole secret plan of Israel’s god, is that this was how his purpose for Israel is to be worked out. He would come to rescue his people, not in a blaze of triumphant glory, but in the sowing of seed, the long-promised prophetic ‘word’, the god-sent agency through which Israel and the world would be renewed. … The method of YHWH’s return, and of Israel’s release from bondage, would therefore itself involve a hiddenness and a secret revelation. (238)

(c) Other Parables of Israel’s Story

‘The attention you give will be the attention you get’, where the first ‘attention’ picks up ‘look out how you hear’ at the start of the verse, and the second ‘attention’ alludes to the way in which Israel’s god will care for those who are listening appropriately to the announcement of the kingdom. (240)

…the treasure and the pearl. … The hiddenness means that people can, and must, seek out the treasure, and then abandon everything else in favour of it. (242)

4. Conclusion: Announcing the Kingdom

Jesus enacted this announcement in terms of welcome and warning. (243)

…the story of Israel’s god becoming king, as Jesus told it, turned into a play in search of a cast. Jesus’ hearers, whether they liked it or not, could not remain mere spectators. They were on stage. The only question was: which parts would they choose to play? (243)

7 Stories of the Kingdom (2): Invitation, Welcome, Challenge and Summons

1. Introduction: The Open-Ended Story

My case here is that Jesus’ appeals, commands, and so forth are to be seen not simply as ‘new teaching’ in the sense of a few new moral rules or theological principles, but as part of the underlying story he told, which aimed to produce in his hearers a realignment of their own praxis, necessarily involving a realignment of the other elements of their worldview also. (245)

We have, in the last forty years, ‘discovered’ that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – and even, according to some, Q and Thomas – had a great interest in ‘community’. It ought to be just as clear, if not clearer, that Jesus himself was deeply concerned about the social and corporate effects of his kingdom-announcement. (…let me say as clearly as possible that the corporate meaning of the stories does not undermine, but actually enhances, the personal meaning for every single one of Jesus’ hearers. It is individualism and collectivism that cancel each other out; properly understood, the corporate and the personal reinforce one another.) (246)

…Jesus fully intended his stories to generate a new form of community, and that this by itself ought to be sufficient to call into question any unthinking acceptance of the old dogma of the imminent expectation of the end of the cosmos. (246)

2. Invitation: The Call to Repent and Believe

(i) Repentance

‘Repentance’, in a good many texts, was what Israel must do if her exile is to come to an end. … In Deuteronomic terms, this would mean a return to the Shema,… The prophets regularly used the term ‘repent’ to denote the turning to YHWH which would result in restoration, return from exile. [Isa. 44.22; 45.22; 46.8; 55.7; Jer. 3.10, 12, 14, 22; 4.1; 5.3; 15.19; 18.8; 24.7; 31 {LXX 38}.18; Ezek. 14.6; 18.30, 32; Hos. 3.5; 6.1; 7.10; 11.5; 12.6; 14.1, 2; Joel 2.12, 13; Hag. 2.17; Zech. 1.3-6; 10.9-10.] (248)

…we must not confuse the subject ‘repentance’ with occurrences of the word. (250)

…that I was not ignorant of the plot which he had contrived against me…; I would, nevertheless, condone his actions if he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me. All this he promised… [Jos. Life 110 (tr. Thackeray in LCL).

‘If he would show repentance and prove his loyalty to me.’ The translation is accurate enough, but could just as well have been rendered ‘if he would repent and believe in me’. Joesphus is requiring of this Jesus that he give up his brigandage, and trust him (Josephus) for a better way forward. ‘Repentance’, in this sense of abandoning revolutionary inclinations, is found elsewhere in the same narrative; so, for that matter, is ‘belief’, in the sense (250) of trust in and loyalty to a leader. I find it somewhat remarkable that, in all the literature I have read about Jesus of Nazareth, only one writer even mentions the incident involving Josephus and the brigand Jesus, and even he makes no comment about the meaning of ‘repentance’ and ‘belief’ in the light of it. It is, I suggest, of considerable significance. This is what those words meant in Galilee in the 60s; by what logic do we insist that they meant something rather different, something perhaps more ‘personal’, ‘inward’ or ‘religious’, in Galilee in the 20s and 30s? Why should we use that ‘religious’ sense as the criterion for assessing whether Jesus of Nazareth could have said such a thing? He may well have meant more than Josephus; that must be seen by further historical investigation. He is highly unlikely to have meant less.  (251)

| The most plausible historical reconstruction of Jesus’ call to repent brings together, I suggest, the two emphases we have now sketched (returning to YHWH so that the exile may come to an end; renunciation of nationalist violence). It was an eschatological call, not the summons of a moralistic reformer. And it was a political call, summoning Israel as a nation to abandon one set of agendas and embrace another. (251)

True (251) repentance, it seems, consisted rather in adherence and allegiance to Jesus himself. (252)

I suggest that Jesus, like them [Amos, Jeremiah, etc.], was acting as a prophet of Jewish restoration, speaking on behalf of Israel’s god, summoning the nation, in view of impending judgment, to repent of its nationalist violence, and offering to all those who did so the promise that they would emerge as the vindicated people of Israel’s god. (253)

I suggest, therefore, that Jesus was heard to be saying more or less exactly what Josephus would have been heard to be saying: give up your way of being Israel, your following of a particular national and political aims and goals, and trust me for mine instead. (254)

But the point of this,…[was] what was happening to both rich and poor in the present time. Jesus’ welcome of the poor and outcast was a sign that the real return from exile, the new age, the ‘resurrection’, was coming into being; and if the new age was dawning, those who wanted to belong to it would (as in Deuteronomy and Jeremiah) have to repent. The story points up the true significance of what Jesus was doing, and the urgent need of those who were at present grumbling to recognize this (255) significance. The five brothers at home correspond quite closely to the older brother in the prodigal son. ‘Resurrection’ is happening, but they cannot see it. (256)

The crucial thing, of course, is that for Jesus this repentance, whether personal or national, did not involve going to the Temple and offering sacrifice.  John’s baptism, as we saw, already carried this scandalous notion: one could ‘repent’, in the divinely appointed way, down by the Jordan instead of up in Jerusalem! In just the same way, Jesus offered membership in the renewed people of the covenant god on his own authority and by his own process. … It came down to this: if the story which Jesus was telling by his words and actions was true, the climactic moment in Jewish history had arrived in person, and was behaving in a thoroughly unprincipled manner. (257)

(ii) Belief

If you will not believe, indeed you will not be established. [Isa. 7.9 No English translation comes close to the direct and crisp link between ‘believe’ and ‘be established’: ‘im lo tha’minu, ki lo theamenu {אם לא תאמינו כי לא תאמנו}. None, that is, except the idiomatic ‘trust or bust’.

See, I am laying in Zion a foundation stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation: One who trusts will not panic. [Isa. 28.16. Meyer (1979, 183, with 302 n.26) comments: ‘The final ransoming of Israel would turn on an act of faith … Copestone signified Messiah; temple, the messianic remnant of believers.’

In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and trust shall be your strength. But you refused… [Isa. 30.15. The Heb. for ‘returning’ is shubah, {בשובה} the regular ‘repentance’ root.]

…though the theme of ‘believing’ or ‘having faith’ occupies nowhere near as large a place in the pre-Christian Jewish world as it has across the board in early Christianity, it functions as a theme with the following connotations. First, it is the appropriate stance of the covenant people before their rightful god (and, for that matter, of creatures before their maker). Second, it is the thing which marks out the true people of Israel at a time of crisis and judgment. Third, it will characterize the people who are restored after the exile. We may add to this a fourth point, from the literature on the conversion of proselytes: faith, in the sense of belief in the one true god and the rejection of pagan idols, was of course a vital characteristic for anyone seeking to join the people of Israel. ‘Faith’ is thus not simply to be understood, within the world of first-century Judaism, in terms simply of religious interiority. Nor is the vital question the one which occupies so much twentieth-century writing on the subject, namely, the shape of ‘faith’ and its role within religious experience as a whole. What matters is that faith is a crucial part of the definition of Israel at her time of great crisis. Jesus’ call for ‘faith’ was not merely the offering of a new religious option or dimension. It was a crucial element in the eschatological reconstitution of Israel around himself. (261)

3. Welcome: Sinners and Forgiveness

(i) Who are the Sinners?

…the term [‘sinners’] is used in some second-Temple writings to denote those who were in the land already at the time of the return from Babylon; it thus acquires a pejorative overtone. (265)

…we can draw the following conclusions:

(i) The phrase ‘people of the land’ already carried a slur in some second-Temple literature, meaning in effect ‘of uncertain ancestry, and therefore dubious membership in the people of Israel’. (265)

(ii) ‘People of the land’ was a category used by the post-135 rabbis to designate those who, albeit Jewish, did not follow rabbinic observance of Torah. (266)

(iii) It is very likely that the Pharisees of the pre-70 period regarded ordinary non-Pharisaic Jews as in some ways second-class citizens who, because they did not adhere to the Pharisaic way, were technically, in their eyes, transgressors of the Torah. (266)

(iv) This technical category would include those who, as well as being simply non-Pharisaic Jews, clearly and deliberately flouted the Torah. These were the ‘wicked’ or ‘sinners’, for example prostitutes. It is very unlikely that anyone in the first century drew a sharp distinction between ‘people of the land’ and ‘sinners’;… (266)

(v) Jesus associated with both the latter categories, the ordinary non-Pharisaic Jews and the ‘sinners’. (266)

…in the Galilee of Jesus’ day monies would be collected not for Rome but for Herod. (266)

(ii) The Forgiveness of Sins

Forgiveness of sins is another way of saying ‘return from exile’. … We should remember, in reading these, that the prophets of the time of the exile (in particular Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah 40-55) saw Israel’s exile precisely as the result of, or the punishment for, her sins. It should be clear from this that if the astonishing, unbelievable thing were to happen, and Israel were to be brought back from exile, this would mean that her sins were being punished no more; in other words, were forgiven. (268)

Thus says YHWH, the God of Israel, concerning the houses of this city and the houses of the kings of Judah that were torn down to make a defence … I have hidden my face from this city because of all their wickedness. I am going to bring it recovery and healing; I will heal them and reveal to them abundance of prosperity and security. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel, and rebuild them as they were at first. I will cleanse them from all the guilt of their sin against me, and I will forgive all the guilt of their sin and rebellion against me. And this city shall be to me a name of joy, a praise and a glory before all the enations of the earth who shall hear of all the good that I do for them…for I will restore the fortunes of the land as at first, says YHWH. Jer 33.4-11. The whole chapter provides a rich expansion and expression of the same set of themes.]

…covenant renewal/return from exile means that Israel’s sins have been forgiven – and vice versa. (269)

The point at issue was not that Jesus was offering forgiveness where the rabbis were offering self-help moralism. The point is that Jesus was offering the return from exile, the renewed covenant, the eschatological ‘forgiveness of sins’ – in other words, the kingdom of god. And he was offering this final eschatological blessing outside the official structures, to all the wrong people, and on his own authority. That was his real offence. (272)

Why then did people object to Jesus’ practice? (273) … It was about the scandalous implied redefinition of the kingdom itself. Jesus was replacing adherence or allegiance to Temple and Torah with allegiance to himself. (274)

4. Challenge: The Call to Live as the New Covenant People

(i) Introduction: Community and Praxis

One of the ‘characters’ in the ‘story’ of the kingdom is the community of those who were loyal to Jesus. One of the key elements in the whole narrative is the behaviour to which he summoned them. (275)

(ii) New Covenant, New Community

Did Jesus intend to found a ‘church’? The question is hopeless. Of course he didn’t; of course he did. The way the oft-repeated question puts it is impossibly anachronistic:… (275)

The alternative offered by many who dismiss the church as a bad mistake is simply that Jesus came to offer individuals a new way of salvation, or perhaps a new form of religion… This, of course, is equally anachronistic; individualism is a comparatively modern, and a largely western, phenomenon. More satisfactory by far, at the level of history, is to say with Gerhard Lohfink that Jesus did not intend to found a church because there already was one, namely the people of Israel itself. Jesus’ intention was therefore to reform Israel, not to found a different community altogether. (275)

The evidence points, I suggest, towards Jesus intending to establish, and indeed succeeding in establishing, hat we might call cells of followers, mostly continuing to live in their towns and villages, who by their adoption of his praxis, his way of being Israel, would be distinctive within their local communities. (276)

…the most obviously distinctive thing about them, after their basic loyalty to Jesus himself, was the praxis which they were to adopt. This, I suggest, is the appropriate way in to the vexed question of the so-called ethical teaching of Jesus. (278)

(iii) New Covenant, New Praxis

(a) Introduction

How did Jesus expect this community to behave? (279)

A further complication in discussing Jesus’ agenda for his communities results from an over-zealous application of reformation theology to the reading of the gospels. (280)

For a Jew, the context of behaviour was of course the covenant. For Jesus, I suggest, the context of behaviour was the renewal of the covenant. The story of the kingdom was designed to generate the praxis of the kingdom. (280)

(b) The Renewed Heart

…renewal of covenant and renewal of heart go together. … If, therefore, Jesus was announcing that the time of return and renewal was now dawning, we should actually expect that the kingdom-story he told would be designed to produce both the inward state and the outward praxis which would be appropriate for that renewal. Eschatology, rightly understood, is not antithetical to ethics. It generates them. When the kingdom comes, the will of YHWH will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (283)

cf. Mark 7.14-23/Matthew 15.10-20

The crucial point for our purposes is not only that Jesus envisages the new age, the time of renewal, as happening in his own ministry. It is that this time of renewal must contain a cure for hardness of heart. (285)

By quoting Genesis 1.27 and 2.4 to undermine Deuteronomy 24.1-3, Jesus was in fact making it clear that the story to which he was obedient was that in which Israel was called by YHWH to restore humankind and the world to his original intention. This is not quite the same as saying, as some have suggested, that the last days must correspond exactly to the first; rather, the last days must fulfil the creator’s intention. (285) …he believed himself to be inaugurating the great time of renewal spoken of in the prophets, when the law would be written on the hearts of YHWH’s people. [cf. Jer. 31-33] (286)

What Jesus was demanding, and by implication offering (though the implication would remain puzzling for a while, as the disciples realized in Matthew 19.10), was the new heart promised as part of the new covenant. In other words, in this ‘ethical’ teaching he was not criticizing Judaism for being concerned with ‘externals’, and focusing instead on ‘internals’. He was carrying through the entire kingdom-agenda we have been studying, inaugurating the kingdom by calling men and women to follow him, to discover how to be the true Israel, and to become the people whom YHWH would vindicate when he finally acted. They were to be the Israel that was truly released from exile. They were to be, in other words, the Israel described in the Sermon on the Mount. (287)

(c) The Sermon on the Mount

The sermon…as it stands, [is] a challenge to Israel to be Israel. (288)

First, the beatitudes… Whatever they have meant to subsequent hearers or readers, I suggest that the beatitudes can be read in some such way, as an appeal to Jesus’ hearers (288) to discover their true vocation as the eschatological people of YHWH, and to do so by following the praxis he was marking out for them, rather than the way of other would-be leaders of the time. (289)

The way forward for Israel is not the way of violent resistance, not the way of zeal that the Shammaite Pharisees would encourage, but the different, oblique way of creative non-violent resistance. …the overall thrust of both text and context is much wider: Jesus’ people were not to become part of the resistance movement. (291)

The real way forward for Israel, therefore (7.1-6), is to avoid the way of condemnation, whether of Gentiles or of one another. (291) … The house built on the rock, in first-century Jewish terms, is a clear allusion to the Temple. (292)

The Sermon on the Mount, in short, makes excellent sense in a Palestinian setting in the first third of the first century. … It addresses directly the question people were asking: how to be faithful to YHWH in a time of great stress and ambiguity, a time when many thought the climax of Israel’s history was upon them. It offers a set of specific kingdom-agendas, consonant with the rest of Jesus’ specific message, as the bracing answer to this question. It can, no doubt, be generalized into a universal ethic, as has happened to most of Jesus’ teaching. But the question of its original meaning is not thereby resolved. I suggest that it can only be ultimately settled in some such way as I have indicated here. (292)

(d) The Lord’s Prayer

(e) Jubilee: Forgiveness of Debts

The first thing the rebels did at the start of the Jewish War in AD 66 was to burn the treasury where the records of debt were kept. [Jos. War 2.426-7] (294)

Three factors, quite apart from the debatable authenticity of Luke 4, militate against thinking that Jesus intended to summon the nation as a whole to observe a Jubilee year. First, it is not at all clear that at Jubilee year had ever been celebrated; there is no mention of such a thing in the Old Testament, and the existing Mishnaic legislation, as on several other matters, has the appearance of an ideal rather than a reality. (294) … Second, the fact that Luke has Jesus quote from Isaiah rather than from Leviticus may suggest that Jesus’ programme, like Isaiah’s, made use of Jubilee imagery rather than the fully-blown legislation itself. Third, at no point in the rest of Jesus’ ministry do we find such an agenda. (295)

…although Jesus did not envisage that he would persuade Israel as a whole to keep the Jubilee year, he expected his followers to live by the Jubilee principle among themselves. He expected, and taught, that they should forgive one another not only ‘sins’ but also debts. This may help to explain the remarkable practice within the early church whereby resources were pooled, in a fashion not unlike the Essene community of goods. Luke’s description of this in Acts 4.34 echoes the description of the sabbatical year in Deuteronomy 15.4. (295)

| I suggest, therefore – it is only a suggestion, but I think it reasonably likely historically – that Jesus intended his cell of followers to live ‘as if’ the Jubilee were being enacted. … Forgiveness was to be the central character of the life of those loyal to Jesus. (295)

[via: “Forgiveness” as quite literally “debt relief.”]

(f) Revolution, Politics, Community and Theology

Anyone announcing the kingdom of YHWH was engaging in serious political action. Anyone announcing the kingdom but explicitly opposing armed resistance was engaging in doubly serious political action: not only the occupying forces, but all those who gave allegiance to the resistance movement, would be enraged. (296) … It was because Jesus’ agenda was ‘theological’ from first to last that it was ‘social’, envisaging and calling into being cells of followers committed to his way of life.It was because this way of life was what it was, while reflecting the theology it did, that Jesus’s whole movement was thoroughly, and dangerously, ‘political’. (297)

Once we grasp the dynamics of Palestinian Jewish society at the time, and the inner dynamic of Jesus’ kingdom-story, the picture makes historical sense. Jesus was calling for a change of lifestyle to match what he saw as the new moment in YHWH’s plan of salvation. (297)

5. Summons: The Call to be Jesus’ Helpers and Associates

(i) The Summons to Follow Jesus

All Jesus’ hearers were summoned to become characters in the drama, (297) to live as the people of the kingdom. But there is one further dimension… Jesus summoned some at least of his hearers not only to be loyal to him and his movement wherever they were, but to leave their homes and, quite literally, follow him. (298)

…a group of three – Peter, James and John – …is a Davidic symbol, echoing the three who were David’s closest bodyguards. [2 Sam. 23.8-23; 1 Chr. 11.10-25] (300)

(ii) The ‘Rich Young Ruler’

The command to forsake riches and to follow Jesus appears to have been very specific to this young man. We are not told that Jesus said this sort of thing regularly, or even often (though the warnings against riches, and trust in them, is of course frequent). In particular, since Jesus quoted seven out of the ten commandments, it is fair to assume that the challenges he put to the young man took the place of two things he did not quote… The young man was being summoned to join an Israel that was no longer defined by Torah (nor would it be vindicated on the basis of its fidelity to Torah), but by allegiance to Jesus – an allegiance that would involve giving up all idols. (302)

(iii) The Summons to Assist in the Proclamation of the Kingdom

(iv) The summons to Take up the Cross and Follow Jesus

The thought that Jesus actually intended his followers to die seems, however, no more to have entered the disciples’ heads than the thought that his talk about a cross meant that he himself intended to do so. What we can say for certain is that a summons to risk all in following Jesus places him and his followers firmly on the map of first-century socially and politically subversive movements. In so far as it also indicates a ‘theological’ meaning (which we shall discuss later), this is found within the history, not superimposed upon it from outside. (304)

(v) The Great Commandment and the Good Samaritan

What was new was the inference Jesus drew from [The Shema]: first, that the category of ‘neighbour’ was wider than most Jews would allow, and second, that loving God with the heart meant the firm relativization of cult and sacrifice. (305)

…how was ‘neighbour’ to be delimited? If one started from the apparent purpose of Torah, to define the boundaries of Israel, then there would appear to be a natural, and quite limited, definition of ‘neighbour’. If, however, one wanted to define ‘neighbour’ more broadly, so as to include those outside the covenant, then did one not have to give up the idea of Torah, of a boundary around the covenant people, altogether? (306)

…the story dramatically redefines the covenant boundary of Israel, of the Torah itself, and by strong implication of the Temple cult. At stake throughout was the question: who would inherit the age to come? In other words, who would benefit when YHWH brought in the kingdom? The parable answered this question with sharp clarity. Outsiders were coming into the kingdom, and – at least by implication – insiders were being left out. (307)

…announcement and as summons. The story which Jesus was retelling did not stop with Israel alone. If Jesus was announcing the arrival of the kingdom, the whole context of Jewish expectation demanded that this should have worldwide implications. What if, anything, did Jesus have to say about the non-Jewish nations? (307)

6. Many Will Come From East and West

[via: Jew and Gentile both share in election blessings, curses, and responsibilities.]

To announce the kingdom in a sense which brought Israel merely a new dimension of religious experience, or a new sense of religious community, but which left the rest of the world unaffected, would be radically to miss the point. (308)

…from the historian’s point of view, one would strongly expect that anyone announcing the kingdom, and offering this critique of his contemporaries, would envisage that part of the result of his work would be the ingathering of the nations of which the prophets had spoken. When YHWH finally acted for Israel, the Gentiles would be blessed as well. (309)

7. The True Wisdom

Wisdom and prophecy, and wisdom and apocalyptic, do not cancel each other out, but rather belong together. Prophet and apocalyptist share the agenda of the Jewish wisdom tradition: to break open the worldly perspectives of readers and hearers, so that the truth of YHWH can be seen, and his call heard. (312)

Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever. [Dan. 12.2]

cf. the Wisdom of Solomon …’wisdom’ is thoroughly compatible with, and actually supports and sustains, a theology in which Israel’s god acts within history to defeat evil and to vindicate and liberate his people. (313)

…in the mysteries of His understanding, and in His glorious wisdom, God has ordained as an end for falsehood, and at the time of the visitation He will destroy it for ever. Then truth, which has wallowed in the ways of wickedness during the dominion of falsehood until the appointed time of judgment, shall arise in the world for ever … And he shall be plunged into the spirit of purification that he may instruct the upright in the knowledge of the Most High and teach the wisdom of the sons of heaven to the perfect of way. For God has chosen them or an everlasting Covenant and all the glory of Adam shall be theirs… {1QS 4.18-23 (Vermes 1995 [1962], 74f; cf. GM7).}

In all of these examples, possessing ‘wisdom’ is potentially or actually highly subversive. … For none of them does ‘wisdom’ mean a private, esoteric or ahistorical knowledge. Rather, it means living by the true interpretation of Israel’s law, and thus being vindicated by the true god when he acts. (314)

‘Jesus the sage’ is ultimately a subset of ‘Jesus the prophet’;… (314)

…the attempt to make him a sage and therefore not concerned with the coming of the kingdom is exposed as simply another lame attempt to get off the hook of an unwelcome theology, and perhaps an unwelcome praxis. (316)

8. Conclusion: The Renewed People of God

If the kingdom is at hand, those who reject it will incur judgment. In and through this judgment, those who have accepted the kingdom will find their vindication. (319)

8 Stories of the Kingdom (3): Judgment and Vindication

1. Introduction

If Jesus was telling a story anything like that which we have outlined so far, he must have had some idea of where it was all going to end. (320)

First, there are warnings of impending national disaster: a coming political, military and social nightmare, as a result of which Jerusalem will be destroyed. Second, there are assurances that those who follow Jesus will escape; they are challenged to be ready to do so at the opportune moment. (320)

There is abundant evidence that they…knew a good metaphor when they saw one,… [NTPG 333]

It will not do to dismiss this reading of ‘apocalyptic’ language as ‘merely metaphorical’. (321)

2. The Coming Great Disaster

(i) Introduction

Jesus, I shall now argue, predicted that judgment would fall on the nation in general and on Jerusalem in particular. (323)

The warnings already mentioned, and those about to be discussed, are manifestly and obviously, within their historical context, warnings about a coming national disaster, involving the destruction by Rome of the nation, the city and the Temple. (323)

Jesus’ warnings thus take on a quadruple character within the context of his times. First, they fit quite naturally into the wider context of the Jewish (323) sectarianism of the day. (324)

Second, Jesus’ warnings fit also quite naturally into the wider context of the first century, where Rome, provoked before, remained a threatening, brooding presence. (324)

Third, it appears that though such warnings, echoing as they did a centuries-long prophetic tradition, could in principle have been articulated at any time in Israel’s history, Jesus’s own warnings carried a constant reference to the present generation. (324)

Fourth, Jesus’ warnings, read in this way, cut against several strands within the complex and pluriform Judaism of the time. Most obviously, they warned, as Josephus was to do later, against violent revolution. (325)

…this sense that the present phase of the story has reached its last page has to do not only with the extreme nature of the present crisis, but also precisely with the identity of the prophet as the bearer of the last word. (325)

(ii) John the Baptist

(iii) General Warnings of Judgment on Israel

Israel’s regular stock of imagery, used traditionally to assert that when her god acted she, Israel, would be vindicated while the pagan nations received their just deserts, [sic] is here reused by the prophet from Nazareth to say: when Israel’s god acts, it will be upon Israel herself that the judgment will fall. (328)

Israel’s boundaries were thus radically redrawn by Jesus, so as to include those who ‘repented’ according to his own redefinition, but to exclude those who did not:… (329)

Israel was being redefined; and those who failed to heed Jesus’ warnings would discover themselves in the position that they had thought was reserved for the pagans. (329)

(iv) Warnings of Imminent Judgment on ‘This Generation’

(v) Warnings of Judgment on Jerusalem and the Temple

Jesus, like some other Jewish sectarians, as inviting his hearers to join him in the establishment of the true Temple. (334)

The link is reinforced by the saying about ‘this mountain’ being cast into the sea. (334) … would inevitably be heard to refer to Mount Zion. (335)

3. Assurance of Vindication

The whole emphasis of Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom was that Israel’s god certainly would vindicate his people, his elect who cried to him day and night. … This, after all, was the basic hope of Israel: that the enemies of the chosen people would be destroyed, and the chosen themselves vindicated. Jesus seems to have been reaffirming, even though radically redrawing, this expectation. How would this happen? What form would it take? How would the story proceed to its resolution? (336)

…if Jesus had pronounced judgment on the Temple, this made way for the balancing assertion: Jesus would build the new Temple; his people would be the real new Jerusalem. (338)

Jesus is (338) telling the recognizable story of Israel, with the coming judgment and vindication exactly as one might imagine it within mainline restoration eschatology; except for the fact that, just as we find in some of the Scrolls, Israel’s official leaders (and their cherished symbol, the Temple) have been cast in the role of ‘enemies’, while the role of ‘persecuted and vindicated Israel’ is given instead to Jesus and his disciples. … The plot is the same, the dramatis personae different. (339)

4. Mark 13 and Parallels: The Coming Destruction and Vindication

(i) Introduction

Just as before Jesus had used Tyre, Sidon, Sodom and other pagan cities as types of the judgment that was to fall on this or that town or village that had rejected him, so now, faced with Jerusalem and its rejection of his message, he chose imagery that had been used to describe the greatest pagan city of the Old Testament period. The destruction coming on YHWH’s chosen city would be like that which fell on Babylon. The exile was coming to an end at last. The arch-enslaver was to be destroyed. The story was working its way to its proper, but shocking, conclusion. (340)

Parousia means ‘presence’ as opposed to apousia, ‘absence’; hence it denotes the ‘arrival’ of someone not at the moment present; and it is especially used in relation to the visit ‘of a royal or official personage’. [LSJ 1343, s.v, with refs. From this, the most natural meaning for the word as applied to Jesus would be something like ‘arrival on the scene’, in the sense of ‘enthronement’.] (341)

…the whole passage seems to me (a) to refer clearly to the forthcoming destruction of Jerusalem, and (b) to invest that event with its theological significance. This is emphatically not to ‘demythologize’ the apocalyptic language concerned. Nor is it to reduce it to a ‘mere metaphor’. It is to insist on reading it as it would have been heard in the first century, that is, both with its very this-worldly, indeed revolutionary, socio-political reference and with its fully symbolical, theological, and even ‘mythological’ overtones. The event that was coming swiftly upon Jerusalem would be the divine judgment on YHWH’s rebellious people, exercised through Rome’s judgment on her rebellious subject. It was also the rescue from judgment of Jesus’ people, in (342) an event which symbolized dramatically their final escape from exile. (343)

(ii) The Fall of Jerusalem

One of the main reasons, I suppose, why the obvious way of reading the chapter has been ignored for so long must be the fact that in a good deal of Christian theology the fall of Jerusalem has had no theological significance. (343)

cf. Zechariah 14.4-5.

We must, however, stress again: as far as the disciples, good first-century Jews as they were, were concerned, there was no reason whatever for them to be thinking about the end of the space-time universe. … Had Jesus wished to introduce so strange and unJewish an idea to them he would have had a very difficult task; as we often find in the gospels, their minds were not exactly at their sharpest in picking up redefinitions even of ideas with which they were already somewhat familiar. (345)

| The disciples were, however, very interested in a story which ended with Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem to reign as king. They were looking for the fulfilment of Israel’s hopes, for the story told so often in Israel’s scriptures to reach its appointed climax. And the ‘close of the age’ for which they longed was not the end of the space-time order, but the end of the present evil age (345) (ha’olam hazeh), and the introduction of the (still very much this-worldly) age to come (ha’olam haba’) – in other words, the end of Israel’s period of mourning and exile and the beginning of her freedom and vindication. Matthew 24.3, therefore, is most naturally read, in its first-century Jewish context,…as a question about Jesus ‘coming’ or ‘arriving’ in the sense of his actual enthronement as king. (346)

(iii) The Start of the ‘Woes’, and the Trials of the Disciples

cf. Micah 7.6; Mark 13.12

(iv) Specific Signs of Emergency

It is far more plausible to regard the details of the passage as extrapolations from ancient biblical prophecy than to read them as lame and inaccurate attempts to turn history, after the event, into pseudo-prophecy. (349)

The outstanding question then becomes: who, in this new situation, are the true people of YHWH, expecting persecution and standing firm under it? And who is the true deliverer, who will fight YHWH’s battle and emerge vindicated at the end? It is a question of roles within a story: granted the shape of the plot, who is now the Agent, who the Helper, and who the Opponent? It is precisely questions like these that Mark 13 and its parallels address. (351)

…the whole of the chapter is to be read not only as a prediction of the destruction of the Temple, but also as an implicit claim that the destruction was coming about because of Israel’s apostasy and the Temple’s pollution. Jesus’ stance is then that of the godly prophet, looking in horror at that which Jerusalem has become; or the godly zealot, encouraging his followers to leave the corrupt shrine and organize a counter-official movement; (353) or the would-be Messiah, looking beyond the present crisis to his own establishment as the true king. (354)

What we find in Mark 13 and its parallels is, essentially, a well-known Jewish story retold. It is profoundly similar to the stories that were routinely told within Judaism. It speaks of the true god vindicating his people and judging their enemies. It is the story of the real return from exile; the story, once more, of YHWH returning to judge and save. On the other hand, it is profoundly dissimilar: it speaks, as only some extreme sectarians would speak, of Jerusalem and the Temple as the real enemy, and of a little group, around a prophetic figure, as the true people of Israel. It is profoundly similar to the outlook we find in the early church: similar apocalyptic scenarios were known in the largely gentile groups that made up Paul’s congregations and elsewhere. Yet it is also profoundly dissimilar: in its present context, it bursts upon the hearers as a surprise and a warning, not as news they had been anticipating. (359)

(v) The Vindication of the Son of Man

[Mark 13.24-31] This is simply the way regular Jewish imagery is able to refer to major socio-political events and bring out their full significance. (361)

[Mark 13.6] The word ‘coming’, so easily misread in English, is in Greek erchomenon, and so could mean either ‘coming’ or ‘going’. (361)

The ‘coming of the son of man’ is thus good first-century metaphorical language for two things: the defeat of the enemies of the true people of god, and the vindication of the true people themselves. … As a prophet, Jesus staked his reputation on his prediction of the Temple’s fall within a generation; if and when it fell, he would thereby be vindicated. As the kingdom-bearer, he had constantly been acting, as we shall see later on, in a way which invited the conclusion that he thought he had the right to do and be what the Temple was and did, thereby implicitly making the Temple redundant. (362)

cf. Dt. 30.2-5

The result of ‘the vindication of the son of man’…is that exile will at last be over. (363)

cf. Zech. 2.6-12

This is how the story must end. If Jesus is not the last prophet, he is a false prophet. (364)

There can be no other, because if there were they would need another warning prophet; once the father has sent the son to the vineyard, he can send nobody else. To reject the son is to reject the last chance. (365)

(vi) Noah, Lot and the Son of Man

5. Conclusion: Judgment and Vindication

Jesu’s story of the kingdom thus followed the pattern of the characteristic Jewish stories of the time. It did this in two senses: first, in that it told the story of how Israel’s long exile was finally coming to its close; second, in that it did so subversively, with the present regime in Jerusalem as the target of fierce polemic. … He spoke as he acted, as a prophet through whose work YHWH was doing a new thing, indeed the new thing for which Israel had waited so long. (367)

9 Symbol and Controversy

1. Introduction: Kingdom, Symbol, Controversy

(i) The problem of Symbols

Praxis may be disturbing. Stories may be subversive. But lay a finger on a cherished symbol, and the fat will be in the fire. (369)

I shall argue in this chapter that Jesus implicitly and explicitly attacked what had become the standard symbols of the second-Temple Jewish worldview; that the symbols of his own work were deeply provocative; and that this redrawing of the symbolic world, as part of his kingdom-announcement, was the cause of actual hostility against him. (369)

| The clash of symbolic worlds is regularly linked with the question of why Jesus was executed. There are, broadly, two alternative standard ways of (369) accounting for the death of Jesus. … First, Jesus was a Jewish revolutionary. (370)

Second, Jesus was a teacher of a new sort of religion. (370)

The first solution offers a political Jesus who offended the Romans; the second, a religious Jesus who offended the Jews. The first solution explains the crucifixion, though not the earlier controversies, at the expense of most of the evidence about Jesus’ ministry. The second explains the controversies, though not the crucifixion, at the expense of most of the evidence about first-century Jews. (370)

…we have seen that Jesus’ kingdom-announcement, made in praxis and story, was stating a double positive claim, and a single negative one. Positively, he claimed that Israel was now at last experiencing the real return from exile, and (as we shall see) that YHWH was now at last returning to Zion. Negatively, he claimed (just as, we may stress one more time, the Maccabees, the Pharisees and the Essenes would have claimed) that the judgment of YHWH would shortly fall not only on Gentiles but also on those within Israel who had failed to be truly loyal. (371)

If this redefinition had been purely a matter of ideas, or of private behavior, Jesus could have been written off. When it generated a clash of symbols, he had become dangerous. (371)

(ii) Controversy about Controversy

Two musicians may discuss which key is best for a particular Schubert song. Somebody who proposes rearranging the poem for a heavy metal band is not joining in the discussion, but challenging its very premises. (378)

Torah could regulate certain aspects of human behaviour, but it could not touch the heart. That did not constitute a criticism of Torah; Torah operates in its own sphere. … What was at stake was eschatology, in the sense already argued, not a comparison between two styles or patterns of religion. (380)

(v) if Jesus had ‘spoken against the law’, and had made such speech programmatic for his whole mission, then it would indeed be strange that so many in the early church apparently failed to get the point. … The question is not, what do you think of Torah in the abstract? The question is, what is Israel’s god doing with, and for, Israel and the world? And what role does Torah play within that? (380)

2. Symbols of Israel’s Identity: Sabbath, Food, Nation, Land

(i) Introduction: Context and Agendas

The main issue between Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries was his claim that the moment had come, that their god was even now inaugurating his kingdom, and that this – this praxis, these stories, this person – was the mode and means of its inauguration. (383)

It constituted a challenge to Jesus’ contemporaries: give up the interpretation of your tradition which has so gripped you, which is driving you towards the cliff-edge of ruin. Embrace instead a different interpretation of your tradition, one which, though it looks like the way of loss, is in fact the way to true victory. And with this announcement and agenda there went a warning: those who fail to come this way are missing their last chance to repent. (383)

First, the dominant agenda of the dominant group of Pharisees in Jesus’ day was not simply (in our terms) ‘religious’. It was just as much (in our terms) ‘political’. (384)

Of course, there are exceptions, the Rahabs and Ruths who are welcomed in from outside, as Josephus stresses. Of course there are plenty of cases when the boundary is blurred. But there is no question that in the first century there was a substantial body, not least in Judaea and Galilee, that considered itself Jewish on the (388) basis, more or less, of shared ancestry, and that considered it its god-given duty to protect that identity by careful observation of the god-given law, particularly the distinctive of sabbath, food, and circumcision, and of the sanctity of the Temple. These formed the clearest marker-posts for the symbolic world of Israel. And, according to the synoptic gospels, three out of these four became occasions of controversy between Jesus and his contemporaries, particularly the Pharisees. (389)

Jesus, precisely in affirming Israel’s unique vocation to be the light of the world, was insisting that, now that the moment for fulfilment had come, it was time to relativize those god-given markers of Israel’s distinctiveness. (389)

I therefore propose that the clash between Jesus and his Jewish contemporaries, especially the Pharisees, must be seen in terms of alternative political agendas generated by alternative eschatological beliefs and expectations. Jesus was announcing the kingdom in a way which did not reinforce, but rather called into question, the agenda of revolutionary zeal which dominated the horizon… Jesus, in challenging them, was not ‘speaking against the Torah’ per se. He was certainly not ‘speaking against’ the idea of Israel as the chosen people of the one true god. Rather, he was offering an alternative construal of Israel’s destiny and god-given vocation, and alternative way of telling Israel’s true story, and an alternative to the piety which expressed itself in nationalistic symbols. He was affirming Israel’s election even as he redefined it, just as other Jewish groups and parties did. (390)

(ii) Sabbath

…did Jesus speak or act ‘against the law’? I suggest that they were about Jesus’ eschatological agenda, with the real question being: did Jesus, as Israel’s would-be kingdom-bringer, affirm the key symbols of zealous Israel? The answer to that question was No. Jesus affirmed Israel’s election, Israel’s belief in her god, and Israel’s (395) eschatological hope. But this status, this theology and this aspiration were to be redefined around a new set of symbols. (396)

(iii) Food

…is Jesus, or is he not, loyal to the symbols of Israel’s identity? This question turns on the further one: who decides what constitutes such loyalty: …the passage [Mark 7] offers a clear answer. Jesus disputes the Pharisee’s right to make their own interpretations of Torah the litmus test of such loyalty. He claims instead, that his interpretation is the true one, and theirs the distorted. Moreover, he insists that genuine purity is a matter of the heart, for which the normal purity laws – and hence one of the major definitions of Jewishness and Jewish loyalty – are irrelevant. (396)

(iv) Nation and Family

Under Persian rule, they did not exist as an independent nation. ‘They had only a national religion, and in its preservation lay their self-preservation.’ (399)

…I am suggesting…that Jesus was an eschatological prophet, announcing the kingdom. The reason he did what he did and said what he said was that he read the signs of the times, believed the kingdom was now dawning in and through his own work, and realized that some of the symbols of Israel’s worldview had now become (not wicked, or shoddy, but) redundant. (400)

Family identity and pride is as nothing beside the message of the kingdom. (401)

…loyalty to himself and his kingdom-movement as creating an alternative family. (401)

…we must stress that this does not mean that Jesus thought such a symbol inherently bad, or even second-rate. … What was at stake was eschatological urgency. (402)

Jesus’ eschatological announcement of the kingdom did not deny the god-givenness of the Jewish symbols, in this case the national and familial identity. But it cut right across them. He was, as we shall see, creating a fictive kinship group – in less technical terms, a new family – around himself. (403)

(v) Possessions

Closely linked with the eschatological call to cut loose from family ties was the similar call to sit loose to possessions. For most people in the ancient world, the most basic possession was land. (403)

[Exodus 2.14] Jesus is refusing to be, in that sense, a new Moses, one who will parcel out the promised land. He has come to bring Israel to her real ‘return from exile’; but, just as this will not underwrite Israel’s ethnic aspirations, so it (404) will not reaffirm her symbolic, and zealously defended, territorial inheritance and possession. On the contrary: the unfaithful tenants will have their vineyard taken away. (405)

Israel’s concentration on nation and land was focused in the greatest building program of the day, and directed towards the greatest war that she would ever fight. Jesus, as we saw, resolutely opposed the move towards a holy war. We shall now see that he opposed the idolization of the great building, too. (405)

3. Symbols of Israel’s Identity: The Temple

(i) Introduction

(ii) The Temple and its Significance

There are three aspects of the Temple and its significance which need to be noted in particular: the presence of YHWH, the sacrificial system, and the (406) Temple’s poetical significance. (407)

…the act of sacrifice was always the last moment in the correction of either impurity or guilt. [Sanders 1992b, 116, concluding his example (113-16) of a family coming to the Temple, having during the year had a child (so that the wife needed to complete her post-childbirth purification) and committed a minor felony for which restitution had already been made (so that the husband needed to complete the process of forgiveness). This throws into sharp relief Jesus’ announcement of Zacchaeus’ forgiveness (Lk. 19.1-10): one would have expected him, in addition to making restitution, to offer a sacrifice in the Temple, and so to complete the process of forgiveness (Sanders 1993, 235).]

If the Essenes were ideologically opposed to the present Temple on the grounds that the wrong people were running it, and the Pharisees were developing a theology in which the blessings normally available in the Temple could be had, by extension, through the Torah, there was also a more poplar critique. The poorer classes evidently regarded the Temple as symbolizing the oppression they suffered at the hands of the rich elite. As we saw in a previous discussion, when the revolutionaries took over the Temple at the start of the war, one of their first acts was to burn the record of debts. [Jos. War 2.427] (412)

(iii) Jesus’ Action in the Temple

The argument of this book so far thus creates a context in which the natural reading of the incident is to see it as an acted parable of judgment. There is a further significant fact: virtually all the traditions, inside and outside the canonical gospels, which speak of Jesus and the Temple speak of its destruction. Mark’s fig-tree incident; Luke’s picture of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem; John’s saying about destruction and rebuilding; the synoptic traditions of the false witnesses and their accusation, and of the mocking at the foot of the cross: Thomas’ cryptic saying (‘I will destroy this house, and no-one will be able to rebuild it’); the charge in Acts that Jesus would destroy the Temple: all these speak clearly enough, not of cleansing or reform, but of destruction. I submit that these cannot all be retroactions, ‘prophecies’ (416) after the event. (417)

…when Jesus came to Jerusalem, he symbolically and prophetically enacted judgment upon it – a judgment which, both before and after, he announced verbally as well as in action. The Temple, as the central symbol of the whole national life, was under divine threat, and, unless Israel repented, it would fall to the pagans. (417)

cf. Isa. 56.6-8 / Jer. 7.3-15

Attention has rightly focused on the ‘robbers’ in the phrase ‘den of robbers’. Older readings of the incident as a dramatic protest against economic exploitation had no apparent difficulty here: the system of money-changing, and of buying and selling animals, constituted (it was said) daylight robbery. (419)

The Greek word in question (lestes) and the Hebrew word behind it in Jeremiah (parisim) do not mean ‘swindler’, but ‘one who robs with violence’; [Jer. 7.3-15. The passage goes on to warn that the valley of Hinnom (= ‘Gehenna’) will become a mass grave (7.31f.).] (419) … Barabbas, the leader of a murderous civil uprising in Jerusalem, was a lestes. So were the two who were crucified with Jesus. Crucifixion was the punishment reserved, not for thieves or swindlers, but for revolutionaries. (420)

As in Jeremiah’s day, the Temple had become the focal point of the hope of national liberation, and hence was regarded as a guarantee of security against the pagans. How then could it symbolize, as Isaiah had indicated it should, the desire of YHWH that all nations should share in the blessings that would accrue to Israel when the kingdom would come, when the real return from exile would take place, and when YHWH himself would return to Zion? … The point has to do with ideology: the Temple had become, in Jesus’ day as in Jeremiah’s, the talisman of nationalist violence, the guarantee that YHWH would act for Israel and defend her against her enemies. (420)

Jesus’s whole announcement of the kingdom, and the warnings that went with this announcement, were thus sharply and concretely focused in his echoing of Jeremiah’s warning of coming destruction. This saying gave the most immediate and direct explanation for the symbolic prophetic action that had just taken place, which otherwise might have remained opaque. (421)

…what Jesus is doing in the Temple is cognate with what he is doing to the fig tree. He has come seeking fruit, and, finding none, he is announcing the Temple’s doom. The fig tree action is therefore an acted parable of an acted parable. (421)

cf. Jer. 8.11-13; cf. Mic. 7.1 and its surrounding context.

…’this mountain’, spoken in Jerusalem, would naturally refer to the Temple mount. (422)

cf. Zechariah 9.9 and 6.12; 14.1-5

Without the Temple-tax, the regular daily sacrifices could not be supplied. Without the right money, individual worshippers could not purchase their sacrificial animals. Without animals, sacrifice could not be offered. Without sacrifice, the Temple had lost its whole raison d’être. The fact that Jesus effected only a brief cessation of sacrifice fits perfectly with the idea of a symbolic action. He was not attempting a reform; he was symbolizing judgment. (423)

I conclude that Jesus’ action in the Temple was intended as a dramatic symbol of its imminent destruction;… (424)

On what conceivable grounds could Jesus have undertaken to attack – and symbolize the destruction of – what was ordained by God? The obvious answer is that destruction, in turn, looks towards restoration. [Sanders 1985, 71, citing others who have held similar interpretations; 1993, 261f. In the latter book the ‘rebuilding’ theme is considerably more muted than in the former, being outweighed (correctly, in my opinion) by the emphasis on ‘destruction’.]

4. Jesus’ Symbols of the Kingdom

(i) Introduction: Symbols of ‘Return’

He did not aim thereby to depart from ‘Judaism’, from the traditions of Israel; his aim was to call Israel back to what he saw as the true meaning of those traditions. (428)

(ii) Restored Land, Restored People

The expectation of the restored land has become focused on restored human beings. Jesus offered people ‘inheritance’, and greater possessions than they would have abandoned; but he regularly construed this in terms of human lives and human communities that were being renewed and restored through the coming of the kingdom. (429)

At the same time, Jesus does seem to have had a keen awareness of the symbolism of place. (430)

(iii) The Redefined Family

We saw in the previous section that Jesus drastically challenged the existing familial and national symbolism. In its place, he seems to have gone out of his way to create a fictive kinship, a surrogate family, around himself. … Jesus had called for a deep and shocking disloyalty to the human, and nation-defining, family that his hearers knew; it was to be replaced by a total devotion and loyalty to Jesus himself, and to the others who also followed him. (430)

What is more, this family was in principle open to all, beyond the borders of Israel. (431)

This new family was of course characterized and marked out by one of the best-known features of Jesus’ work: his open table-fellowship with anyone who shared his agenda, who wanted to be allied with his kingdom-movement. (431)

(iv) The Redefined Torah

Torah defined Israel: specifically, the works of Torah functioned as symbolic praxis, as the set of badges which demonstrated both to observant Jews and to their neighbours that they were indeed the people of the covenant. (432)

(v) The Rebuilt Temple

In neither case was there a denial that the institution itself was good, god-given, and to be respected. In both cases there was an assertion that the time had come for the institution to be transcended; in both cases there was an accusation that the institution was currently operating in a way that was destructive (432) both to those involved and, more importantly, to the will of YHWH for his people Israel. In both cases, this was typically Jewish (and typically first-century) critique-from-within. (433)

Forgiveness was an eschatological blessing; if Israel went into exile because of her sins, then forgiveness consists in her returning: returning to YHWH, returning from exile. (434)

(vi) The Symbolic Focus

…at the heart of Jesus’ freshly conceived symbolic universe we find – Jesus himself. His own work, his own presence, his own teaching, even his own impending fate; all these and more cluster together, suggesting that, if it is symbols we are looking for, he himself was the greatest symbol of his own career. …the profile of the prophet from Nazareth, as it comes into sharper focus, does not allow us to make him in our own image in such a way. (438)

5. Jesus ‘Leading the People Astray’?

The charge that Jesus was ‘leading Israel astray’ emerges quite clearly in literature from the second century and later. Justin Martyr is aware of the charge; it is clearly reflected in two well-known Talmudic passages. [bSanh. 43a; 107b.] (439)

[Jesus] was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. [Feldman’s translation in the Loeb end.] [Josephus’ Antiquities 18.63f]

[Jesus] was a doer of strange deeds, and a deluder of the simple-minded. He led astray many Jews and Greeks. [cf. Bammel 1974; Stanton 1994, 169-71] [Josephus’ Antiquities 18.63f]

The charge goes back…to Deuteronomy 13. (439)

The charge that he was a deceiver, leading the people astray, perhaps through magic and false prophecy, fits the bill closely: his onlookers would either have had to conclude something like this or would have had to become his followers. [Compare Jn. 7.45-52, where exactly this choice is posed.] (442)

A clash of visions, incarnated in a clash of symbols, led to confrontation. (442)

10 The Questions of the Kingdom

1. Introduction

2. Who Are We?

The short answer Jesus might have given to the question of identity is: we are Israel, the chosen people of the creator god. More specifically, we are the real, the true, Israel, in the process of being redeemed at last by this god, over against the spurious claimants who are either in power or mounting alternative programmes. (443)

3. Where Are We?

His sense of location (445) corresponded, it seems, to his sense of identity and, as we shall see, of timing and purpose. He had not come to rehabilitate the symbol of holy land, but to subsume it within a different fulfilment of the kingdom, which would embrace the whole creation – from which, of course, he drew continually in the narratives and imagery of his teaching and announcement. (446)

4. What’s Wrong?

(i) Introduction

First, Israel had been disloyal to YHWH himself. Second, she had sold out to some form of idolatry, or paganism. (446)

Jesus’ analysis of the plight of Israel went beyond the specifics of behaviour and belief to what he saw as the root of the problem: the Israel of his day had been duped by the accuser, the ‘satan’. That which was wrong with the rest of the world was wrong with Israel, too. … The battle against evil – the (446) correct analysis of the problem, and the correct answer to it – was therefore of a different order from that imagined by his contemporaries. (447)

Jesus was operating on the basis of a critique from within the Jewish culture of his day. There are first-century Jewish analogies to his opposition to violent nationalism. Josephus, not for the first time, comes to mind, warning his contemporaries against war with Rome. Jesus’ warnings about the result of Israel’s headlong rush to resistance are paralleled in some measure by the strange prophet, also called Jesus, who wandered the walls of Jerusalem during the war, uttering his oracles of woe until silenced by a stone from a Roman catapult. [Jos. War 6.300-9] (447)

Stories of the kingdom of YHWH were thus essentially stories of conflict, and that conflict thus came to play a symbolic role within the worldview as a whole. (448)

Jesus’ overall perspective was that God was bringing an end to the demonic and political powers dominating his society so that a renewal of individual and social life would be possible … The language of the end refers not to the end of history or of creation but to the resolution of the historical crisis, and the main hope [in Daniel] is for the deliverance of the people by the (divine) defeat of the Seleucid imperial forces … What earlier biblical scholarship labeled as expectations of ‘cosmic catastrophe’ typical of Jewish apocalypticism would be called, in ordinary contemporary language, eager hopes for anti-imperial revolution to be effected by God … Jesus’ proclamation and practice of the kingdom of God indeed belonged in the milieu of Jewish apocalypticism. But far from being an expectation of an imminent cosmic catastrophe, it was the conviction that God was now driving the satan from control over personal and historical life, making possible the renewal of the people of Israel. The presence of the kingdom of God meant the termination of the old order. [Horsley 1987, 157, 159f.]

It is not that Jesus’ agenda was not about ‘politics’. That would be at best a half-truth and the wrong half at that. It is that Jesus in his teaching, and his challenge to Israel, aimed precisely at telling Israel to repent of – her militaristic nationalism. Her aspirations for national liberation from Rome, to be won through a great and actual battle, were themselves the tell-tale symptom of her basic disease, and had to be rooted out. Jesus was offering a different way of liberation, a way which affirmed the humanness of the national enemy as well as the destiny of Israel, and hence also affirmed the destiny of Israel as the bringer of light to the world, not as the one who would crush the world with military zeal. (450)

| Did Jesus therefore abandon the battle, and preach a gospel of being kind to all people, with all the element of fight and struggle taken out? Emphatically not. Once again, we must beware of anachronism. Within the worldview of first-century Jews, and most certainly within the mindset of Jesus, there was a fairly clear perception of an alternative enemy who might have to be fought, a dark power who masterminded attacks on the people of YHWH. One of the key elements in Jesus’ perception of his task was therefore his redefinition of who the real enemy was; then, where this enemy was actually located; then, what this enemy’s strategy was, and how he was to be defeated. (450)

(ii) The Real Enemy Identified: not Rome, but the Satan

The struggle that was coming to a head was therefore cosmic, not merely martial… (451)

(a) The Beelzebul Controversy

(b) Who is to be Feared?

(c) The Seven Other Demons

The previous ‘exorcism’ of Israel presumably refers to one or other of the reform or revolutionary movements, or possibly the rebuilding of the Temple. These, Jesus is saying, did not do the job properly, and left Israel open to further, and worse, internal trouble. If specific movements are in mind, we might perhaps think of the Maccabaean revolt, when ‘the house’ was ‘swept and put in order’; [1 Macc. 4.36-51.] or perhaps the Pharisaic movement as a whole, attempting to cleanse the body and the soul of Judaism by its zeal for a purity which in some ways reflected that of the Temple; or possibly Herod’s massive rebuilding programme, which produced a ‘house’ that was magnificent but in which (according to Jesus, and probably many of his contemporaries) YHWH had no inclination to make his dwelling. …what he was saying about such movements, and/or some specific examples, was that they could clean up the house for a while, but that they could not prevent the demons returning in force. (456)

(d) The Initial Victory

The struggle is precisely about the nature of Jesus’ vocation and ministry. The pull of hunger, the lure of cheap and quick ‘success’, the desire to change the vocation to be the light of the world into the vocation to bring all nations under his powerful rule by other means – all of these would easily combine into the temptation to doubt the nature of the vocation of which he had been sure at the time of John’s baptism. (458)

The temptation to be the sort of Messiah that many wanted must have been real and strong. But it was, from the point of view of his mindset, precisely a temptation. He had faced it, and defeated it in principle, and had thereby confirmed the direction for the mission that he should undertake. (458)

| Thus, in his public activity as we have studied it, Jesus was not engaged in (what we might call) self-aggrandizement. He was not working remarkable signs to impress the public; when people asked him to do so he regarded it as a snare and a delusion, evidence of their hardness of heart. He was not engaged in subversion against Rome, with world domination in view. He was announcing and inaugurating the reign of Israel’s god in a new way, not reducible to terms of any of these, and indeed explicitly opposed to them all. (459)

(iii) The Enemy Relocated: Israel and the Satan

(iv) Conclusion: Jesus’ Analysis of the Problem

What then must Jesus have thought was going on? How was the story working out? The battle he himself had to fight was with the satan; the satan had made its home in Israel, and in her cherished national institutions and aspirations. The house had been occupied by seven other demons, worse than the first; so it would be with this generation. But, like Jezebel trying to seduce Jehu, the satan was now attempting to lure Jesus himself into making the same mistake as Israel had done. If that turned out not to be possible, the satan would try either to scare him off, or to kill him ahead of time. (461)

5. What’s the Solution?

If Jesus’ symbolic actions, and his analysis of the plight of the nation, focused on the great battle which had to be fought against the real enemy, the satan, how did Jesus suppose that this battle would take place? The Sermon on the Mount, and the related agendas we studied in chapter 7, suggest the way towards an answer. Evil would be defeated, not by military victory, but by a doubly revolutionary method: turning the other cheek, going the second mile, the deeply subversive wisdom of taking up the cross. The agenda which Jesus mapped out for his followers was the agenda to which he himself was obedient. This was how the kingdom would come, how the battle would be won. (465)

Within several Jewish retellings of Israel’s story, the great themes of exile and restoration, and of the kingdoms of god and the kingdoms of the world, would reach their climax in a great moment of suffering and vindication. The night would get darker and darker, and then the dawn would come. Israel’s tribulations would reach their height, and then redemption would arrive. Daniel would face the lions, and then be exalted. Judith would go into the tent of the enemy commander, and emerge victorious. The Maccabean martyrs would die horribly, and a new dynasty would be set up within an independent Israel. The son of man would suffer at the hands of the beasts, and then be lifted up to the right hand of the Ancient of Days. The symbol of suffering was itself a key ingredient within the Jewish expectation of the great deliverance, the great victory. (465)

6. What Time is it?

cf. Luke 17.20-1 … The…phrase [within your grasp]…philologically the meaning is most likely to be a third option: ‘within your grasp’. ‘If you had eyes to see,’ Jesus seems to be saying, ‘you could reach out and take hold of the new reality that is already at work.’ (469)

…the fact that the full revelation or dawning of the kingdom remains in the future does not negate, but actually rather demands, that something be already acknowledged as present, in this case the Messiahship of Jesus. Only if ‘the kingdom’ is conceived in non-historical terms, perhaps through some theological scheme, does this seem anything other than completely natural. (471)

7. The Prophet and the Kingdom

Jesus belonged thoroughly within the complex and multiform Judaism of his day. His protests were classic Jewish protests-from-within. His claims (such as we have examined so far) were parallel in form, though different in content, to those of many other Jewish leaders of his day. (472)

I have argued that Jesus intended to bring the story of Israel to its god-ordained climax, in and through his own work. His prophetic praxis was designed to challenge his contemporaries to abandon their agendas, including those agendas which appeared to be sanctioned in, or even demanded by, the Torah and the Prophets. He summoned them to follow him in a way of being the people of YHWH which was, according to him, the true though surprising fulfilment of the whole scriptural story. He aimed to bring about a radical shift within, not an abandonment of, the worldview of his hearers. Thy thought of themselves as Israel, as expecting the fulfilment of YHWH’s promises, particularly concerning the great redemption, the restoration, the return from exile, the ‘forgiveness of sins’. Jesus offered exactly that; but, as his own stories made clear, what he offered did not look like what they had been expecting. His symbolic actions fleshed out both his rejection of the current ways of conceiving Israel’s hope and his own alternative. He aimed, then, to reconstitute Israel around himself, as the true returned-from-exile people; to achieve the victory of Israel’s god over the evil that had enslaved his people; (473) and, somehow, to bring about the greatest hope of all, the victorious return of YHWH to Zion. (474)


PART III The Aims and Belief of Jesus


11 Jesus and Israel: The Meaning of Messiahship

1. Introduction

I shall argue in the present chapter that Jesus saw himself as the leader and focal point of the true, returning-from-exile Israel. He was the king through whose work YHWH was at last restoring his people. He was the Messiah. (477)

Yet we can ask, and historians often do ask, about people’s aims, objectives, motives and beliefs. These things, indeed, are in large measure what ‘history’ is all about. And when we put aims, objectives, motives and beliefs together we not infrequently find something which combines them, and which may be called ‘vocation’ or ‘ambition’. To study the sense of vocation or ambition possessed by a figure from the past is not to enquire about psychology, but about history. (480)

What was the vocation to which he was obedient, or the ambition which led him on? (480) …he believed that it was his own task not only to announce, but also to enact and embody, the three major kingdom-themes, namely, the return from exile, the defeat of evil, and the return of YHWH to Zion. … We are not pursuing only a history-of-ideas project, nor proceeding only by the study of Jesus’ words. We are investigating the fully-rounded history of what he did, and why he thought it made sense. (481)

He believed, in short, that he was the Messiah – though his view of the entire situation, and his vocation within it, meant that he redefined that notion, too. (481)

2. Messiahship in Judaism and Early Christianity

(i) Messiahship in the Jewish World of Jesus’ Day

To begin with, as I have argued myself, there as no one picture of ‘the Messiah’ within the Judaism of Jesus’ day. … Messiahship, it seems, was whatever people made of it. (482)

…speculations about a coming king were speculations about someone who would replace these suspect dynasties with the true, god-given one. We have only to remind ourselves that ‘Messiah’ meant, among other things, ‘king of the Jews’, to be reminded also that in Jesus’ day there was at least one person who claimed that title, and who had the power to back up his claim. As we shall see, this explains some of Jesus’ most cryptic sayings. One did not lightly, even by implication, issue a direct challenge to a son of Herod the Great. (482)

…Zechariah 1-8,… Where messianic expectations occurred, they formed part of a larger implicit story told, and lived, by Jews of Jesus’ day. The king was the focal point of the dream of national liberty. (483)

Temple and kingship went hand in hand. (483)

Equally, the king was to be the one who would fight Israel’s battles. (484)

[‘son of god’] referred to the king as Israel’s representative. Israel was the son of YHWH: the king who would come to take her destiny on himself would share this title. (486)

| Even from this brief summary of the evidence, the historian is faced with a question. Jesus of Nazareth did not rebuild or adore the Temple. He did not lead a successful revolution against the Romans. He did not, that is, conform at the level of symbolic praxis (never mind that of textual paradigm) even to the ill-defined popular expectation we are able to chart. So why did his followers insist that he was, after all the Messiah, the son of the living god? (486)

(ii) Messiahship in Early Christianity

…why did anyone attach this word to Jesus in the first place? In other words, granted that the very early Christian community was Jewish to the core, what caused it to predicate Messiahship of Jesus so firmly that the title stuck even when its original meaning may have been forgotten? (487)

First, to announce a movement as messianic was to court trouble, both from the Roman authorities (for whom Caesar was the only true king) and, as we have seen, from the other claimants to the title ‘king of the Jews’, namely the Herodian family. … Why, then, did the early Christians label themselves in a way likely to cause trouble? Why, granted that they seem to have worked with a considerably redefined notion of Messiahship and its implications, did they continue to use that word, that model, at all? (487)

Second, a messianic movement without a physically present Messiah posed something of an anomaly, all the more so when the Messiah in question had died the death of a failed revolutionary leader. If the early Christians were so keen on having a messianic movement, why did they not choose another Messiah, perhaps from Jesus’ family – perhaps Jesus’ own brother, Jeames, who was after all the acknowledged leader of the Jerusalem church for the next generation? (487)

Without the resurrection – leaving open at the moment what the first disciples thought they meant by that word – it is simply inconceivable that anyone would have regarded Jesus as Messiah, especially if they had not regarded him thus beforehand. But a moment’s thought should reveal that this cannot be a complete account of the matter. …it is certainly not clear that anyone at the time expected the Messiah to die at the hands of the pagans, let alone to be raised from the dead within the midst of ongoing history. Thus, whatever we make of the resurrection itself, there is no surrounding context within which it would make sense to suppose the first disciples saying to themselves: ‘We didn’t think he was the Messiah – we just thought he was a prophet. But if he’s been raised from the dead then we must conclude that he was and is the Messiah, even though he didn’t do what we thought a Messiah would do.’ (488)

…the picture the gospels paint is both continuous and discontinuous with non-Christian Judaism on the one hand and the life of the early church on the other, in such a way as to force the historian to postulate that we are here in touch with Jesus himself. (489)

…how did the notion of Messiahship get from the one to the other? Ultimately, the simplest hypothesis must be that it was Jesus himself who caused the transition. Are there, then, any signs that Jesus did after all regard himself, in however paradoxical a sense, as the Messiah, Israel’s representative, set by YHWH to be the spearhead of the great movement of national liberation? (489)

3. Jesus and Kingship: Events in Jerusalem

(i) Introduction

Texts matter, but contexts matter even more. (489)

(ii) The Temple-Action

Within his own time and culture, his riding on a donkey over the Mount of Olives, across Kidron, and up to the Temple mount spoke more powerfully than words could have done of a royal claim. (490)

Jesus’ action in the Temple, however, was equally ‘royal’. (491)

cf. 2 Sam. 7.12-14; Zech. 6.12f; 14.21

Jesus’ symbolic actions inevitably invoked this entire wider context. Jesus was performing Maccabean actions, albeit with some radical differences. This explains, among other things, why the High Priestly family, who regarded themselves as in some senses the successors of the Hasmonean priestly line, found Jesus’ action so threatening. (493)

(iii) Royal Riddles

(a) Destroy and Rebuild

(b) Say to this Mountain…

Whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and cast into the sea’, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will happen for him. [Mk. 11.23; abbrev. in Mt. 21.21]

…would naturally refer to the Temple mount itself. There is, however, a biblical allusion which suggests that the saying was also a cryptic messianic riddle. (494)

He said to me, ‘This is the word of YHWH to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my spirit, says YHWH of hosts. What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of “Grace, grace to it!”‘ [Zech. 4.6-7; cf. Isa. 40.4; 42.16.]

I suggest, therefore, that the saying about the mountain has a double thrust. First, it emphasizes that Jesus’ action signified the overthrow of the Temple; second, it pointed to Jesus as the one who would at last do what Zerubbabel was supposed to do, that is, to be the true anointed one who would build the true Temple. Whatever the ‘mountain’ may have signified in Zechariah’s (494) prophecy, it was clearly something that stood in the way of the building of the Temple. Thus, in Jesus’ riddle, (a) the present Temple is seen as in opposition to the true one, (b) the present Temple will be destroyed, to make way for the true one, and (c) Jesus is the true anointed one, who will bring out the top stone of the building and thus complete it. Once again, the Temple-action lays claim to royalty. (495)

(c) John the Baptist

Herod [Antipas] had chosen as his symbol, placed on his coins (instead of a portrait out of wariness towards Jewish scruple), a typical Galilean reed. (Unlike written texts, coins were a means, indeed the main means, of mass communication, and the symbols on them could function much as well-known political cartoons can in our own day.) Jesus’ question, uncoded, means more or less: were you looking for another Herodian-style king? Surely not; you wanted something far greater than that, something more than simply yet another pseudo-aristocrat, lording it over you like a pagan tyrant. And you got it. John was  prophet; indeed, the greatest prophet that ever lived, the one of whom Malachi spoke, the last prophet before the final great day dawned. … If John is Elijah, this means, without question, that Jesus is the Messiah. (496)

Jesus was implicitly claiming, as in Matthew 11, to be the true successor of the last great prophet. … John’s implicit counter-Temple movement has become, in Jesus, explicit. It has, in other words, become messianic. (497)

Second, Jesus had been anointed by the Holy Spirit at the time of John’s baptism. … He had the authority to act as he did because YHWH had given it to him, in and through John’s baptism. (497)

(d) Tenants, Servants, Son and Stone

…the so-called parable of the wicked tenants. (497)

Second, the parable tells the story of Israel, culminating in judgment. …Jesus was taking a well-known biblical theme, in this case from Isaiah 5.1-7 and Psalm 80, and developing it further. (498)

Third, the parable concludes with the little riddle of the son and the stone. As it stands, this is a simple quotation from Psalm 118.22-3:

The stone which the builders rejected
has become the head of the corner;
this is from the Lord,
and it is marvellous in our eyes.

1. The Psalm in question is clearly designed to be sung by pilgrims going to the Temple; … We should not forget, either, that processing into Jerusalem singing (498) songs of praise was as much a ‘political’ as a ‘religious’ act. (499)

2. More specifically, the idea of the ‘stone’ is closely linked with the idea of the new eschatological Temple. (499)

a foundation stone, a tested stone,
a precious cornerstone, a sure foundation; [Isaiah 28.16; quoted in 1QS 8.7f.]

Isaiah 8.14 speaks of YHWH himself becoming

a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over – a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many among them shall stumble; they shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken. [This passage is read messianically in bSanh. 38a.]

Zechariah 4.7-10,…

What are you, O great mountain? Before Zerubbabel you shall become a plain; and he shall bring out the top stone amid shouts of ‘Grace, grace to it!’ Moreover, the word of YHWH came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you will know that YHWH of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice, and shall see the chosen stone in the hand of Zerubbabel. [On the textual problems of the ‘chosen stone’ in the final phrase, cf. e.g. Ackroyd 1968, 172 n.5.]

in the days of those kings the god of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed … It shall crush all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand for ever. [Dan. 2.44.] The Greek for ‘crush’ in the Theod. version of v. 44 is likmesei, the same word as in Mt. 21.44/Lk. 20.18.]

The passage was regularly interpreted, from at least as early as the first century, to refer to the Messiah, and to the kingdom that would be set up through him. (500)

(e) Tribute to Caesar

Jesus’ hearers would have been expecting some kind of signal that he was indeed in favour of revolution. It might be cryptic, but in many political (503) situations coded statements are all that one can offer. I suggest that Jesus deliberately framed his answer in terms that could be heard as just such a coded statement, with which he neatly refused the either/or that had been put to him and pointed to his own kingdom-agenda as the radical alternative. (504)

Judas Maccabaeus has been a mighty warrior from his youth; he shall command the army for you and fight the battle against the peoples. You shall rally around you all who observe the law, and avenge the wrong done to your people. Pay back the Gentiles in full, and obey the commands of the law. [1 Macc. 2.66-8. The LXX of the last sentence (v. 68) begins: antapodote antapodoma tois ethnesin … The saying in Mt. 22.21 and pars. reads, in various different word-orders, apodote ta Kaisaros Kaisari.]

Mattathias instructed his sons to give back to the pagans an equal repayment: do to them as they have done to us. The saying is unambiguously revolutionary. The second clause put this in its wider context: obey the commands of the law. … The Maccabaean saying, then, had a double thrust: your duty towards the pagans is to fight them, and your duty to our god is to keep his commandments. The former was subsumed, ultimately, within the latter. Zeal for YHWH and Torah meant revolution. (504)

| I propose that Jesus’ cryptic saying should be understood as a coded and subversive echo of Mattathias’ last words. His Temple-action, at the head of a kingdom-movement, carrying clear messianic overtones for those with ears to hear, and reinforced by the riddles about destruction and rebuilding, about John the Baptist, and about the ‘son’ and the ‘stone’, created a context within which his saying would have meant: Pay Caesar back when he is owed! Render to Caesar what he deserves! The words Jesus said would, prima facie, have been heard as revolutionary. (504)

Had he told them to revolt? Had he told them to pay the tax? He had done neither. He had done both. … He was not advocating compromise with Rome; but nor was he advocating straightforward resistance of the sort that refuses to pay the tax today and sharpens its swords for battle tomorrow. (505)

‘Give to God what is God’s’ evokes the call to worship the one true god, echoed in psalm and prophecy throughout Israel’s tradition:

Give unto YHWH, you families of the peoples,
give unto YHWH glory and strength.
Give unto YHWH the glory due to his name;
bring an offering, and come into his courts.
O worship YHWH in the beauty of holiness,
tremble before him, all the earth.
Say among the heathen, YHWH is king!

[Ps. 96.7-10; cf. too e.g. Ps. 29.1-2.]

Great is YHWH, and highly to be praised;
he is more to be feared than all gods.
For all the gods of the heathen are idols,
but it is YHWH who made the heavens.
Glory and majesty are before him,
power and honour are in his sanctuary.

[Ps. 96.4-6.]

…in context, when Jesus is faced with a coin bearing a blasphemous inscription, the familiar train of thought encapsulated by Psalm 96 suggests that we hear the saying as a deeper challenge. ‘Give to God what is God’s’; in other words, give to YHWH, and to him alone, the divine honour claimed blasphemously by Caesar. (506)

Paying the tax could, paradoxically, be seen as a necessary part of strict Jewish observance: anything to get rid of these blasphemous coins. No Pharisee or revolutionary would quarrel with that, at least in public. (506)

| The saying is thus not simply a coded protest against paganism (in other words, a coded call for revolution). It protests against Jewish compromise with paganism. (506)

Thinking to overthrow Caesar in the name of YHWH and his Torah, the revolutionaries were, in Jesus’ view, using Caesar’s own weapons. They were the real compromises. He was claiming the high ground: Render to God that which is God’s. (507)

(f) David’s Lord and David’s Son

(g) Royal Riddles: Jesus and the Evangelists

(iv) Temple, Messiah and Son of Man

(a) Temple Destroyed, Jesus Vindicated

We must grasp, first, the nature of apocalyptic language in general, and Daniel in particular. … ‘Apocalyptic’, I argued, [in chapter 10 of The New Testament and the People of God], uses ‘cosmic’ or ‘other-worldly’ language to describe (what we think of as) ‘this-worldly’ realities, and to invest them with (what we think of as) their ‘theological’ or ‘spiritual’ significance. (513)

…no Jews whose opinions are known to us thought that their god was about to bring the space-time world, including land and Temple, to a sudden end. (513)

Second, we must do our best to understand how the ‘son of man’ figure in Daniel 7 was perceived by various Jewish groups in the first century, and we must read Jesus’ so-called ‘apocalyptic’ discourse in the light of that,… (513)

The whole debate has suffered the consequences of a failure to read Daniel 7 as it was read in the first century. (516)

The third guiding thread is, more briefly, the argument of the present book to date. If Jesus really did act, tell stories, reorder symbols and answer the key questions in the way we studied in Part II, then he would naturally have spoken of the Temple’s destruction more explicitly, with his close followers and away from the crowds, in language which made it clear that he regarded Herod’s Temple, and the regime of Caiaphas and his family, as part of the problem, part of the exilic state of the people of YHWH, rather than as part of the solution. It also makes sense to suppose that, in prophesying the Temple’s downfall in symbolic act and solemn oracle, he regarded himself as the one with authority over the Temple, that is, the true Messiah. (516)

Within the historical world of the first century, Daniel was read as a revolutionary kingdom-of-god text, in which Israel’s true representative(s) would be vindicated after their trial and suffering at the hands of the pagans. Jesus, as part of his prophetic work of announcing the kingdom, aligned himself with the ‘people of the saints of the most high’, that is, with the ‘one like a son of man’. In other words, he regarded himself as the one who summed up Israel’s vocation and destiny in himself. He was the one in and through whom the real ‘return from exile’ would come about, indeed, was already coming about. He was the Messiah. (517)

We must not confuse literary ‘representation’ with either sociological or metaphysical ‘representation’, or any of these with metaphysical identification. At the literary level, ‘one like a son of man’ in Daniel 7 represents ‘the people of the saints of the most high’. The phrase ‘one like a son of man’ thus refers to ‘the people of the saints of the most high’, and invests them, by means of apocalyptic imagery, with the status of being the truly human ones who will be exalted over the ‘beasts’. As this text was read by suffering Jews in Jesus’ day, the ‘son of man’ became identified as the anointed Messiah;… (518)

(b) Jesus on Trial

The so-called ‘trial narrative’ in Mark 14.55-64 and parallels… (a) It portrays a semi-formal process, which according to the Mishnah should have taken place in the Temple, and during the day – not, as in the accounts before us, in the High Priest’s house at night. (b) The story depends on the assumption, which has often been challenged, that the Jewish authorities did not have the right to carry out the death penalty (otherwise why, having found Jesus guilty of a capital offence, would they not have carried out the sentence themselves?). (c) It throws together several later Christian theological themes in an apparently random fashion: the question about the Temple is followed by the question about Jesus being ‘Messiah’ and ‘son of god’; Jesus answers with a reference to the ‘son of man’; the High Priest accuses him of blasphemy. Every link in this chain has been scorned as hopelessly weak, producing a succession of non sequiturs. (d) it is not clear, within the putative historical context, what it was that Jesus is supposed to have said that was actually blasphemous. Behind all of these, of course, there stands the deeply contentious issue: who was responsible for Jesus’ death? (520)

…were the Jewish authorities legally allowed to carry out the death penalty? If they had been able to (520) execute Jesus, the fact that they did not would show that they had not in fact convicted him of a capital crime, and that the Romans bore sole responsibility for his death (with the early church then shifting the blame back on to the Jews). The present state of the question would suggest, however, that the view taken in the gospels is more or less correct. There were occasional extra-legal, zealous acts such as the stoning of Stephen; but officially the Romans had prohibited the Jews from carrying out the death penalty. (521)

Attention must focus, then, on the central problem of Jesus’ appearance before Caiaphas. (521)

Jesus’ response, then, resonates with ironic power. …he can retell the story of Daniel 7 in his own revised version. He is claiming to be the representative of the true people of God. Like the martyrs on trial before pagan tyrants, he is refusing to abandon the ancestral faith and hope, even if it costs him his life. Like Susannah on trial before Jewish judges who turned out to be no better than pagans, he stands before a court who, in his eyes, represent cynical compromise rather than loyalty to YHWH. He therefore declares that Israel’s god will vindicate him; and that vindication will include the destruction of the Temple which has come to symbolize and embody the rebellion of Israel against God, her determination to maintain her national exclusivism at the cost of her vocation. (525)

Caiaphas will witness the strange events which follow Jesus’ crucifixion: the rise of a group of disciples claiming that he has been raised form the dead, and the events which accelerate towards the final clash with Rome, in which, judged according to the time-honoured test, Jesus will be vindicated as a true prophet. In and through it all, Caiaphas will witness events which show that Jesus was not, after all, mistaken in his claim, hitherto implicit, now at last explicit: he is the Messiah, the anointed one, the true representative of the people of Israel, the one in and through whom the covenant god is acting to set up his kingdom. (525)

If Jesus is to be vindicated as the true representative of YHWH’s people; and if he, Caiaphas, is presently sitting in judgment on him; then Caiaphas himself, and the regime he represents, are cast in a singularly unflattering light. His court has become part of the evil force which is oppressing the true Israel, and which will be (525) overthrown when YHWH vindicates his people. Caiaphas, the High Priest, has become the new Antiochus Epiphanes, the great tyrant oppressing YHWH’s people. The Sanhedrin was playing the Fourth Beast to Jesus’ Son of Man. … The courtroom is turned inside out: the prisoner becomes the judge, the judge the condemned criminal. (526)

…there are four lines of thought which point towards the charge of blasphemy. The first, of course, is that Jesus has set himself against both the Temple and the anointed High Priest. … He has, in effect, replaced the Temple with himself. How can this be other than blasphemy? (526)

| Second, Jesus will be exalted to sit at the right hand of YHWH. (526) … To sit on the throne next to YHWH is thus itself first and foremost a royal status: just as YHWH ruled Israel and the surrounding nations through David, so he will now rule the world through the Messiah. The Messiah, in other words, will be to the creator god like Joseph was to Pharaoh, or Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar and then to Darius. He will be, in other words, ‘the highest of the kings of the earth’; but not, or not necessarily or explicitly, a ‘transcendent’ figure. (527) … It is certainly not beyond the bounds of possibility both that Jesus intended a reference to this idea and that Caiaphas understood him in these terms, and regarded it as blasphemous. (527)

| The third point serves to reinforce this. Jesus’ exaltation will be ‘on the clouds’, as in Daniel 7.13. Clouds, of course, signify theophany. (527)

Fourth, and finally, we argued earlier that Jesus was regarded as a ‘false prophet’ who was ‘leading Israel astray’,… (527)

…our main point is to underline, for the purposes of the present argument, two features of Jesus’ appearance before Caiaphas. First, the whole trial scene is inescapably messianic. Jesus is on trial for actions and words which imply a royal claim, to which he ultimately pleads guilty. Second, his claim of future vindication is itself messianic. (528)

It should now be clear, not only that Jesus was executed by the Romans on a charge of being a messianic pretender, but also that this charge was brought to the Roman authorities by the Jewish leaders, who had extracted from Jesus a confession of what they had already inferred from his actions: he did indeed suppose himself to be the Messiah. (528)

4. Messiahship as the Secret of Jesus’ Prophetic Ministry

(i) Caesarea Philippi

(ii) Messianic Praxis in the Early Ministry

The style and manner of Jesus’ announcement of the kingdom meant that there always was an implicit self-reference, a Christology (of sorts) hidden within the announcement and the invitation, the welcome and the warning. (531)

(iii) Messianic Sayings in the Early Ministry

The first category of messianic sayings is especially striking. Jesus frequently likens his work to that of a shepherd, especially one who goes looking for lost sheep. (533)

cf. Zechariah 13.7; 2 Samuel 24.17; 1 Kings 22.17; Isaiah 44.28; Ezekiel 34.23-4; Zechariah 13.7

Jesus, in short, was constantly telling a particular story, in which the true king of Israel arrives to search for his wayward sheep. (534)

(iv) A Messianic Beginning to the Ministry?

Human awareness of vocation is, no doubt, difficult to describe; nevertheless, in the Hebrew Bible there are various stories of individuals receiving a vocation. Prophets like Samuel, Isaiah; and Jeremiah are called by YHWH. (536)

(v) A Prophetic/Messianic Ministry

Being welcomed into this kingdom consisted in being welcomed into fellowship with Jesus: he was the one around whom Israel was being reconstituted, at whose word she could find forgiveness and healing. The welcome he was offering, and the anger that welcome provoked, made sense only if Jesus was claiming in some sense to represent Israel in himself. (537)

What he claimed for himself was tantamount to claiming kingship … The hard evidence is this: he talked about a kingdom; his disciples expected to have a role in it; they considered him their leader; he was crucified for claiming to be king. [Sanders 1985, 322 (italics original). Cf., however, Sanders 1993, 240-3.]

5. Conclusion: Jesus and the Return from Exile

Jesus, then, believed himself to be the focal point of the people of YHWH, the returned-from-exile people, the people of the renewed covenant, the people whose sins were now to be forgiven. He embodied what he had announced. He was the true interpreter of Torah; the true builder o the Temple; the true spokesperson for Wisdom. (538)

Jesus’ redefined notion of Messiahship thus corresponded to his whole kingdom-praxis (chapter 5 above), his kingdom-stories (chapters 6,  and 8), and his kingdom-symbols (chapter 9). It offered itself as the central answer to the key kingdom-questions (chapter 10). And it pointed on to a fulfillment of Israel’s destiny which no one had imagined or suspected. He came, as the representative of the people of YHWH, to bring about the end of exile, the renewal of the covenant, the forgiveness of sins. To accomplish this, an obvious first-century option for a would-be Messiah would run: go to Jerusalem, fight the battle against the forces of evil, and get yourself enthroned as the rightful king. Jesus, in fact, adopted precisely this strategy. But, as he hinted to James and John, he had in mind a different battle, a different throne. (539)

12 The Reasons for Jesus’ Crucifixion

1. Introduction

‘Why did Jesus die?’, … The question ‘why’, in such a case, involves us inescapably in the study of human intentionality. Why did the Roman authorities consider it appropriate or desirable to execute Jesus? Why did the Jewish authorities consider it right to hand him over to the Romans as deserving of death? And, in the middle of it all, what was Jesus’ own intention in the matter? Nor is the question limited by these three aspects. It is also necessary to ask: why did certain first-century Jews, within an exceedingly short time, refer to the death of a messianic pretender – not in itself an uncommon or remarkable event in that time and place – in terms such as ‘he loved me and gave himself for me’? (540)

Changing the science, to distrust the sources because they show evidence of theology and exegesis is like distrusting an astronomer’s report because the observations were not conducted during the hours of daylight. (541)

…it must be emphasized that here more than anywhere it is worse than futile to try to separate theology from politics. The tired old split between the Jesus of history and the Christ of faith was never more misleading than at this point. (541)

For much of the narrative we must now examine, the phrase [‘the Jews’] is used by the evangelists to denote the Jewish leaders;… (542)

In and through it all, we are looking once more for appropriate continuity and discontinuity both with first-century Judaism and with emerging Christianity,… (543)

2. The Roman Charge

Crucifixion was a powerful symbol throughout the Roman world. It was not just a means of liquidating undesirables; it did so with the maximum degradation and humiliation. It said, loud and clear: we are in charge here; you are our property; we can do what we like with you. It insisted, coldly and brutally, on the absolute sovereignty of Rome, and of Caesar. It told an implicit story, of the uselessness of rebel recalcitrance and the ruthlessness of imperial power. … Crucifixion was a symbolic act with a clear and frightening meaning. (543)

| All this, though unpleasant, is not controversial. What follows, however, is decidedly so: Jesus was executed as a rebel against Rome. (544)

He feared that if they actually sent an embassy they would also expose the rest of his conduct as governor by stating in full the briberies, the insults, the robberies, the outrages and wanton injustices, the executions without trial constantly repeated, the ceaseless and supremely grievous cruelty. So with all his vindictiveness and furious temper, he was in a difficult position. He had not the courage to take down what had been dedicated nor did he wish to do anything which would please his subjects. At the same time he knew full well the constant policy of Tiberius in these matters… [Philo Leg. 302f. (quoted from Loeb edn., tr. Colson).]

The interesting thing to note for our present discussion is just how similar, underneath the rhetoric, Philo’s account of the ‘shields’ incident is to John’s account of Jesus’ trial before Pilate. In both incidents, Pilate is caught between his desire not to do what his Jewish subjects want – he intends to snub them if he can – and his fear of what Tiberius will think if news leaks out. ‘If you let this man go, you are not Caesar’s friend.’ [Jn. 19.12; cf. Robinson 1985, 265f.; Brown 1994, 843f., both with other refs.]

This raises the point at issue in our present discussion. It has been fashionable for some time to say that the evangelists increasingly whitewashed Pilate’s character in order to lay the blame for Jesus’ death on his Jewish contemporaries. But proponents of this view never quite come to terms with the fact that if John and the rest were trying to make Pilate out to be anything other than weak, vacillating, bullying, and caught between two pressing agendas neither of which had anything to do with truth or justice, they did a pretty poor job of it. The later Christian adoption of Pilate as a hero, or even a saint, is many a mile from his characterization in the gospels: the famous scene of Pilate washing his hands must surely be read, both within history and within Matthaean redaction, as merely the high-point of his cynicism. He was the governor; he was responsible for Jesus’ death; washing his hands was an empty and contemptuous symbol, pretending that he could (545) evade responsibility for something that lay completely within his power. What emerges from the records is not that Pilate wanted to rescue Jesus because he thought he was good, noble, holy or just, but that Pilate wanted to do the opposite of what the chief priests wanted him to do because he always wanted to do the opposite of what the chief priests wanted him to do. [As in the matter of the titulus: Jn. 19.21f.]

First, Pilate recognized that Jesus was not the ordinary sort of revolutionary leader, a lestes or brigand. …Second, Pilate therefore realized that the Jewish leaders had their own reasons for wanting Jesus executed, and were using the charge of sedition as a convenient excuse. Third, this gave him the opening to do what he would normally expect to do, which was to refuse their request; he tried this, but failed. He failed, fourth, because it was pointed out to him in no uncertain terms that if he did not execute a would-be rebel king he would stand (546) accused, himself, of disloyalty to Caesar. Historically, emotionally, politically the sequence makes perfect sense. In terms of the Roman authorities, the answer to the question ‘why did Jesus die?’ is that Pilate not only put cynical power-games before justice (that was normal), but also, on this occasion, put naked self-interest before both. (547)

3. The Jewish Charge

The Babylonian Talmud puts it like this:

Jesus was hanged on the eve of Passover. The herald went before ehim for forty days, saying, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he practised sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Let everyone knowing anything in his defence come and plead for him.’ But nothing was found in his defence, so he was hanged on the eve of Passover. [bSanh. 43a (cf. too 107b). On the whole issue cf. above, 439-42. The apparent oddity of Jesus being stoned and hanged is explained by mSanh. 6.4: after stoning, the corpse must be hung on a bigger, but taken down again before sunset in obedience to Dt. 21.23. The notion of a forty-day appeal for defence is normally discounted, e.g. by Klausner 1947 [1925], 28.]

In other words, the Jewish tradition, which certainly owes nothing to Christian interpretations of Jesus’ death, is clear that Jesus was killed because of crimes punishable by death in Jewish law – specifically, Deuteronomy 13 and similar passages, and their later rabbinic interpretations. (548)

What could he be, in their eyes, if not a false prophet, performing signs and wonders to lead Israel astray? (549)

Whereas Herod and the Romans taunt Jesus as a would-be Messiah, the Jewish leaders mock him as a would-be prophet. (549)

In terms of the Jewish authorities, then, the question ‘Why did Jesus die?’ evokes a fivefold answer. He was sent to the Roman governor on a capital charge

(i) because many (not least many Pharisees, but also, probably, the chief priests) saw him as ‘a false prophet, leading Israel astray’;

(ii) because, as one aspect of this, they saw his Temple-action as a blow against the central symbol not only of national life but also of YHWH’s presence with his people;

(iii) because, though he was clearly not leading a real or organized military revolt, he saw himself as in some sense Messiah, and could thus become a focus of serious revolutionary activity;

(iv) because, as the pragmatic focus of these three points, they saw him as a dangerous political nuisance, whose actions might well call down the wrath of Rome upon Temple and nation alike; (551)

(v) because, at the crucial moment in the hearing, he not only (as far as they were concerned) pleaded guilty to the above charges, but also did so in such a way as to place himself, blasphemously, alongside the god of Israel. (552)

The leaders of the Jewish people were thus able to present Jesus to Pilate as a seditious trouble-maker; to their Jewish contemporaries (and later generations of rabbinic Judaism) as a false prophet and a blasphemer, leading Israel astray; and to themselves as a dangerous political nuisance. On all counts, he had to die. (552)

| Their verdict was not, of course, a sufficient cause of Jesus’ death. They needed Pilate to ratify and carry out the sentence. It was, however, a necessary cause of Jesus’ crucifixion: Pilate himself would not have brought charges against Jesus, or, if he had, they would most likely have only resulted in a flogging. Pilate’s decision was both a necessary and a sufficient cause of Jesus’ crucifixion. (552)

4. The Intention of Jesus (1): The Key Symbol

(i) Introduction

(ii) The Last Supper: Symbol and Significance

(a) Introduction

(b) Last Supper and Passover

It seems to me virtually certain that the meal in question was some kind of Passover meal. (555)

At the same time, we have no reason to suppose, granted all we have seen of Jesus’ agenda and normal mode of operating, that he would have felt bound to celebrate the festival on the officially appointed day. … Granted that Jesus had, throughout his work, reorganized the symbolic world of his contemporaries around his own life and mission (chapter 9 above), it certainly does strain credulity to think that he might organize a special quasi-Passover meal a day early. All the lines of our investigation so far point this way, and suggest that Jesus saw the meal as the appropriate way of drawing the symbolism of Passover, and all that it meant in terms of hope as well as of history, on to himself and his approaching fate. (556)

First, like all Jewish Passover meals, the event spoke of leaving Egypt. (557)

Second, however, the meal brought Jesus’ own kingdom-movement to its climax. It indicated that the new exodus, and all that it meant, was happening in and through Jesus himself. (557)

If he believed that the kingdom was about to dawn, in other words that YHWH was about to inaugurate the new covenant, the end of exile, the forgiveness of sins, it becomes very likely that he would distinguish this meal from the ordinary Passover meal, while retaining enough of its form for the symbolism to be effective. If he believed that the kingdom was not merely a future event, waiting round some corner yet to be negotiated, but was actually bursting in upon the present moment, it would make sense to anticipate Passover night, celebrating a strange new Passover that would carry a kingdom-in-the-present meaning. (557)

The intended contrast is not so much between the Temple-system and the regular celebration of a meal instituted by Jesus, so much as between the Temple-system and Jesus himself, specifically, his own approaching death. (558)

Passover looked back to the exodus, and on to the coming of the kingdom. Jesus intended this meal to symbolize the new exodus, the arrival of the kingdom through his own fate. The meal, focused on Jesus’ actions with the bread and the cup, told the Passover story, and Jesus’ own story, and wove these two into one. (559)

(c) From Symbol to Word

(d) Conclusion

The great majority of scholars agree that Jesus did celebrate a final meal with his followers on the night before his death, and that this took place at least in the context of Passover week. …there should be no doubt but that Jesus intended to say, with all the power of symbolic drama and narrative, that he was shortly to die, and that his death was to be seen within the context of the larger story of YHWH’s redemption of Israel. More specifically, he intended to say that his death was to be seen as the central and climactic moment towards which that story had been moving, and for which the events of the exodus were the crucial and (562) determining backdrop; and that those who shared the meal, not only then but subsequently, were the people of the renewed covenant, the people who received ‘the forgiveness of sins’, that is, the end of exile. Grouped as they were around him, they constituted the true eschatological Israel. (563)

5. The Intention of Jesus (2): The Sayings and the Symbol

(i) Introduction

The stories which Jesus told, and the symbols he enacted, were not static or timeless indications of a religious or political system; they were events which were designed to lead to the great Event, the real battle with the real enemy. (564)

Jesus summoned his followers to a strange kind of revolution – a double revolution, in fact, through which Israel would become the light of the world, the heaven-sent answer to paganism, not through fighting a military battle like Judas Maccabaeus, but through turning the other cheek, going the second mile, loving her enemies and praying for her persecutors. This agenda was a revolutionary way of being revolutionary. (564)

(ii) The Riddles of the Cross

(a) The Rejected Son

(b) The Great Commandment

Jesus’ kingdom-agenda, with the love of YHWH and of neighbour at its heart, suggested that the sacrificial system (566) was to be made redundant. (567)

(c) Anointing for Burial

(d) The Green Tree and the Dry

cf. Hosea 10.1-3, 8, 10, 13-15; Lk. 23.27-31

The judgment of which Jesus was warning the women of Jerusalem was the devastation which would result from the city’s rejection of him as the true king, and his message as the true way of peace. His own death at the hands of Rome was the clearest sign of the fate in store for the nation that had rejected him. (569)

It suggests, in its dark riddling way, that Jesus understood his death as being organically linked with the fate of the nation. (570)

(e) The Hen and the Chickens

cf. Psalm 118.26

…we may suggest the following meaning. (1) Jesus envisaged himself as the true Temple-builder, coming on no ordinary pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (2) The present Temple, abandoned by YHWH, was under threat of destruction, having refused his message of peace, and his offer of a way of escape. (3) The only hope was to acknowledge him as the true pilgrim, and to welcome him, so that the stone rejected by the builders might indeed become the head of the corner. (571)

(f) The Baptism and the Cup

If John’s baptism evoked the exodus; and if Jesus’ central and final symbolic act, pointing to his own fate, was a further evocation of the exodus; then it is not unreasonable to see this cryptic reference to a ‘baptism’ still to be undergone as an allusion to the fate which he would have to suffer, and as investing that fate with exodus-significance. (572)

…’drinking the same cup’ clearly means ‘sharing the same fate’. The cup can denote suffering, even martyrdom, [As in Mt. Isa. 5.13: ‘for me alone the LORD has mixed the cup’. The biblical background for the cup of YHWH’s wrath includes e.g. Isa. 51.17, 22, 23 (cf. Job 21.20; Ps. 603; Obad. 16); Jer. 25.15-17, 28; 49.12; 51.7; Lam. 4.21; Zech. 12.2.] though the context can indicate that it can also be a cup of blessing. [e.g. Ps. 23.5; 116.13.] (573)

(g) Riddles and Authenticity

(iii) Predictions of the Passion

6. The Intention of Jesus (3): Eschatological Redemption in Judaism

(i) Introduction

(ii) The Controlling Story: Exile and Restoration

It is hard to overestimate the importance of the exodus-story within the historical, political and theological worldview of second-Temple Judaism; and, again and again, that story resonated in a world where most Jews were hoping and praying that it would come true once more, this time for good. (577)

(iii) The First Sub-Plot: The Messianic Woes

(iv) The Second Sub-Plot: Specific or Individual Suffering

…there are hints that such suffering could be seen, in some sense and in some cases, as part of the means whereby the coming liberation would be accomplished. (579)

Interpreted, [Habakkuk 1.13b] concerns the House of Absalom and the members of its counsel, who were silent at the time of the chastisement of the Teacher of Righteousness and gave him no help against the Liar… [1QpHab 5.10-11]

The interpretation of [Habakkuk 2.15] concerns the Wicked Priest who pursued the Teacher of righteousness to consume him with the ferocity of his anger in the place of his banishment, in festival time, during the rest of the day of Atonement… [1QpHab. 11.4-7]

Interpreted, [Habakkuk 2.4b] concerns all those who observe the Law in the House of Judah, whom God will deliver from the House of Judgment because of their suffering and because of their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness. [1QpHab. 8.1-3]

The sons of light and the lot of darkness shall battle together for God’s might, between the roar of a huge multitude and the shout of gods and of men, on the day of calamity. It will be a time of suffering for all the people redeemed by God. Of all their sufferings, none will be like this, from its haste until eternal redemption is fulfilled. [1QM 1.11-12. … Cf. too e.g. 1QH 11 [=3].6-18. … OF this psalm, Knibb (1987, 174) writes that ‘the concern is entirely with the woes that would inaugurate the messianic age’.]

…though it is very unlikely that anyone at Qumran thought in terms of a suffering Messiah, it is clear that there was a wider belief that the sufferings of the sect in general, and of one of its founders in particular, were pointers towards the coming liberation, and perhaps part o the means of its arrival. (581)

Our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of overflowing life, under God’s covenant; but you [the Syrian king Antiochus], by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our ancestors, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by trials and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty that has justly fallen on our whole nation. [2 Macc. 7.36-8]

You know, O God, that though I might have saved myself, I am dying in burning torments for the sake of the law. Be merciful to your people, and let our punishment suffice for them. Make my blood their purification, and take my life in exchange for theirs. [4 Macc. 6.27-9; cp. 1.11.]

Imitate me, brothers; do not leave your post in my struggle or renounce our courageous family ties. Fight the sacred and noble battle for religion. Thereby the just Providence of our ancestors may become merciful to our nation and take vengeance on the accursed tyrant. [4 Macc. 9.23-4.]

These, then, who have been consecrated for the sake of God, are honoured, not only with this honour, but also by the fact that because of them our enemies did not rule over our nation, the tyrant was punished, and the homeland purified – they having become, as it were, a ransom for the sin of our nation. And through the blood of those devout ones and their death as an atoning sacrifice, divine Providence preserved Israel that previously had been mistreated. [4 Macc. 17.20-2].

Those who gave over their bodies in suffering for the sake of religion were not only admired by mortals, but also were deemed worthy to share in a divine inheritance. Because of them the nation gained peace… [4 Macc. 18.3-4.]

There are three strands of belief which run through these accounts. First, the fate of the martyrs is bound up with the fate of the nation as a whole. Second, as a result, their suffering forms as it were the focal point of the suffering of the nation, continuing the theme of exile-as-the-punishment-for-sin which we find in the great prophetic writings such as Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Isaiah 40-55 and Daniel, but now giving it more precise focus. Third, this representative exilic suffering functions redemptively: not only will the martyrs themselves enjoy subsequent heavenly blessing and/or resurrection life, but their sufferings will have the effect of drawing on to themselves the sufferings of the nation as a whole, so that the nation may somehow escape. (583)

(v) ‘According to the Scriptures’

Whenever the Daniel-traditions reached their present form, it is clear both that they were of critical importance at the time of the Maccabean crisis and that they were read eagerly during the first century as a charter for the revolutionaries who stood within the same Maccabean tradition of holy revolt against the rule of paganism. We have seen often enough the ways in which early chapters in Daniel were read in the first century, not least as part of the longing for the kingdom of YHWH to be established in place of the rule of the pagans. It is clear that such stories as the three young men in the fiery furnace, and Daniel himself int he lion’s den, would have functioned in the Maccabean period and thereafter as an encouragement to Jews under persecution to hold fast to their ancestral laws, (584) even if it meant torture or death. (585)

Forces sent by [the pagan king] shall occupy and profane the temple and fortress. They shall abolish the regular burnt offering and set up the abomination that makes desolate. He shall seduce with intrigue those who violate the covenant; but the people who are loyal to their god shall stand firm and take action. The wise among the people shall give understanding to many; for some days, however, they shall fall by sword and flame, and suffer captivity and plunder…Some of the wise shall fall, so that they may be refined, purified, and cleansed, until the time of the end… [Dan. 11.31-5.]

We would be quite wrong, in other words, to detach the picture of the ‘servant’ from this wider prophetic (and ‘kingdom-of-god’) context. [cf. Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Isaiah 40-55] (589)

| Second, it is  fairly widely recognized that Isaiah 40-55, particularly the picture of the suffering righteous servant, was one of the main influences upon the second-Temple writings we examined a moment ago, and indeed on a good many other subsequent Jewish texts. Certainly the Maccabean texts bear witness to this. Daniel 11-12, in particular, should be regarded as one of the earliest extant interpreters of the servant-figure in Isaiah: it looks as though he saw the martyrs of his own day as at least a partial fulfillment of Isaiah 53. (589)

Third, there is some evidence that some Jews at least interpreted the ‘servant’ figure messianically. The ‘Branch’ of Zecharia 3.8 is described as ‘my servant’; a case can be made out for the messianic passages in Zechariah 12 and 13 making allusion to Isaiah;… (589)

Fourth, although this messianic identification could be made (as a sharpening up and personalizing of the wider reference to the people as a whole), this does not mean that pre-Christian Judaism as a whole, or in any major part, embraced a doctrine of a suffering Messiah, still less a dying one. (590)

There was no such thing as a straightforward pre-Christian Jewish belief in an Isaianic ‘servant of YHWH’ who, perhaps as Messiah, would suffer and die to make atonement for Israel or for the world. But there was something else, which literally dozens of texts attest: a large-scale and widespread belief, to which Isaiah 40-55 made a substantial contribution, that Israel’s present state of suffering was somehow held within the ongoing divine purpose; that in due time this period of woe would come to an end, with divine wrath falling instead on the pagan nations that had oppressed Israel (and perhaps on renegades within Israel herself); that the explanation for the present state of affairs had to do with Israel’s own sin, for which either she, or in some cases her righteous representatives, was or were being punished; and that this suffering and punishment would therefore, somehow, hasten the moment when Israel’s tribulation would be complete, when she would finally have been purified from her sin so that her exile could be undone at last. (591)

(vi) Conclusion: Jesus’ Jewish Context

There was, then, no such thing as a pre-Christian Jewish version of (what we now think of as) Pauline atonement-theology. There was a variegated and multifaceted story of how the present evil exilic age could be understood, and how indeed it could be brought to an end, through certain persons embodying in themselves the sufferings of Israel. Jesus, therefore, was not offering an abstract atonement theology; he was identifying himself with the sufferings of Israel. (592)

7. The Intention of Jesus (4): The Strange Victory

(i) Introduction

Jesus constructed his mindset, his variation on the Jewish worldview of his day, on the assumption that he was living in, and putting into operation, the controlling story which the scriptures offered him, which was now reaching its climax. … It was a matter of his living within the story of YHWH and Israel as it drew towards its goal. Jesus lived in a world where it might well make sense to believe one was called to take upon oneself the fate, the exile, of Israel. (593)

| I propose, then, that we can credibly reconstruct a mindset in which a first-century Jew could come to believe that YHWH would act through the suffering of a particular individual in whom Israel’s sufferings were focused; that this suffering would carry redemptive significance; and that this individual would be himself. And I propose that we can plausibly suggest that this was the mindset of Jesus himself. (593)

(ii) Proposal: Eschatology and the Cross

Jesus believed that Israel’s history had arrived at its focal point. More: he believed that Israel’s exile had arrived at its climax. He believed, as we saw in the previous chapter, that he himself was the bearer of Israel’s destiny. He was the Messiah, who would take that destiny on himself and draw it to its focal point. As a prophet, after the manner of Elijah, Jeremiah or Ezekiel, he had solemnly announced that Israel – Jerusalem – the Temple – were under judgment. The prophets had come and gone, and been ignored. He came as the last in the line, and they were planning to kill him. (594)

Jesus declared that the way to the kingdom was the way of peace, the way love, the way of the cross. Fighting the battel of the kingdom with the enemy’s weapons meant that one had already lost it in principle, and would soon lose it, and lose it terribly, in practice. (595)

He took upon himself the totally and comprehensibly Jewish vocation not only of critique from within; not only of opposition from within; but of suffering the consequences of critique and opposition from within. And, with that, he believed – of course! – that YHWH would vindicate him. That too was comprehensibly Jewish. (595)

| Yes, but radically new within that framework, and that in two ways. First, Jesus, unlike his predecessors in this paradigm, had announced and was enacting a programme aimed not at nationalistic victory over the pagans, but at making Israel what she was called to be, namely, the light of the world. (595) … Israel was called, he believed, to be the people of the creator god for the world. (596)

Second, Jesus therefore not only took upon himself the ‘wrath’ (which, as usual in Jewish thought, refers to hostile military action) which was coming upon Israel because she had compromised with paganism and was suffering exile. He also took upon himself the ‘wrath’ which was coming upon Israel because she had refused his way of peace. (596)

The central symbolic act by which Jesus gave meaning to his approaching death suggests strongly that he believed this moment had come. This would be the new exodus, the renewal of the covenant, the forgiveness of sins, the end of exile. It would do for Israel what Israel could not do for herself. It would thereby fulfil Israel’s vocation, that she should be the servant people, the light of the world. (597)

(iii) The Cross and the Scriptures

All of this creates a context within which the themes of Jesus’ ministry as we have studied them seem to fit like a glove.

(1) Jesus announces and enacts the kingdom of YHWH, doing and saying things which dovetail very closely with the message of Isaiah 40-55 as a whole.

(2) The kingdom-programme of Isaiah 40-55 as a whole is put into effect through the work of the servant, specifically his redemptive suffering.

(3) Jesus acts symbolically as though he intends to put his kingdom-programme into effect through his sharing of Israel’s suffering, and speaks as if that is indeed what he intends.

(4) One of the relevant sayings quotes Isaiah 53 directly, and others can most easily be explained as an allusion to it. (602)

(5) It is therefore highly probable that, in addition to several other passages which informed his vocation, Jesus regarded Isaiah 53, in its whole literary and historical context, as determinative. (603)

(6) Jesus therefore intended not only to share Israel’s sufferings, but to do so as the key action in the divinely appointed plan of redemption for Israel and the world. (603)

I suggest, then, that Isaiah 40-55 as a whole was thematic for Jesus’ kingdom-announcement. His work is not to be understood in terms of the teaching of an abstract and timeless system of theology, not even of atonement-theology, but as the historical and concrete acting out of YHWH’s (603) promise to defeat evil and rescue his people from exile, that is, to forgive their sins at last. … Jesus’ personal reading of Isaiah belongs not so much in the history of ideas, as in the history of vocation, agenda, action and ultimately passion. (60

[via: In addition to the Hebrew word for “forgive,” shelakh {שלח} means “to send away.”]

(iv) The Messianic Task

…Jesus intended his death to accomplish that which would normally be accomplished in and through the Temple itself. (604)

He renounced the battle that his contemporaries expected a Messiah to fight, and that several would-be Messiahs in that century were only too eager to fight. He faced, instead, what he seems to have conceived as the battle against the forces of darkness, standing behind the visible forces (both Roman and Jewish) ranged against him. (605)

First, Jesus must have believed that he was fighting the battle against the satan when he came face to face with Caiaphas as his accuser. (606)

Second, granted all we know about Jesus, he must have believed that he was also to fight the real battle, the messianic battle, when he faced the might of Rome, the enemy whom every Messiah for a hundred years either side of Jesus had to confront. (606)

…as he went to his death he seems not to have responded to his pagan torturers in the time-honoured manner. Instead of hurling insults and threats at them, he suffered either in silence or with words of forgiveness; a startling innovation into the martyr-tradition, which sent echoes across early Christianity in such a way as to be, I suggest, inexplicable unless they are substantially historical. [e.g. 1 Pet. 2.19-25; 3.17f.] (607)

The earliest Christians regarded Jesus’ achievement on the cross as the decisive victory over evil. But they saw it, even more, as the climax of a career in which active, outgoing, healing love had become the trademark and hallmark. (607)

What, in the end, made Jesus operate in this way, what energized his incorporating death into his mission, his facing it and going to meet it?

The range of abstractly possible answers is enormous … But … it is above all in the tradition generated by Jesus that we discover what made him operate in the way he did, what made him epitomize his life in the single act of going to his death: He ‘loved me and handed himself over for me’ …; ‘having loved his own who were in the world, he love them to the end’ … If authenticity lies in the coherence between word (Mark 12.28-34 parr.) and deed (Gal. 2.20; Phe. 5.2; John 13.1; Rev. 1.5), our question has found an answer. [Meyer 1979, 252f. (the close of the book).]

…the way of the martyr was to take upon himself the suffering that hung over the nation as a whole. The way of the shepherd-king was to share the suffering of the sheep. The way of the servant was to take upon himself the exile of the nation as a whole. (608)

At last, when there is no risk of misunderstanding, he can identify himself fully with the national aspirations of his people. He cannot preach Israel’s national hope, but he can die for it. [Wright 1985, 87.]

The whole point is that he embraced them; that he discerned, and tried to communicate, what that chosenness, in its scriptural roots, actually meant; and that, discovering the nation as a whole deaf and blind to his plea, he determined to go, himself, to the holy place, and there to do what the chosen people ought to do. He would act on behalf of, and in the place of, the Israel that was failing to be what she was (608) called to be. He would himself be the light of the world. He would be the salt of the earth. He would be set on a hill, unable to be hidden. (609)

[via: Then, we, followers of this Jesus become the light and salt.]

| He would go, then, to the place where the satan had made his dwelling. He would defeat the cunning plan which would otherwise place the whole divine purpose in jeopardy. He would uphold the honour, the election, the true traditions, of Israel. He would stand, like Mattathias or Judas, against not only the pagans but also the compromisers within the chosen people, more particularly those who wielded power, those who ran the holy place, the shepherds who had been leading the people astray. Jesus, once more, was a first-century Jew, not a twentieth-century liberal. (609)

At every point, then, the messianic vocation to which he seems to have given allegiance led him into a dark tunnel, where the only thing left was sheer trust. But we can be confident of what he thought he was thereby going to achieve. He would bring Israel’s history to its climax. Through his work, YHWH would defeat evil, bringing the kingdom to birth, and enable Israel to become, after all, the light of the world. Through his work, YHWH would reveal that he was not just a god, but God. (609)

(v) The Victory of God

But at the heart of Jesus’ symbolic actions, and his retelling of Israel’s story, there was a great deal more than political pragmatism, revolutionary daring, or the desire for a martyr’s glory. There was a deeply theological analysis of Israel, the world, and his own role in relation to both. There was a deep sense of vocation and trust in Israel’s god, whom he believed of course to be God. There was the unshakeable belief…that if he went this route, if he fought this battle, the long night of Israel’s exile would be over at last, and the new day for Israel and the world really would dawn once and for all. … Not only would he create a breathing space for his followers and any who would join them, by drawing on to himself for a moment the wrath of Rome and letting them escape; if he was defeating the real enemy, he was doing so on behalf of the whole world. The servant-vocation, to be the light of the world, would come true in him, and thence in the followers who would regroup after his vindication. The death of the shepherd would result in YHWH becoming king of all the earth. The vindication of the ‘son of man’ would see the once-for-all defeat of evil and the establishment of a worldwide kingdom. (610)

| Jesus therefore took up his own cross. He had come to see it, too, in deeply symbolic terms: symbolic, now, not merely of Roman oppression, but of the way of love and peace which he had commended so vigorously, the way of defeat which he had announced as the way of victory. Unlike his actions in the Temple and the upper room, the cross was a symbol not of praxis but of passivity, not of action but of passion. It was to become the symbol of victory, but not of the victory of Caesar, nor of those who would oppose Caesar with Caesar’s methods. It was to become the symbol, because it would be the means, of the victory of God. (610)

(vi) Conclusion

The silhouette of the cross against a darkened sky is more, not less, evocative for our having studied the portrait of the man who hung there. (611)

There remains just one question. (611)

What did Jesus believe about the return of YHWH to Zion? (611)

13 The Return of the King

1. Introduction

As well as belonging with the first three of our questions, this subject points on to the fourth: how did early Christianity begin, and why did it take the shape it did? In particular – and it should be stressed that this is as much a question about Jesus as about the early church – how did it come about that Jesus was worshipped, not simply in late and Hellenized Christianity, but in very early, very Jewish, and still insistently monotheist Christianity? (612)

That Jesus undertook a last journey to Jerusalem is not in doubt. I am proposing that he intended this action, ending in his actions in the Temple and the upper room, to carry a significance which is not normally recognized. (615)

2. The Jewish World of Meaning

(i) The Hope of YHWH’s Return

And in the announcement of the dawning kingdom we find the persistent emphasis that now, at last, YHWH is returning to Zion. He will do again what he did at the exodus, coming to dwell in the midst of his people. (616)

The notion of Israel’s god ‘coming’ could also be expressed as his ‘visiting’ his people. (622)

There is thus ample evidence that most second-Temple Jews who gave any thought to the matter were hoping for YHWH to return, to dwell once again in the Temple in Jerusalem as he had done in the time of the old monarchy. (623)

The hope for the return of YHWH belongs, obviously very closely with the other two features of the kingdom-expectation, namely the return from exile and the defeat of evil. … If YHWH was visiting his people, that would mean that the exile was over, that evil was defeated, and that sins (623) were forgiven. Conversely, if those things were happening, it would be the sign that YHWH was returning at last. (624)

(ii) Sharing the Throne of God

Out of a much larger and h8ighly complex set of speculations about the action of Israel’s god through various mediator-figures, one possible scenario that some second-Temple Jews regarded as at least thinkable was that the earthly and military victory of the Messiah over the pagans would be seen in terms of the enthronement-scene from Daniel 7, itself a development of the chariot-vision in Ezekiel 1. That is enough to be going on with. (629)

(iii) Symbols for God and God’s Activity

The language of Shekinah [שכנה], Torah [תורה], Hokmah [חכמה] (Wisdom), Logos [λογος], and Spirit [רוה/πνευμα] were ways of affirming YHWH’s intimate involvement with his people and his world, at the same time as affirming also his sovereignty and transcendence over the whole cosmos. (630) They were, in that sense, ways of talking about the personal presence and action, within creation and within Israel’s life, of her transcendent creator god. Ultimately, the deliverance that would come for Israel, rescuing her from foreign domination, restoring her rulers as at the beginning, establishing her in peace and justice for ever – this deliverance, even though wrought through human agents, could and would be the work of YHWH himself. The God of the exodus would reveal himself as the God of the renewed covenant. The great act of deliverance would be the supreme moment in, and the supreme vindication of, the story of monotheism itself. (631)

3. Jesus’ Riddles of Return and Exaltation

(i) Stories of YHWH’s Return to Zion

(a) Introduction

Jesus persists in veiling himself in indirect references and metaphors … It is almost as though Jesus were intent on making a riddle of himself … Whoever or whatever Jesus was, he was a complex figure, not easily subsumed under one theological rubric or sociological model. [Meier 1994, 453f. Cf. too Witherington 1994, 203f., on Jesus as the parabolic embodiment of his own message.]

(b) Talents and Pounds

Luke’s point, however, does not concern timing, but effects. The thrust is not ‘no, the kingdom is not coming for a long time’; the (635) point is ‘the kingdom is indeed coming – but it will mean judgment, not blessing for israel’. …Luke intends this: in verses 28-40, Jesus approaches Jerusalem in a quasi-royal manner, and in verses 41-4, as the crowd descends the Mount of Olives, he bursts into tears and solemnly announces judgment on the city for failing to recognize ’tis time of visitation’. YHWH is visiting his people, and they do not realize it; they are therefore in imminent danger of judgment, which will take the form of military conquest and devastation. (636)

In Matthew, the other parables in chapter 25 are focused, not on the personal return of Jesus after a long interval in which the church is left behind, but on the great judgment which is coming very soon upon Jerusalem and her current leaders, and which signals the vindication of Jesus and his people as the true Israel. There is, of course, a time-lag to be undergone, but it is not the one normally imagined. It is not the gap between Jesus’ going away and his personal return (the ‘coming of the son of man’ in the literalistic, non-Danielic sense); it is the time0lag, envisaged in Matthew 24, between the ministry of Jesus and the destruction of Jersualem. This time-lag will be a period in which, in Jesus’ absence, his followers will be open prey to the deceit of false Messiahs, and will face a period of great suffering before their vindication dawns. (636)

| In both Matthew and Luke, then, the coming of the master/king in judgment on the faithless servant is best read as referring to YHWH’s return to Zion, and to the devastating results that this will produce. (636) … Jesus’ parable is, as it were, an expansion of Malachi 3.1-3: the Lord whom you seek shall suddenly come to his Temple – but who can stand before him at his appearing? Israel’s aspirations will not be underwritten as they stand. Her hope for national victory over national enemies will remain unfulfilled. (637)

What then can we say about the parable in its original telling(s) by Jesus himself? (637)

First, it was a warning that, when YHWH returned to Zion, he would come as judge for those in Israel who had not been faithful to his commission. …’Why do you desire the day of YHWH? It is a day of darkness, not of light.’ [Amos 5.18; the wider context (5.21-7) is, interestingly, a denunciation of the sacrificial system, a challenge to pursue genuine justice and covenant-faithfulness, and a warning about impending judgment by pagan nations.] (637)

Second, it was the further warning that this coming of YHWH to Zion was indeed imminent. (637)

Third, the parable, read in this way, coheres well with several other parables both in form and in thrust. (638)

Fourth, at least in its Lukan form the parable contains a hint which links it to the story of the wicked tenants. within the narrative grammar of that story, the ‘coming’ of the owner is linked to the ‘rejection’ of the owner’s son. Within the distinct narrative grammar of the pounds, the king who is ‘coming’ is himself ‘rejected’ by his subjects. In both cases, the result is judgment. (638)

Finally, the parable in the sense we have given it coheres completely with Jesus’ actions, not least his action in the Temple. (639)

How, then, did the parable actually work, as a rhetorical event, within the career of Jesus, and particularly in its setting of Jesus’ coming to Jerusalem and all that he there accomplished? … The story of the doctor going to the sick, not the healthy, explained why Jesus was associating with tax-collectors. The stories of the sheep, coin and sons explained why he was welcoming sinners. The ‘wicked tenants’ explained why Jesus did what he did in the Temple. ANd so on. I propose that this parable should be seen as a key explanatory riddle for Jesus’ own action. He saw his journey to Jerusalem as the symbol and embodiment of YHWH’s return to Zion. (639)

(c) Other Stories of the Return of YHWH

Jesus, then, was on his way to Jersualem; and he intended this journey to be seen in terms of the master coming back to the servants, or the owner to the vineyard. Those who did not read the signs of the times, who did not repent, who did not embrace his way of peace, and of reconciliation with ‘the adversary’, would be courting a disaster for which Pilate’s small-scale act of brutality would be merely a foretaste. (641)

The city had refused his offer of rescue from her imminent plight. YHWH had abandoned her to her fate; she would not see him again until she said ‘Blessed in the name of the LORD is the one who comes!”‘ … Jesus was speaking prophetically: Israel’s god was the real speaker, hiding his face from his people until they were ready to welcome their Messiah. Behind the riddle of Jesus’ own coming to Jerusalem as Messiah there lay a deeper meaning. Jesus was announcing, and embodying, the return of YHWH to Zion. (642)

(ii) Riddles of Exaltation

According to the psalm [110], the Messiah is to share YHWH’s throne, sitting at his right hand. … Just as, according to 1 Enoch, the rulers of the earth ‘will see my elect one sitting on the throne of glory’, so the court will see Jesus vindicated and enthroned. It would be a (642) serious misreading of the Daniel reference, and a serious misjudging of its first-century meaning, to see this as a reference to Jesus flying downwards towards the earth;… Jesus was not suggesting that they would have a Merkabah-style vision of the divine throne-chariot. They would witness something far more telling: the this-worldly events which would indicate beyond any doubt that Israel’s god had exalted Jesus, had vindicated him after his suffering, and had raised him to share his own throne. (643)

Claiming to be Messiah, even to be in some sense ‘son of god’, would not in itself be blasphemous. It was that, in explaining his Temple-action and Temple-statements in terms of Messiahship, he did so by drawing together the two texts which, in several parallel and independent traditions in second-Temple Judaism, pointed towards an enthronement in which the Messiah, or the ‘son of man’, would share the very throne of Israel’s god, would be one of the central figures in a theophany. (643)

Jesus had claimed that, as the true king, he not only had authority over the Temple, but would share the very throne (643) of Israel’s god; and he had done so by evoking texts which resonated with multiple and subversive meaning in the world of his day. (644)

The whole sequence belongs together precisely as a whole. The final answer drew into one statement the significance of the journey to Jerusalem, the Temple-action, and the implicit messianic claim. Together they said that Jesus, not the Temple, was the clue to, and the location of, the presence of Israel’s god with his people. Sociologically, this represented a highly radical Galilean protest against Jerusalem. Politically, it constituted a direct challenge to Caiaphas’ power-base and his whole position – and, of course, to those of Caesar and Pilate. Theologically, it was either true or it was blasphemous. Caiaphas wasted no time considering the former possibility. (644)

(iii) Conclusion

4. Vocation Foreshadowed

It was perhaps inevitable, then, that he should also speak as though he were the new lawgiver: not just the new Moses, bringing a new Torah from Mount Sinai, but one who gave new instructions on his own authority. This, once more, had nothing to do with a claim that the Torah itself was bad, shoddy, or unworthy. It was an eschatological claim: the moment had arrived for the great renewal, in which Torah would be written on people’s hearts. This new dispensation would mean that certain commands would become redundant, like candles in the sunrise;… (646)

Here is a Torah-teacher who says in his own name what the Torah says in God’s name … For what kind of torah is it that improves upon the teachings of the Torah without acknowledging the source – and it is God who is the Source – of those teachings? I am troubled not so much by the message, though I might take exception to this or that, as I am by the messenger … Sages … say things in their own names, but without claiming to improve upon the Torah. The prophet, Moses, speaks not in his own name but in God’s name, saying what God has told him to say. Jesus speaks not as a sage nor as a prophet … So we find ourselves .. with the difficulty of making sense, within the framework of the Torah, of a teacher who stands apart from, perhaps above, the Torah … We now recognize that at issue is the figure of Jesus, not the teachings at all. [Neusner 1993, 30f.; cf., more cautiously, Sanders 1985, 271-4, 293, 298.]

…in response to the question about attaining the age to come, he replaced the first three commandments with his own invitation, challenge, summons and implied warning: sell all you have, and follow me. Loyalty to Isreal’s god, astonishingly, would now take the form of loyalty to Jesus;… (646)

5. Conclusion

Jesus did not, in other words, ‘know that he was God’ in the same way that one knows one is male or female, hungry or thirsty, or that one ate an orange an hour ago. His ‘knowledge’ was of a more risky, but perhaps more significant, sort: like knowing one is loved. One cannot ‘prove’ it except by living by it. (653)

Forget the ‘titles’ of Jesus, at least for a moment; forget the pseudo-orthodox attempts to make Jesus of Nazareth conscious of being the second person of the Trinity; forget the arid reductionism that is the mirror-image of that unthinking would-be orthodoxy. Focus, instead, on a young Jewish prophet telling a story about YHWH returning to Zion as judge and redeemer, and then embodying it by riding into the city in tears, symbolizing the Temple’s destruction and celebrating the final exodus. I propose, as a matter of history, that Jesus of Nazareth was conscious of a vocation: a vocation, given him by the one he knew as ‘father’, to enact in himself what, in Israel’s scriptures, God had promised to accomplish all by himself. He would be the pillar of cloud and fire for the people of the new exodus. He would embody in himself the returning and redeeming action of the covenant God. (653)


PART IV CONCLUSION


14 Results

His death stands alongside that of Socrates: the cross and the hemlock have, very largely, ‘determined the fabric of western sensibility’. [Steiner 1996, 361] (657)

| But that is all: a memory. Herein lies the great puzzle. (657)

| Make Jesus a teacher, and you can translate that teaching into other modes. Make him a one-dimensional revolutionary (social, political, military even), and you have a model to imitate. But to see him as an eschatological prophet announcing, and claiming to embody, the kingdom of the one true God, and you have a story of a man gambling and apparently losing. Einstein’s question, whether God plays dice, acquires a new poignancy. (657)

Place Jesus in his historical (that is, eschatological and apocalyptic) context, and you risk making him massively irrelevant. The very specificity of his teaching, its direction towards the Israel of his own day, makes it more and more like a tract for his own time and less and less like timeless truth. Worse: he promised a kingdom, and it never arrived. (657)

The category of failed but still revered Messiah, however, did not exist. A Messiah who died at the hands of the pagans, instead of winning YHWH’s battle against them, was a deceiver, as the later rabbis (and Christians) said of Bar-Kochba. (658)

| Why then did people go on talking about Jesus of Nazareth, except as a remarkable but tragic memory? the obvious answer is the one given by all the early Christians actually known to us (as opposed to those invited by (658) modern mythographers): Jesus was raised from the dead. This, of course, raises other questions which can only be dealt with in another book: what did they mean by that? What actually happened? Was it something that happened to Jesus, or simply to the disciples? Why did whatever-it-was-that-happened generate the sort of movement that emerged? The resurrection, however we understand it was the only reason they came up with for supposing that Jesus stood for anything other than a dream that might have come true but didn’t. It was the only reason why his life and words possessed any relevance two weeks, let alone two millennia, after his death. (659)

…the real problem, which is this: Jesus interpreted his coming death, and the vindication he expected after that death, as the defeat of evil; but on the first Easter Monday evil still stalked the earth from Jerusalem to Gibraltar and beyond, and stalks it still. To postpone the effectiveness of his putative victory to an after-life, as has been done so often in the Christian tradition, or to transform it into the victory of the ideas over false ones, as has sometimes been done within the idealist tradition, is to de-Judaize Jesus’ programme completely. It is to fail to take seriously his stark prayer for the kingdom to come, and God’s will to be done, on earth as it is in heaven. (659)

Some parts of the church, not least certain types of Protestantism, have had a far stronger and more enthusiastic belief in the ‘second coming’ than they have had in the (660) incarnation, which has then only functioned to ensure that Jesus really was a ‘divine’ or supernatural being whose human history was not after all so relevant to the salvation he offered. Second, those who have rejected the would-be orthodox doctrine, and all that it has entailed in subsequent history, have regularly attacked it as having no historical foundation. Third, those who have desired to explore and understand the incarnation itself have regularly missed what is arguably the most central, shocking and dramatic source material on that subject, which if taken seriously would ensure that the meaning of the word ‘god’ be again and again rethought around the actual history of Jesus himself. (661)

Christianity does itself a radical disservice when it appeals away from history, when it says that what matters is not what happened but ‘what it means for me’. (661)

A truly first-century Jewish theological perspective would teach us to recognize that history, especially the history of first-century Judaism, is the sphere where we find, at work to judge and to save, the God who made the world. (662)

We come to him as ones unknown, crawling back from the far country, where we had wasted our substance on riotous but ruinous historicism. But the swinehusks – the ‘assured results of modern criticism’ – reminded us of that knowledge which arrogance had all but obliterated, and we began the journey home. But when we approached, as we have tried to do in this book, we found him running to us as one well known, whom we had spurned in the name of scholarship or even of faith, but who was still patiently waiting to be sought and found once more. And the ring on our finger and the shoes on our feet assure us that, in celebrating his kingdom and feasting at his table, we shall discover again and again not only who he is but who we ourselves are: as unknown and yet well known, as dying and behold we live. (662)

Appendix: ‘Kingdom of God’ in Early Christian Literature

About VIA

www.kevinneuner.com

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: