An Echo of Ezekiel in the Mouth of Jesus

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Destruction of Jerusalem

Ezekiel 33:21-33 contains a report of the fall of Jerusalem. On the night before the herald arrived with that world-shattering news Ezekiel received a word from the Lord telling of doom that is to come upon the Judeans who remained in the land, the non-deportees (see v. 24 “the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel”). This is to serve as a warning for Ezekiel’s community who delight in listening to Ezekiel but with no true effect upon their hearts (cf. the repeated pronouncement, “they hear your words but do not put them into practice” vv. 31, 32).

This passage has a profound echo in Jesus’ words to his own contemporaries in Matthew 7:26; Luke 6:49: “everyone who hears my words and does not do them”. Jesus’ word brings with it a somber warning for those of his listeners who have ears to hear the echo of Ezekiel. Just as Ezekiel’s warning against hearing-without-acting preceded the terrible announcement concerning the ominous fate of Jerusalem, so Jesus’ foreboding words should be heard as a warning not unlike that of Ezekiel: if the people don’t respond with their whole hearts then Jerusalem will destroyed, again. 

Jesus came back to this motif again in Mark 13 (“not one stone will be left upon another” v. 2), Matthew 24, and also in Luke 19:41-48:

41 As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, 42 saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. 43 Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. 44 They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God.” 

45 Then he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling things there; 46 and he said, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer’; but you have made it a den of robbers.” 

47 Every day he was teaching in the temple. The chief priests, the scribes, and the leaders of the people kept looking for a way to kill him; 48 but they did not find anything they could do, for all the people were spellbound by what they heard.

One curious feature of this passage is the final note that “all the people were spellbound by what they heard” (NRSV). Another translation has “all the people hung on his words” (NIV). This could also be seen as a faint echo of the contemporaries of Ezekiel who was told the following words: “Your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord’. My people come to you, as they usually do, to hear your words, but  they do not put them into practice…to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well” (Eze 33:30-32). In other words, the people were mesmerized by the prophet. This was true of both Ezekiel and Jesus. But the dire predictions concerning the people and the beloved city of Jerusalem was also equally certain for both Ezekiel and Jesus:

Ezekiel 33:33 “When all this comes true—and it certainly will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them”

Matt 24:33-34 “When you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. Truly I tell you, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened”

The continuing relevance of Ezekiel’s message for Jesus’ contemporaries lay simply in this: if they did not turn from their zealous festering for violent revolt against Rome and heed his message (in other words, if they didn’t repent from their current aspirations and give allegiance instead to the ευγγελιον of Jesus) then the people of Jesus’ day would experience the same terrible fate as the people of Ezekiel’s day—a fallen city and all the horror that accompany it. 

Repentance: Ethical or Eschatological?

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Mark 1:15 Verse Art

What is the background and meaning of “repentance” as used in the gospel accounts? The word is traditionally understood from within an ethical framework: cease from sinful activities or lifestyles and begin to live morally upright and virtuous lives. But perhaps Jesus’ (and the Baptist’s?) call to “repentance” should be understood primarily from within an eschatological, rather than ethical, framework. The difference is subtle but important. A study of the relevant Old Testament texts is crucial here. And one strand that comes out is the question of the nature of the repentance being a corporate activity versus an individual activity. Thinking of repentance in ethical terms misleadingly implies isolated individual activities. But perhaps repentance is meant to be understood as a corporate activity having quite different implications. In other words, the call to repentance means what it means within the overarching announcement of the return of YHWH and the dawning of the kingdom of God.

One interesting text related to this is Jubilees 1:13-18. The book is dated from about 150 B.C. so it is a fitting text to demonstrate the way some Jews in the Second Temple period thought about repentance. In this passage, the audience of the book of Jubilees lives long after the time of Moses but is being reminded that not only their exile was predicted by the scriptures but also their national repentance, and it will serve an eschatological purpose. Notice how the predicted repentance serves as the catalyst for the end of exile and construction of the new sanctuary/temple (see bold text):

Jubilees 1:13-18 — And I will hide My face from them, and I will deliver them into the hand of the Gentiles for captivity, and for a prey, and for devouring, and I will remove them from the midst of the land, and I will scatter them amongst the Gentiles. And they will forget all My law and all My commandments and all My judgments, and will go astray as to new moons, and sabbaths, and festivals, and jubilees, and ordinances. And after this they will turn to Me from amongst the Gentiles with all their heart and with all their soul and with all their strength, and I will gather them from amongst all the Gentiles, and they will seek me, so that I shall be found of them, when they seek me with all their heart and with all their soul. And I will disclose to them abounding peace with righteousness … and they shall be for a blessing and not for a curse, and they shall be the head and not the tail. And I will build My sanctuary in their midst, and I will dwell with them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people in truth and righteousness. And I will not forsake them nor fail them; for I am the Lord their God’  — R. H. Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1913), 12.

As VanderKam rightly summarizes, “Some future generation, presumably that of the author [of the Book of Jubilees], must receive this message of God’s faithfulness, Israel’s infidelity, and the power of confession, repentance, and obedience to the covenantal stipulations to open a new day in the covenantal relationship between the Lord and his holy people” — James C. VanderKam, “Jubilees, Book of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1031.

This is not to suggest that there is no ethical importance to repentance, merely that it is not the theologically load bearing element of the concept. Repentance, as a national and religious phenomenon, was meant to result in so much more than a new generation of morally upright people; national repentance was expected to result in the end of exile, the return of YHWH, and the rebuilding of the temple—in short, repentance was the advance sign of the fulfillment of all the glorious prophetic promises in Israel’s scriptures. Repentance was therefore eschatological.

So when Mark tells the readers of his gospel that “John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:4-5), Mark is tapping into exactly this eschatological matrix of hope. Or, to put it another way, there is a reason that Matthew says “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness of Judea, proclaiming, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near’” (Matthew 3:1-2). Repentance has eschatological import.

Free Articles From Novum Testamentum

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Novum Testamentum

The periodical Novum Testamentum, published by Brill, is celebrating its 60th volume this year. As a promotion they are allowing free downloads of selected articles during 2018.

Here are links for a few from the first batch made available (until May 16th):

To receive notice of other free downloads and other news related to Brill Biblical Studies & Early Christianity sign-up for their e-newsletter here.

2018 Gifford Lectures (Part 5)

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Here is my favorite quote from the previous lecture (lecture 4):

The gospels do not contain apocalyptic, in the first century sense they are apocalyptic. They are describing how the revelation, the unveiling, the visible coming of God took place; thus as far as the gospel writers were concerned…YHWH had returned to his people

As Wright explains, the theme of the return of YHWH has huge implications for understanding, among other things, Jesus’ well known journey toward Jerusalem beginning in Luke 9:51 and culminating in his death and resurrection. Luke tells the story in such a way to suggest that Jesus’ journey is the “actualization” of YHWH’s return to Jerusalem which was long-foretold by the prophets. This highlights the seriousness of Jesus’ “apocalyptic” rebuke of Jerusalem in ch. 13 and again in ch. 19, “You did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you!”

There is a lot to consider there, but I will leave it as is for now. Below is the video for the next lecture, titled “The Stone the Builders Rejected: Jesus, the Temple and the Kingdom”

As always, here is the link to the University of Aberdeen webpage for the lectures.

2018 Gifford Lectures (Part 4)

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My favorite quote from the previous lecture (lecture 3):

We ought not to speak of God incarnate until we have studied the incarnate God.

This wonderfully succinct quote is an excellent demonstration of the way Wright brings together history and theology in his larger project. It is worth sitting and pondering how the two parts of that statement fit together.

Here is the fourth lecture, “The End of the World? Eschatology and Apocalyptic in Historical Perspective”

As always, check out the blurb over at University of Aberdeen’s web page. All eight lectures are now posted there.

2018 Gifford Lectures (Part 3)

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I am really enjoying this lecture series. I hope that it eventually gets published as a book too. One thing I appreciate about N.T. Wright is his ability to see the parts in light of the whole. This applies equally to his readings of Holy Scripture, his grasp of the history of biblical scholarship, and the nexus between those two.

On a separate note, here is my favorite quote from lecture 2:

The idea of first century Jews, including Jesus and his early followers, expecting the literal and imminent end of the world is in fact a modern myth…a story invented by a community to sustain its common life and purpose. In arguing against this myth, I therefore intend to kill a fatted sacred cow. Any prodigals hoping for a feast should come home right now.

Boom.

Here is the third installment of Wright’s Gifford Lectures:

As always, check out the blurb over at University of Aberdeen’s web page. All eight lectures are now posted there.

2018 Gifford Lectures (Part 2)

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After watching the first lecture, I have only two words: MIND BLOWN. I find it incredibly interesting, if deeply ironic, that the most recent New Testament scholar to give the Gifford Lectures before Wright was Rudolf Bultmann. Hmm.

Here is the 2nd lecture (out of 8 total):

Bes sure to read the blurb over at the University of Aberdeen.

2018 Gifford Lectures

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The first 6 lectures (out of 8 total)  by N.T. Wright are available to watch online (via YouTube) from the University of Aberdeen. I will post one at a time since probably not many of us have time to watch more than one lecture in a single sitting.

Here is the blurb from the University of Aberdeen:

The Gifford Lectures—held regularly at the four ancient Scottish universities of Edinburgh, Glasgow, St. Andrews and Aberdeen—were established under the will of Adam Lord Gifford, a Senator of the College of Justice, who died in 1887.  His bequest allows the University to invite notable scholars to deliver a series of public lectures on themes related to ‘natural theology’, broadly construed.

 The 2018 Lectures here in Aberdeen will be delivered by world-renowned biblical scholar Professor NT Wright (University of St. Andrews) under the overall title Discerning the Dawn: History, Eschatology and New Creation.

Here is the title of each of the available lectures:

Lecture 1 – The Fallen Shrine: Lisbon 1755 and the Triumph of Epicureanism
Lecture 2 – The Questioned Book: Critical Scholarship and the Gospels
Lecture 3 – The Shifting Sand: The Meanings of ‘History’
Lecture 4 – The End of the World? Eschatology and Apocalyptic in Historical Perspective
Lecture 5 – The Stone the Builders Rejected: Jesus, the Temple and the Kingdom
Lecture 6 – A New Creation: Resurrection and Epistemology

Lecture 1 – The Fallen Shrine: Lisbon 1755 and the Triumph of Epicureanism

 

Recent Books on Paul

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There is a bundle of new books out recently (or coming out soon) on the apostle Paul, and by some pretty big hitters too.

Paul_Wright

In case anyone was wondering if N.T. Wright had anything else left to say about Paul after he published his magnum opus several years ago (1,500 pages of text!), he does. And this time it is a biography. I am looking forward to reading this one; I already put in a pre-order.

Paul_Fee

Gordon Fee may be getting old but you couldn’t tell from his writing (incidentally, I imagine folks said the same thing about Paul too). At a brief +/-200 pages this book will make a great read for folks who aren’t looking to exhaust the subject. If you have read Fee’s Pauline Christology I suspect there will be some overlap (or condensing?) but with a gifted writer as Fee is, you will never be bored. Buy this book. It may be his last.

Paul_Campbell

Douglas Cambell is another big hitter in Pauline studies, particularly of the ‘apocalyptic Paul’. I am guessing this book is an attempt to aim some of his scholarly thought (e.g., The Deliverance of God) at more popular audience. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see how Campbell teases out his ideas about how Paul’s thought develops and changes from his conversion to his death.

Paul_Barclay

John Barclay has also recently published a major work on Paul (Paul & The Gift), so why another book? Well, this one is part of the ‘Very Brief Histories’ series, so I imagine its genesis has more to do with the publishers wanting Barclay’s authorship than any new developments in Barclay’s thought on Paul. But, at just over 100 pages it would make a nice winter read with a cup of hot chocolate.

Paul_SusanEastman

Finally (for this list anyway), there is the more narrowly focused book by Susan Eastman of Duke Divinity, Paul and the Person: Reframing Paul’s Anthropology. With a foreword (and endorsement) by John Barclay it promises to be rewarding. Although it will probably be most appealing to academics and scholars, it will also probably be relevant for Christians interested in psychology and counseling (due to the focus on personhood).

 

Reading on Exile

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Jewish diaspora

Sometimes the best suggested reading lists come from footnotes. I recently read a book or two on the topic of exile and here is a list of books I compiled from the footnotes. This would be a fantastic summer (or winter) reading list!

 

Writing Exile: The Discourse of Displacement in Greco-Roman Antiquity and Beyond, edited by Jan Felix Gaertner (Brill)

Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives, edited by James M. Scott (Brill)

Exile and Restoration: A Study of Hebrew Thought of the Sixth Century B.C., by Peter R. Ackroyd (Westminster John Knox)

A Narrative Theology of the New Testament: Exploring the Metanarrative of Exile and Restoration, by Timo Eskola (Mohr Siebeck)

Leading Captivity Captive: ‘The Exile’ as History and Ideology, edited by Later L. Grabbe (Sheffield)

The Land of Israel as a Political Concept in Hasmonean Literature: Recourse to History in Second Century B.C. Claims to The Holy Land, by Doron Mendels (J.C.B. Mohr)

The Crisis of Israelite Religion: Transformation of Religious Tradition in Exilic and Post-Exilic Times, edited by Bob Becking and Marjo C.A. Korpel (Brill)

Lord of the Banquet: Literary and Theological Significance of the Lukan Travel Narrative, by David P. Moessner (Fortress)

The Qumran Community, by Michael A. Knibb (Cambridge)

From Joshua to Caiaphas: High Priests After the Exile, by James C. VanderKam (Augsburg Fortress)

Song of Exile: The Enduring Mystery of Psalm 137, by David W. Stone (Oxford)

Exile: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives, edited by James M. Scott (Brill)

Ezekiel and the Ethics of Exile, by Andrew Mein (Oxford)

Israel in Exile: A Theological Interpretation, by Ralph W. Klein (Fortress)

Jesus and the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment of N.T. Wright’s Jesus and the Victory of God, edited by Carey C. Newman (IVP Academic)

Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement, by Brant Pitre (Baker Academic)

The Death of Jesus in Matthew: Innocent Blood and the End of Exile, by Catherine Sider Hamilton (Cambridge)

Ancient Jewish Letters and the Beginnings of Christian Epistolography, by Lutz Doering (Mohr Siebeck)

The Restoration of Israel: Israel’s Re-gathering and the Fate of the Nations in Early Jewish Literature and Luke-Acts, by Michael E. Fuller (De Gruyter)

Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life, by Jon D. Levenson (Yale)

Envisioning Judaism, edited by Ra’anan Boston, Klaus Herrmann, Remind Leicht, Annette Reed, and Giuseppe Veltri (Mohr Siebeck)

A Biblical Theology of Exile, by Daniel Smith-Chrstopher (Augsburg Fortress)

Exile and Restoration Revisited: Essays on the Babylonian and Persian Periods in Memory of Peter R. Ackroyd, edited by Gary Knoppers and Lester Grabbe (T&T Clark)

Enduring Exile: The Metaphorization of Exile in the Hebrew Bible, by Martien Halvorson-Taylor (Brill)

The Ten Lost Tribes: A World History, by Zvi Ben-Dor Benite (Oxford)

The Prophets Speak on Forced Migration, edited by Mark Boda, Frank Ames, John Ahn, and Mark Leuchter (SBL)

Exile as Forced Migrations: A Sociological, Literary, and Theological Approach on the Displacement and Resettlement of the Southern Kingdom of Judah, by John Ahn (De Gruyter)

Rejection: God’s Refugees in Biblical and Contemporary Perspective, edited by Stanley Porter (Pickwick)

Exile: A Conversation with N.T. Wright, edited by James M. Scott (IVP Academic)