Apocalypticism and the Recent Past in Second Temple Literature and the New Testament


Erev tov good evening I have the honor to open this meeting and this this conference dedicated to a David Flusser who would have been a hundred years old about this time I was not entirely a formal student of Professor Flusser but we were quite close and his absence I think is felt by any one of their generation for whom Jerusalem is no longer the same place without him it was as you probably most of you all of you know a very colorful figure and a person you couldn’t ignore and he left his mark in various areas and various places we had a I’d like to thank my colleagues in organizing this event Professor Gee Strumza and Professor Menahem Kister and I’d like to acknowledge the participation of the Center of the Study of Christianity at the Hebrew University the Department of Comparative Religion and of which he was a very distinguished member throughout his career at the Hebrew University and he was described by people as being not just a human being but a kind of volcano who in addition to his profound and brilliant scholarship he was also a very involved person with strong likes and sometimes also dislikes and he really left his mark on the scene of study of religion especially of Christianity and especially also of the Dead Sea Scrolls and and many other aspects of the history of Judaism and medieval Judaism he worked on Josippon and we had a hard time deciding how to construct this conference and we decided to try and keep it intimate and not too not too long and I have to apologize to different people who would have liked to be more active in this conference but we decided that Judaism and Christian origins would be an appropriate title and an appropriate subject to discuss we have a fairly long schedule of conferences of lectures and I think we will start right away the first lecture will be by Loren Stuckenbruck of the University of Munich who will speak about apocalypticism and the recent past in Second Temple literature and the New Testament I hope that everyone has got the handout that was distributed yeah thank you please thank you what an honor to be part of this conference Professor David Flusser was known for reading the New Testament whether Paul or especially the Jesus tradition in terms of contemporary Jewish tradition although in some points in this lecture I adopt a different emphasis than his in my reading of some texts his essential frame of understanding which rightly attempted to place writings all too frequently set apart from one another into meaningful conversation remains a guiding principle for me as I take up the theme of apocalyptic today the term apocalyptic can you hear me yes the term apocalyptic whether taken as an adjective or as a noun to reflect the German term apocalyptic has acquired broader associations during the last 40 years especially through the influential and much discussed and debated work of John Collins and Christopher Roland and of course many others whereas Collins for example attempted a definition that takes into account a broad range of literature to which the term apocalypse as genre he thinks could apply Roland was ultimately offering a corrective to a one-sided perspective that had previously predominated one net effect of this development which has opened up new avenues for reinterpreting Second Temple and related literature has been to include cosmological and sapiential perspectives amongst those things revealed another net effect however has been a neglect I think an ironic neglect to think about time in relation to apocalyptic as before especially since the 19th century and the seminal work of R.H. Charles the term has been related to eschatology thus almost anyone using the expression apocalyptic in relation to time thinks about the future and so close at hand to the expression is apocalyptic eschatology an expression that we hear a lot of in literature and which has become a fashionable way to describe a particular understanding of future time during which the wrongs of the present essentially evil age will be righted even when the more general expression apocalyptic thought is used when it comes to the notion of temporality it is the end of history as we know it that is in view the notion of time in relation to apocalyptic has been in danger of stagnating since there seems to be little more to say than what is already known beyond what Charles and others observed in Second Temple texts : addressed primarily to groups who considered themselves sidelines from socio religious and politically dominant power structures apocalyptic writings attempt anticipated an eschatological act of God to judge the wicked and reward the righteous to be sure hope was not only directed towards the future the consummation of the present age could draw on motifs associated with the past that is the primordial past so that the descriptions of a paradigmatic urzeit including the way God set up things to be things going wrong evil being held to account and the realization of justice in the urzeit could be deployed as a plausibility structure through which to imagine the Endzeit an ultimate future as God would want things to be for the world as a whole it is imagined that as far as revealed time is concerned Jewish epocalyptic tradition held to such an outlook while many especially I would say New Testament scholars but others as well have argued that early Christian tradition beginning for some with Jesus and then with Paul in particular modified and indeed broke away from such a framework unlike none Christian Jewish predecessors New Testament writers emphasized that in the good news proclaimed by Jesus or in the gospel about Jesus by Paul for example God is presented as being present by offering an unprecedented message based on God’s breaking into the bounds of this world order to offer salvation that could already be experienced in the present and it is imagined that Jewish tradition could not have imagined this kind of scenario though perhaps unintentional this casual approach if not checked or significantly qualified risks being what I have elsewhere called a latent form of existential supersessionism here a quotation for example by Michael Tilly a colleague at the University of Tubingen in 2012 in his very interesting otherwise interesting book on apocalyptic as he compares Jesus’ message with that of his Jewish apocalyptic contemporaries and here the quote determinative and descriptive of early Christian apocalyptic is the already of God’s salvific activity this very point is in tension with the understanding of the world and eschatology of Jewish apocalyptic history is for early Christianity no longer the place of godlessness and a lack of salvation Christian faith is not only grounded in the hope of the coming kingdom of God but is at the same time a recognition of the historical reality of salvation that is in Jesus something which Jewish tradition presumably could not have gotten their heads around here another quote by an influential New Testament theologian a predecessor of mine at the University of Munchen Ferdinand Hahn in his book published in its second edition 2011 along similar lines during the course of history Israel’s hope for salvation became increasingly future in orientation salvation could only be partially experienced in the present while expectation of salvation in the future gathered strength this emphasis developed to such a degree in Jewish tradition that Jewish apocalyptic was essentially empty of salvation as far as the present is concerned and then he refers to fourth Ezra with the result that hope could only be realized by a decisive act of God the future character of God’s activity is supported by the notion of this age in which God’s reign cannot become a reality and that the current world and time for salvation to occur at all must be replaced by an age to come when things will be different again a reference to fourth Ezra and end of quote of course not all would share the view that Jesus was different from Jewish contemporaries when it comes to time and so have assigned to him a consistent eschatology on the assumption that if there was little essential difference between Jesus and his Jewish context then he should be made to conform to conventional notions of apocalyptic see the works of Dale Allison and Bart Ehrman for example two other New Testament scholars either way whether Jesus and/or Paul conform or do not conform to Jewish apocalyptic expectation of the future we have largely been at an impasse regarding how revealed time could be understood during the Second Temple period the view of time and apocalyptic literature has remained essentially the same one-sidedly orientated towards the future
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there is however opportunity for some fresh thinking not only about the future and primordial past but also and more significantly on the relation of both to notions of a formative formative sometimes even recent past with its implications for the present preliminary and partial attempts of this have already been taking place under the rubric of an inaugurated eschatology in relation to Judaism I’m not sure that’s quite the best expression to apply Grant Macaskill in relation to 1 Enoch for example Jill Hicks-Keeton in relation to the book of Tobit and Jamie Davis as part of his critique of Dale Martin-kind of Pauline scholarship in several studies I’ve already focused on recovering the notion of an inaugurated eschatology in non-Christian Jewish texts in order to correct what I think has been a distorted generalization brought to temporality in some apocalyptic literature associated with the Second Temple period these texts have especially included the early enochic tradition in the book of Watchers a lot could be said about that if you want to talk about it maybe the apocalypse of weeks certainly the animal of vision some petitionary prayers from Aramaic Levi document in the book of Jubilees and several texts from the Dead Sea that were likely influenced by some of this tradition by way of brief summary these texts reflect the claim that malevolence attributed to evil or demonic spirits and indeed Belial can be curbed or at least managed on the assumption that these powers have already been defeated that is during the time of the Great Flood being one good example I do not wish to retrace the analysis of these texts here but rather would like to draw through several others whose authors draw attention to several others whose authors draw on past events as formative that is not merely in order to imagine the ultimate future but also to provide a measure of confidence for their audiences to manage life in the present the text to be covered here are probably well known to many of you one Yahad related material so often associated with the Pesherim and related texts I will simply lift out one of the most well-known passages from the Dead Sea Scrolls another the Serekh Ha-milkhama is a war rule and the book of Jubilees chapter 5 so selected texts first I would like to begin with texts that I’ve only preliminarily drawn into this discussion yet which may be significant these concern – somewhat interrelated claims amongst the Yahad orientated Dead Sea Scrolls first the movement’s views in relation to the last days and more specifically concerning the teacher of righteousness it is significant that at least for the movement behind the Yahad scroll materials the texts reflect a conviction that its members are living in the last days Acharit hayamin some 30 times clear instances also equivalents occur Gemar hagates haqets ha acharon Haet Acharit haqets here the use of the expression is of significance it not only marks out eschatological events that is events that lie in the real future – those writing the texts but in a number of instances but also refers to events that are taking place in either the present or even in the recent past in my opinion at least 10 times if there is no reason not to take the different expressions in the Habakkuk Pesher as equivalents we are left within a framework of at least one document a blurring of the recent past present and imminent future under the rubric of living in the end time the Habakkuk Pesher does not make explicit that the teacher of righteousness moreh ha-tzedek inaugurated the last days however it is certain that the author of the pesher understood himself and his community to be living at such a time in the interpretation of Habakkuk chapter 2 verses 3a and 3b the writer refers to the extension of the final time and in the third person exhorts the audience to be patient for the author something so fundamentally significant namely God’s revelatory activity has happened in and through the teacher of righteousness fulfillment of the prophets words has already been at work both for the teacher and the author and his community accompanied by the guarantee that if the latter persist and do not lose heart they will be found obedient the final days at least in this text do not only refer to the imminent future but also to the present the eschatological age has already dawned and because of this the present is envisioned as a critical time in which members of the community deemed faithful should ensure that they are clearly distinguished from those who are not in the theological world of the pesher this age is unfolding and will despite delay reach its predetermined conclusion it is worth looking at a further constellation of texts which are conventionally referred to as the war scroll or more accurately Serekh ha-milkhama, here we are dealing with the complex document that if written prior to the formation of the yahad and its early stages may have eventually undergone some editing by its members significantly this is a document commonly thought to all about to be about the ultimate war consisting of seven battles between the sons of light and the sons of darkness the past is referred to both as primordial God having made or created Belial for the pit and as offering stories and traditions that function paradigmatically as excitations for example the defeat of Goliath many past defeats of the enemy through Israel’s Kings the defeat of Pharaoh and his officers at the Red Sea and so forth in the text there are those who repeatedly identify them cell in the first person plural as belonging to the lot of your that is God’s truth the lot of God or to the remnant this nomenclature which expresses a clearly demarcated group identity presupposes a significant and relatively recent development in 1QM column thirteen the text claims that God has quote cast us in the lot of light according to your truth BeGoral or hapelta be Emmetkha identifying themselves as the remnant the community praises God as one who maintains the Covenant with their fathers that is it is in their community that obedience to the Covenant is actually possible how does the communities falling heir to the keeping of the Covenant manifest itself significantly the text specifies the following you addressing God in the text have shown through wonders your mercy for the remnant during the dominion of Belial with all the mysteries of his hatred he has not drawn us away from your Covenant you have driven his spirits of destruction from us Varukhey Hablo gaarta mimemu when the men of his dominion were acting wickedly you kept the soul of those you have redeemed you have raised up the fallen by your vigor but the men of high stature stature you have cut down in other words the community the remnant understands itself to have been the locus of divine activity on their behalf during the time of Belial’s dominion that is during the present order of things the text assumes a community consciousness that marks a step beyond that found in the sacred tradition that is one that one would sociate with the Hebrew Bible as in the paradigmatic references to the past awareness of living in an era characterized as the dominion of Belial is a recent development as in a similar liturgical passage in 1QS column 1 the dominion of Belial is regarded as a threat which requires protection for the community that has become aware of its special status in 1QM the essential powerlessness of Belial over against the activity of God is emphasized despite Belial’s foothold in the present world order the remnant community has not become unhinged from the present and from the Covenant instead in a borrowing of exorcistic language God has driven away from us gaarta mimenu none other than Belial’s minions called his spirits of destruction although the text suggests that Belial’s malevolent spirits have been distanced from the community the text does not claim that that as such they have been destroyed in addition it is the soul of the community that God has redeemed and protected from those who act wickedly not the community itself nevertheless the force of the texts claim is not to be missed it is that only time in which 1QM refers outright to the successful overcoming a Belial’s spirits in the past and here in relation to a recently formed community if these inferences regarding the community and recent past are correct then the community’s experience bound up with the conviction that God has already curbed the influence of Belial on their on their behalf in order to preserve the Covenant anticipates the outcome of the eschatological war the final defeat of Belial that is that which Serekh Ha-milkhama strains to describe and prepare for has already shown signs of taking effect for now Belial through the distancing of Belial’s spirits has been and still is being dealt with in smaller steps the destruction of Belial the spirits of his lot and the sons of darkness without remnant on the other hand denotes the eschatological outcome which divine activity already experienced through the communities formation heralds victory is not only anticipated for the future the self-assuredness of the community suggests that the defeat of Belial is already in process of being secured this despite the fact that and it’s not until the seventh battle that that the outcome is is secured in itself in its influential retelling of the story from creation until the Israelites’ freedom from bondage in Egypt the book of Jubilees composed around the middle of the second century BCE describes the condition of humankind after their rescue from the Great Flood in chapter 5 here I embark on an interpretation that may not be shared by everyone in this room but I embark on it nonetheless here God is said to have made for or out of all his works a new and righteous nature or fethat which in the Ethiopic text there could just as well mean creation so that they might not sin in all their nature their created being forever and so that they might all be righteous each in his kind always that’s Jubilees chapter 5 verse 12 the controlling tense as given in the verbs of the Ethiopic text tradition which is the only one we have at this point is clearly passed as I read the text and the always at the end literally all the days has the present world order in view until the eschaton from here on humans especially God’s chosen ones in Israel have the possibility and the responsibility to go with it to be obedient the text the tense however has been construed in another way it is worth noting that the use of the past tense here did not sit comfortably with R.H. Charles whom I mentioned earlier who decided to render the verbs in the future taking the perfect verbs in the sense of a vav conversive with the reference to the great judgment vav conversives don’t really happen in Ethiopic as they do in Hebrew with the reference to the great judgement in verse 10 as a point of departure though not considering the clear recounting of what happened in the time of the Flood and the following Charles amends the text of verse 12 to God shall make a new and righteous nature so that the text refers to the eschaton rather than to the present I think here he is following an ideological understanding of what apocalyptic to him is which is essentially the future and cannot have anything to do with what happens in the past in our audience is also Cana Werman who’s written the best commentary so far full commentary on the book of Jubilees she follows this view of R.H. Charles gives better reasons I think for arguing that the verbs are to be read here in the future but given the focus on the Flood itself in verse 11 the previous text just before this this rendering is I think not convincing and indeed accommodates the text to a conventional understanding of a new creation in Jewish thought as being essentially eschatological instead it is the past activity of God and the immediate aftermath of the Flood which carries over into the present state of things in the world of the text which in addition to prayers uttered by several patriarchs in the narrative has made present faithfulness to the Covenant a real and deliverable possibility any suggestion therefore that Paul’s declaration that his address he’s in Corinth are a new creation also as suggested in in 2nd Corinthians chapter 5 verses 17 to 20 or as suggested in Galatians chapter 6 verse 15 the suggestion that these statements breaks through and beyond what Jewish apocalyptic tradition could ever have thought or allowed for is in my opinion misleading the remaining narrative of Jubilees confirms time and again that missteps amongst the characters continue to take place and that forces of evil continue to be effective in this way or that amongst God’s people something not unlike the continuing problems that Paul claims to be facing amongst and in relation to the Corinthians after his great claim that declares them to be a new creation however both this new nature and the essentially defeated state of demonic powers so the prayer in Jubilees 10 of Noah and further other prayers by patriarchal figures in the book also persist in the story they anticipate the final result namely the destruction of all evil and with it the fulfillment of God’s original design for those who remain faithful so a conclusion and outlook considered together with a wider group of texts that I have not dealt with in my remarks the traditions we have looked at here allow us to offer a couple of reflections and very briefly so first if these texts are anything to go by apocalyptic thought in inverted commas was not simply concerned with the provision of reassuring disclosures about the future it was also a matter of interpreting a past a past that is understood as a revealed past and if apocalyptic really in its in its sense means really revealed and if even if we understand it to be mediated revelation then this disclosure can just as well reflect on past events that are disclosed in a new way as well as projecting on to the future in fact as suggested near the beginning of this lecture Endzeit is rooted in the imaginative reappropriation of motifs associated with Urzeit the past was also a matter of interpretation as writers looked for paradigms in sacred history to inspire their respective audience to faithful activity or alternatively to discourage them from disobedience more than this however present convictions could be anchored in significant or rather determinative past events whose occurrence have put conditions in place that make obedience to God possible and that put the persistent experience of evil into perspective into a manageable perspective I would say I like the word management because it then places these texts possibly into a constructive dialogue with psychiatry with the prospect of even provisionally containing or curbing its effects in anticipation of what is ultimately to be the eschatological future is as much an extension and development out of a revealed formative past as it in itself is about straining after a revealed future rather than rounding off my thoughts at this point I’d like to open up two areas that bear further exploration and so this paper is also an opening of for research and not simply a closing thereof with a thesis good the first is the degree to which we might consider the performative an actualizing function of these texts in question what does it mean in this respect for audiences to encounter the sacred past in a way that enables them to come to terms with the challenges they face in the present what does it mean to read these texts as texts that put conditions into place within which people locate themselves an important step in this direction has been in my opinion taken by Rodney Werline in a recent article length essay in Dead Sea discoveries on the Book of the Watchers chapters 1 to 36 of 1 Enoch the second point to make is the degree to which the line of investigation that I have taken here opens up new paths for considering how authors of writings such as fourth Ezra and second Baruch and even the apocalypse of John in their respective ways shaped and presented primordial remote and even more recent events to address the socio-religious contexts of the audience’s their works presupposed and as a corollary to this or addition to this it also raises the question of how earlier Jewish apocalyptic tradition relates to later Jewish apocalyptic tradition where they are actually dealing with questions of history and past in precisely the same way or if there needs to be an essential differentiation at this point a final word it would seem as though some of the ideas I have expressed in this lecture are uncontroversial or at least rather straightforward we may ask therefore why not more has been said regarding a continuity in the basic understanding of time between forms of apocalyptic Jewish tradition and what one encounters in the New Testament writings in parentheses one could say that so much of the conversation has been sidelined or has centered on the question of messianology and messianalogy just because the claim that a messiah has come is imagined then in Christian tradition to have recalibrated the notion of time and to have relocated it into a different realm so that there is an already in Christian tradition that there isn’t in in in in Jewish apocalyptic tradition I think this instinct is is certainly there but it needs to be resisted because the more basic understanding of time I do not think has undergone a fundamental change the instinct reflected in much of Flusser’s work to read much of the New Testament as Jewish offers the possibility of insight that not simply regard Second Temple Judaism as background to a New Testament text whose interpretation is to be privileged but rather as areas that share so much geographical and ideological space that they best function as differentiated conversation partners thank you [Applause]

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