Special Study: Imminent Eschatology in the New Testament (Pt 2)

A reminder of the outline for this study:

    1. Evidence that the New Testament authors/speakers believed that Jesus would return and the end would come very soon—i.e. during their own time, in the 1st century A.D., roughly speaking. In so doing, it is important to determine whether this was the dominant view—that is, what, if any evidence is there to the contrary?
    2. An attempt to explain this eschatological expectation, from several aspects:
      1. The phenomenology of religion
      2. Eschatological and apocalyptic views common at the time, and
      3. New Testament theology and the doctrine of inspiration (of the New Testament writings)

The New Testament evidence was examined in Part 1; here, in the second Part, we will explore interpretive approaches to the question.

2. Explanations for the imminent eschatology in the New Testament

a. Phenomenology of Religion. It would seem to be a generally observable phenomenon that, where there is a strong eschatological component to the religious thought and belief of particular individuals or groups, this eschatology is almost always imminent. That is to say, there is present the belief that the current time is the “end time” and that people at the moment are living in the “last days”, the period just before the end. This is quite understandable from the standpoint of religious psychology—what is the urgency of a message about the end, if it does not relate directly to the life situation of those being addressed? Even adherents of religious traditions which have a broader conception of cyclical time—cycles of Ages—tend to envision that they are living at the end of a cycle, and/or at the end of the current Age. It would be difficult to find many examples where this is not the case.

Built into this idea is also the tendency to conceive of the current Age—and, in particular, the moment in which people are living—as especially corrupt, in comparison to prior periods, and becoming increasingly so. Eschatological thought serves, in part, to offer hope for a better future, an ideal time—of peace, prosperity, justice and righteousness, etc—that is a stark contrast with the present. From the theological standpoint, the expectation is strong that God will eventually correct the apparent evils in the current order of things, punishing the wicked and rewarding the righteous, removing the causes of suffering in the world, and so forth. The natural hope, of course, is that this might happen soon, in the very lifetimes of those living at present, that they might live to see a new and transformed world, with the power and justice of God more clearly manifest in the created order.

b. Eschatology and Apocalyptic in the first centuries B.C./A.D. Of the many eschatological and apocalyptic traditions and movements roughly contemporary with the New Testament, i.e. in the first centuries B.C./A.D., those most relevant to early Christianity, and about which we are best informed, are associated with the Community of the Qumran texts (the Dead Sea Scrolls from Qumran). Like the early Christians, the Qumran Community believed they were living in the “last days”, and that God was about to act to bring Judgment upon the wicked/nations and to deliver the faithful ones among His people (i.e. the Community).

One way we see this expressed is in the use of the idiom <ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^ (°aµ¦rî¾ hayy¹mîm), “(the time) after the days”. Originally, this expression simply meant “in the time to come, in the future”, but its use in the later Prophets (Jer 23:20; 30:24; 31:33; 48:47; 49:39; Ezek 38:16; Daniel 10:14; cf. also Hos 3:5; Mic 4:1), as well as in two key passages which came to be understood as Messianic (Gen 49:1; Num 24:14), gave it a definite eschatological significance (often translated “end of [the] days”) by the 2nd-1st century B.C. It occurs some 30 times in the Qumran texts, and in at least two places there is the clear indication that the author/audience believed that this “end-time” was their own time:

    • In the so-called “Halakhic Letter” (4QMMT [4Q394-399]) section C 13-15ff, Deuteronomy 30:1ff is cited (“and it will be when all these things come upon you…”), framing the coming Judgment in terms of the covenant blessings and curses, and declaring that these have been (and are being fulfilled) in the present: “and this is the (time) after the days, when they will return in Israel to the Law…” (C 21). The members of the Community are those who faithfully observe the Law, and, as the end comes nearer, it is expected that more in Israel will turn and join them.
    • In the document 1QSa, a kind of supplement to the Community Rule text (1QS), it is declared in the opening words, “And this is the rule of all the congregation of Israel in the (time) after the days…”.

The expression also occurs a number of times in the interpretive (midrashic) works, such as the 4QFlorilegium [4Q174] and 4QCatena [4Q177], in which different Scripture passages are brought together, being interpreted in a Messianic (and eschatological) sense and applied to the time and life-setting of the Community (cf. also 1QpHab 2:5-6; 4QpNah 3-4 ii. 2; Collins, p. 79). There is also the similar expression /wrjah Jq, “the end (coming) after”, i.e. the final age, etc, which occurs, for example, in the commentary [pesher] on Habakkuk (7:5-6, on Hab 2:3); cf. also in the Damascus Document (CD 1:12). In the commentary on Hab 2:3, we can detect an awareness of a ‘delay’ in the coming of the expected end. According to the Damascus Document (CD/QD), the Community made use of Daniel’s Seventy Weeks prophecy (Dan 9:24-27, cf. the earlier article on this passage)—70 weeks of years, i.e. 490 years—which coincides with the Jubilee period framework (i.e. 10 x 49 years), to determine a general time for the coming of the end, one which coordinated with a period of 40 years after the death of the “unique Teacher” (CD 20:14). This leading figure is probably to be identified with the “Teacher of Righteousness” (or “Righteous Teacher”, cf. Part 4 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”). The end-time of God’s Judgment will begin around 40 years after this person’s death. Quite possibly, 1QpHab 7:5-6 indicates that this benchmark date has come and gone, and that some explanation for the delay is required. This sort of thing occurs quite frequently in eschatological belief. As time passes, imminent expectation of the end must be re-interpreted and explained; and yet, there is no evidence for any ‘trauma’ within the Qumran Community due to this apparent delay. Eschatological thought tends to be rather flexible in this regard.

c. New Testament Theology. There a number of important areas of early Christian thought, as expressed in the New Testament, that are directly related to an imminent eschatology, and which help to explain the importance of this eschatological aspect. In no small measure, early Christian theology is based on an imminent expectation of the end. All of these areas for consideration have been, and will be, discussed in the various notes and articles of this series. Here I wish to delineate the most relevant strands of thought, touching upon each of the following:

    1. Belief in Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah)
    2. The early Christian understanding of salvation
    3. The Christian religious worldview as ‘dispensational’
    4. Christian identity and the early mission-work
    5. The early Christian movement as the fulfillment of Prophecy
    6. Theodicy and the future hope

(1) Belief in Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah)

As I have discussed in considerable detail throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, Jesus was identified with all of the Messianic figure-types present in Jewish thought during the first centuries B.C./A.D. Messianic belief and expectation was fundamentally eschatological—the appearance of these Anointed figures corresponded with the end of the current Age, and, with it, God’s end-time Judgment on the wicked/nations and the deliverance of God’s people (the faithful ones). Thus, to say that a person (such as Jesus) was, in fact, the Messiah—whether of the Davidic Ruler tradition or another figure-type—meant that the current moment, in which that person was alive and present on earth, was the “end time”, the “last days”, etc. In other words, the very belief in Jesus as the Anointed One (Messiah) necessitated a belief among the first Christians that the end was near. In all likelihood, such an eschatological view preceded their belief in Jesus, being part of the wider Jewish eschatology (and Messianism) of the time (cf. on the Qumran Community, above). I have discussed this in more detail in an earlier article of this series.

What is unique with regard to the Christian view of the Messiah, in relation to the end-time, is that Jesus departed earth, being exalted and ascending to Heaven, before fulfilling entirely the Messianic role expected of him. This entails a period of some length before his return to earth, at which point the Messianic eschatological expectation will be realized. However, as we have seen—in Part 1 of this article and throughout this series—this is quite compatible with an imminent eschatology, with the general understanding that this intervening period was to be relatively brief, i.e. with the lifetime of most believers.

(2) The early Christian understanding of salvation

It is possible to isolate two main ways salvation is expressed—typically using the verbs sw|/zw (with the noun swthri/a) and r(u/omai—from a religious/metaphysical standpoint, in the New Testament and early Christian tradition:

    • Salvation from sin—either: (a) from the effect of personal sins, or (b) from the power and control of sin
    • Salvation from the end-time Judgment by God, often described in terms of being saved from the anger/wrath of God which is about to come upon humankind

Interestingly, the aspect of salvation which is probably most commonly in mind with people today—that of the individual’s personal salvation following death (i.e. from the punishment [of Hell])—is not emphasized particularly in the New Testament. This, of course, was a popular way of thinking even in ancient times, usually depicted in some manner as the person standing before a divine/heavenly tribunal after death to be judged according to his/her deeds and actions while alive. The background of this idea is retained in early Christian thought, as for example, in the Beatitude form (Matt 5:3-12 / Lk 6:20-26) and the image of entering/inheriting the Kingdom (i.e. of the heavenly/eternal life), cf. Mk 9:47; 10:23ff; Matt 5:20; 7:21; 25:34; Jn 3:5; Acts 14:22; 1 Cor 6:9-10; Gal 5:21, etc. However, specific references to the traditional (afterlife) scene of Judgment are somewhat rare in the New Testament (cf. 2 Cor 5:10; Rom 2:6ff; 14:10-12; also Matt 10:32-33; 12:41-42 par; 25:31-46). This is largely due to the fact that the eschatological emphasis has shifted to the (imminent) coming of the end—that is, the coming of God’s Judgment upon the earth, expected to occur soon, within the lifetime of most people. Early Christians widely shared this expectation, along with many Jews of the period; the distinctly Christian component was the role of Jesus as the Anointed One (Christ) of God and heavenly “Son of Man” whose coming (back) to earth from Heaven would usher in the Judgment. Thus the idea of salvation meant being saved from the Judgment (the anger/wrath of God) about to be visited upon sinful, wicked humanity (cf. the “day of YHWH” motif in the Old Testament Prophets). Christ, as the divine representative of YHWH, oversees the Judgment, but also acts as savior and deliverer of the Elect—that is, of God’s faithful people, the believers. This eschatological context for salvation is found all throughout the New Testament; of the many passages, I would note the following:

A similar (generalized) sense of eschatological salvation is found widely in early Christian thought—e.g., Luke 3:6 [Isa 40:5]; John 3:17; 5:34; 10:9; 12:47; Romans 10:9; 11:14, 26; 1 Cor 1:8; 3:15; 9:22; 10:33; 15:2; Phil 1:6, 9-10; 2:16; 1 Thess 5:23-24; 2 Thess 2:10; 2 Tim 2:4, 10, (15); 4:16; James 1:21; 2:14; 4:12; 5:20; 1 Pet 1:5, 9-10; 4:18? [Prov 11:31]; (2 Pet 2:9); (Jude 23); Heb 1:14; (7:25); 9:28. Virtually the entire book of Revelation deals with this theme.

What is the significance of this? It means that the whole of the early Gospel message tends to be eschatological in character, even apart from its central aspect identifying Jesus as the (end-time) Messiah (cf. above). For more on this, see the discussion in the two-part article on Eschatology in the book of Acts, as well as the upcoming articles on Paul’s eschatology.

(3) The Christian religious worldview as ‘dispensational’

By “dispensational” I simply mean the recognition of a clear demarcation between two different Ages—this Age, and “the Age to Come”. The earliest Christian communities were marked by certain religious phenomena which indicated that a “New Age” was being ushered in. This is expressed most clearly in the book of Acts, with the descriptions of the coming of the Holy Spirit upon believers in Christ, with accompanying phenomena—miraculous speaking in foreign languages (“tongues”), the ability to prophesy, the working of healing miracles, etc. Peter, in his great Pentecost speech, citing Joel 2:28-32, declares that this manifestation of the Spirit is a fulfillment of prophecy and shows that the early believers are living in the “last days” (vv. 16ff); for more on this, cf. Part 1 of “Eschatology in the book of Acts” and Parts 23 of the series “The Speeches of Acts”.

Much the same may be said of the other episodes in the book of Acts, involving the manifestation of the Spirit in the mission work of Paul and the other Apostles. The early Christian communities continued this “charismatic” tradition, experiencing similar spiritual phenomena and “gifts”, to judge from the New Testament evidence (esp. in 1 Corinthians). There is every reason to think that this was understood as a foretaste, an initial ushering in, of the Age to Come, during the (brief) period before the return of Jesus. Paul, it would seem, expresses this rather clearly in 1 Cor 13:8-12 (cf. my earlier note on this passage). Thus, even if early believers were to doubt that they were living in the “last days”, and even if a belief in Jesus as the Messiah did not necessitate it, the spiritual phenomena they experienced provided proof that the end was near and a New Age was about to begin.

(4) Christian identity and the early mission-work

If we accept the authenticity of the tradition in Acts 1:6-8, Jesus, in instructing and commissioning his disciples prior to his departure from earth (vv. 9-11), declared that their missionary work, proclaiming the Gospel to the surrounding peoples, was eschatological in nature (cf. Part 1 of the “Eschatology in the book of Acts”). This same point was made in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus, fitting the early apostolic mission into a framework for the coming of the end (Mark 13:9-13 par). Moreover, this, along with the other aspects of early Christian thinking mentioned above, helped to inform the self-identity of believers in Christ as the end-time people of God—those faithful ones, living in the “last days”, who will be rescued from the coming Judgment. In this regard, the early Christian communities had much in common with the Qumran Community (cf. above).

The reality of their (daily) life and existence shaped the way this eschatological expectation was expressed, and vice versa. This took place in all kinds of small ways—see, for example, the eschatological dimension of Paul’s instruction on marriage in 1 Cor 7:25-31 (to be discussed). Or, consider how the imminent expectation of the end caused concern for the Thessalonian believers with regard to relatives and other believers who had already died (1 Thess 4:13-18, study upcoming), and how Paul addresses this. At other times, it might involved more complex and detailed patterns of thought, such as in Paul’s famous discussion in Romans 9-11 (also to be studied in this series).

What is most important to keep in mind is that the religious identity of early Christians was, in a very real sense, fundamentally eschatological. Perhaps nowhere is this seen so clearly and vividly than in Romans 8, especially the line of argument in vv. 18-25. The author of 1 John expresses something similar in 2:28-3:3 (esp. vv. 1-2), stating that our identity as God’s offspring now is only a reflection of what is about to be fulfilled for us at the appearance of God (in the person of Jesus Christ) at the end. The two aspects of the identity of believers—present and future—are closely connected, and, for early believers, close in time as well, expected to be realized within their lifetime.

(5) The early Christian movement as the fulfillment of Prophecy

Early Christians, like the Qumran Community, viewed themselves at the center of the fulfillment of Scriptural Prophecy. This began with their belief in Jesus as the Messiah (cf. above), and the various passages which were understood in a Messianic (and eschatological) sense and applied to Jesus. It was only natural that, by extension, other Messianic/eschatological prophecies would be interpreted in relation to Jesus’ followers, the first believers. This was especially necessary in light of the uniquely Christian aspect of this eschatology—of an intervening period, before Jesus’ return to earth, when his disciples (believers) would continue his end-time work (on this, cf. above). Numerous Scripture passages could be—and, indeed, were—interpreted on this basis. The two most notable are Joel 2:28-32 (in Peter’s Pentecost speech [Acts 2:16ff], already mentioned) and Amos 9:11-12 (in James’ speech at the Jerusalem Council [Acts 15:15-17]); also worthy of mention in the book of Acts is Paul’s use of Isaiah 49:6 (his speech at Antioch [13:47ff]; cf. also Lk 2:29-32). These passages are all discussed in the article on the Eschatology in the book of Acts, as well as in the series “The Speeches of Acts”. The force of this prophetic self-understanding, in connection with other aspects of early Christian thought (cf. above), always served to keep an imminent eschatological awareness in full view.

(6) Theodicy and future hope

One final area worth noting falls under the heading of theodicy—that is, an attempt to explain how a just God could allow so much injustice in the world, allowing wickedness and evil to go unpunished (in the present). Central to Jewish and Christian eschatology at the time was the belief that God would soon act to judge the world, bringing a decisive Judgment upon humankind, punishing the wicked and rescuing/rewarding the righteous. For early Christians, in terms of religious psychology, affirmation of this coming Judgment was all the more urgent since, during his time on earth, Jesus did not fulfill the traditional Messianic role of ushering in the end-time Judgment. Surely this had to occur soon, and so we see this expectation expressed all throughout the early Christian preaching in the book of Acts, in Paul’s letters, and in the remainder of the New Testament. Paul’s warning, in his famous Athens speech, captures this expectation most precisely (17:30-31).

The future hope for believers in Christ is tied to this idea of the coming Judgment, at which time the people of God (believers) will be rescued from the wickedness of the current Age, and will join with Jesus in the blessed heavenly/eternal life, in God’s own presence.

Paths of Interpretation for Believers today

It goes without saying that the imminent eschatology expressed in the New Testament poses significant problems for Christians today. How are we to reconcile the clear belief that the end was imminent with the reality, so it would seem, of more than 1,900 years (and counting) before the great Judgment and the return of Jesus comes? In the Introduction to this series, I outlined four possible approaches or ways of handling this question, which, for convenience (and not necessarily indicating any preference), I number #1-4:

    • The New Testament authors, like many today, truly believed that the end of the Age was close at hand, presumably to occur during their lifetime. God made use of that belief (common among many Jews and others at the time) for a greater purpose. While the inspired authors could, technically, be seen as having been mistaken on this point, it does not affect the truth of the message which they are communicating to us. [Approach #1]
    • In interpreting these passages, our emphasis should not be on individual statements (regarding the end being near, etc), but, rather, upon the overall worldview of which they are a part. This relates, in particular, to the unique way in which early Christians adapted traditional eschatological language. Conceivably, early Christians could also speak of the end being “near”, even though they realized it might not become manifest on earth in the way that traditional eschatology imagined. [Approach #2]
    • In speaking of the end as being “near”, this language is really expressing the idea that it could take place at any moment, since no one (not even Jesus [the Son], cf. Mark 13:32 par) knows exactly when the end will occur. [Approach #3]
    • The use of this language of imminence is primary rhetorical, rather than literal. It is meant to exhort believers to live and act a certain way, as well as offering hope in difficult times. This view, in part, draws upon a distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language—i.e., how things are (or will be) vs. how things ought to be. [Approach #4]

I will here make a number of brief comments regarding each of these, leaving a more definitive solution, on my part, to wait until the conclusion of this series.

Approach #1. This approach essentially involves the principle of accommodation. In terms of the doctrine of inspiration (of Scripture), accommodation theory posits that the inspired authors/speakers may have accepted or adopted views commonly held by people of the time, but which, technically speaking, from our vantage point today, could be deemed erroneous, inaccurate, or incomplete. This frequently relates to various kinds of scientific information—ancient cosmology, history, anthropology, biology, metaphysics, view of the afterlife, etc. As a simple example, in the parable of Lk 16:19-31, Jesus might be seen as simply drawing upon traditional imagery (for the purposes of the illustration), without intending to give a scientifically accurate portrait of the afterlife. Other examples could be much more controversial. Some traditional-conservative commentators and theologians are reluctant to admit any such occurrences of accommodation in Scripture, while others are willing to accept it in varying degrees. Much depends on the particular passage, and circumstances, involved.

The question of possible limitations (of knowledge) on the part of Jesus, as a human being on earth, is especially controversial and much debated. However, as it happens, there is at least one passage in the Gospel tradition where Jesus appears to admit such a limitation for himself—the saying in Mark 13:32 par, which is part of the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse”, and happens to involve the matter of precisely when the end will occur. Due to the sensitive nature of this passage, I will be discussing it in more detail as we approach the conclusion of this series. It would, however, naturally follow that, if Jesus himself did not know exactly when the end would come, the New Testament authors would not have known either. Accommodation theory would allow that the writers simply were expressing a general belief (regarding the end being imminent), common to Jews and Christians of the time, without necessarily stating it as an absolute fact.

Certainly, a number of the eschatological references (cf. Part 1 of this article, and throughout this series), could be viewed in this way and, as such, be incorporated within a sound doctrine of inspiration. Yet there are other passages where this approach becomes much more difficult to maintain. For example, in 1 Peter 4:7, it is declared bluntly to readers (living in the 1st century A.D.) that “the end of all (thing)s has come near”. This seems to go beyond a general belief, to the point of a positive (and absolute) declaration. Another example is in the Synoptic “Eschatological Discourse” (Mark 13 par). In spite of the qualifying statement in 13:32 par, the entire chronological framework of the Discourse is centered on the key event of the destruction of the Temple, with the accompanying end-time events, apparently, set within the general bounds of the lifetime of the first disciples (13:28-30 par). For more on this, cf. Part 4 of the Eschatological Discourse study and the separate note to this article.

Approach #2. This view is similar in certain respects to approach #1 (above), but formulates more precisely the idea that New Testament authors (and speakers) are regularly making use of traditional eschatological language and imagery, without necessarily affirming concrete eschatological beliefs. For example, various apocalyptic images from the Old Testament Prophets, related to the “Day of YHWH” theme, might be used to express the idea of God’s coming Judgment, without literally meaning that the moon will turn to blood or that the stars will actually “fall out of heaven” (Mk 13:24-25 par; Acts 2:19-20, etc). That is to say, much eschatological language is figurative, as evidenced, in a highly developed way, by the symbolism in the book of Revelation (discussed in the current series of daily notes). How might this relate to the expressions of imminent eschatology in the New Testament? It could be viewed as part of the traditional idiom—i.e., the end is always understood as coming soon, being near; this is simply part of any eschatological mode of expression (cf. the first section of this article, above).

The problem with this approach is that it tends to ignore the fundamental way the aspect of imminence is fundamentally tied to the early Christian worldview and religious identity (discussed above). Far from being a colorful detail on the eschatological/apocalyptic dramatic stage, the message that the Judgment and return of Jesus will soon take place is essential to the early proclamation of the Gospel (cf. the articles on the Eschatological sayings of Jesus and on the Eschatology in the book of Acts). Early Christian belief in Jesus as the Messiah, and of salvation in terms of rescue from the coming Judgment (on both points, cf. above), are shorn of their true significance without a concrete belief that the end was imminent.

Approach #3. The is by far the most popular approach to the problem adopted by Christians today. It basically holds that the language of imminence means, not that the end will come soon, but that it may come soon. It is certainly a convenient solution, in that it very handily allows for an intervening 1,900+ years of history. Indeed, some commentators and theologians simply define imminence (in eschatology) this way, thereby effectively circumventing the entire chronological problem. However, I consider this approach to be fatally flawed in the way that it seemingly ignores the straightforward language used by the New Testament authors. A careful study of the evidence in Part 1 of this article, as well as in the other articles of this series (and the daily notes on the book of Revelation), demonstrates, I think rather decisively, that early Christians in the 1st century (including the New Testament authors), believed that the end would come soon, probably within their own lifetime.

A variation of approach #1 (principle of accommodation) would handle this a slightly different way. While the New Testament authors believed, and declared, that the end would come soon, this expression of imminence was used, by God, for the greater purpose of conveying to all believers, in all times, that the end may come soon. As a result, every generation of believers, in responding to the message in the Scriptures, effectively responds just as the first generation did—believing that the end might well come in their lifetime. I find this version of approach #3 to be much more acceptable (and plausible) in relation to the tenets of orthodox Christian doctrine.

Approach #4. This approach looks more to the practical effects of the rhetoric and literary style used by the New Testament authors. In other words, what is the context of these eschatological references? What does the author intend to accomplish by introducing them where and when he does? For example, the eschatological references by Paul in 1 Cor 7:25-31 are part of his wider instruction on marriage (and marital relations) in chapter 7, and really ought not to be examined outside of this context (i.e. as independent eschatological pronouncements). More to the point, references to imminent eschatology could be meant primarily to exhort and comfort believers in various ways, rather than being intended to establish a chronological framework.

Some commentators would extend this approach to include a distinction between descriptive and prescriptive language—i.e., how things are (or will be) vs. how things ought to be. As applied to eschatology, the very notion of the coming Judgment and a New Age, generally reflects, in part at least, an idealized vision of how things should be, how many people wish they soon would be. Eschatological language and imagery naturally fits the mode of exhortation, and, in the New Testament, is frequently found in such a setting. In light of the coming Judgment, etc, we ought to live and act a certain way, not simply for fear of what is to come, but with the idea of God coming near to us, visiting humankind—the promise of His Presence, in both terrifying and comforting aspects, Judgment and Salvation.

There is something to be said for each of these approaches, in their various forms, while admitting, at the same time, that none of them offers a truly satisfactory solution to the problem. However, as possible paths of interpretation, we should keep them in mind, as we continue through the remaining articles of this series. I hope to bring together the strands at the conclusion, at which point I will attempt to offer my own humble solution.

Supplemental Study: New Testament Eschatology and the Book of Daniel

Supplemental Study:
New Testament Eschatology and the Book of Daniel

Apart from the book of Isaiah (esp. Deutero-Isaiah, chaps. 40-66), no Old Testament writing influenced Jewish and early Christian eschatology more than the book of Daniel. The exact nature of this influence depends on how one dates the book and its composition. According to the standard critical view, the book, in the form we have it, was written around the year 165 B.C., though it may contain earlier traditions. This allows for the possibility that eschatological/apocalyptic themes in the book, which are also found in, for example, the Book of Enoch and a number of the Qumran texts (written earlier or around the same time), are not directly dependent on Daniel, but on a set of common traditions. By contrast, the traditional-conservative view holds that essentially the book is an authentic composition from Daniel’s own time (6th cent. B.C.). This would greatly increase the likelihood that similarities in the Qumran texts, etc, are inspired/influenced primarily, if not entirely, by the book of Daniel.

In this brief study, supplemental to the current series Prophecy and Eschatology in the New Testament, I will be examining several specific areas, as they relate to the use of Daniel in the New Testament:

    1. The use of Daniel in the Qumran texts
    2. The “Seventy Weeks” oracle in Dan 9:24-27
    3. The “Son of Man” vision in Dan 7:13-14ff
    4. The influence of the concluding visions in chapters 10-12

1. The use of Daniel in the Qumran texts

The book of Daniel features prominently in the Qumran texts (Dead Sea Scrolls), in several ways: (a) manuscripts of the book, (b) apocalyptic works influenced by Daniel, and (c) imagery and beliefs drawn from Daniel. The way the Qumran Community interpreted and applied the visions of the book is quite instructive for how the earliest Christians would have understood them as well.

a. Copies of Daniel at Qumran

There are eight manuscript copies of the book of Daniel among the Qumran texts, making it one of the most frequently copied Scriptures (after the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and Psalms). All of the manuscripts are quite fragmentary, but together they cover nearly the entire book. The relatively large number of copies is an indication of the importance and popularity of the book in the Qumran community.

b. The Pseudo-Danielic Writings

There are four texts which are sometimes referred to by the label “Pseudo-Daniel”, due to the presence of Daniel as a central character, or based on similarities to the Old Testament book. Like Dan 2:4b-7:28, these texts were all written in Aramaic.

The first text is represented, it seems, by two manuscripts (4Q243-244). Based on a reconstruction of the surviving fragments, a likely outline of the text can be established. Daniel is standing before Belshazzar (cf. Dan 5), and, like Stephen in his Acts 7 speech, delivers a history of God’s people which turns into a ‘prophecy’ of events which will occur in the Hellenistic period (as in Dan 10-11), and which, in turn, leads into a description of the end-time—after a period of great oppression, God’s people will be delivered and the holy kingdom established (cf. Dan 12:1ff). A second text, apparently with a similar structure and orientation, is preserved in a couple of small fragments (4Q245). Also surviving in a few fragments is the “Prayer of Nabonidus” (4Q242), which records an episode similar to that experienced by Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4, only here the central figure is king Nabû-na’id (Nabonidus, 556-539 B.C.). Many critical scholars, based on historical parallels with the Babylonian “Nabonidus Chronicle”, believe that the more authentic tradition may indeed have involved Nabonidus, who was replaced by Nebuchadnezzar in the Biblical account.

Especially significant is the fourth text, the famous 4Q246, surviving in a large fragment with two columns. It also has many parallels and similarities to the book of Daniel, in which a king’s troubling vision is interpreted by a prophet/seer (unnamed in the text as we have it). The seer announces events to come—a period of great distress, involving warfare among the kings/nations of the Near East (col. 1, lines 4-6), culminating in the rise of a great ruler who will bring an end to the wars (lines 7-9). A time of war and upheaval is mentioned again in column 2, lines 2-3, followed by the rise of the “people of God” (line 4). This has led some scholars to posit that the great ruler is actually a kind of ‘Antichrist’ figure who brings a false peace. The language used to describe him, however, makes this most unlikely. He is best viewed as a Messianic figure (of the Davidic-ruler type); and there are surprising parallels with the announcement of Jesus’ birth in Luke 1:32-33, 35. It is said of this person that:

    • “he will be great” (col. 1, line 7; Lk 1:32)
    • “he will be hailed as Son of God” (col. 2, line 1; Lk 1:35)
    • “he will be called Son of the Highest” (col. 2, line 1; Lk 1:32)
    • there is also reference to an “everlasting kingdom” (col. 2, lines 5, 9; Lk 1:33)

The rise of this figure is parallel to the rise of the “people of God”, similar to the pattern and structure we see in Daniel 7. Overall in the text, we see possible allusions to Dan 3:33; 4:31; 7:14, 27, and other portions of the book as well.

All of these texts provide evidence for the extent to which the book of Daniel (and/or its underlying traditions) helped to shaped the eschatological and apocalyptic worldview of the Qumran Community.

c. Other signs of influence at Qumran

There are numerous references or allusions to the book of Daniel in the Qumran texts; I point out here the most prominent of these.

i. The expression <ym!Y`h^ tyr!j&a^ (“after the days”, “following the days”, “[in] the following days”) is a common Semitic (and Old Testament) idiom; however, its distinctive eschatological connotation (“end of the days”, end time, etc) is probably due primarily to its occurrence in Daniel 2:28 and 10:14 (cf. also 8:19, 23; 12:8). It appears a number of times in the Qumran texts, such as: the Florilegium (4Q174, cf. below), the Damascus Document (CD 4:4; 6:11), the so-called ‘Messianic Rule’ (1QSa 1:1), the ‘Halakhic Letter’ (4QMMT C [4Q398] 13-16), and the Commentaries (pesharim) on Isaiah (4QpIsaa fr. 5-6, line 10) and Habakkuk 1QpHab 2:5-6).

ii. The so-called Florilegium (4Q174), in its surviving portion, consists of a series of Scripture verses which are given an eschatological (and Messianic) interpretation, viewed as referring to end-time events which were about to occur in the time of the Qumran Community. At the end of our surviving fragment, Daniel 12:10 is cited as an eschatological prophecy. We do not have the entire explanation/commentary on this verse, but it contains an allusion to Dan 11:32, and almost certainly would have been understood as applying to the Community as embodying the faithful ones of Israel at the end-time.

iii. The Commentary (pesher) on Habakkuk (§7) treats Hab 2:3, a verse which some commentators believe was utilized in the book of Daniel (8:17; 10:14; 11:27, 35; 12:12). While Daniel is not specifically cited here in the pesher, the astute readers of Scripture in the Qumran community would certainly have seen the connection. The theme in these verses is that there may be a ‘delay’ in the fulfillment of the prophecies. This allows for an exhortation to faithfulness, but also for the possibility that the ancient predictions of the coming end are about to be fulfilled in the Community’s own time.

iv. The Qumran texts record perhaps the earliest known attempt to make a precise calculation of when the end will occur, based on the “Seventy Weeks” oracle in Daniel 9 (cf. below), along with other time indicators given in the book. Naturally, the Community, like most groups with a strong eschatological orientation, believed that theirs was the time in which these things would come to pass. In the Damascus Document, a precise application of the “Seventy Weeks” oracle is made, in relation to the Community’s own history. CD 20:14 mentions the “forty years” which are to pass—i.e. from a particular point in their own recent history—which, according to their method of calculation, would complete the period of 490 (70 x 7) years prophesied in the book of Daniel.

2. The “Seventy Weeks” oracle in Dan 9:24-27

I have already presented a detailed examination of the background of this passage, as well as an exegetical analysis and interpretation, in an earlier study (part of the series “Yeshua the Anointed One”), and I will not repeat that here. Instead, I wish to focus specifically on the use of the passage in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus, along with a brief consideration of its influence on 2 Thessalonians 2 and the early Christians “Antichrist” tradition.

At the beginning of vv. 14-23 in the Markan version of the Eschatological Discourse, Jesus states:

“And when you should see the ‘stinking thing of desolation’ [to\ bde/lugma th=$ e)rhmw/ew$] having stood where it is necessary (that it) not (be) [i.e. where it ought not to be]…then the (one)s in Yehudah must flee into the mountains…” (v. 14)

Matthew’s version here (24:15-16) is virtually identical, even including the same editorial aside (marked by the ellipsis above): “the (one) reading must put/keep (this) in mind”. The only difference is that in Matthew the allusion is made specific (“the [thing] uttered through Daniyyel the Foreteller”), and the phrase “where it is necessary (that it) not (be)” is explicitly identified with the Temple sanctuary: “…in the Holy Place”. Thus, in Matthew’s version, Jesus is describing a direct fulfillment of the thing prophesied in Dan 9:27—presumably meaning that some sort of idol/image is to be set up in the Temple, or that the holy place will be desecrated in a similar way. Luke’s version of this is radically different.

If we keep, for the moment, with the version in Mark/Matthew, we must ask what Jesus (and/or the Gospel writer) has in mind here. The editorial aside suggests that there is an accepted understanding or interpretation of this allusion, which the writer, at whatever point the aside was included (in Mark or an earlier source), would have assumed was known by his audience. Possibly Luke is clarifying this very interpretation, but there is no way of being certain on this point. The tradition in 2 Thessalonians 2 (cf. below), suggests that this is not the case; rather, a more literal kind of fulfillment of Dan 9:27 is in mind. The critical view, that the original passage refers to the actions of the Syrian ruler Antiochus IV (Epiphanes) c. 171-167 B.C., whether or not recognized by Jesus and his contemporaries, most likely serves as the pattern or model for what would take place in the great time of distress. As I mentioned in the earlier study on Dan 9:24-27, there are two possibilities which fit this pattern, and the historical context of the Eschatological Discourse (and the 1st century time frame of the Gospel tradition, c. 30-80 A.D.), reasonably well:

    • The emperor Gaius’ (Caligula) establishment of the imperial cult, including his statue which was to be placed in the Jerusalem Temple, transforming it into an imperial shrine (c. 40 A.D., Josephus, Antiquities 18.256-307). In his Commentary on Daniel (11:31), Jerome states that Antiochus IV had similarly set up an image of Jupiter (Zeus) Olympius in the Jerusalem Temple.
    • The transformation of Jerusalem into a (pagan) Roman city (Aelia Capitolina) in the reign of Hadrian, following the suppression of the Jewish (Bar-Kochba) revolt in 132-135 A.D.

If we wish to keep to the 1st century and the lifetime of the first disciples (Mark 13:30 par, etc) as a time frame, the first option is by far the closest fit, likely occurring less than 10 years after the end of Jesus’ ministry. Luke’s version (cf. Part 3 of the study on the Eschatological Discourse) more obviously relates to the siege and destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., including the destruction and despoiling of the Temple. That interpretation also would generally fit within the lifetime of the disciples.

Many Christians today, under the realization that events described in the Discourse were not all fulfilled in the 1st century, naturally assume that much of it—including the allusion to Dan 9:27—still awaits fulfillment at a future time (and/or our own time). While this is an obvious solution to the problem, it tends to negate the significance of the passage for the first disciples and Jesus’ original audience. A solution which attempts to respect both sides of the equation—complete/accurate fulfillment without ignoring the original historical setting—usually involves a two-layer interpretation: partial fulfillment in the disciples’ own time (1st century) and complete fulfillment at a time yet to come.

The same difficulty arises when we turn to Paul’s own “eschatological discourse” in 2 Thessalonians 2 (to be discussed in an upcoming study in this series). In verses 3-4, Paul seems to be drawing upon the same Dan 9:27 tradition, as interpreted by early Christians—perhaps even referring to the exact Gospel tradition in Mark 13:14ff par. However, here it is not an image/statue of the ruler, but the ruler himself who “sits in the shrine of God”, indicating that he is God. If 2 Thessalonians is genuinely Pauline (as the text claims), then it was likely written around 50 A.D., or perhaps a bit earlier. The actions and policies of the emperor Gaius, c. 40 (cf. above) would have still been fresh in the minds of many Jewish and Christians; Paul may be envisioning and describing a similar sort of action, only on a more extreme scale of wickedness. Obviously there is a problem here in considering Paul’s discourse as authentic prophecy, since, by all accounts, nothing of the sort took place in the Jerusalem Temple while it stood. This has led commentators to adopt various solutions, none of which are entirely satisfactory. One option is to assume that the Temple setting should be understood figuratively, in terms of a wicked ruler desecrating the holy things of God (in a more general sense); this allows the prophecy still to apply to a future end-time ruler. A more literal interpretation would require that the Temple be rebuilt at a future time (a dubious proposition itself); yet, there is nothing at all in the text to indicate that Paul is speaking of any other Temple than the one standing in his day.

The Gospel tradition surrounding the reference to Dan 9:27 certainly played a role in the development of the early Christian “Antichrist” tradition, though it is not possible to trace this in detail. Roughly speaking, Paul’s account in 2 Thessalonians 2 appears to stand halfway between the saying in Mark 13:14 par and the Beast-vision(s) in the book of Revelation (esp. chapter 13). Revelation 13:11-18 describes a great world-ruler, along the lines of the Roman Empire/Emperor, who controls all of society and requires that all people worship him. This figure is typically referred to as “Antichrist”, though the word itself is never used in the book of Revelation, occurring only in the Letters of John (1 Jn 2:18, 22; 4:3; 2 Jn 7), where it refers both to a spirit of false belief and to false believers who act/speak according to this spirit. Many commentators assume that 1 Jn 2:18 also refers to an early form of the “Antichrist” tradition similar to the “man of sin/lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2, but I am by no means convinced of this. It does, however, reflect the common worldview that, as the end-time approaches, wicked leaders and rulers, false Christs and false prophets, etc, would arise and exercise baleful power/influence over people at large. There is every reason to think that much of this expectation goes back to Jesus’ own teaching, such as is preserved in the Eschatological Discourse.

3. The “Son of Man” vision in Dan 7:13-14ff

I have also examined this particular passage in considerable detail as part of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”, and will here limit the discussion to its influence on the New Testament and early Christian tradition. Three areas will be dealt with: (a) the sayings of Jesus in Mark 13:26-27; 14:62, etc; (b) the references in Revelation 1:7, 13; 14:14; and (c) its relation to the early Christian expectation of Jesus’ future return.

a. Mark 13:26-27; 14:62 par

I discussed the background of the title “Son of Man”, and its use to designate a Messianic figure-type, in Part 10 of the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. This eschatological use of the title comes primarily, if not exclusively, from Daniel 7:13-14. Taken together with the references to Michael (10:13ff; 12:1ff), who is identified with the “one like a son of man” in Dan 7 by many commentators, we have the portrait of a divine/heavenly figure who functions as God’s appointed representative to deliver His people, bring about the Judgment, and establish the Kingdom of God at the end-time. This, indeed, is the very sort of picture we see in Jesus’ eschatological sayings involving the “Son of Man”. Nowhere is this stated to precisely as in the Eschatological discourse, where the appearance of the Son of Man is described (in the Markan version) as follows:

“And then they will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man coming in/on (the) clouds with great power and splendor. And then he will set forth the Messengers and they will bring together upon (one place) the (chosen one)s gathered out, (from) out of the four winds, from (the farthest) point of earth unto (the farthest) point of heaven.” (13:26-27)

This clearly draws upon the image in Dan 7:13, where the “one like a son of man” is seen coming “with the clouds of heaven”. In Daniel, the heavenly/divine figure comes toward God (the ‘Ancient of Days’); but, according to the basic eschatological framework (based on Dan 12:1ff, etc), this has shifted to an appearance on earth at the end-time. The Son of Man comes to deliver the elect/chosen ones among God’s people, and to usher in the Judgment. There is some thought among (critical) commentators that Jesus here, and in other Son of Man sayings, is referring to a separate divine/heavenly figure and not to himself. While Mk 13:26 par, in its original context, could conceivably be interpreted this way, the subsequent saying in 14:62 par, during Jesus’ interrogation before the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin), cannot. The Synoptic tradition, despite some variation among the Gospels, is quite clear on this point. The Council (High Priest, in Mark/Matthew) asks Jesus specifically about his identity and self-understanding: “Are you the Anointed (One), the Son of the Blessed (One)?” (v. 61). This is the context for the Son of Man saying which follows:

“I am; and you will look with (open) eyes at the Son of Man sitting out of the giving (hand) [i.e. at the right hand] of the Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.” (v. 62)

The phrase “with the clouds of heaven” is a more direct quote from Dan 7:13 than in Mk 13:26. It is joined with an allusion, almost certainly, to Psalm 110:1, reflecting (and introducing) the idea, which would become so prominent in the earliest Christian tradition, of Jesus’ exaltation to God’s right hand (in Heaven) following the resurrection. Since it is stated that the people in the Council will see the Son of Man coming, this is usually understood in terms of the Son of Man’s end-time appearance on earth. However, in light of the actual context of Dan 7:13-14, and traditional references such as in Acts 7:55-56, some commentators would interpret this differently. For example, W. F. Albright and C. S. Mann, in their commentary on Matthew in the Anchor Bible series, argued strongly that all these references to the Son of Man’s coming in glory originally referred to the exaltation of Jesus—his coming to God the Father in Heaven (as in Dan 7:13f); only secondarily did early Christians apply this in terms of Jesus’ future return. I do not agree with this interpretation, especially as it relates to the eschatological description in Mk 13:26-27, since it would ignore the rather clear tradition of the end-time deliverer’s appearance (from Dan 12:1ff), so central to much Jewish eschatology of the period.

b. Revelation 1:7, 13; 14:14

The book of Revelation cites or alludes to Daniel 7:13-14 several times as well. The first is the poetic utterance at the close of the introduction, which combines Zech 12:10 along with Dan 7:13:

“See, he comes with the clouds—and every eye will look on him, even the same (one)s who stabbed out (into) him, and all the offshoots [i.e. tribes/races] of the earth will beat (themselves) over him. Yes, amen.” (1:7)

Interestingly, the same two Scriptures are also brought together in Matthew’s version (24:30) of the Son of Man saying in Mk 13:26 (above). There can be no doubt that here Dan 7:13 refers to a visible appearance to the people on earth at the end-time. All of the book of Revelation emphasizes the status/position of the exalted Jesus—this traditional usage of Dan 7:13 brings out the motif, otherwise associated with the Son of Man figure in the Gospel tradition, of Jesus’ return in divine glory.

Verse 13 is part of the introductory vision (of the exalted Jesus), and it is an even more precise quotation from Dan 7:13. Strictly speaking, it is not the title “Son of Man”, as used by Jesus in the Gospel tradition; rather, the description goes back to the actual wording of the original Daniel vision:

“…and, in the middle of the lamp(stand)s, (one) like a son of man, sunk in [i.e. clothed with] (a garment down) to the feet, and having been girded about…with a golden girdle.” (v. 13)

This identifies the exalted Jesus precisely with the heavenly “Son of Man” figure in Dan 7. Much the same occurs in the visionary description of 14:14:

“And I saw [i.e. looked], and see!—a white cloud, and upon the cloud was sitting (one) like a son of man, holding upon his head a golden crown/wreath and in his hand a sharp tool (for) plucking [i.e. sickle].”

This brings together three distinct eschatological elements:

    • The exalted Jesus as the Son of Man figure in Daniel
    • His visible appearance in/on the clouds, and
    • The coming of the Son of Man figure to bring about the end-time Judgment

These last two references in the book of Revelation are, apart from Stephen’s vision in Acts 7:55-56 (which echoes Mk 14:62 par), the only occurrences of the title/expression “Son of Man” in the New Testament outside of the Gospels.

c. Jesus’ Return in early Christian Tradition

The extent to which Daniel 7:13-14 influenced early Christian eschatology, this appears to have taken place almost entirely through the Gospel tradition. I note several relevant examples:

    • The imagery of the Ascension narrative in Acts (1:9), where it is stated that Jesus was visibly “taken up” into a cloud, and it is announced to the disciples (v. 11) that Jesus will return just as he was taken up—i.e. in/on the clouds.
    • In Paul’s (only) description of Jesus’ future return, 1 Thess 4:17, believers will be snatched up into the clouds, where we/they will meet Jesus—i.e. his presence/appearance is in/on the clouds. This seems to reflect the basic tradition in Mk 13:26-27 par.
    • The frequent theme in early Christian preaching, of Jesus’ exaltation to Heaven, implies that he comes toward the Father, where he receives a position in glory at God’s right hand (Mk 12:36 par; [16:19]; Acts 2:33-34; 5:31; Rom 8:34; Phil 2:9; Heb 1:3, etc). Again, it is fair to say that this basic belief reflects the combination of Dan 7:13 and Psalm 110:1 expressed in Mk 14:62 par. It is from that position in Heaven, in glory, that Jesus will come to judge the world (Acts 17:31, etc).

4. The Influence of the Visions in Daniel 10-12

From the standpoint of the structure of the book of Daniel, chapters 7-12 should be taken together, as a collection of oracles and visions of events to come—covering the Hellenistic period (to at least the time c. 165-4 B.C.), and culminating in the eschatological period (time of the end), however this is to be defined (and interpretations differ widely). Since we have already discussed chapter 7 and 9, it is worth focusing here on the visions in chapters 10-11, and, especially, the concluding scene in chapter 12. These three chapters played a significant role in shaping Jewish and early Christian eschatology. There are several factors to be noted:

    • The presence of the heavenly being Michael as protector/deliverer of the faithful (10:13, 21; 12:1)
    • The period of warfare and persecution, detailed particularly in chaps. 10-11; there is a heavenly component to this warfare as well which suited eschatological and apocalyptic thinking.
    • The rise of wicked rulers and powers, who are described symbolically as animals/beasts (also in chapters 7-8); the descriptions in chaps. 10-11 build more readily upon the famous passage in 9:24-27.
    • The expression of a distinct eschatological/apocalyptic world view—history progressing, growing in violence and wickedness, to culminate in a sudden and intense period of suffering and distress before the appearance of the end.

In addition, there are a number of specific details in chapter 12, in particular, which are of tremendous importance:

    • The appearance of the heavenly savior-figure (Michael) at the end time (v. 1)
    • The reference to a period of great distress which will engulf all the nations (v. 1)
    • Association with the time of the resurrection, with the implied Judgment (v. 2)
    • The separation of the righteous and the wicked (v. 2-3, 10ff)
    • The heavenly/eternal reward of the righteous, following the Judgment (v. 3)
    • The events/time of the end as a secret or mystery hidden away (sealed) (v. 4, 9)
    • Daniel’s question of “when / how long?” (v. 6), with the visionary/heavenly answer (vv. 7ff)
    • A period of intense persecution of God’s people (vv. 7ff)
    • The time-indicators and connection back to 9:24-27 (vv. 7, 11-12)

We saw above (Section 1) the way in which Dan 12:1ff influenced the eschatology (and Messianism) of the Qumran texts. Similarly, a careful reading of the Synoptic Eschatological Discourse (Mark 13 par), especially in verses 14-27, shows that Jesus is drawing significantly upon Daniel 12. The statement in verse 19 is virtually a quotation from Dan 12:1:

“For (in) those days (there) will be distress of which there has not come to be such as this, from the beginning of the formation (of the world) which God formed until the (time) now, and (there certainly) would not come to be (so again)!”

The entire period of distress described in vv. 14-22, and beginning with the allusion to Dan 9:27 (cf. also 12:11), seems to have chapter 12 in mind. Moreover, the time of warfare mentioned in vv. 7-8 could easily refer to Dan 10-11. Given the similarity (and traditional association) between Michael and the heavenly “Son of Man” figure, Jesus’ description of the Son of Man’s sudden appearance (vv. 26-27) to deliver the elect fits well with the reference to Michael in Dan 12:1. Also, the time of persecution (of the disciples), with the climactic exhortation to endure until the end is reflected at several points in Dan 12.

Other (eschatological) sayings and teachings of Jesus may allude to these chapters as well. Cf. for example, Matt 10:22 (Dan 12:12-13); 13:43 (Dan 12:3); 25:46, also John 5:29 (Dan 12:2); Luke 10:21b (Dan 12:1). Their influence may be reflected variously at other points in the New Testament, such as in Paul’s description of the “man of sin/lawlessness” in 2 Thess 2:3ff (cf. Dan 11:36, etc), or in the numerous exhortation to be faithful and endure until the end (James 1:12, etc).

The book of Revelation is, of course, heavily influenced by the book of Daniel, and also these chapters in particular. These are being discussed throughout the current series of daily notes on Revelation, but we may highlight some of the more important themes and motifs here:

    • The important position of Michael, who engages in heavenly warfare with the wicked powers (as in Daniel 10, cf. above)—Rev 12:7-9ff
    • The sealing of the visionary book, only to be opened at the time of the end (Dan 12:4, 9; also 8:26; 9:24)—Rev 5-6; 8:1ff; also 10:4; 22:10
    • The period of “great distress”, and of the faithful believers who come through this time and receive heavenly/eternal reward (Dan 12:1ff)—Rev 1:9; 7:14 (cf. chap 6 and subsequent visions in the book)
    • The specific idiom “time, times, and half a time” (i.e. 3½ years) in Dan 12:7, 14 (cf. also 9:27 where the same period of time is indicated)—Rev 12:14
    • The Beast-visions in Revelation 13 (also subsequent chapters) are largely inspired by the book of Daniel—the famous visions in chapters 4 and 7, but also in the kings and powers at war in chapters 10-11 (cf. 11:36, etc)

2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Dead Sea Scrolls

This article is meant to supplement the discussion on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1 in the current Saturday Series studies, especially with regard to the source-critical question—whether, or in what manner, the passage may derive from a separate early Jewish-Christian source. The most recent study addresses the evidence regarding the Jewish-Christian character of the passage. In some ways, this must be considered separately from the question of Pauline authorship, since Paul himself certainly could have made use of pre-existing material in his letter. However, many commentators consider 6:14-7:1 to have more affinity with other Jewish writings of the period than to the other (undisputed) Pauline letters. In particular, parallels have been pointed out with the Qumran (Dead Sea Scroll) texts. This article will briefly examine this in relation to three specific areas:

    1. The thematic/conceptual framework of ritual purity, and its importance for religious identity in terms of separation from non-believers
    2. The strong dualism of the passage, especially as applied to the contrast between dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness, justice”) and anomía (“lawlessness”)
    3. Use of the name Belíal

As the last of these is simplest to address, I will discuss it first.

The name Belíal

The word Belíal (Beli/al), here in the variant spelling Belíar (Beli/ar), is never used by Paul elsewhere in his letters, even in situations where he may have had occasion to; in fact, it does not occur elsewhere in the New Testament at all. It is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew lu^Y^l!B= (b®liyya±al), a (proper) noun occurring 27 times in the Old Testament. In the Greek Septuagint (LXX) version, it is always translated, rather than transliterated, except in the A-text of Judges 20:13. Unfortunately the exact meaning and derivation of the word remains uncertain; two theories have been the most popular:

    • As a compound of: (1) the verbal form b®lî (yl!B=), “be(com)ing old, worn”, used as an adverb/particle of negation (i.e., “not, without”), together with (2) a (verbal) form of the root y±l (lu^y`), “(be of) benefit”. Thus the word would mean something like “(of) no benefit, worthless(ness)”.
    • A noun from the root b¹la± (ul^B*), with the fundamental meaning “swallow”, presumably relating to the ancient image of Death/Sheol as a devouring power with a ravenous appetite (and wide gulping mouth), or to the consumption/decay associated with death and grave generally.

Neither explanation is especially convincing, though it would seem that b®liyya±al is a compound noun/name, akin to ±¦z¹°z¢l (Lev 16:8ff), and perhaps formed according to a similar pattern. Ultimately, the meaning has to be determined by the context of its use in the Old Testament. The oldest usage would seem to be preserved in several examples of early poetry, especially in Psalm 18:5[4] (= 2 Sam 22:5), where it is synonymous with “Death” (m¹we¾) and “Sheol” (š®°ôl, see my recent article for more on this term). The expression “deadly (poison) of Beliyya’al” (d®»ar b®liyya±al) in Psalm 41:9[8] (also 101:3) likely stems from the same use of b®liyya±al as a name for Death.

Much more frequent is the expression “son/s of Beliyya’al”, ben / b®nê b®liyya±al (Deut 13:14; Judg 19:22; 20:13; 1 Sam 2:12; 10:27; 25:17; 1 Kings 21:10, 13; 2 Chron 13:7), along with the parallel (and more or less equivalent) expression “man/men of Beliyya’al”, °îš / °anšê b®liyya±al (1 Sam 25:25; 30:22; 2 Sam 16:7; 20:1; 1 Kings 21:13; Prov 16:27), °¹¼¹m b®liyya±al (Prov 6:12); also “daughter [ba¾] of Beliyya’al” in 1 Sam 1:16. In Hebrew, the word ben (“son”) is often used in the sense of a person belonging to a particular group or category, i.e. possessing a set of certain characteristics in common, and so it must be understood in these instances. It refers to a Beliyya’al-like person, someone who “belongs” to Beliyya’al, with evidence (by his/her attitudes and behavior) of similar characteristics. The context of the passages cited above makes clear that a “son/man of Beliyya’al” essentially refers to a person who violates and disrupts the order of things—either in a specific social (or religious) setting, or within society at large. This relates more to the idea of hostility, chaos, and confusion (i.e. disorder), rather than the more direct association with Death in the (older?) poetic references mentioned above.

It is hard to say whether, in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al is used in an abstract sense, or as a proper noun (i.e. personal name). Both are possible, though the parallel with Death/Sheol in Psalm 18:5, etc, suggests that an ancient (mythological) personification of death (and the grave) informs the usage. This figurative association would naturally extend to encompass the idea of chaos, confusion, and destruction—all related to the realm of death and “non-existence”, i.e. the primal condition of the universe (as a dark, formless mass [see Gen 1:2 etc]) prior to the establishment of the created order by God. At the same time, b®liyya±al is clearly synonymous with the more abstract concepts of “evil” (r¹±), “wickedness” (reša±) and “trouble” (°¹wen), especially in the Wisdom writings (Prov 6:12; 16:27; 19:28; Job 34:18). Most likely, this is a secondary development, from the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, and the characteristic of a such a person as a wicked trouble-maker (see the generalized usage, where the expression is implied, in 2 Sam 23:6; Nahum 1:11; 2:1 [1:15]). A wicked/evil thought, expressed by d¹»¹r b®liyya±al (Deut 15:9; Psalm 101:3 [?]), may involve wordplay with an older poetic expression “deadly (poison) [dbr] of Beliyya’al” (Ps 41:9, cf. above).

We do not encounter the word/name Beliyya’al again until the first centuries B.C., when it appears in a number of surviving Jewish texts of the period. (e.g., Jubilees 1:20). Already in Greek texts (and translations) of the time, the variant spelling Belíar (instead of Belíal) is attested as a transliteration of the Hebrew word. Most notably, b®liyya±al occurs frequently in the Qumran texts, where it is used to refer to an evil figure opposed to God, personifying (and governing) the darkness and wickedness of the current (evil) Age. As such, the name is more or less synonymous (though not necessarily equivalent) with “(the) Sa‰an” or “Devil” (diabólos in Greek). This is a significant development from the earlier Hebrew expression “son(s) of Beliyya’al”. Now, those who ‘belong’ to Beliyya’al are defined in a most pronounced dualistic sense as the “sons of darkness”, opposed to God and the “sons of light” (i.e. the Qumran Community); and the wicked “sons of darkness” will be destroyed (along with Beliyya’al) by God’s end-time Judgment that is about to be ushered in. Not surprisingly, Beliyya’al features prominently in the War Scroll (1QM 1:1, 5, 13; 13:2, 4-5, 11); for other passages, I would note: the Community Rule [1QS] 1:18; 2:4-5, 19; the Damascus Document [CD/QD] 4:13ff; 5:18-19; 12:2; the Florilegium [4Q174] col. i. 8f and Testimonia [4Q175] 23.

There is even a closer parallel with 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 to be found in the so-called Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, a collection of Jewish pseudepigraphic writings, inspired by Genesis 49. The underlying material and tradition is Jewish, but there are signs of subsequent Christian editing and adaptation as well. The name Beliyya’al occurs frequently in the Testaments—Greek form regularly Belíar, as in 2 Cor 6:15—nearly 30 times: Asher 1:8; 3:2; Benjamin 3:3, 5, 8; 6:1, 7; 7:1-2; Dan 1:7; 4:7; 5:1, 10-11; Issachar 6:1; 7:7; Joseph 7:4; 20:2; Judah 25:3; Levi 3:3; 18:12; 19:2; Naphtali 2:6; 3:2; Reuben 4:8, 11; 6:4; Simeon 5:3; Zebulun 9:8. There is also here a dualistic contrast between the Law of God and the “works of Beliar”, with an exhortation throughout for people to shun and flee (i.e. separate from) this wickedness of Beliar, especially in light of the Judgment about to come upon the world. The exhortation in Test. Levi 19:1-2 is perhaps the closest in form and substance to 2 Cor 6:14ff:

“…choose for yourselves light or darkness, the Law of the Lord or the works of Belial!”

As noted above, in the Septuagint, the Hebrew word b®liyya±al is always translated, rather than transliterated, using a number of different Greek words, such as: loimós (“pest[ilence]”), paránomos (one who “[step]s alongside [i.e. violates] the law”), aseb¢¡s (“without [proper] reverence”), anomía (“without law, lawless[ness]”), hamartœlós (“erring, sinful”), and áphrœn (“without [good] sense”). Especially in the expression “son/man of Beliyya’al”, the word b®liyya±al indicates a violation or disruption of order in society, and thus suggests a semantic range reasonably close to anomía (“without law, lawlessness”) in Greek. As such, Belíal (or Belíar) is a fitting parallel to anomía in 2 Cor 6:14-15. It is possible that Paul has the Hebrew idiom in mind in 2 Thessalonians 2 (vv. 3, 8), when he uses the expressions “the lawless (one)” (ho ánomos), “the man of lawlessness” (ho ánthrœpos t¢s anomías), and “the son of ruin/destruction” (ho huiós t¢s apœleías); if so, he translates b®liyya±al for his Greek audience rather than using a transliterated form.

The Idea of Ritual Purity

In my view, the question of Pauline authorship of 6:14-7:1 ultimately hinges on the motif of ritual purity in the section, how it applied to believers, and whether (or not) this accords with Paul’s thought as expressed elsewhere in his letters. As it happens, 1 and 2 Corinthians are the most relevant writings, since they are by far the longest and most extensive letters written by Paul, to congregations with whom he was intimately familiar, and which address many practical ethical issues facing believers as they conduct their lives (and govern their congregations) within the wider Greco-Roman society. I will be discussing this aspect of 6:14-7:1 in considerable detail in the next Saturday Series study on the passage; here I will only summarize the evidence briefly, before turning to the Qumran texts.

As far as the regulations in the Torah relating to ritual purity, Paul’s view on the matter seems quite clear (for detailed studies on this, cf. my series “Paul’s View of the Law”). Believers are free from the Law, and the Torah regulations are no longer binding; this is as true of the various purity laws not mentioned by Paul as it is of circumcision and dietary laws (which he does discuss). His relationship with the apostolic “decree” from the Jerusalem Council is uncertain at best, since he never once refers to it in his letters, and may have been unaware of it at the time(s) of writing (despite the notice in Acts 16:4 [compare 21:25]). More important would be examples in his letters where Paul uses ideas or language related to ritual purity, applying it (figuratively) to believers. I would note the following:

    • Rom 6:12-13, 19—there is perhaps a faint allusion to the purity of sacrificial offerings (i.e. service at the altar) in the idea of believers presenting themselves before (vb paríst¢mi, lit. “[make] stand alongside”) God (cf. also the quasi-ritual context of the image in 2 Cor 11:2); it is noteworthy that v. 19 contains the same juxtaposition of dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) and anomía (“lawlessness”) that we find in 2 Cor 6:14 (see below).
    • 1 Cor 5:6-8—Passover imagery (esp. that of unleavened bread) is applied to believers, exhorting them not to associate with persons engaged in sexual immorality (vv. 1-2, 9-13f); the main difference with 2 Cor 6:14ff is that here it directed specifically against believers engaged in sinful behavior and not non-believers.
    • 1 Cor 6:19—the bodies of believers are identified (symbolically) with the Temple, which had to be kept ceremonially pure (a primary concern of the Torah purity laws); here we find perhaps the closest example of ritual purity meant to symbolize believers separating themselves from the immorality of the surrounding society (vv. 9ff, 13-18).
    • 1 Cor 10:6-13—the application of the Golden Calf episode (Exod 32; note the implicit context of ceremonial purity in 19:10-15) to the very matter addressed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1, namely, believers separating from the idolatrous culture around them (vv. 7-8, 14ff).

When we consider the situation in the Qumran texts, there is naturally a much greater emphasis on holiness in terms of ritual purity, since (a) the Community’s religious identity was based on strict observance of the Torah (including the purity regulations), and (b) it also identified itself with the Priestly line (“sons of Zadok”), including many priests who has separated from the ruling priesthood and Temple establishment, which itself was viewed as impure and corrupt. The very idea of the Community involved separation from the surrounding society—both the Greco-Roman world and other Israelites (“sons of darkness”, dominated by Belial [see above])—to join with the “sons of light”. This was a real separation, into a communalistic, sectarian organization, much moreso than was the case with early Christian congregations (though the initial Jerusalem community was perhaps closer to this model). The so-called “Community Rule” document (1QS) is perhaps the best source for the religious self-identity of the Qumran Community—e.g., 5:1f, 6, 13-20; 8:5ff; 9:5f, 8-9. Cf. also the Damascus Document [CD] 6:14-18; 12:19-20, and many other passages.

Dualism

For a definition and explanation of the term “dualism”, see my recent article on the subject. There is an especially strong dualistic outlook in 6:14-7:1, which, indeed, is central to the idea of separation within the religious-thematic framework of ritual purity (see the discussion above). This dualistic “separation” is expressed several ways, corresponding to the (poetic) parallelism of the passage:

    • Believer vs. Non-believer—pístos  vs. ápistos (lit. “trusting” and “without trust”) [v. 14a, 15b]
    • Dikaiosýn¢ vs. Anomía (“righteousness/justice” vs. “lawlessness”) [v. 14b]
    • Light (fœ¡s) vs. Darkness (skótos) [v. 14c]
    • Christ vs. Belial [v. 15a]
    • Shrine of God vs. (Pagan) Images [v. 16a]
    • Clean [implied] vs. Unclean (akáthartos) [v. 17a]
    • Stain/soiling (moslysmós) vs. Purity, i.e. holiness (hagiosýn¢) [7:1]

To be sure, Paul himself frequently makes use of a dualistic mode of expression in his letters; indeed certain of these contrasts (e.g. light/darkness) are practically universal in religious/ethical teaching (cf. 1 Thess 5:5; Rom 13:12, etc). However, it is the especially strong dualistic imagery here, informed by the idea of (ritual) purity, and aimed at religious-cultural separation, that many commentators feel is foreign to Paul’s thought in his letters.

In particular, the noun dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness, justice”), used frequently by Paul in the specific theological sense (and context) of human beings being justified (lit. “made right”) before God through the work of Jesus, here seems to have a rather different emphasis. In 6:14 it is used in the more conventional religious sense, so it would seem, of right behavior, i.e. in contrast with “lawlessness” (anomía, lit. being “without law”). While this latter word could refer specifically to the Torah, it often denoted generally the violation of social and religious standards, i.e. “sin, iniquity, immorality”, but could also connote flagrant opposition to religion and God himself. The noun occurs 6 other times in the Pauline letters (Rom 4:7 [citation]; 6:19 [twice]; 2 Thess 2:3, 7; also Tit 2:14), with the related adjective ánomos 6 times (1 Cor 9:21 [4 times]; 2 Thess 2:8; also 1 Tim 1:9), and the adverb anómœs twice (in Rom 2:12). Paul alternates between using these words in the literal sense of “without (the) Law [i.e. Gentiles without the Torah]”, and the general sense of “wickedness, etc”. The only other instance where Paul directly contrasts anomía (“lawlessness”) with dikaiosýn¢ (“righteousness”) is Romans 6:19, an exhortation (for believers) that is reasonably close to the line of thought in 2 Cor 6:14ff (see above).

Some commentators, however, would find even closer parallels in the Qumran texts, especially the key sectarian writings that establish most clearly the Community’s religious identity. This was touched on above, in the section on ritual purity; however, it is worth noting the pervasive dualism with which this was expressed. While light vs. darkness is a common religious motif, for the Qumran Community it was absolutely a way of defining themselves—as “sons of light” vs. “sons of darkness”. All the other nations, as well as the wicked/unfaithful in Israel, belonged to the darkness (and under the domain of Belial, see above), while only the Community, the faithful ones, belonged to the light. Evidence of their belonging to the light was their strict adherence to the Torah, and to the inspired teaching/guidance of the Community. Of many passages, cf. 1QS [Community Rule] 1:9-11; 2:16-17; 3:3, 13, 19-20ff; 1QM [War Scroll] 1:1, 3, 9ff; 13:5-6, 9; 4QFlor [4Q174] col. i. 9.

This same dualism was expressed, naturally enough, by a contrast between “righteousness” (ƒ®d¹qâ  hdqx) and “iniquity” (±¹wel  lwu = “lawlessness”), as Paul does in Rom 6:19 etc; however, for the Qumran Community (and contrary to Paul), this was defined more precisely along the lines of (ritual) purity employed in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 (cf. above). Again, many passages could be cited, among which I would note: 1QS 1:4-5; 5:1-4; 1QH [Hymns] VI [XIV]. 15-16; IX [I]. 26-27. It was adherence to the Law (Torah) and the Community’s teaching, etc, that constituted “righteousness”, demonstrating that a person was, indeed, “righteous”. And central to much of the Torah, and the Community, was the idea of separation—that is, religious separation (i.e. from non-believers, what is unclean, etc)—so clearly emphasized in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1. The extent to which this is in accord (or not) with Paul’s own thought and teaching continues to be debated. I will be discussing the matter further in the next Saturday Series study.

Conclusion

To the evidence above, one might add that, according to some commentators, the manner of citing Scripture passages in 2 Cor 6:16-18 better fits the catena-format used at Qumran than Paul’s own style (a debatable point, to be sure). Also, while the Scriptural citations and allusions are not utilized elsewhere by Paul, we do find them in the Qumran texts—2 Sam 7:14 in 4QFlor i.11, and Ezek 20:34 (perhaps) in 1QM 1:2-3. These are minor points compared with the three areas discussed above, and even those, in and of themselves, are not especially strong arguments against Pauline authorship, with the possible exception of the use of the name Belial. It is the cumulative effect of the evidence that convinces many critical commentators. The parallels between 2 Cor 6:14-7:1 and the Qumran texts have even led some to declare that the former is “a Christian exhortation in the Essene [i.e., Qumran] tradition” or “a Christian reworking of an Essene paragraph” (cf. Furnish, p. 377, citing J. Gnilka and J. A. Fitzmyer). Few commentators today would go that far, the tendency now being to downplay considerably the idea of any direct influence on the New Testament from Qumran. Instead, most New Testament scholars today would speak in terms of the wider Jewish milieu, that both Qumran and early Christian Communities inherited many similar ideas, techniques, modes of interpretation, etc, within the Judaism of the period, and that this accounts for most, if not all, of the evident parallels.

The use of the name Belial remains perhaps the most notable ‘non-Pauline’ feature discussed above; its frequent occurrence in Jewish writings of the first centuries B.C./A.D., and, in particular, the usage in the (Christianized) Jewish material of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, offers us a window on the kind of Jewish-Christian homiletic we see in 2 Cor 6:14-7:1. However, based on this evidence alone, one cannot simply exclude Pauline authorship of the section, though, at the very least, it does increase the likelihood that Paul may have made use of pre-existing (Jewish-Christian) material in his letter.

References above marked “Furnish” are to Victor Paul Furnish, II Corinthians, Anchor Bible [AB] Vo. 32A (1984).
“Gnilka” refers to the study by J. Gnilka, “2 Cor 6:14-7:1 in the light of the Qumran texts and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs” in Paul and the Dead Sea Scrolls, ed. by J. Murphy O’Connor and James H. Charlesworth (Geoffrey Chapman Ltd.: 1968); originally published in Neutestamentliche Aufsätze, Festschrift J. Schmid (1963).

“Secret…”: Conclusion (Rev 1:20; 10:7)

This series on the use of the word musth/rion (“secret”) in the New Testament concludes with today’s study. The last two references to be addressed are Revelation 1:20 and 10:7 (see the previous study, on Rev 17:5, 7).

Revelation 1:20; 10:7

To begin with, we have the statement by the one “like a son of man” (v. 13) to the seer (John) in 1:20:

“The secret of the seven stars, which you saw in my giving [i.e. right] (hand), and the seven golden lamp-stands, (is this): The seven stars are (the) Messengers of the seven Congregations, and the seven lamp-stands are (the) seven Congregations.”

This use of the word “secret” (musth/rion) is comparable to that in Rev 17:5, 7 (cf. the previous study), relating to the hidden meaning of the vision and its details. The influence of Daniel 2:18ff; 4:9 on the book of Revelation in this regard is clear. The verse, of course, leads in to the famous sets of messages (or ‘letters’) to the Seven Churches in chapters 2-3. In the context of this vision the one “like a son of man” (a heavenly being, or, more probably, the exalted Christ himself) gives to each of the (heavenly/angelic) Messengers (a&ggeloi) a message to write out. Ultimately, it is the author of the book of Revelation, the seer (John) in the narrative, who writes this out.

In Revelation 10:7, we find a somewhat different use of the word musth/rion:

“…but in the days of the voice of the seventh Messenger, when he should be about to (sound the) trumpet, even (then) is completed the secret of God, as He gave as a good message [i.e. announced/declared] to his (own) slaves the Foretellers {Prophets}.”

This relates to a different set of seven heavenly Messengers—those who blow the trumpets in the vision of 8:6-9:21. The seventh Messenger does not blow his trumpet until 11:15ff. This seventh trumpet closes the main division of the book spanning chapters 4-11, which is comprised of a complex interconnected sequence of visions and descriptions of the (impending) end-time Judgment by God. According to 10:7, this final trumpet blast marks the time when “the secret of God is completed [e)tele/sqh]”.

The expression “secret of God” is also found in 1 Cor 2:1 v.l. (also v. 7) and in Col 2:2; the plural “secrets of God” occurs in 1 Cor 4:1. In Ephesians 1:9 we have the expression “secret of his [i.e. God’s] will”, as well “secret(s) of the Kingdom of God” in Mark 4:11 par (see the previous daily notes for a discussion of these references). Eph 1:9 provides probably the closest parallel to the context of Rev 10:7. There, Paul (or the author) uses the expression “the secret of His will” in relation to the entirety of what we would call salvation history—from the predetermined ‘election’ of believers to the final consummation/restoration of all things (vv. 3-10ff). Every aspect of this salvation history is centered in the person and work of Jesus Christ, as the concluding words make clear:

“…making known to us the secret of His will, according to His good consideration which he set before(hand) in Him(self), unto/into the ‘house-management’ [oi)konomi/a] of the filling/fullness of the times, to bring up all things under (one) head in (the) Anointed (One) {Christ}…” (vv. 9-10, cf. the earlier study)

Like a faithful house-manager (oi)kono/mo$), God has dispensed and portioned out the times and seasons (kairoi/) until their completion at the end-time. This is very much the idea expressed in Rev 10:7, where the seventh trumpet-blast marks the completion (te/lo$) of all these things.

The eschatological, apocalyptic setting in the book of Revelation also fits reasonably well with the use of the similar Hebrew/Aramaic expression la@ yz@r* (“secrets of God”) in several texts from Qumran, especially the War Scroll (1QM). In 1QM 3:9, the phrase “(the) secrets of God to destroy wickedness” is written upon the trumpets used in the end-time battle; and the destruction of the “sons of darkness (or Belial)” is part of God’s predetermined plan and the “secrets” of his will (14:14; 16:11, 16). The persecution/suffering of God’s faithful at the hands of Belial (and his empire) until the end-time Judgment is also an important element of the “secrets” of God (17:9), expressed in 14:9 in terms of “the secrets of his [i.e. Belial’s] animosity”. Similar language surrounding the “secrets (of God)” is found in the Community Rule (1QS 3:23; 4:6, 18). Elsewhere in the Qumran texts, “secret(s)” refers more generally to the hidden aspects or “mysteries” of creation, sin and salvation, etc, in the plan and will of God (1QS 9:18; 11:3, 5, 19; 1Q26 fr 1-2 line 5; 1Q27 col 1 lines 2-4, 7; 1Q36 fr 16; and often in the Hymns [1QH] IV/XVII line 9; V/XIII line 8, 19; IX/I 11, 13, 21, 29; X/II 13; XII/IV 27, etc). These secrets are made known to the Prophets (in Scripture) and, in turn, to the members of the Qumran Community, through the inspired interpretation of its leaders—this interpretation is primarily eschatological, understanding the Community’s central role in the end-time salvation and Judgment brought by God (cf. especially the commentary [pesher] on Habakkuk [1QpHab] 7:5, 8, 14). The connection of God’s “secrets” with salvation history (cf. above on Eph 1:9) is expressed in the so-called Damascus Document [CD/4Q269] 3:18.

4QMMT (“Halakhic Letter”)

The Qumran text 4QMMT, sometimes referred to as “Halakhic Letter”, has an especially interesting (and important) connection to the New Testament—the letters of Paul in particular. It is represented by 6 manuscripts (4Q394-99), all quite fragmentary; scholars would seem to be correct in assigning them to a single document, which has been reconstructed, as far as possible. The critical edition was produced by E. Qimron and J. Strugnell in volume 10 of the Discoveries in the Judean Desert (DJD) series, pp. 3-40, plates I-VIII.

The number of surviving manuscripts, spanning, it would seem, a period of more than 100 years (c. 75 B.C. – 50 A.D.), is an indication of its popularity and importance for the Community of the Qumran texts. Most likely it was viewed as an authoritative work, and one which represented the Community’s religious identity and principles in significant ways.

The designation “MMT” is an abbreviation of the Hebrew phrase hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^ tx*q=m!, miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ (for more on this, cf. below), which occurs in an important section (C 25-32) now regarded by most commentators as the epilogue of the work. In some ways the title “Halakhic Letter” is more appropriate, though a bit anachronistic in terminology; for, indeed, the work appears to be a letter, of sorts, and contains what would come to be known as halakah. This term, referring to the way by which a person must walk, was used in a technical sense for the interpretation of the regulations and requirements of the Torah, and how they are to be applied in detail. A vast body of traditional teaching in this regard was preserved and given authoritative form in the Mishnah and Talmud; but it is found in the midrashim (commentaries) and other writings as well. The bulk of 4QMMT, or what survives of it, involves an interpretation of various regulations in the Torah; we can fairly assume that this halakah represents the views of the Community, and that they regarded it as an authoritative interpretation. It would seem that the purpose of the work (as a letter) was to convince other individuals or groups that those who did not adhere to the Community’s interpretation were dangerously in error. The letter may well have originally been written to a specific individual, presumably a leading/ruling figure (note the mention of David in C 25); a clear statement of the purpose of writing follows:

“Remember David…he, too, [was] freed from many afflictions and was forgiven. And also we have written to you miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ which we think are good for you and for your people, for we s[a]w that you have intellect and knowledge of the Instruction. Reflect on all these matters and seek from Him that He may support your counsel and keep you far from the evil scheming[s] and the counsel of Belial, so that at the end of time, you may rejoice in finding that some of our words are true. And it shall be reckoned to you as justice when you do what is upright and good before Him, for your good and that of Israel.” (C 25-32, 4Q398 frag. 14-17 col. ii. 1-8).

The phrase miqƒ¹¾ ma±¦´ê hatôrâ is a bit difficult to render clearly into English. A literal translation would be something like “from the ends of the (thing)s made/done of the Instruction”. The “Instruction” (hr*oT, tôrâ), of course, means the Instruction given to the people of Israel, by God, through Moses (and written/preserved in the books of the Pentateuch)—i.e. the Torah or “Law” of Moses. In context, the word tx*q=m! (miqƒ¹¾), “from the ends (of)”, refers to some specific examples, or certain details, in the Torah. The word yc@u&m^ (ma±¦´ê) is a construct plural form of the noun hc#u&m^ (ma±¦´eh), from the root hcu, and meaning “something made or done”; here, however, it probably denotes “something that is to be done“. Thus, the basic sense of the phrase is “some specific things in the Instruction (Torah) which are to be done”.

The surviving portions of 4QMMT present some details and examples of these “things which are to be done”. It is not necessarily to go over them in detail, but a summary of some of the contents may be helpful (cf. R. A. Kugler, “Rewriting Rubrics: Sacrifice and the Religion of Qumran”, in Religion in the Dead Sea Scrolls, eds. John J. Collins and Robert A. Kugler [Eerdmans: 200]):

    • B 11-13—on the care that needs to be taken by the priests in performing their duties (Lev 22:16; Num 18:1)
    • B 9-13—on when the common meal portion of sacrificial offerings is to be eaten (Lev 7:15; 19:6)
    • B 13-17—details related to the purification ritual involving the ashes of the red cow (Num 19:1-10)
    • B 27-35—where the ritual slaughter is to take place, and how this is to be interpreted/applied (Lev 17:3-4)
    • B 36-38—the regulation against sacrificing a parent animal with its offspring (Lev 22:28)
    • B 39-54—regulations regarding who may be allowed to enter the sanctuary (Deut 23:2-4; also 18:13; Lev 21:17)
    • B 62-64—on the dedication of the produce and tithe of the herd/flock as “holy to the Lord” (Lev 19:23-24; 27:32)
    • B 75-82—regulations regarding priestly marriages (Lev 21:7, 14; also 19:19; Deut 22:9)

Generally, the halakhic interpretation by the Qumran Community would seem to be stricter than that observed by other Jews at the time, an attitude reflected in many other Qumran texts. The Community felt that it possessed an inspired, authoritative interpretation of the Torah (and of Scriptural prophecy, etc), which was the result of special revelation and guidance. The eschatological warning indicated in the epilogue (cf. above) shows the importance of following the Community’s inspired halakah (and the danger of disregarding it). Column i of the same fragment cited above presents this even more clearly:

“…concerning these things…we [have written that you must understand the bo]ok of Moses [and the books of the prophets and David…]…[it is writ]ten that you [shall stray from the path and evil will encounter] you. And it is written: and it shall happen when [all] these [things shall befa]ll you at the en[d] of days, the blessing [and the] curse, [then you shall take it] to your he[art] and will turn to Him with all your heart [and with al]l [your] soul [at the en]d [of time]…”

Paul and 4QMMT

When the text 4QMMT was made known, scholars were immediately struck by the similarity between the expression hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^ (ma±¦´ê hatôrâ) and the Greek e&rga no/mou used by Paul. It is the closest Hebrew parallel thus far found, and one that, at least in the latest copies of 4QMMT, would have been roughly contemporary with Paul’s letters. The Greek expression simply means “works of (the) law”, and generally corresponds with the Hebrew, though not without important loss of nuance. As indicated above, the Hebrew hr*oTh^ yc@u&m^, in the context of 4QMMT, should be translated “things (which are to be) done of the Instruction [i.e. Torah]”. If this Hebrew expression, and its use, truly underlies Paul’s Greek wording, then it has significant implication for the latter’s meaning. It is worth touching on this briefly, as it relates to the current discussion on “Paul’s View of the Law” (in Galatians and Romans).

Ever since Luther and the Reformation, Protestant Christians have been accustomed to thinking of Paul’s “works of the Law” in terms of a contrast of “faith vs. works”, in which “works” refers primarily to human effort as the basis of the contrast—i.e. human effort to achieve a right status with God, rather than relying on faith in Christ. While Paul doubtless would agree with this contrast (cf. the Pauline statement in Eph 2:9), a careful reading of Galatians and Romans—the only letters where the expression “works of the Law” is used—shows that Paul is actually making a very different sort of argument, and one which may be confirmed (decisively) by the expression in 4QMMT.

When dealing with fundamental religious issues like circumcision or the dietary regulations, the question involved is not about trying to gain righteousness through work/deeds, but on whether believers in Christ (and Gentile believers, in particular) are required to fulfill these regulations in the Torah. This is exactly the sense of the Hebrew expression in 4QMMT, i.e. things in the Torah which people are required to do, as I discussed above. Thus, issue lies not in the limitations of human effort (in regard to obtaining righteousness), but in the nature of the Torah itself, and its place (or lack thereof) in the new arrangement (covenant) believers now observe in Christ. Paul discusses this at length in Galatians and Romans, and I similarly have been presenting his arguments in detail in the current series (on “Paul’s View of the Law”). His teaching on the Torah is so unique (and controversial) among Jews (and Jewish Christians) of the time, that it must be studied carefully. Even today, many Christians are unable to recognize, and/or reluctant to admit, the consequences and implications of his line of argument. I recommend that you read these articles and notes on the key passages in Galatians and Romans. For reference, it may be useful to summarize the locations where the expression “works of the Law” (or its shorthand, “works”) occur:

  • The full expression e&rga no/mou (“works of the Law”):
    Gal 2:16 (3 x); 3:2, 5, 10; Rom 3:20, 28; in all but the last of these, the phrase is “out of [i.e. from, by] works of the Law” (e)c e&rgwn no/mou); in Rom 3:28, we have the opposite, “apart from [xwri/$] works of the Law”.
  • The shorthand e&rga (“works”) or e)c e&rgwn (“out of [i.e. from, by] works”):
    Rom 3:27; 4:2, 6; 9:11, 32; 11:6
  • We might also note, that, when Paul speaks of the “works of the Law” in relation to the Gentiles, on one occasion (Rom 2:15), he uses the singular “work [e&rgon] of the Law”; the distinction presumably reflects the idea that Gentiles have not had the specific regulations (“works”) of the Torah to follow, but are “under the Law” in a different manner (comp. with how he expresses this in Gal 4:1-11).

This special use of the word e&rga (“works”) appears to be unique to Paul in the New Testament, and its use is limited to Galatians and Romans. While other believers at the time may have used the word in a similar way (whether or not influenced by Paul), there is little or no trace of it in the New Testament. Elsewhere, “works” refer to things done (deeds), in a more general religious (and ethical) sense, either in terms of “good works” or the contrary, “evil deeds”. Even in the “deutero-Pauline” letters—that is, those where Pauline authorship is often disputed or considered pseudonymouse&rga is used almost entirely in terms of “good works”, and even the statements in Eph 2:9 and 2 Tim 1:9, which seem to echo Paul’s teaching on believers’ relationship to the Torah, likely refer to “works” in the more general sense of (good) deeds. The reference to “dead works” in Hebrews 6:1; 9:14 could also reflect Paul’s teaching, but may just as easily be the result of traditional ethical instruction.

The use of e&rga (“works”) in the letter of James is more difficult to judge. On the one hand, the author, throughout 2:14-26 (where the word occurs 12 times), seems to be speaking more generally of “good works”, i.e. acts of charity to others. On the other hand, the reference to Abraham, with a citation of Gen 15:6, almost certainly draws upon the traditional image of Abraham as one who faithfully followed God’s commands (i.e. the regulations of the Torah). However, the overall context of the letter suggests that, if the author has any “commands” in mind in using the word e&rga, it should be understood in terms of the single “Love-command” (2:8ff); in this regard, the author is fully in accord with Paul as to the relationship between believers and the “Law” (Gal 5:6, 13-15; 6:2; Rom 12:9ff; 13:8-10). Cf. my recent article for more on the use of Gen 15:6 by Paul and James.

Translations of 4QMMT above are taken, with some modification, from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Brill / Eerdmans: 1997-8).

John the Baptist and the Dead Sea Scrolls

With the discovery and eventual publication of the Dead Sea Scrolls (particularly those from Qumran), scholars and commentators were eager to note any possible parallels with the New Testament and early Christianity. A wealth of theories sprung up, some less plausible than others, including attempts to connect Jesus of Nazareth with the Scrolls in various ways. One theory which continues to have some measure of popularity (and acceptance) today among New Testament scholars involves a possible connection or association between John the Baptist and the Qumran Community. Before proceeding, it will be helpful to define and explain what is meant by the expression “Qumran Community”. In terms of the site of Khirbet Qumrân, and scrolls found in the vicinity, we can identify three groups, which may (or may not) be identical:

    • Those who copied, used, and/or hid away the scrolls in the Qumran caves, assuming that they represent a coherent group
    • Those who resided on the hilltop site of Khirbet Qumran
    • A community whose organization, and history, etc, is described in the scrolls themselves

With regard to the last point, most scholars believe that there was an actual group, or community, in existence during the period c. 150 B.C. – 70 A.D. (the time-frame of the scrolls), which sought to organize and conduct itself according to the ideals, principles, regulations, etc, outlined in a number of key texts—most notably the “Community Rule” (1QS and other copies), the related rule-texts 1QSa and 1QSb, and the “Damascus Document” (CD/QD). It is important to emphasize this, since there is virtually no definite external evidence for this group’s existence. However, their existence would seem to be confirmed by the evidence within the scrolls themselves; I would point to several pieces of evidence in particular:

    • The numerous copies of the “community rule” texts, produced over a significant length of time (to judge by the surviving versions/recensions)—this indicates a functioning, well-established community which required these authoritative texts and rule-books for repeated use. The same may be said for the corpus of the Qumran texts as a whole—the many Scripture copies, liturgical texts, and so forth, presumably served the needs of a specific (religious) community.
    • Many of the Qumran texts evince a decided sectarian viewpoint and orientation, which is almost impossible to explain without an existing group (or groups) to read/write/copy these texts. While the views within the scrolls are not always consistent in detail, there are enough features in common, within a variety of texts written/copied over a period of decades, to confirm the existence of a distinctive group or community of adherents.
    • The history of a definite community would seem to be preserved within a number of different texts, including liturgical works, hymns, commentaries on Scripture, and other writings. Most notable is the so-called “Damascus Document”, originally known from the copy discovered in Cairo (CD), but subsequently attested from a number of copies among the Qumran scrolls (QD). This text traces the history, self-identity, rules, etc, of a definite Community, though one which is probably not limited to the area around Qumran (and the scrolls). It is possible that the “Qumran Community”, as such, may represent an offshoot of a larger/earlier movement.

Most scholars would identity the Qumran Community with the Essenes, or as an offshoot of that movement. While this is far from certain (and, unfortunately, many treat it as an established fact), it remains the most likely hypothesis. As far as the site of Khirbet Qumran goes, the prevailing opinion is that the Qumran Community resided in that fortified structure, though not all scholars or archeologists agree. There is actually very little tangible evidence to support the connection, beyond the proximity of the scroll deposits to the site.

John the Baptist

What, then, may we say about the idea that John the Baptist may have been connected in some way with the Qumran Community? There is some plausible evidence which could support the theory that John spent time in contact with the Community. I offer here some points for consideration (for another useful summary, cf. J. A. Fitzmyer, The Dead Sea Scrolls and Christian Origins [Eerdmans: 2000], pp. 18-21).

1. To begin with, it must be noted that, by all accounts, John’s ministry along the Jordan river included the desert regions around the Dead Sea not all that far from the site of Qumran. In terms of geographical proximity, it is certainly possible that John may have had some contact with members of the Community (assuming that they dwelt/resided at or near that site).

2. The centrality and importance of Isa 40:3 for both John the Baptist (Mark 1:3 par) and the Community of the Qumran texts (cf. the Community Rule [1QS] 8:12-16) has led to the suggestion that John may have been associated at some time with the Qumran Community. According to Jn 1:22-23, the identification of John with the herald of Isa 40:3, comes from his own lips; it is likely that the wider Gospel tradition to this is also derived from John’s own ministry, rather than a reflection of subsequent early Christian belief about John. The importance of Isa 40:3 would seem to be the basis for John residing in the desert, just as it clearly was for the Qumran Community:

“And when these have become a community in Israel… they are to be separated from the men of sin, to walk to the desert in order to open there His path, as it is written: ‘In the desert prepare the way of [YHWH], straighten in the steppe a roadway for our God’. This is the study of the Law which He commanded through the hand of Moses, in order to act in compliance with all that has been revealed from age to age…” (1QS 8:12-15)

Admittedly, the reasons for going into the desert are somewhat different, but they share at least two important features in common: (1) an ascetic-religious emphasis on separation from sin (holiness and repentance, etc), and (2) a religious self-identity with a strong eschatological (and Messianic) orientation (for more on this, cf. point 5 below).

3. John’s family circumstances (as recorded in the Gospel of Luke) would fit the idea of his becoming involved with the Qumran community; note the following:

    • According to Luke 1:5ff, John was born into the priestly line, but (apparently) never served officially as a priest. Many of the leading figures of the Qumran community were priests opposed to the current religious (Temple) establishment in Jerusalem. One detects in the Gospel tradition, at the very least, a measure of tension between John and the religious establishment (Jn 1:19-27; Matt 3:7-10 par) as well.
    • John’s parents were quite old when he was born (Lk 1:7, 18, 25, 36f, 58), and likely would have died while he was still young; a child orphaned from priestly parents would have made a strong candidate for adoption by the Qumran community, as Josephus states was occasionally done by the Essenes (Jewish War II.120).
    • Moreover, as a serious, religious-minded youth, John may well have been attracted to the Qumran community, even as Josephus was drawn to the Essenes as a young man (Life §10-11).

4. The Qumran community practiced ritual washings, which symbolized cleansing/purification from sin and entry/participation in the community (cf. 1QS 3:3ff; 5:13-14). As such, it provides a distinct parallel with early Christian baptism, which is related in turn to the earlier baptism practiced by John. There is also an interesting juxtaposition of cleansing by water and the Holy Spirit (and fire) in 1QS 4:20-21, as we see expressed by John in Matt 3:11 / Lk 3:16.

5. As noted above, the religious self-identity, of both John and the Qumran Community, had a strong eschatological (and Messianic) orientation. In the case of John, this is absolutely clear, though Christians are not always accustomed to thinking about his ministry this way; note the following:

    • the use of Isa 40:3, in tandem with Mal 3:1ff (Mk 1:2-3 par; Matt 11:10 par; Jn 1:23), the latter being a passage which came to have a definite eschatological emphasis for Jews and early Christians (cf. my earlier study on this)
    • in particular, John was identified as the “Elijah” who would appear at the end-time (Mal 4:5-6; cf. Mk 1:5-6; 6:15; 9:11-13 pars; Matt 11:14; Lk 1:17, 76; but cp. John’s own denial of this in Jn 1:21)
    • John’s preaching involved a proclamation of the coming (end-time) Judgment of God (Matt 3:7-10, 12 par), with repentance as a precursor (and warning) to the Judgment (see esp. Lk 1:17, 76-77)
    • this aspect of John’s ministry was distinctive enough to make people question whether he might be the “Anointed One” (Messiah), esp. in the sense of being the end-time Prophet (or “Elijah”)—Lk 3:15ff; Jn 1:19-27
    • his references to “the one coming” (Mk 1:7 par; Lk 3:16 & 7:18ff par; Jn 1:27, cf. also vv. 15, 30) almost certainly relate to a Messianic interpretation of Mal 3:1ff, as I have discussed in detail elsewhere

With regard to the eschatological and Messianic belief of the Qumran Community, its is far too large a subject to address here; I discuss it in considerable detail all throughout the series “Yeshua the Anointed”. However, I would note one interesting parallel, in terms of Messianic expression, between the writings associated with the Qumran Community and John’s preaching (according to the “Q” Gospel tradition). In the Damascus Document (CD 2:11-12) we read:

“And…he raised up…a remnant for the land…and he taught them by the hand of the Anointed One(s) with his holy Spirit and through…the truth”

If we combine this with the words of 1 QS 4:20-21:

“…the time appointed for the Judgment…Then God will refine, with his truth, all man’s deeds, and will purify…ripping out all spirit of injustice…and cleansing him with the spirit of holiness from every wicked deed…”

we are not all that far removed from the language and imagery used by John, e.g., in Mark 1:8 par.

Thus we see that the theory of a connection between John and the Qumran Community, while quite speculative, is not entirely implausible, given the points in common and details noted above.

Translations of the Dead Sea Scrolls here have been taken, with some modification and abridgment, from The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition, ed. by Florentino García Martínez and Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar (Eerdmans/Brill: 1997-8).

Saturday Series: Deuteronomy 32:1-43

Deuteronomy 32:1-43

I have chosen the great poem in Deuteronomy 32 as a way to demonstrate Old Testament criticism involving Hebrew poetry. It is often referred to as the “Song of Moses”, while in Hebrew tradition it is known by the opening word Ha°¦zînû, “Give ear…”. As with our earlier study on Exodus 32-34, I will be examining this section according to different areas or aspects of Biblical criticism—

    • Textual criticism
    • Form criticism
    • Source criticism
    • Historical criticism

followed by a brief exegetical survey of the text as it has come down to us, according to what is typically called Literary criticism.

Textual Criticism

An important component and emphasis of textual criticism is the determination, as far as it is possible, of the most likely original form of the text. This is based on the fundamental premise that the text has experienced corruption at numerous points during the process of transmission. The word “corruption” can be misleading, suggesting a moral failing; but this is not at all what the word means in the context of the science of textual criticism. Textual corruption simply means that the original text (as authored/intended) has been altered in some way at various points (variation units). This alteration may have been intentional, or, much more frequently, occurred by accident. The alteration may be limited to particular manuscripts (or manuscript groups), or, in some instances, has been preserved in the main line of transmission of the text as it has come down to us. In the case of the Old Testament, this main line of transmission is identified as the “Masoretic Text” (MT). Before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls (especially the texts from Qumran), the oldest copies of the Hebrew text were from the 9th-10th century A.D.—many centuries after even the latest of the Scriptures were composed. The Dead Sea Scrolls have changed the textual picture considerably. While the Scripture texts from Qumran (and other sites) have confirmed the general reliability of the Masoretic Text, they have also brought up many differences, including numerous points at which the Qumran MSS agree with the Greek version (and/or the Samaritan Pentateuch) against the MT. In such instances, the readings of the Qumran copies must be given most serious consideration.

A particular problem related to Hebrew poetry in the Old Testament, is that the poetic portions often contain older or archaic language which can be difficult to recognize and interpret. This was probably as true for ancient copyists, working centuries after the poems were originally composed, as it is for scholars today. There are many points in Old Testament poetry where the text appears to be corrupt. It is often difficult to be sure, since the confusion may be the result of a genuine word, phrase or syntactical construct, which is unknown or unintelligible to us today. However, a comparison with the Greek version (Septuagint), and, more importantly, the Dead Sea Scrolls, can help to clarify some of these difficulties, and to confirm points at which the Masoretic Text may indeed be corrupt.

There are three points in the Song of Moses were there is evidence for textual corruption, and/or variant readings. Let us look briefly at each of them in turn.

Deut 32:5

The first line (colon) in verse 5 appears to make very little sense as it has come down to us:

Šiµ¢¾ lô lœ° b¹n¹w mûm¹m
literally: “he made ruin to/for him his sons their blemish”

If you go to this verse in your English Bible, you will likely see a footnote indicating that the Hebrew is obscure or uncertain. As noted above, this is frequently the case in Old Testament poetry. There are hundreds of verses or lines where we simply do not know for certain what the Hebrew of the Masoretic Text (MT) means, or how to translate and interpret it, or whether the apparent confusion is the result of textual corruption. The Rabbis noted the difficult syntax of this verse and sought variously to explain the MT, without any emendation. For example, Nahmanides explains it along the lines of: “their blemish caused them [i.e. the Israelites] to act corruptly toward Him” so that, as a result, “they are not His sons”.

Many critical commentators believe that the verse, as it has come down to us, is corrupt. One suggestion (cf. J. Tigay, Deuteronomy: JPS Torah Commentary [1996], p. 301) is that originally the line read something like—

šiµ¦¾û lô b¹n¹w °¢m¥n
“His sons ruined (their) firmness [i.e. loyalty] to Him”

or, possibly:

šiµ¦¾û lœ°-b¹n¹w °¢m¥n
“(the ones who are) not-His-sons ruined (their) firmness [i.e. loyalty] to Him”

Admittedly, this would make a better fit with the second half of the line, but it remains quite speculative.

The Greek version (Septuagint, LXX) is somewhat confusing as well:

h¢mártosan ouk autœ¡ tékna mœm¢tá
perhaps: “they sinned, children (of) blame (who are) not to me [i.e. not mine]”

Unfortunately, verse 5 is not present among the manuscript fragments of Deuteronomy preserved at Qumran, so there is no help from that side in elucidating the Hebrew syntax. One must always be cautious in emending the text that has come down to us (i.e. the Masoretic text), especially when there is no clear manuscript support for such emendation. On the other hand, it is equally wrong to accept the MT blindly, ignoring places where the received text is difficult or unintelligible. Here textual criticism reaches it finest, and most challenging, point.

Deut 32:8

The Masoretic Text (MT) of these lines in verse 8 reads:

B®hanµ¢l ±Elyôn gôyim
b®ha¸rî¼ô b®nê °¹¼¹m
yaƒƒ¢» g®»¥lœ¾ ±ammîm
l®mi´par b®nê Yi´r¹°¢l

“In the Most High’s giving posessions (to) the nations,
in His breaking apart [i.e. separating] the sons of man,
He set the boundaries of the peoples,
to the count [i.e. number] of the sons of Israel.”

The last line has always struck commentators as a bit peculiar. Since the context overall suggests the dispersal of the nations (following the traditions in Genesis 10-11), occurring long before Israel was a people, establishment of the traditional number of nations (seventy, according to Gen 10) in terms of the number of Israel’s descendants (Exod 1:1-5; Deut 10:22, etc) seems somewhat out of place. Many commentators were drawn to the alternate reading in the Greek version (Septuagint, LXX), which, instead of “according to the sons of Israel”, reads “according to the Messengers of God” (katá arithmón angélœn Theoú). This version of the text finds confirmation in one of the Deuteronomy manuscripts from Qumran (4QDeutj):


l®mi´par b®nê °E_lœhîm

“…(according) to the count [i.e. number] of the sons of God

The expression “sons of God” is an ancient Semitic term for divine beings—”gods” generally, in Canaanite religion. Within the context of Israelite monotheism, this idea was modified so as to refer to heavenly beings, i.e. Angels (“Messengers”), who are not to be worshiped as gods. A traditional number of seventy such beings goes all the way back to ancient Canaanite religious lore, and was preserved in Israelite and Jewish writings. This variant reading would seem to be confirmed again by the context of verse 8 within the Song. An important theme throughout, as we shall see, is the need for Israel to serve and worship only Yahweh, and not to follow after the other nations, who worship other ‘deities’ (such as represented by the sun, moon, and other heavenly bodies). While the other nations may have been allotted to various heavenly beings, Israel is God’s own portion (v. 9). Elsewhere in Deuteronomy (4:19-20) we find similar language to 32:8-9, which suggests again that the reading of 4QDeutj may be original (see further below, on verse 43). Indeed, a tradition reflecting this reading is preserved in Jewish writings, such as the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan and the “Sayings of Rabbi Eliezer” (chap. 24). The Targum makes reference to “the seventy angels, princes of the nations”, in the context of the the Tower of Babel episode and the dispersal of the nations. For a good discussion, see J. Tigay, Deuteronomy: JPS Torah Commentary (1996), pp. 514-5 (Excursus 31).

Deut 32:43

Here is another example where the Masoretic text appears to be corrupt, in this instance due, it would seem, to a portion of the verse having dropped out. Here is the MT as it has come down to us (for the moment, I give it only in translation):

“Cry out, O nations, (to) His people!
For he will take vengeance (for) the blood of His servants
and return vengeance to His opponents,
and will cover [i.e. wipe away, cleanse] His people’s land.”

Commentators have noticed the lack of poetic parallelism in the first lines, quite in contrast to the style and technique used consistently throughout the poem, and raising the possibility that the MT is incomplete. Indeed, the Greek version is more complete, and, in part, this has been confirmed by the Qumran manuscript 4QDeutq, where v. 43 reads as follows (note the differences in italics):

“O heavens, cry out [i.e. rejoice] with Him!
Bow (down) to Him, all gods [lit. Mighty Ones]!
For he will take vengeance (for) the blood of His sons,
and return vengeance to His opponents,
He will treat those who reject Him (as they deserve),
and will cover [i.e. wipe away, cleanse] His people’s land.”

This preserves more accurately the three-beat bicolon (3:3) strophic structure and parallelism characteristic of the rest of the poem. The Septuagint Greek is more expansive, which could indicate its secondary character. The first lines, in particular, appear to conflate (combine) the text from 4QDeutq and MT:

“Be of good mind [i.e. rejoice], O heavens, with Him,
and kiss toward [i.e. worship] Him, all (you) sons of God!
Be of good mind [i.e. rejoice], O nations, with His people,
and let all the Messengers of God strengthen themselves in Him!
…”

It is easy to see how the word °§lœhîm (“gods”, LXX “sons of God”), along with the line containing it, might have dropped out or been omitted during the process of transmission. It could have been misunderstood as supporting polytheism in some way (i.e. the existence of other deities), even if here the plural °§lœhîm (lit. “mighty ones”, in the sense of “divine beings”) is referring to heavenly beings (Messengers/Angels) and not pagan deities as such. The LXX wording (“sons of God”) more accurately reflects the typical Hebrew usage in the Old Testament (see Psalm 29:1, etc; but note Psalm 97:7). In favor of the Septuagint reading is the close association of the nations and the deities (or Angels), such as we saw in what is likely the original reading of verse 8 (above). Yet the Qumran text strikes me as being more precise and favorable to the ancient poetic (and religious) outlook. The call to the heavens also serves as a fitting conclusion, functioning as a parallel to the opening words of the poem (v. 1, “Give ear, O heavens…”).

I hope that this demonstrates some of the issues involved with the study of Old Testament poetry, especially in a poem as old as the Song of Moses appears to be. Textual and interpretive difficulties abound, and must not be glossed over or ignored. Continue to study and meditate on this great poem, and we will continue with our discussion next week, picking up with the remaining areas of critical analysis which need to be explored (such as form- and source-criticism). I will see you here again next week.

Saturday Series: Exodus 32-34

Exodus 32-34

In the most recent Saturday discussion, we examined the covenant scene in Exodus 24, pointing out along the way the place of this episode in the structure of the book as a whole. The entire second half of the book, chapters 19-40, involves the idea of the binding agreement (covenant) established between God and his people at Mt. Sinai. From the standpoint of the narrative of the Pentateuch (or, at least the Tetrateuch, Genesis–Numbers), this extends to encompass the entire book of Leviticus and the opening chapters of Numbers (up to 10:10)—all of which is set at Sinai.

Chapters 32-33 (+ 34:1-9) of the book of Exodus have a special place in this narrative structure, set between two blocks of legal material (instruction, Torah), 20:1-23:33; 25:1-31:17 and 34:10-40:15. At the same time, there have been numerous critical questions surrounding these passages, which continue to be studied and debated in earnest today. As a result, Exod 32:1-34:9 is instructive for illustrating various aspects of Old Testament criticism. I wish to survey briefly each of the following areas:

    1. Textual Criticism
    2. Source Criticism
    3. Historical Criticism
    4. Exegetical analysis of the received Text

1. Textual Criticism

Generally speaking, the text of the Pentateuch is consistent and secure, as compared with other portions of Scripture. The numerous Dead Sea manuscripts tend to confirm the later Masoretic Text (MT), with a few notable exceptions, one of which is the ‘paleo-Hebrew’ manuscript from Qumran labeled 4QpaleoExodm. This (fragementary) copy of the book of Exodus covers the material spanning from 6:25 to 37:16. The text of this manuscript differs from the MT at a number of points, where it tends to agree with the Samaritan Pentateuch (against the MT). The differences are relatively minor, but they are significant enough to allow us to regard the manuscript as representing a distinct recension, or version, of the text. It appears to be the recension which, with some adaptation, was used by the Samaritans in their version of the Pentateuch. There is a particular example from our passage (Exod 32-34):

Exodus 32:10-11

The Masoretic Text (MT), following the BHS/Westminster critical editions, reads (in translation):

(YHWH speaking to Moses): “And now, bring rest to me [i.e. let me alone], and my anger [lit. nostril] will burn on [i.e. against] them and I will consume them, and I will make you to (be) a great nation!” And Moshe (trie)d to soften the face of YHWH his God, and said (to him), “For what [i.e. why], (O) YHWH, does your anger burn on your people…?”

Now, note the reading of 4QpaleoExodm, in agreement with the Samaritan text:

(YHWH speaking to Moses): “And now, bring rest to me [i.e. let me alone], and my anger [lit. nostril] will burn on [i.e. against] them and I will consume them, and I will make you to (be) a great nation!” And with Aharon YHWH was very angry, (enough) to destroy him, but Moshe interceded on behalf of Aharon. And Moshe (trie)d to soften the face of YHWH his God, and said (to him), “For what [i.e. why], (O) YHWH, does your anger burn on your people…?”

The portion in bold italics is not present in the MT. In such an instance, we must consider whether the longer text is original or represents an addition (interpolation). In this particular case, it is unlikely that the longer text is the result of an accident (copying mistake); nor can the shorter text be explained as an obvious mistake (omission). If, on the other hand, the change was at least partly intentional, then we must consider how or why it was made. The arguments cut both ways:

    • The longer text could be explained by the fact that the shorter text, if original, does not really record any reaction by God against Aaron, nor punishment, for his specific role in the Golden Calf incident; scribes thus might have been inclined to add such a detail, whether from authentic tradition or as a pious invention.
    • Scribes may also have been inclined to minimize Aaron’s role in the sin of the Golden Calf, and to eliminate specific details which cast him in too bad a light (esp. in comparison with Moses). This would be an argument in favor of the longer text.

It is not possible to make a definite determination on these grounds (though I tend to favor the shorter text at Exod 32:10-11a). In such cases, where there is corroborating evidence from Qumran to support either the Samaritan Pentateuch or the Greek Version(s), against the MT, we ought to give it serious consideration in our study.

2. Source Criticism

According to the common critical analysis of the Pentateuch (the so-called Documentary Hypothesis), Exodus 32-34 is a composite, made up of at least three distinct strands (or sources):

    • The core narrative of 32:1-33:23, usually assigned to the “E” (Elohist) source
    • The appearance of YHWH to Moses (34:1a, 2-13) and a parallel version of the Ten Commandments (34:14-28 [cp. 20:1-17]), assigned to the “J” (Jahwist/Yahwist) source
    • A layer of editing and additional material, referred to as the “Priestly” (P) layer or source—31:18; [34:1b]; 34:29-35ff (to the end of the book).

Interestingly, the “E” source was so labeled based on its presumed preference for the divine name Elohim over Yahweh (YHWH). However, chapters 32-33 consistently use YHWH throughout, the only exception being in 32:16. In this instance, the critical theory is more properly based on the presence of “doublet” traditions (two ascents by Moses, two sets of tablets, two versions of the Decalogue, etc), as well as historical considerations (see below). Traditional-conservative commentators, while often respectful of these analyses based on the Documentary Hypothesis, tend to accept the text at face value, as a unified composition reflected authentic historical tradition throughout. Even so, there are a number of apparent inconsistencies and peculiarities which require explanation. It is certainly possible to recognize the presence of various traditions which have been brought together in the narrative, without necessarily adopting the Documentary Hypothesis as a whole.

3. Historical Criticism

There are two aspects to what we call historical criticism: (1) analysis of the historical background of the text as we have it (including when it was authored, etc), and (2) consideration of the historicity of the events and traditions contained in the text. Both aspects have been somewhat controversial over the years, in the case of the Pentateuch, on the basis of two factors: (a) the detailed critical studies and hypotheses which indicate many different and varied traditions, and (b) the strong tradition identifying Moses as the effective author/source of the books. Students and scholars who adopt (or insist on) extreme positions regarding either of these two factors, in my view, end up distorting or neglecting important pieces of evidence related to the text. Let us briefly consider several critical approaches to Exod 32-34:

a. The blending of contrary or opposing traditions

Commentators who recognize different, distinct strands of tradition in the text, often claim that these are contrary or opposed to one another, in various ways. This may include:

    • Different wording or formulation of a tradition, such as in the two “versions” of the Decalogue—20:1-17 (usually assigned to “P”) and 34:14-28 (“J”).
    • Geographical distinctions—esp. interests of the Northern kingdom (Shechem, Bethel, Mushite priesthood), compared with those of the South (Jerusalem, the Temple, the Davidic legacy, Aaronid priesthood). The presumed source documents “E” and “J” are often thought to come from the North and South, respectively.
    • Religious and theological differences—e.g., the northern Bethel cultus vs. that of the Jerusalem (Temple), cherub-throne (the Ark) vs. bull-throne, the position of the priestly lines of Aaron and Moses, specific traditions associated with the religious centers of Gilgal, Shiloh, Shechem, etc.

As just one example, it is often though that the Golden Calf episode in chapter 32, along with Aaron’s involvement in the incident (vv. 1-5, 10-11 v.l., 21-24f), is intended as a (Northern) polemic against the religious establishment of Jeroboam (at the sites of Bethel and Dan, etc). There can be no doubt that an intentional parallel is at work. All one has to do is to consider the basic iconography (of the bull) and the words used to introduce it:

“These are your Gods, (O) Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (Exod 32:4, cf. also verse 8)
“See, your Gods, (O) Israel, which brought you up from the land of Egypt!” (1 Kings 12:28)

How should this parallel be explained? There are two main possibilities:

    • The declaration in 1 Kings 12:28, and/or the golden bulls of Jeroboam’s religious establishment themselves, are meant to reflect the earlier Exodus tradition.
    • The Exodus scene of the Golden Calf reflects the later development by Jeroboam, being projected back into the time of Moses and the Exodus. At the very least, one might say that the Exodus narrative has been shaped (its wording, etc) in light of the later history.
b. The tendency to include traditions with variant details

Apparent discrepancies in detail do not necessarily mean that traditions are unreliable or inaccurate. However one views the composition of the Pentateuch, the author/editor(s) of the books as they have come down to us has included many different traditions, and narratives, which seem to result in certain inconsistencies. Consider, for example, the shifts in setting and emphasis in chapters 32-34, which do not always flow smoothly in the text:

    • The details surrounding the Golden Calf, including the fact that it seems to be understood as representing both distinct “gods” (i.e. separate from YHWH), and YHWH himself (his throne?)—32:1, 4, 5-6
    • The different expressions of God’s anger, judgment, and the punishment of the people (with multiple intercessions by Moses), without a clear sense of how they relate to each other in the course of the narrative—(these will be discussed in the last section of this study [#4]). In particular, Aaron does not seem to face any definite punishment for his role in the Golden Calf incident (see above).
    • The differing descriptions of what God says to Moses on the mountain, and how it relates to what Moses writes, and to what is written on the “two tablets” of stone—24:3-4; 31:18; 32:15-16; 34:1-5, 28-29, etc.
    • In this regard, there are also some interesting repetitions in the sections of legal instruction (Torah)—examine the passages closely, 25:1-31:17; 34:10-35:3ff, as well as the earlier “book of the Covenant” (20:22-23:23).
    • Certain apparent inconsistencies regarding where/how God appears to Moses, etc—chap. 19; 20:18ff; 24:1-18; 33:7ff, 17-23; 34:5ff, 29ff.

Our modern ideals of composition would perhaps require a bit more clarity, harmonizing and smoothing out details in these various episodes and traditions. The ancient author (and/or editor[s]) did not compose and shape the text in quite this way. We must consider that the apparent rough edges and inconsistencies are intentional, meant to bring out certain details and aspects of the narrative which might otherwise be overlooked.

c. The unifying structure of the narrative

A number of the discrepancies or inconsistencies mentioned above, however one chooses to judge them from the standpoint of source– and historical-criticism (see the discussion above), can be explained, in large measure, when one considers carefully the structure of the narrative as it has come down to us. In this regard, the “doublet” and repeating elements, far from being problematic, are actually vital to a proper understanding of the narrative. Consider the basic outline:

    • Moses ascends Mount Sinai and receives instruction (Torah) from God, which includes material written down on two stone tablets (i.e. the covenant)—24:15-31:18
      • The people violate the covenant and Moses descends—chaps. 32-33
    • Moses re-ascends Mount Sinai and (again) receives instruction (Torah) from God, including that written down on two stone tablets (the covenant)—34:1-28
      • Moses descends and the covenant with the people is re-established34:29-35:1ff

The simplicity of this outline masks a richly-detailed structure of motifs and associations, particular points of emphasis, and the like. This is part of the uniquely inspired character of the text which cannot be reduced merely to questions of historicity. The fourth (final) section of this study on Exodus 32-34 will examine the structure of the narrative in more detail, from an exegetical standpoint. This we will do next Saturday. I hope that you will join me.

Yeshua the Anointed: Suffering and Death of the Messiah

One final topic remains to be discussed in this series, in light of Jesus’ death—the idea of that the Messiah would suffer and be put to death. This was of vital importance to the early Christian understanding of Jesus as the Messiah, and appears to have been an entirely original Christian development of Messianic thought and belief. However, given the centrality of Jesus’ death in the early Gospel proclamation, to his identity as the “Anointed One”, as well as to the Christology of the New Testament as a whole, it is worth examining this aspect in relation to Messianic expectation of the period.

Fundamental to the Gospel Tradition are the three Passion predictions by Jesus, the first of which begins “it is necessary [dei=] for the Son of Man to suffer many things…” (Mark 8:31 par). In these, and other similar sayings by Jesus, he uses the expression “the Son of Man” in referring to himself; however, in Luke 24:26, 46, after the resurrection, this changes and “the Anointed (One) [o( xristo/$]” is used instead. Luke’s version of the 3rd Passion prediction includes the important addition—”all the (thing)s written through the Foretellers {Prophets} (regarding) the Son of Man will be completed”. This is the first occurrence in the Synoptic Tradition of the theme that Jesus’ death and resurrection has been foretold and/or prefigured in Scripture. It is found again (by Jesus) in Mark 9:13; 14:21, 49 pars; Matt 26:54; Luke 22:37, as well as being implied by the citations from Scripture in the Passion narrative—Mark 12:10; 14:27 pars; Matt 27:9-10; John 13:18; 15:25; 17:12; 19:24, 28, 36-37; 20:9; cf. also Mark 14:34 par and John 2:22. This becomes an important element of the early Christian witness, as recorded in Luke-Acts—cf. Luke 24:25-27, 44-49; Acts 1:16, 20; 3:18-24; 8:32-35; 10:39-43; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 26:22-23.

The Scriptural Evidence

Where exactly was it foretold that the “Anointed One” (Messiah) would suffer and be put to death? We are not told which Scriptures Jesus “opened up” to his disciples (Lk 24:25-27, 44-46ff), but in an earlier note I provided a list of the most relevant candidates, based on evidence from the New Testament and early Christian tradition (cf. “He opened up to us the Scriptures”, soon to be posted here). It must be admitted, however, that it is difficult to find passages which clearly refer to the suffering and/or death of a Messianic figure. The only conceivable passage which actually uses the term “Anointed (one)” [j^yv!m*] is Daniel 9:26, where it is said that “(the) anointed (one) will be cut off and (there will be) nothing/no-one for him”. I have discussed this reference as part of a detailed note on Dan 9:24-27. It is by no means certain that j^yv!m* in vv. 25-26 denotes a Messiah as typically understood (cf. the introduction to this series for a definition); it is better to read it in the general sense of the person (king and/or high priest) who is serving as leader of the (Israelite/Jewish) people. However, there can be no doubt that, by the 1st century A.D., the prophecy of Dan 9:20-27 was being interpreted in an eschatological and Messianic sense (cf. the Qumran text 11QMelch [11Q13]), and that early Christians certainly would have applied it to Jesus, particularly in light of the allusion to Dan 9:27 in the “Eschatological Discourse” of Jesus (Mark 13:14 par), even though the passage is not otherwise attested in the New Testament writings (but cf. 2 Thess 2:1-12). I find only two other Scriptures which could fairly be understood as referring to a Messianic figure:

  • Zechariah 12:10, interpreted as referring to the death (crucifixion) of Jesus in John 19:37; Rev 1:7, and see also Matthew’s version of the Son of Man saying in the Eschatological Discourse of Jesus (Matt 24:30). In the original context, however, it is by no means clear that this refers to anything like a Messianic figure; also he was “stabbed/pierced” (rqd) more likely refers to someone slain by the sword, i.e. in battle, etc. Cf. below on the later Jewish tradition.
  • Isaiah 52:13-53:12, the famous “Suffering Servant” passage, which early on was interpreted by believers as referring to the suffering and death of Jesus, cf. the famous episode recorded in Acts 8:32-35 (and note the interesting critical question by the Ethiopian official in v. 34). In the Gospels, it is cited directly only at Matt 8:17, in the context of Jesus’ miracles, not his death; however, the Isaian passage likely influenced the way that the Passion narrative was told and understood, corresponding (rather clearly) in certain details to Isa 53:3-9. The identity of this Servant figure in Isaiah, in terms of its original context, continues to be debated by scholars and commentators.

It should be pointed out that neither of these passages appears to have been used or cited in the texts from Qumran; the surviving portions of the Commentary (pesher) on Isaiah do not cover 52:13-53:12. Nor would there seem to be any evidence for these Scriptures being interpreted in a Messianic sense prior to their use in the New Testament. as noted, there is an allusion to Dan 9:25 in 11QMelch, but with no suggestion of a Messianic figure suffering or dying; rather, it is the people who suffer, being held captive by the forces of wickedness (Belial), waiting for the announcement of salvation and deliverance by the “Anointed” One.

Jewish Tradition

Indeed, as most commentators today will admit, there does not appear to be any evidence for a suffering/dying Messiah in Jewish tradition before the time of Jesus and the New Testament writings. The earliest witness is probably to be found in the Dialogue with Trypho by Justin Martyr (mid-2nd century A.D.): §68, 90.1 (alluding to Isa 53:7), cf. also 36.1, 39.7. Scholars are, however, skeptical regarding the extent to which this “Trypho” accurately represents Jewish thought of the period. The theme is not really attested in Jewish writings until the later Rabbinic period (cf. the references in Strack-Billerbeck II.273-299), where two Messiahs are distinguished—a Messiah ben-David, and a Messiah ben-Joseph (or ben-Ephraim). In some passages the Messiah ben-David is said to suffer, but he does not die; it is the Messiah ben-Joseph who is said to die (cf. Fitzmyer, pp. 1565-6). In the Babylonian Talmud (b. Sukkah 52), Zechariah 12:10 is interpreted as referring to the death of Messiah ben-Joseph, who is killed in battle. It has been suggested that this tradition is related to the defeat and death of the quasi-Messianic leader Bar-Kokhba during the second Jewish Revolt (132-135 A.D.), cf. Collins, p. 126. In the Aramaic Targum (Pseudo-)Jonathan, the ‘Suffering Servant’ of Isa 52:13-53:12 is given a Messianic interpretation, though in such a way, it would seem, as to contrast with the typical Christian understanding—the sufferings of the Messiah represent the suffering of Israel. For more on this subject, cf. J. Klausner, The Messianic Idea in Israel (Allen and Unwin: 1956), esp. pages 483-501.

Occasionally, scholars have suggested that the idea of suffering/dying Messiah figure may be found (or at least implied) in several of the Qumran texts, e.g.:

  • 4Q285—In fragment 5, line 4 the text (partially restored) reads: […dywd j]mx hduh aycn wtymhw, which was originally understood by some scholars as “they will put to death the Prince of the Congregation, the Branc[h of David…]”. However, today there is virtually unanimous agreement that this is incorrect, and that it should be rendered “the Prince of the Congregation, the Branc[h of David] will put him to death…”. In other words, it is not the Messianic figure who is put to death, but rather he is the one who puts to death the leader of the Kittim—this is the most natural identification based on the context. The Kittim represent the (wicked) nations, and typically serves as a cipher for the Roman Empire. This text is now considered to be part of the War Scroll (1QM, 4QM); the passage in fragment 5 provides an interpretation of Isaiah 10:34-11:1ff (cf. 4QpIsa [4Q161] 8-10:2-9).
  • 4Q541—This text seems to refer to a Priestly figure. In fragment 9, it is said that “he will atone for all the children of his generation…”, which could easily be interpreted from a Christian standpoint; however, this does not reflect the sacrificial death of a Messiah, but rather the work of an ideal eschatological/Messianic Priest. It is primarily his word and teaching which “will burn in all the ends of the earth…” and cause darkness to “vanish from the earth”. Lines 5-7 indicate suffering of a sort, in terms of lying and disparaging opposition to his teaching. This very likely reflects the history and experience of the Qumran Community. There is a difficult and obscure section in fragment 24, which has been translated (as one of several possible renderings) “…do not afflict the weak by wasting or hanging… [Let] not the nail approach him” (cf. Collins, p. 125). It has been suggested that “the nail” is a reference to crucifixion, but even if this is correct, the passage scarcely refers to the crucifixion of a Messiah.
  • A number of “Thanksgiving Hymns” (Hodayot) are thought to have been composed by, or written from the standpoint of, the Teacher of Righteousness, and possibly describe sufferings that he experienced (cf. 1QH 7:10; 8:26-27, 35-36; 9). These hymns are written using a style and language similar to that of the Old Testament Psalmist; given that a number of OT Psalms were understood by Christians as Messianic, interpreted and applied to Jesus’ suffering and death (esp. Pss 22, 41, 69), it is not surprising that commentators might interpret the hymns in a similar manner in relation to the Teacher of Righteousness. Several other texts speak of persecution and opposition to the Teacher (and the Community), especially by the “Wicked Priest” and the “Man of the Lie”.

Outside of the New Testament, the only passage from the 1st century B.C./A.D. which refers to the Messiah dying is 2/4 Esdras 7:28-29. The core of this deutero-canonical text (chaps. 3-14) is Jewish, dating from the late 1st century A.D. However, there is no indication whatever that the Messiah suffers or is put to death; it seems to be a natural death, along with a return to heaven following his 400-year reign on earth (cf. also 2 Baruch 30:1). After his departure, there will be seven days of silence, followed by the resurrection and Last Judgment (vv. 30-43). There is, perhaps, a general parallel to Jesus, in his ascension (and subsequent return), and to the idea of a Messianic Kingdom on earth (Rev 20:1-6).

Somewhat more common in Jewish writings of the period is the idea that the sufferings of the righteous have a vicarious aspect, which may bring salvation and atonement to the people. This is expressed in passages such as 2 Maccabees 7:37-38; 4 Maccabees 7:27-30; 17:19-22; among the passages from the Qumran texts that might be cited, note 1QS 5:6; 8:3f, 10; 9:4 (cf. H. Anderson, “4 Maccabees”, OTP 2:539). Messianic figures are often depicted as representatives or types of the righteous on earth, with roots going back into the Old Testament and ancient Israelite tradition, where the Anointed King (or Priest), who represents the people, and the righteous of Israel collectively, could both be referred to as God’s “Son”. Note also the precise parallel between the “Son of Man” and the people of God in Daniel 7:13ff, which proved to be so influential on Messianic thought. In the Similitudes of Enoch (1 En 37-71), the Messianic and heavenly Son of Man (also called the Righteous One), is the archetype for the righteous on earth.

Evidence from Jesus and the GospelS

If there were any doubt that the idea of a suffering/dying Messiah was generally unknown in the time of Jesus, one needs to look no further than the New Testament itself. I note the following evidence from the Gospels:

    • Peter’s reaction to the first Passion prediction by Jesus
    • Passages which indicate that the disciples did not understand that Jesus (the Son of Man, Messiah) had to suffer and die and then rise from the dead—Mark 9:32; Lk 9:45; 18:34; Jn 2:21-22; 12:16; 20:9
    • The confusion expressed by Jesus’ audience in John 12:33-34—note especially the expectation that the Anointed One (Messiah) will remain “into the Age” (i.e. forever).
    • Other passages in John which show confusion regarding the idea that Jesus must go away—Jn 8:21ff; 14:1-5; 16:16-19.
    • The taunts leveled at Jesus while on the cross, implying that the Messiah would not be allowed (or would not allow himself) to die that way—Mark 15:29-32 par; Matt 27:43; Luke 23:39ff.

More important is the way that Jesus emphasizes repeatedly, that was necessary for the Messiah (Jesus, the Son of Man) to suffer and die, and that this was foretold in the ScripturesMark 8:31 par; Mark 9:13; 14:21, 49 pars; Matt 26:54; Luke 22:37; 24:26, 46. The disciples do not seem to have been aware of this; even after the resurrection, they do not seem to have understood or expected it (Lk 24:19-25; Jn 20:9, etc), until Jesus himself explains it to them, “opening up” the Scriptures (and their minds). The two key passages are Luke 24:25-27 and 24:44-49:

“…all the things which the Foretellers spoke—was it not necessary (for) the Anointed (One) to suffer and to come into his honor/glory?” And beginning from Moshe and from all the Foretellers, he explained to them throughout the (thing)s about him in all the Writings. (24:25-27)
…and they said, “Was our heart not (set) on fire [in us] as he spoke with us on the way, as he opened the Writings through to us?” (v. 32)
“…it is necessary to be fulfilled all the (thing)s written about me in the Law of Moshe, and the Foretellers {Prophets} and Odes {Psalms} .” Then he opened their mind through to put together [i.e. understand] the Writings; and he said to them, “Thus it has been written (that it was necessary for) the Anointed (One) to suffer and to stand up out of the dead on the third day…” (24:44-46)

The idea that the Messiah would suffer, die and rise again was so unusual that it required special explanation (and revelation) by Jesus, with examination of the Scriptures in the light of his teaching. We find much the same dynamic at work in the book of Acts—the death of the Messiah had to be emphasized specially, and demonstrated from the Scriptures. The key references are Acts 3:18-24; 8:32-35; 10:39-43; 13:29-37; 17:2-3; 26:22-23. Moreover, it can be fairly well inferred that this would have been central to the instances where the early Christians are recorded as arguing and demonstrating that Jesus is the Anointed One (Acts 2:36; 5:42; 8:5; 9:22; 17:3; 18:5, 28). So contrary would the suffering and death (crucifixion) of the Messiah have been to the expectation of Jews at the time that it absolutely required a good deal of explanation and proof that the idea could be found in Scripture.

References above marked “Collins” are to J. Collins, The Scepter and the Star: The Messiahs of the Dead Sea Scrolls and Other Ancient Literature (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1995).
References marked “Fitzmyer” are to J. A. Fitzmyer’s Commentary on Luke in the Anchor Bible [AB], Volume 28A (1985).
References marked “OTP” are to The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, ed. by J. H. Charlesworth, 2 volumes (Anchor Bible Reference Library [ABRL]: 1983, 1985).