The Human Faces of God: apocalyptic contortions (part 2)

Review: The Human Faces of God: What Scripture Reveals When It Gets God Wrong (and Why Inerrancy Tries to Hide It)
Author: Thom Stark
Wipf and Stock, 2010
Chapter 8: “Jesus Was Wrong” (part 2)

As a preterist with a fully “realized eschatology”, I had no trouble with most of the discussion in the first part of my chapter 8 summary. Where I began having a problem was in Stark’s insistence that “Each apocalyptic community had their peculiarities, but the end result was the same–the restoration of Israel and the judgment of the nations” (p. 168). Even that isn’t a problem unless you accept Stark’s contention that “the restoration of Israel” means exactly what it sounded like to the first century audience: the ascendancy of Israel as a political force, headed up under a triumphant Messiah in David’s model that would free the nation from Rome. Stark focused on much more than that in this chapter, but it’s that contention that will drive the discussion in this post.

We’re always told that the expectation that the Messiah would set up a physical kingdom based in Jerusalem and free Israel from Roman rule was a misunderstanding the disciples had until the resurrection, when the light bulb finally came on; it’s never intimated that they believed this because Jesus himself had believed this, and that this belief fueled the faith of the Jesus Movement all the way until the destruction of Jerusalem. Jesus himself is always thought of as knowing the full story, trying to get through to his nationalist followers with little success. I think there is textual support for this, but one cannot exclude the possibility of post hoc, hindsight clarity put in Jesus’ mouth, although this was just as likely to be honest speculation, to the effect of, “Surely the Messiah understood it all correctly, and we just didn’t understand.”

The sayings that even most secular scholarship agrees were spoken by Jesus lead to the conclusion that he believed that the national misfortunes of Israel were drawing to a close, that the foreign powers and their unrighteous Jewish collaborators were going to be punished, and that he, the Messiah, would bring this all about. Thus Stark believes that Jesus’ prophecies sound a lot like the vision of the future held by most dispensationalist futurists: Jesus physically coming back to reign, with physical Jerusalem a place of eschatological interest.

Most preterists will dislike this interpretation and insist that a spiritual revolution, heralded as it was by the physical destruction of Jerusalem c. 70 AD/CE, was always in mind. What evidence does Stark cite against this view?

Stark spends a considerable portion of this chapter responding to many of N.T. Wright’s popular teachings on eschatology, which are basically preteristic. The target of Jesus’ oracles is a crucial aspect of disagreement between Stark and Wright, with the latter affirming the view that Jesus was referring to a spiritual kingdom alone.

We preterists pride ourselves on having a leg up on our literalist brothers and sisters in that we recognize the eschatological idioms within the Olivet Discourse as having been carried over from earlier prophecies in which the promised events (the moon turning to blood, the Lord’s coming on the clouds, etc.) did not happen literally. Stark agrees that this language is from the Old Testament prophets, but essentially asserts that preterists don’t take it far enough: if, as preterists forcefully contend, Jesus prophesied using the language of the Old Testament prophetic tradition and if his audience recognized it as such, then his audience also had no reason to think that Jesus was using that well pedigreed prophetic diction somehow divorced from the greater context and traditions behind those idioms.

Specifically, the source texts for many of Jesus’ apocalyptic language are Isaiah 13-14, Joel 2, and Ezekiel 32, and they all use those prophetic metaphors such as stars falling from the sky to describe God’s judgment. But, Stark argues, the key is that in each case the recipient of the judgment was a foreign power of oppression. A holistic liberation was expected from Messiah, yet in the preterist system, it is apostate Jerusalem – the home team – which is the sole target of Jesus’ prophecies, as indicated by the predictions about the destruction of the temple. For Stark, it is manifestly clear what Jesus was saying: that God would use Rome to sack the holy city in judgment of the shortcomings of His own covenant people, but that, as described again and again in the Old Testament prophets, God would then turn around and send judgment upon His own instrument of judgment — in this case the Roman Empire.

Wright’s reading of Zechariah 14, Stark notes, is essentially a summary of his view of the events described in the Olivet Discourse: “Yahweh calls down the wrath of the Gentiles against Jerusalem; Jerusalem is attacked and destroyed; Yahweh is made king and glorified as Jerusalem is punished for its sins” (p. 194). But this is not the whole story.

This passage hardly supports Wright’s interpretation of Mark 13, and it hardly reflects the events of 70 CE. It does, however unfortunately, reflect very much what Jesus of Nazareth predicted would take place at that time. In both Zechariah 14 and Mark 13, Yahweh punishes Jerusalem with foreign armies, before immediately turning around and punishing the Gentiles that were used to punish Jerusalem. In both oracles, after the judgment of the nations, a new age of unfathomable glory ensues. In neither case were the oracles fulfilled. (p. 195)

As evidence that the Jerusalem religious machine and not the foreign oppressor was the target of Jesus’ prophecies, Wright has argued that Jesus’ counsel to flee Jerusalem in Mark 13 was an allusion to the situation of the refugees from Babylon in Jeremiah 50.6,28. But in Jeremiah why are they told to flee Babylon? “Because,” answers Stark, “Yahweh is coming to take vengeance on Babylon for destroying his temple–precisely what Rome would do to Jerusalem in 70 CE. If anything in Mark 13 echoes these verses in Jeremiah 50,” Stark continues, “it would not be the instruction to flee but the proclamation of doom against Rome as repayment for the desecration of the temple” (p. 193). Rejecting Wright’s correlation of Jeremiah 50.28 to Mark 13, Stark sees Jesus’ instruction to flee to the mountains following the Romans’ desecration of the temple as an allusion to the Maccabees’ flight to the mountains to regroup and await reinforcements for a military invasion after the original “desolating sacrilege” by Antiochus Epiphanes. Only this time, they would be led down from the mountains by the returning Messiah.

Like most other preterists, Wright sees the desolation of the temple as the liberation and vindication of faithful Israel, yet Stark contends that God’s vindication was envisaged as being made necessary because of the desolation, reading the Gospels’ anticipation of the desolation as foreboding, not as a positive, glorious hope. The final battle, the Day of the Lord, would come when God swiftly responded to the local judgment on unfaithful Jews using the Romans with a global judgment upon the Romans.

Stark also takes issue with Wright’s understanding of the timing of the events prophesied by Jesus. For instance, for all the “time statements” that preterists rightfully bring out in support of a first century fulfilment, there is something of a forgotten or at least misplaced “time statement”: although Wright equates the judgment on Jerusalem with a symbolic “coming of the Son of Man”, the coming of the Son of Man was said in Mark 13.24/Matt 24.29 to occur “after the suffering of those days” — that is, following the sacking of Jerusalem. The destruction of Jerusalem could not itself be the coming; the divine vindication/retaliation is pictured as coming in response to the events that required vindication/retaliation, namely the Roman decimation of God’s holy city. Thus when Jesus warns his disciples not to follow any others claiming “I am he,” he is teling them that “they are not to follow after those messianic hopefuls who claim to have a divine commission to wage war on Rome. Yet note that not one of the gospels denies such a war is to be waged” (p. 179, emphasis original). Another observation that I found particularly impressive in setting up Stark’s picture of an inevitable Jesus/Rome clash was this:

Apart from being theologically “liberal,” belief in the resurrection [i.e., of the dead = an afterlife] was also politically explosive, for the same reason that contemporary extremist Islamic belief in the resurrection is politically explosive. Belief in the resurrection freed one up to walk a dangerous path of hard-line opposition to Rome and to the puppet temple regime in Jerusalem. (p. 167)

Jesus would have been considered a walking time bomb. This helps explain Rome’s participation in the Jews’ plan to eliminate him.

The applicability of the judgment is another important subject of Stark’s critique of Wright. Preterists contend that the scope of the judgment of Jerusalem was local in implementation but global in significance. All language implying worldwide activity is conceived of as spiritual in nature. Stark is singularly unconvinced, and contends that the predicted judgment was described unmistakably worldwide in physical scope: judgment was to fall on “all who dwell on the face of the earth” (Lk 21.35); Matt 24.30 says that “all the tribes of the earth” would mourn. Preterists will counter that universal language is used in the Old Testament to describe non-universal events, but I don’t think they’re considering that those prophecies’ targets were world empires and, absent a knowledge of the Far East, Africa, or the Americas, the scope was probably conceived of as truly universal even then. Taking into account the argument that the opponent of the last battle prophesied by Jesus was the nation responsible for desecrating the holy city, Stark is convinced that “…what Jesus means is dreadfully clear: Rome’s time is up…The worldwide mourning of the tribes indicates in no uncertain terms that this is a picture of the final judgment” (p. 182). Partial preterists such as Wright are more scandalized by this interpretation than full preterists, who would agree that this was the “final judgment”, resurrection of the dead included, only that it was somehow invisibly and universally appropriated from that localized event.

Stark notes Jesus’ response in Acts 1.7-8 to the disciples asking him if he was going to “restore the kingdom to Israel” at that time:

He does not deny that he intends to deliver Israel from Rome. He simply declines to tell them when. Pentecost is therefore presented by Luke as the empowerment of the disciples to prepare the world for the Messiah’s coming to restore the kingdom to Israel. (p. 203-204, emphasis original)

Having addressed the prophecies attributed directly to Jesus, Stark turns to what are considered the earliest extant Christian writings, the epistles of Paul. As with Jesus, much of Paul’s teaching came out of his conviction about an already-not-yet realization of the end times, a partial overlapping of the coming world order onto the current one. From counseling people not to marry until the end came (1 Cor 7.36), to teaching that “social norms were topsy-turvy in light of the imminent reconstitution of the cosmos” (p. 202; 1 Cor 7.26, 29-31), to stressing the urgency of the Christian mission because they were over halfway to the eschaton since Jesus’ time (Rom 13.11), Paul and the other early Christians were clearly of the opinion that the new day was about to dawn. Once again, for the countless proofs of early Christians’ expectations of imminency, read the book (or search my site — I’m pretty sure I’ve got a lot of the “time statements” cataloged somewhere on here!).

Stark asserts that Paul too envisaged the coming Kingdom of God as the end of Roman political domination. Citing several scholars, he avers that when Paul in 1 Thess 5.3 speaks of people immediately before the eschaton obliviously repeating “peace and security” (Gk. ειρηνη και ασφαλεια), Paul is consciously alluding to one of Rome’s official state slogans, Pax et Securitas, from Augustus’ propaganda campaignl; Paul was declaring the days of Pax Romana at an end when Christ returned. Stark also infers from Romans 12.14-21 that Paul’s counsel to the Christians in Rome to bless their persecutors and await God’s vengeance on them is an indication that he at least believed the “end of the age” to mean a shakeup of power in Rome and not merely in Jerusalem.

From here Stark notes the response to what might be called “the Great Disappointment of 70” as documented within the New Testament itself. The late, pseudepigraphical 2 Peter (which he discusses in a footnote) abandons the imminency expectation altogether, reversing the old apocalyptic argument that swift deliverance was a sign of God’s justice and arguing instead that God’s waiting was a sign of His compassion, in order that He might save more people. Like Stark, I find this an unhelpful solution, since delay only allows more to perish in the interim. Another response is evident in the Fourth Gospel, also written some time after the Great Disappointment, which in its abandonment of an earthly kingdom for a spiritual kingdom (e.g. John 18.36) and near exclusion of apocalyptic elements has become the standard Christian understanding, although many futurists still hold out hope for a future millennial kingdom on earth as well.

As for points of weakness in Stark’s argumentation in this chapter, I noticed that Stark does not address why Matthew and Luke/Acts at least, if written after 70 CE as scholarship generally supposes, do not do more to reframe the picture of redemption in a form better conforming to the deflation of expectations as the authors of the Fourth Gospel and 2 Peter did. To the contrary, Luke in particular seems at pains to identify the Olivet Discourse as relating to the siege of Jerusalem, when “Jerusalem is surrounded by armies.” If nothing else, Stark’s interpretation strikes me as an argument for an earlier dating of Luke than is often supposed. If he has anticipated this response, as I suppose he has, I wish he had included it.

There are a number of ways of dealing with all of this information. It is at least possible that Jesus was speaking subversively about the Romans, as any liberation theologian (like Stark) could appreciate; that he appealed to Messianic expectation by speaking in terms of militaristic triumph over the empire while quietly subverting this by teaching love for one’s enemy and the inversion of least/greatest; that his disciples truly did just “miss it”. Of course, how exactly the “redemption” promised in Luke 21.28 happened as a result of Jerusalem’s defeat in any imminent sense is of course a difficult question. Yet at least it is hard to dispute that the Christian principle of inversion, the ideal of voluntary servanthood and love of one’s persecutors, when it has infiltrated hearts and minds, is indeed one of the greatest possible enemies of empire.

Perhaps, alternatively, Jesus himself wasn’t fully aware of the spiritual implementation of his oracle against Rome, and that in Jesus’ prophecies we’re seeing yet another of the “human faces” of God. I’m open to the idea of Jesus “growing into” his mission, such as is argued by those who see the Syro-Phoenician woman incident as the moment in which Jesus realized that his ministry applied to more than just the Jews, so I can stomach the possibility of his own understanding of the nature of the kingdom developing over time, and even of its being crystallized in incomplete form by his untimely death.

I don’t know that scholars do them justice when they speak of “millenarians” and “apocalyptic prophets” in such broad terms as though there were a school that taught “How to Be a Charlatan” as a vocation. Can we really boil Jesus or those other men down into a category and say that each of them, based on several overlapping thematic factors (described by Koch and Allison), were merely “dime a dozen”, “run of the mill” end time hacks, individual distinctives admitted but notwithstanding? Was Jesus an “apocalyptic prophet” any more than I am, ontologically or existentially, a “blogger”? I wonder if we would be less scandalized if we thought of Jesus as a teacher and moral philosopher who happened to have Jewish apocalyptic leanings and interests, even preoccupations, which understandably got more attention when so many of his prophecies seemed to come true (earthquakes, wars, famines, the temple’s destruction within 40 years, etc.; as Stark admits, “nine out of ten ain’t bad”). I’m merely saying that even if we allow Jesus to be mistaken in some of his apocalyptic expectations, we needn’t draw the conclusion that he should be dismissed as merely a “failed apocalyptic prophet”, or that he was not someone who said things that God wanted humanity to hear. After all, it’s not his doomsday prophecies that have shown the potential to change the world, which any self-respecting Messiah would want to do above all else.

Another point of criticism: Stark mostly dismisses in a footnote reference to Allison’s Jesus of Nazareth the possibility that Jesus prophesied a spiritual kingdom signified through some real world events (like the destruction in 70 CE) and that it was the New Testament writers who misunderstood it. Although various comments littered throughout the chapter obliquely challenged that contention, I think that perhaps it deserved a bit more dedicated commentary than he gave it. If Allison conclusively demonstrated the folly of this supposition as Stark implies, it would have been invaluable to summarize it in full text.

At very least, I’d say that Stark has convinced me that the Gospels (by and large) and the Epistles (by and large) teach that Jesus’ imminent return would be about more than just the vindication of Christians as implemented through the destruction of Jerusalem. So as I see it, eschatological systems as understood by most preterists and futurists alike that refuse the idea that Jesus was wrong can only thrive either upon distortion of the text or a claim that the NT authors got Jesus wrong — neither of which are compatible with inerrancy.

If indeed the New Testament is correct that Jesus prophesied Israel’s restoration as a nation and Rome’s demise, then he was wrong, at very least about the timing. Stark’s answer to this? He is sympathetic to the concerns Christians will have about Jesus being viewed as merely a “failed apocalyptic prophet”. In the conclusion of this chapter, he responds, essentially, with “wait for chapter 10”! Sounds like a great way to make people skip the chapter that comes in between this chapter and that one! (Don’t worry; I won’t.)

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  • Great summery Steve. Unfortunately the last chapter is a bit of a let down. It’s obvious that Stark suddenly converts and becomes a Wiccan as he dedicates the whole chapter to various songs to the earth mother.

    • Don’t pay any attention to Travis, folks. He gets this way every now and

    • Paul D.

      Hilarious. 🙂

      In all seriousness, Stark’s book is one of those rare instances where the last chapter is worth the wait, and just as eye-opening as every other chapter if not more so. It was a nice departure from the typical “tell ’em what you told ’em” style of conclusion writing.

      • A mutual friend of Travis and mine was clinging for dear life to inerrancy,
        and had his mind changed by the last chapter while he still had 8 pages
        left. I’m looking forward to reading it myself…

  • Paige

    Snarky comment alert:

    Or…Maybe Stark is just mistaken. It’s not a sin to be mistaken, just human.

    • Paige, I flagged your comment as inappropriate because you suggested I could be mistaken! 😛

      • Yeah, geez, Paige. The idea that the human Jesus could be wrong is one thing, but Thom? Blasphemy!

  • Thanks, Steve! This is a great review. You’ve put a lot of work into this.

    In response to your first criticism: the decade or so delay between the sacking of Jerusalem and the standard dating of Luke and Matthew is something, you’re right, I should have addressed more directly in the chapter. I’ve addressed it a few times, I think, in responses to other reviewers so far. But here’s my response: There is evidence, especially in Matthew, that the delay is being felt but that Matthew continues to stress the same paradigm of imminence. The parable of the virgins and the lamps in Matt 25 I think speaks directly to this. The master is delayed in coming back, but the master’s return is portrayed as so imminent that a quick trip to the corner store could cause you to miss him. Acknowledgment of delay, with imminence reiterated. Ten years is longer than they expected after the destruction of Jerusalem, but still loosely within the time-frame of Jesus’ prediction. The main point here is that while John and 2 Peter are reconfiguring the paradigm, Matthew (and I think Luke too) is refusing to abandon it.

    • Thanks, Thom!

      That’s certainly plausible, and it makes sense that the earlier writers
      could hardly expect everyone to have completely forgotten Jesus’ teaching
      such that they wouldn’t notice a major reconfiguration. It would need to be
      minor tweaks or “clarifications”.

      It does make it all the more striking that Matthew would think he could get
      away with characterizing it as eutheos ‘immediately, straightway’
      after the tribulation; 10 years would hardly seem immediate, especially
      those whose wind would have been taken out of them by the “Great
      Disappointment”. And the parable of the foolish virgins needn’t be of
      particularly late provenance, since even forty years of waiting can be
      taxing (cf. 1 Thess 4.13, 5.1-8). Perhaps we should consider redating
      Matthew a bit?

  • I’m not opposed to it, but I think there are other good reasons for the consensus dating. It seems to me that “immediately” gets at the sense of the original tradition. I don’t think redactors were always on the hunt for any word or phrase that could be read in opposition to their position. They obviously left a lot of tensions, and for reasons we’re not privy to. Perhaps they thought it could be interpreted differently; perhaps in their tradition the phrase was too well-established to sweep under the rug. etc. etc. Despite the mythicists, there is something to be said for the criterion of embarrassment.

  • Hi Steve. Below are links to some of those “time statements” you mentioned. Nearly all NT writings appear to contain such statements/expectations of the soon coming of the Lord in final judgment:


    N. T. Texts on the Imminence of the End [fewer texts than are listed at the site above]

    Edward Adams is another author like Thom, who takes Wright’s preteristic interpretations to task, especially of the epistles of Peter, by demonstrating that the language and expectations of the world being destroyed soon by fire were also known elsewhere in that day. Adams is a bit light on the “little apocalypse” chapters in the synoptics. Thom does a better job on the meaning of those.

  • Steve, Have you read the Dead Sea Scrolls? Not the books of Hebrew scriptures that they copied, but the teachings of the DSS sect itself. A lot of apocalypticism there, including their pesher comments on “this generation shall not pass away,” and preparing for the final battle and final judgment, and expectations of “resurrection” added to a line from the prophets, the same line about “resurrection” being added by NT writers to the same OT text, a line in Isaiah I believe. Not to mention the Melchizedek scroll.

    Here’s some samples of what I’m taking about. . .

    By Marcus Wood, MA, Department of Theology, University of Durham: “In John Joseph Collins’ article ‘The Expectation of the End in the Dead Sea Scrolls’ in Evans/Flint (eds.) Eschatology, Messianism and the Dead Sea Scrolls (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1997), much of Collins’ discussion centers on the pesharim [interpreters] and their belief in the ‘last days’ (esp. 1QpHab) and the claim that this could be calculated–roughly forty years [or a ‘generation’] after the death of the Teacher of Righteousness. [Such a belief later reappeared in the Gospels: ‘This generation shall not pass away till all these things take place’–Mark 13, Matthew 24, Luke 21] However, the forty years came and went [in the Dead Sea community] and nothing happened. Collins notes the possible earthquake in 31 B.C.E. and the evacuation of the site (also the fire in 9/8 B.C.E.) but concludes that neither is related to the eschatological expectation. My question is ‘What happened within the community when the eschaton failed to arrive ?’ Common sense suggests two possible courses of action in such a situation. Either the community falls apart, or it undergoes a change in its ideology. The latter seems to have been the case in the early church where the second coming failed to materialize within the lives of the first Christians and the Church incorporated an extended period between the two comings of Christ.”

    1QpHab is one of the Dead Sea Scrolls found in 1947. Its 13 columns of well-preserved Hebrew text contain a pesher [interpretive commentary] on Habakkuk 1 and 2. The handwriting style dates to 30-1 B.C.E.; the parchment was radiocarbon-dated to 120-5 B.C.E. 1QpHab 9:7 apparently refers to the Romans [=”Kittim”=Westerners] taking the wealth of the priests, and also to incense being offered to banners [a Roman practice]. The scroll probably originated near 54 B.C.E., when the Romans plundered the Temple.

    1QpHab illustrates the pesher method of biblical interpretation, in which ancient verses are reinterpreted as having specific meanings related to people and events close to the day and close to the heart of the Dead Sea sect. The ancient Hebrew prophet, Habakkuk, did not understand everything God inspired him to write for the “last days,” but the Dead Sea sect believed that God had made known to their “Teacher of Righteousness” “all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets” (7:5). The Teacher was given the true interpretation “from the mouth of God” (2:2). Apparently the Dead Sea sect did not write any commentaries on the prophets in the last 100 years of their existence [from 70 B.C.E. to 70 C.E.] By that time the “Teacher of Righteousness” had been dead a long time, and the end still had not come. Interest in “last generation” prophecies in that sect may have waned, but another burgeoning religion in Israel would re-ignite such interest, viz., the “last generation” prophecies of Christianity. [Edited by E.T.B.]

    DEAD SEA SCROLL 1QpHab (Portions)

    (Column 1) ”’Look, traitors, and see, and be shocked–amazed–for the Lord is doing something in your time that you would not believe it if…” [Continued at top of next Column 2]

    (Column 2) “…told’ (Hab. 1:5) This passage refers to the traitors along with the Man of the Lie, because they have not obeyed the words of the Teacher of Righteousness from the mouth of God…Finally, it refers to the traitors in the Last Days.”

    [The “Last Days” is a theme that goes way back in Hebrew history, however it grew to be of major interest to the Dead Sea sect whose writings included apocalyptic interpretations of the Old Testament, and whose “Teacher” apparently made predictions concerning his generation being the “last.” Secondly, note that “The Last Days” always seem to have their “traitors,” or in the cases of 2nd Peter and Jude, their “mockers/scoffers.”–E.T.B.]

    (Column 2, Continued) “They are the cruel Israelites who will not believe when they hear everything that is to come upon the latter generation that will be spoken by the Priest in whose heart God has put the ability to explain all the words of His servants the prophets, through whom God has foretold everything that is to come upon His people and His land…”

    (Column 7) “Then God told Habakkuk to write down what is going to happen to the generation to come; but when that period would be complete He did not make known to him. When it says, ‘so that with ease someone can read it,’ this refers to the Teacher of Righteousness to whom God made known all the mysterious revelations of his servants the prophets. ‘For a prophecy testifies of a specific period; it speaks of that time and does not deceive.’ (Hab.2:3a). This means that the Last Days will be long, much longer than the prophets had said; for God’s revelations are truly mysterious. ‘If it tarries, be pati ent, it will surely come true and not be delayed’ (Hab. 2:3b)…”

    [This verse from Habakkuk was cited by the Dead Sea Scroll community as a way of dealing with the apparent failure or delay of their own prophetic schemes to develop (1QpHab 7:1-8). It was used later, in the New Testament by the writer of Hebrews, much to the same end (10:37-39).–James D. Tabor]

    (Column 7, Continue) ”…This [verse in Habakkuk] refers to those loyal ones, obedient to the Law, whose hands will not cease from loyal service even when the Last Days seems long to them, for all the times fixed by God will come about in due course as He ordained that they should by His inscrutable insight…”

    (Column 11) “This [verse in Habakkuk] refers to the Wicked Priest, who pursued the Teacher of Righteousness to destroy him in the heat of his anger at his place of exile.”

    Translation from The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr. & Edward Cook (New York, N.Y.: HarperSanFrancisco, 1996)

    By Dr. James D. Tabor (Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte): “The anticipation of the arrival of the Prophet as reflected in the Damascus Document, the early copies of which I take to be written before such a Teacher had arrived (in contrast to Text A, Col 1, that looks back on his career, as does the fragment of Text B), appears to base its hopes for this “coming one” on the texts of Scripture. Numbers 21:18 and 24:17 are both understood to predict the arrival of an Interpreter (Doresh) of the Torah, who will “teach righteousness in the last days” (CD, Text A Col 6:2 -11; 7:17-19), and Deuteronomy 18:18 is directly cited in 4Q175. It seems clear to me that in CD Text B, the Community Rule, and the Habakkuk Pesher, he has not only appeared but has been killed, fueling the certainty of the community that there were indeed living in the last generation (final 40 year period, see CD Text B Col. 20:1; 4Q171). Indeed, the Habakkuk Pesher appears to focus primarily on the crisis of faith sparked by the failure of the End to arrive. The text promises a reward to those who hold steady in their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness, which means in context, not abandoning the authenticity of his mission in both predicting and bringing about the End (1QpHab 6-7).”

    ”The Damascus Document (CD) is absolutely crucial in this regard. Two manuscripts (A & B) found in the Cairo Geniza by S. Schechter in 1897 were also found in extensive fragments in Caves 4, 5, and 6 at Qumran. The introductory lines of Col I clearly refer to the appearance of the Teacher 390 years after the Babylonian Exile (586 BCE) and twenty years after the origin of the New Covenant movement [of the Dead Sea Scroll Community]:

    ’He visited them and He caused a plant root to spring from Israel and Aaron to inherit His Land and to prosper on the good things of His earth. And they perceived their iniquity and recognized that they were guilty men, yet for twenty years they were like blind men groping for the way. And God observed their deeds, that they sought Him with a whole heart, and He raised up for them a Teacher of Righteousness to guide them in the way of His heart.’

    ”What I find rather striking is that in CD manuscript A, other than in this introduction, there is no direct reference to the arrival and career of thisTeacher. Indeed, in Col VII we find reference to the ‘Star and Scepter’ promise of Numbers 24 with a decidedly ‘future’ cast to it–as if neither figure had appeared. And in Col VI we read: ‘He raised up from Aaron men of discernment and from Israel men of wisdom. until he comes who shall teach righteousness at the end of days.’

    ”In the important fragment we call manuscript B we have two additional references to the community holding fast to its mission ‘until the coming of the Messiah of Aaron and Israel.’ And, in contrast to manuscript A, we find direct references to the ‘gathering in’ (i.e., death) of the Teacher of the Community:

    Col B19: ‘From the day of the gathering in of the Teacher of the Community until the end of all the men of war who deserted to the Liar, there shall pass about forty years.’

    Col B 20: ‘None of the men who enter the New Covenant in the land of Damascus and who again betray it and depart from the fountain of living waters, shall be reckoned with the Council of the people or inscribed in its Book, from the day of gathering in of the Teacher of the Community until the comings of the Messiah out of Aaron and Israel.’

    “What is even more striking is that CD manuscript B recasts manuscript A (Col VII) and quotes Zech 13:7: ‘Awake O Sword against my Shepherd, against the man who is my fellow, says God–smite the shepherd and the sheep shall be scattered, and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones.’ This ‘smiting’ of the Shepherd, whom I take here to be the Teacher, appears parallel in this fragment to his ‘gathering in.’ At this very point in the text, fragment B edits out the reference in A to the Numbers 24 ‘Star and Scepter’ prophecy–obviously seeing it as in the past. Here we find a period of ‘about 40 years’ tied to the demise of the Teacher. There is a fragment from Cave 4 (4Q171) that refers to the same period:

    ‘A little while and the wicked shall be no more; I will look towards his place but he shall not be there’ (Psa 37:10). Interpreted, this concerns all the wicked. At the end of the forty years they shall be blotted out and not an man shall be found on earth.’

    “Here things get a bit prophetically complicated, unless one is steeped in the chronological schemes of the book of Daniel (and Ezekiel)–particularly the ‘70 weeks’ prophecy of Daniel 9. It essentially sets forth a 490-year period, which the Dead Sea Scroll community understood neatly as Ten Jubilees, 49 years each. We then find references in various fragments (11QMelch; 4Q390) that attempt to fit the history of the community within this time scheme. The Teacher himself is to arise, as one would expect, ‘in the first week of the Jubilee that follows the nine Jubilees’ (11QMelch), or just over 40 years from the End.

    ”In the Dead Sea Scroll commentary on Habakkuk (1QpHab) we find that the community has obviously lived through this past this 40 years ‘countdown’ period with the Teacher long gone and the apocalyptic expectations of the arrival of the Kingdom of God anything but fulfilled. The Romans have by now invaded the country and propped up the puppet priests that the community despised as utterly corrupt (Hyrcanus II). Col I interprets the cry of the prophet Habakkuk of ‘How long?’ as referring to the ‘beginning of the final generation.’ Col VI/VII is critical:

    ’Write down the vision and make it plain upon the tablets, that he who reads may read it, and I will take my stand to watch, and I will station myself upon my fortress speedily [Hab 2:1-2]. [VII] And God told Habakkuk to write down that which would happen to the final generation, but He did not make known to him when time would come to an end. As for that which He said, That he who reads may read it speedily: interpreted, this concerns the Teacher of Righteousness, to whom God made known all the mysteries of the words of His servants the Prophets. For there shall be yet another vision concerning the appointed time. It shall tell of the end and shall not lie. Interpreted, this means that the final age shall be prolonged, and shall exceed all that the Prophets have said; for the mysteries of God are astounding. If it tarries, wait for it, for it shall surely come and shall not be late. Interpreted, this concerns the men of truth who keep the Torah, whose hands shall not slacked in the service of truth when th e final age is prolonged. For all the ages of God reach their appointed end as he determines for them in the mysteries of His wisdom. Behold, his soul is puffed up and is not upright. Interpreted, this means that the wicked shall double their guilt upon themselves and it shall not be forgiven when they are judged. But the righteous shall live by his faith. Interpreted, this concerns all those who observe the Torah in the House of Judah, whom God will deliver from the House of Judgment because of their suff ering and because of their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness.’

    “I think the evidence is strong, both internally and externally (dating of the texts–paleography/C-14), that the crisis of belief that this text reflects had come to a climax in the mid-first century B.C.E. In other words, surely by the time of the Roman invasion of Palestine (63 B.C.E.) and the reign of Herod the Great (37 BCE), such hopes and expectations had been severely tried and found wanting. I do not think the more general movement completely perished–that is what Boccaccini refers to as “Enochia n Judaism” or as I would prefer: the Messianic movement in Palestine–from the Maccabees to Masada. It might well be the case, however, that as a specific party or school of thinking (the Yachad), the strict adherents to the figure of the Teacher of Righteousness were dispersed or largely faded away.

    ”Based on this model of the demise/departure of the Teacher, we can see the same kind of apocalyptic hope and disappointment reflected in our early Gospel materials; this is especially evident in Mark, which seems to cluster traditions from the 70 CE period of the 1st Jewish Roman revolt. It is clear that the community of Jesus followers expect his return within a generation (40 years?), so the decade of the 70’s CE must have brought on a real crisis:

    Mark 13:14ff, ‘But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be.great suffering [Dan 12], Son of Man coming in the clouds, gathering the elect.’ (Verses 28-31): ‘From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he/it is near, even at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place . Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.’

    “Paul, in the mid decade of the 50’s CE, writes that ‘the appointed time’ has grown very short, an obvious reference to the material in Daniel 11-12, and he advises his followers to defer marriage and other social changes in view of the ‘impending distress’ (1 Corinthians 7:25-31).

    ”The followers of the apostle Paul in the late 60s C.E., judging from 2 Thessalonians 2:1-11 (and likely Paul himself a decade earlier), anticipated a repeat of Caligula’s aborted attempt to set his own statue in the Temple at Jerusalem, perhaps by the emperor Nero, thus fulfilling Daniel 11:31-36:

    ‘Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate . . . And the king shall do according to his will; he shall exalt himself and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak astonishing things against the God of gods. He shall prosper till the indignation is accomplished; for what is determined shall be done.’

    “The early followers of Jesus interpreted the first Jewish-Roman Revolt in the light of the same texts. Indeed “the sign” of the End was to be the dreaded “desolating sacrilege” set up by the “king of the North” in the holy place of the Herodian Temple:

    ’But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be [Matthew’s gloss: “spoken of by Daniel the prophet,” 24:15], then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains . . . for in those days there will be such tribulation as has not been from the beginning of the creation which God created until now, and never will be’ (Mark 13:14, 19).

    ”This imminent apocalyptic expectation of Mark, which was repeated in a relatively intact form by Matthew (chapter 24) a decade or so later (80s C.E.), is recast by Luke into a decidedly non-apocalyptic form. Rather than the expected “desolating sacrilege” leading to the final events of the End, Luke interprets the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple in 70 C.E., as well as the further dispersion of the Jewish people from Palestine, as the signs of a new dispensation that he views most positively, namely, the “times of the Gentiles” in which the Gospel of “repentance and forgiveness of sins” would be proclaimed to all nations (Luke 21:20-24; 24:47). Following the disaster of the second Jewish Revolt (132-135 C.E.), and Hadrian’s rebuilding of Jerusalem as Aelia Capitolina, the hopes and expectations that had been fueled for more than two centuries by these prophecies in Daniel largely waned. After all, with neither Jewish Temple nor Judean State, the land of Palestine could hardly serve as an arena for the literal fulfillment of texts such as Daniel11:29-39. In this regard the words of the post-Exilic prophet Habakkuk offered a perennial comfort to both Jews and Christians:

    ‘For still the vision awaits its time; it hastens to the End-it will not lie. If it seem slow, wait for it; it will surely come, it will not delay. Behold, he whose soul is not upright in him shall fail, but the righteous shall live by his faith’ (2:3-4).

    ”The apocalyptic systems that we can subsequently trace, particularly among Christians, found it necessary to develop more allegorical and symbolic ways of reading texts such as Daniel and Revelation.”

    See, The Jewish Roman World of Jesus website of Dr. James D. Tabor (Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte), his own translations in his articles at


    Pre-Christian; A scroll that predicts it was predicted and evidently believed by the members of the community that prized this prophecy, that in a span of less than forty years (less than a “generation”), the Hebrew “sons of light,” with God’s help, were going to defeat all the armies of the world, and usher in “eternal redemption.”

    Dead Sea Scroll 1Q33 (1QM) = 1Q War Scroll

    (Column 1) “The first attack by the sons of light will be launched against the sons of darkness, against the army of Belial [Belial = supernatural evil figure]… The sons of Levi, the sons of Judah and the sons of Benjamin [in other words, “The Hebrews”], will wage war against them [the sons of darkness]… against all their bands… And there will be no escape for any of the sons of darkness… And the sons of justice shall shine to all the edges of the earth, they shall go on shining…

    “There will be a battle, and savage destruction before the God of Israel, for this will be the day determined by Him since ancient times for the war of extermination against the sons of darkness… It will be a time of suffering for all the nation [the nation of Israel] redeemed by God. Of all their sufferings, none will be like this, hastening till eternal redemption is fulfilled… The army of Belial will gird themselves in order to force the army of light to retreat. There will be infantry battalions [so la rge as to] melt the heart [at their sight], but God’s might will strengthen the heart of the sons of light… And God’s great hand will subdue Belial and all the [evil] angels of His dominion and all the [evil] men of his lot… He [God] will [show Himself] to assist the truth, for the destruction of the sons of darkness…

    (Column 2) [The author of this pre-Christian apocalyptic prophecy describes how the Hebrew “sons of light” will gather together in Israel and prepare for battle against the rest of the world, the “sons of darkness.” It even predicts in what order the various peoples of the world will be attacked and subdued by the “sons of light.” But keep in mind it’s not the world you and I know, in which you’d have to cross oceans to reach your foes. It’s the ancient world, a flat circle of the earth (see references to the earth’s flat shape in the earliest portions of the Book of Enoch that also were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls). Moreover, it was a world filled only with the descendants of the three sons of Noah–see the final passages below. — E.T.B.]

    “…Fathers of the congregation… shall arrange the chiefs of the priests behind the High Priest and, twelve chiefs [one for each tribe of Israel] to serve [in the army of the sons of light]. They shall arrange all these during the appointed time of the year of release… From all the tribes of Israel they shall equip themselves intrepid men, in order to go out on campaign according to the directives of war, year after year… The war will be prepared during six years; and all the congregation together will prepare it. And the war of the divisions (will take place) during the remaining twenty-nine years. During the first year they shall wage war against Aram-Naharaim; during the second, against the sons of Lud; during the third they shall wage war against the remnant of the sons of Aram [etc.]… during the sixth and seventh they shall wage war against all the sons of Assyria and Persia, and the eastern nations up to the great desert [etc.]… during the ninth they shall wage war against the sons of Ishmael [etc.]… and during the following ten years the war will be divided against all the sons of Ham [“Ham” being one of Noah’s three sons that Genesis says populated the earth with their descendants after the Flood — E.T.B.], according to their clans, in their dwellings; and duri ng the remaining ten years the war will be divided against all the sons of Japhet [another of Noah’s three sons], in their dwellings.”

    [The third remaining son of Noah, “Shem,” was of course not mentioned above, because the Hebrews themselves claimed descent from that particular son of Noah. So they couldn’t attack all of “Shem” which would include attacking themselves. Hence they broke down the descendants of “Shem” into lesser peoples, such as the “sons of Ishmael,” etc., above. So, the battle prophecy called for attacking all of one’s nearest relatives first, before conquering the descendants of Noah’s other two sons. Reading the above , you can see it was predicted and evidently believed by the members of the community that prized this prophecy, that in a span of less than forty years (less than a “generation”), the Hebrew “sons of light,” with God’s help, were going to defeat all the armies of the world, and usher in “eternal redemption.” Though the author, or a later editor, was canny enough not to disclose the exact year when the “final generation” battles would begin, except to call it “the appointed time of the year of release.” Th ough I bet the “Teacher” (who lived back then) at least acted like he knew when the “appointed time” was, and acted like it was pretty “near” too. Because that’s exactly how apocalyptic prophets gain followers. *smile* — E.T.B.]

    Translation from The Dead Sea Scrolls: Study Edition, Eds., Florentino Garcia Martinez & Eibert J. C. Tigchelaar, Vol. One, 1Q1-4Q273, Vol. Two, 4Q274-11Q31 (Grand Rapids, Michigan, William B. Eerdmans Pub. Co.: First published 1997 (Vol. 1), 1998 (Vol. 2).


    “One of the five parts of 1st Enoch is the so-called ‘Book of the Watchers’, which was written in the 3rd century B.C.E. It describes the fall of the angels and their punishment:

    ‘And the Lord said to [the arch-angel] Raphael: “Bind [the rebel] Azazel hand and foot and throw him into the darkness!” And Raphael made a hole in the desert, which was in Dudael, and cast him there. On top of him, he threw rugged and sharp rocks. And he covered Azazel’s face in order that he may not see light and […] may be sent into the fire on the great day of judgment. […] And to Michael the Lord said: “[…] Bind them for seventy generations underneath the rocks of the ground until the day of their judgment is concluded.”‘ (1 Enoch 10.4-6, 11-12; tr. E. Isaac)

    “In other words, the day of judgment was to take place seventy generations after Enoch. Now this patriarch, ‘Enoch’ was recorded as having lived in ‘the seventh generation from Adam,’ and we may therefore conclude that the author of the Book of the Watchers assumed that the end of history would be in the ‘seventy-seventh generation from Adam,’ or the seventieth generation from Enoch.

    “Back to Luke. By making Jesus of Nazareth the ‘seventy-seventh’ of the list in his genealogies, the author of that Gospel [Luke] is obviously playing with these Enochian thoughts. What he is in fact saying is that… the last judgment is very, very near. After all, when Luke composed his gospel during the persecution by the emperor Domitian, there were only a few survivors of the generation of Jesus.”

    — Jona Lendering, “The 77 Generations”

  • There is also a book for moderate Evangelicals that discusses in pretty clear fashion the rise of apocalyptic in the inter-testamental period, and cites sources other than just the Dead Sea Scrolls. The author agrees Jesus was mistaken. The book is called In God’s Time:

  • I like very much that in these two chapters, Thom has brought out the startling fact that Jesus taught something that post-New Testament historic Christianity has contradicted.

    Where both Thom and the post-NT church have gotten it wrong is in missing the fact that Jesus was not decribing a physical event but rather a heavenly event with earthly consequences. Thus you see the apostles pushing the NT church to adopt a spiritual, rather than a fleshly, outlook on life.

    • We get it. You’re a preterist. Never mind that I refute the preterist interpretation of the Olivet Discourse in the book. I’m wrong, you’re right.

      On second thought, it might not be worth your time to read the book, Mike. Just looking out for you.

  • Jeff

    I’m late to the party, possibly too late, but it seems to me that this chapter, and possibly the entire book (if the table of contents is a guide) ignores the most important question and the only one that actually matters — did the Resurrection happen, or not?

    If not, then by the Bible’s own account, the Bible does not matter.

    If it did happen, then Jesus’ prophecies, the NT texts, the NT authors’ intentions, all need to be interpreted through that lens.

    • Jeff, thanks for stopping in!

      I agree that the Resurrection would have major implications. I personally believe that God raised Christ from the dead, though it’s a hope rather than a statement of historical certainty: we’re not given that luxury, I’m afraid.

      But bear in mind, “the Bible” doesn’t have an account: it’s a library, not a person. And proof-texting like this is a waste of time unless you presume that the Bible is 100% accurate, and we have a whole lot more evidence that it’s not 100% accurate than we have that Jesus was resurrected. This same consideration holds even if, as we both believe, Jesus was resurrected: this does not mean we should interpret everything through that lens, since the NT authors, however saved they were, were not suddenly infallible. And as for Jesus’ prophecies, while there is some weight to what you say, we can only hope there is no prerequisite for being resurrected that includes believing everything correctly, or (as Paul might say) our faith is in vain.

      • Jeff


        Brevity is always the enemy of clarity, at least in my case. Expand my statement to “the NT authors” and things don’t change much. Of course you know well what Paul said about the implications for our faith if Christ has not been raised, and I am assuming you wouldn’t argue that any of the NT authors (a) would disagree with Paul and (b) didn’t themselves fully believe that Christ had been raised from the dead.

        The lens that I spoke of is this: if the NT authors believed in the Resurrection, is it very likely that they would also believe Jesus to have been a false prophet? Prophesying falsely in God’s name was one of the very worst (if not the worst) sins that one could commit — would they have really accepted, and do we really accept now, the idea that God would have raised Jesus and exalted him? I assume you know the treatment that Deut. 18 prescribes for such an individual, and it isn’t anything like what Jesus got! Even setting aside the obvious way in which the Trinity compounds this, since we’re talking about Thom’s book and Thom is not a Trinitarian — why did God pull such a 180 turn on Jesus’ behalf?

        • Jeff,

          Paul and Mark wrote before Jesus’ prediction failed—so they had no reason to doubt. Matthew and Luke wrote shortly after, but it’s clear they are both still expecting the prediction to come good, as is Revelation and numerous other NT texts. The Gospel of John and 2 Peter reconfigure the apocalyptic perspective, as I argue in the book. So those Christians who lived in the period where it was clear that Jesus wasn’t coming back within the timeframe he promised, rather than rejecting him as a false prophet (although some probably did, and there’s indication in 2 Peter 3 that Christians were being mocked because of Jesus’ promise to return), they either reinterpreted his meaning (GJohn) or offered extenuating circumstances (2 Peter).

          While it’s true that Deut 18 says a false prophet should be killed, it’s also true that the “good” prophets (i.e., the Bible’s heroes) often falsely prophesied and didn’t get lynched for it. Elisha predicted that Israel, Judah and Edom would get an easy victory against Moab, and claimed to speak directly from Yahweh, but Moab ended up winning, due to extenuating circumstances. Jeremiah predicted that when Israel was returned from exile, they would basically enter a utopia, but that didn’t happen. “Daniel” predicted that Antiochus IV would die in Israel, but he died in Parthia. He further predicted that after Antiochus died, Michael would swoop down and deliver Israel from their enemies. That also didn’t happen. Yet all of these prophets continued to have pride of place in Israel’s sacred literature. They were too important for other reasons, so Israel couldn’t allow a bad prediction to ruin their good place in the story. So what they did was find ways to move on, reconfigure, reinterpret. And that’s what the late-first and early-second century Christians did with Jesus.

          Did he rise from the dead? I hope so. But if he did, does that mean he necessarily got everything right? I don’t see why! After all, Christians expect we’re all going to be raised from the dead. Does that mean none of us ever made a false prediction or got something seriously wrong? Obviously not. So maybe we’re infusing Jesus’ resurrection with a significance that God didn’t intend to imply. Maybe God raised Jesus from the dead because he got so much else right.

          Or maybe the real God is a Buddhist, and s/he just liked Jesus and wanted to hang.

          • Jeff

            “So maybe we’re infusing Jesus’ resurrection with a significance that God didn’t intend to imply. Maybe God raised Jesus from the dead because he got so much else right. ”

            If so, then God is a *terrible* communicator, because that’s not anything like what the NT says.

            I know, I know: “God didn’t write the NT, Jeff. People did.” Well and good. But these are the people who claimed to be (or to know) the eyewitnesses of the Resurrection — if they can’t be trusted to tell us what it meant, what hope do we have of discovering the true meaning? (*)

            The alternative possibility, of course, is that they weren’t really witnesses to the Resurrection at all, in which case we’re led back to the question of why we should believe it happened in the first place.

            (*) I know, I know: “I’m not claiming to know the true meaning of the Resurrection, Jeff. I don’t believe it’s knowable.” But by the subtitle of your book, you are at least claiming to know when other people have mis-interpreted God’s true intent. I’ve asked before — what is your source for your information about God?

          • “what is your source for your information about God?”

            As I argue in the final chapter, there is no one source. It involves a constant commitment to listening to all the voices and discerning from them the voice of God. The discernment process is best undertaken within the context of the community of those committed to discerning and responding to the voice of God.

            Those who want a definitive “source” that is beyond criticism, I argue, are chasing after a chimera, and that pursuit in fact undercuts the very process of struggle and discernment that is necessary in order to make us into the kind of people who are able to recognize God’s voice and act on it.

          • In other words, if you want answers, I don’t have any. But I have a process, which I think is the best we can do.

        • Ok, I understand better what you’re saying now — sorry!

          Thom beat me to a lot of what I was going to say, but let me say also that I don’t think God prescribed or felt particularly bound to the punishment of false prophets in Deut. 18. I do agree that the possibility of a failed prophecy does make things a little stickier, unless, as Thom theorized, the reasons that God raised Jesus up were going to be accomplished regardless of any apocalyptic misunderstandings Jesus had entertained. It doesn’t stretch my credulity much to grant the basic preterist insight that God’s message was that the Kingdom of God was never to be a worldly kingdom — regardless of what Jesus or the apostles may or may not have thought. The proleptic kingdom living Jesus taught is hardly distinguishable on a practical level from a humane system of this-worldly justice, and I can see why God would want such teaching vindicated.

          And that doesn’t include any possible atonement effects of Jesus’ death and resurrection, which is what Paul seemed to be worried about the most in 1 Cor. 15.17 (“if Christ is not raised…you are yet in your sins”). Take from that what you will.

          • Jeff

            “Thom beat me to a lot of what I was going to say, but let me say also that I don’t think God prescribed or felt particularly bound to the punishment of false prophets in Deut. 18. ”

            I’m pleasantly surprised that there appear to be limits to how much speculation Thom will entertain and that he didn’t posit the cross as God’s infliction of this very punishment, before letting Jesus off the hook and resurrecting him for all of his fine speeches.

            Yes, that was sarcastic.

            It’s not just that God didn’t give Jesus his comeuppance — it’s that he exalted him to the highest possible degree! The idea that Jesus, though apparently rather batty and claiming direct knowledge of God’s ways and means, said enough positive things about social justice that God decided to throw him a bone and raise him from the dead; that Jesus could have been any of us, it’s just that he got there first. But if not Jesus, maybe Gandhi, or King, or Obama, perfection is negotiable, correct theology is negotiable — God was willing to put up with a few skeletons in Jesus’ closet if resurrecting him would send the message that people need to be excellent to each other (*).

            It comes down to what category you put Jesus in, and more importantly, what category the earliest believers put him in. It appears that the eyewitnesses, or their successors, who wrote the NT badly misunderstood the message that God intended the resurrection to send. How in the world, after having sat under his teachings for 3 years and hanging out with him for 6 weeks after the Resurrection, did they fail to get the point?

            (*) “…and party on, dudes!” Worst movie line ever.

          • Feel free to caricature us at any time. 🙂

            I suppose it just depends on how central the imminent expectation was to Jesus’ teaching. Who knows, maybe God’s intention was to send Jesus back on May 21st, 2011, but Jesus, because he was conditioned by his apocalyptic milieu, expected the end to be sooner.

            But I personally agree with neither Deut 18 nor 1 Cor 15. I don’t think a prophet should be killed just because s/he got something wrong, and I don’t think we’re the most pitiable in the world if Christ has not been raised. Like I said, I hope he has, but I disagree with Paul that the church crumbles if he hasn’t. Jesus put us into contact with God in a way that provides powerful means to resist injustice and overcome enmity intra- and intercommunally, and a whole bunch of other good stuff.

            Obviously you and I have different ideas about what it means to follow Jesus. From my perspective, I’m committed to him despite his flaws, whereas (at least from what I’m gathering), you’re only committed to him if he’s perfect. That’s fair enough. We just disagree (I assume).

          • Jeff

            Deut 18 isn’t an injunction against “getting something wrong”, it’s an injunction against *presuming to speak on God’s behalf*. (*)

            I don’t see how you can disagree with Paul — he said that if Jesus hasn’t been raised, then our sins aren’t forgiven, and neither will we be raised. Paul said that the implications of the Resurrection pertain to our standing in relation to God, not to social justice. That’s why my earlier question about sources and authority is important — you’re saying that Paul, eyewitness to the Resurrection and (arguably) the founder of Christianity, *did not understand* what Christ’s ministry and Resurrection were all about. Who are the voices in your community that are so keenly attuned to the mind of God that they are able to know more correctly than Paul himself did what the ministry of Christ meant from God’s perspective?

            It’s not that we have different ideas about what it means to follow Jesus, it’s that we have different ideas about which Jesus we’re following.

            (*) I know, I know: “Funny how right-wingers and Tea Party whackjobs claim to do just that, isn’t it, Jeff?”

  • “Deut 18 isn’t an injunction against “getting something wrong”, it’s an injunction against *presuming to speak on God’s behalf*.”

    That’s all I meant.

    “I don’t see how you can disagree with Paul.”

    Like this: “Paul, I disagree with you.” See?

    “he said that if Jesus hasn’t been raised, then our sins aren’t forgiven, and neither will we be raised.”

    The first is a notion I reject anyway, the second is a non-sequitur.

    “Paul said that the implications of the Resurrection pertain to our standing in relation to God, not to social justice.”

    This is a false dichotomy, especially in Paul’s thinking.

    “you’re saying that Paul, eyewitness to the Resurrection and (arguably) the founder of Christianity, *did not understand* what Christ’s ministry and Resurrection were all about.”

    Well, if Jesus wasn’t raised then Paul wasn’t an eyewitness, now was he? If Jesus was raised, that doesn’t guarantee Paul understood it all. After all, Jesus and Paul disagree on the law quite patently (as I’ll demonstrate in my forthcoming review of Paul Copan’s book).

    “Who are the voices in your community that are so keenly attuned to the mind of God that they are able to know more correctly than Paul himself did what the ministry of Christ meant from God’s perspective?”

    All, and none. And vice versa.

    “It’s not that we have different ideas about what it means to follow Jesus, it’s that we have different ideas about which Jesus we’re following.”

    That’s precisely what I said: you’re following a perfect Jesus, I’m following a flawed one.