In his life death and ministry Jesus was seeking the restoration of Israel and the ‘return from exile.’ Yet how are we to understand the phrase ‘return from exile’. The following is an excerpt from an essay I am working on which shows how Brant Pitre challenges N.T Wright’s position.
( C) Return from Exile
As previously mentioned, Pitre builds upon and critiques the work of N.T. Wright. In an Excurses at the end of Chapter 1 Pitre
‘makes a fundamental distinction between what I mean by ‘the End of Exile,’ and the meaning of similar phrases in the work of N.t. Wright’1
It is impossible to overstate the importance of the distinction being made as it allows some of the most serious criticisms of N.T. Wright’s ‘Return from Exile’2 hypothesis to be on target whilst allowing his general thesis to be pursued in a more nuanced form. Wright’s position on the ‘return from exile’ is that,
‘Most Jews of this period [Second Temple period], it seems, would have answered the question ‘where are we?’ in language which reduced to its simplest form, meant, we are still in exile. They believed that, in all the senses which mattered, Israel’s exile was still in progress. Although she had come back from Babylon, the glorious message of the prophets remained unfulfilled, Israel still remained in thrall to foreigners; worse Israel’s god had not returned to Zion.3
Pitre understands that Wright is saying three things.
‘The Babylonian exile had not ended.’
‘The exile no longer refers to the geographical expulsion and captivity of the Jews’
‘Wright appears to be simply equating ‘the Jews’ of the Second Temple Period with all ‘Israel’.
For Pitre, Wright has overlooks the significant fact that even during the Second Temple period, the greater portion of Israel remained in Exile.’ 4as one must factor in the Assyrian Exile of the ten northern tribes had not come to an end.
Pitre offers his own reworking of Wright’s above quoted summary of his ‘return from exile’ position, thus highlighting the similarities and differences of their respective positions.
‘Most Jews of this period [the Second Temple period], it seems, would have answered the question ‘where are we?’ with the response: ‘we have returned to the land, but the rest of Israel is still in exile; the lost ten tribes of the northern kingdom have not yet returned.’ They believed that, in all senses which mattered, Israel’s exile, which had begun with the deportation to Asyrria, was still in progress. Although the Judean exiles had come back from Babylon, the rest of Israel had not yet returned from being scattered by the Assyrians; hence, the glorious message of the prophets regarding the ingathering of all twelve tribes remain unfulfilled. The lost ten tribes of Israel still remained scattered among the nations.’5
For Pitre, Wright has the ‘right insight but the wrong exile’.6 Pitre defends his position by citing numerous biblical and intertestamental texts. The following quote from Josephus illuminate the discussion of second temple hopes and aspirations.,
Wherefore there are but two tribes in Asia and Europe subject to the Romans, while the ten tribes are beyond Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude, and not to be estimated by numbers. 7
2Wright, N. T, and N. T Wright. Jesus and the Victory of God. London: SPCK, 1996. xvii-xviii, 126-127, 203-204,248-50, also Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God v. 1. SPCK Publishing, 1992. 268-272. When faced with various criticisms on his ‘return from exile’ hermeneutic he responds in ‘In Grateful Dialogue’ Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment. Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press.
3NT&POG 268-269 quoted by Pitre with his italics in JTEE 32
7 Josephus, Flavius ; Whiston, William: The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged. Peabody : Hendrickson, 1996, c1987, S. Ant 11.133