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Posted in Bible, Historical Jesus, Historiography, kingdom of God, Mark's Gospel, methodology, N.T. Wright, Quest for the Historical Jesus, second temple judaism, Soteriology, tribulation, tagged chicken cashew nuts and fried rice, comign of the son of man, edrward adams, N.T. Wright, Parousia, pitre, son of man, tribulation on July 21, 2009| Leave a Comment »
Vindication of the Son of Man
R.T France rejects a parousia understanding of this passage as the text does not speak of the ‘son of man’ coming to earth but on the basis of its Daniellic background is to be understood, with Mark 8:38, as ‘enthronement, of the the ‘one like the son of man’ coming before the throne of God to be given universal and everlasting dominion. It is the imagery of setting upon a new kingship to replace the failed regimes of previous empires, and it is located not on the earthly scene but in the presence of the God of heaven.’1 Likewise for N.T. Wright , ‘The ‘son of man’ figure ‘comes’ to the Ancient of Days. He comes from earth to heaven, vindicated after suffering. The Danielic story always was one of vindication and exaltation, and was retold as such in the first century.’2
N.T. Wright and R.T France, although as Beasley-Murray shows it does have earlier advocates3, aswell as more contemporary exegetes such as Hatina and Perriman4, follow their understanding of this text on the basis of Daniel 7, with the movement of the ‘son of man’ being from earth to heaven, rather than from heaven to earth.
The Cosmic and Visible ‘Parousia of the Son of Man
For many commentators Wright and France’s understanding is mistaken for the natural reading of Mark 13:26 seems to suggest that the Son of Man comes towards earth. As Morna Hooker states
‘Mark does not tell us in what direction he moves: in Daniel, the one like the son of Man comes to God, and in isolation the saying here could give have the same meaning; on the context Mark gives it, however, it is natural to think that they will see the Son of man coming towards them.’5
Robert Stein, although not unusual in this, argues that the shift of Mark 13 has moved away from the localised destruction of Jerusalem to the parousia of Jesus. This parousia is to be understood as being cosmic and public and on the basis of Matthew’s reading of Mark can arguably be called ‘the close of the age’ (13:39), a time of final judgement (16:27), a time of eternal punishment or eternal life (Matthew 25:31). ‘The traditional interpretation of this verse is more persuasive’ and allows a coherency to be made with ‘parousia’ texts found elsewhere in the the New Testament (1 Cor 16:22, Rev 22:20).6 It is, for Joel Marcus, nothing less, than ‘the glorious advent of the Son of Man.’7, although, interestingly, the witnesses to his descent to earth, the implied subject of ‘they will see’, is ‘the personified celestial powers through whose realm he will make his triumphal descent.’ His coming in the clouds will ‘mark the end of the veiledness that characterises both Jesus and the people of God.’8 For Beasley-Murray, who we may, on the basis of his work on the subject, see as a spokesman for the mainstream view, the parousia is cosmic, final and public,
‘The clouds of his parousia unveil his hitherto hidden glory, which is the glory of God, the Shekinah; he is seen to be the eternal son of God… he also come sin the clouds to effect the divine work of judgement and redemption… so his parousia witnesses the consummation…:the Son of Man calls the dead to judgement, confessing his acceptance of those faithful to him and banishing the faithless (Mt 25:31ff, Mk 8:38, Mt 10:32, his Kingdom triumphs over all and is revealed in power (Mark 9:1)….9
1 R.T France NIGTC see also France Jesus and the Old Testament
2 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God. 361
3Beasley-Murray traces its interpretative history from Colani. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future, 259; Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen, 90-93.
4HATINA, “The Focus of Mark 13”; Perriman, The Coming of the Son of Man.
5Hooker, Gospel According to St Mark, 319.
6Robert H Stein, Mark (Baker exegetical commentary on the New Testament; Grand Rapids, Mich: Baker Academic, 2008), 610-616.
7J. Marcus, Mark 8-16 (Yale Univ Pr, 2009).
8W. L. Lane, The gospel according to Mark (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1974), 476.
9Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen, 89-90.
Posted in Early Church, Historical Jesus, Historiography, kingdom of God, Mark's Gospel, N.T. Wright, Quest for the Historical Jesus, second temple judaism, Soteriology, tribulation, tagged Edward Adams, Fall of Jerusalem, George Caird, N.T. Wright, Parousia, Second Coming on July 20, 2009| Leave a Comment »
‘The Coming of the Son of Man: Mark 13:24-27
Although popular and naive positivist readings from the text can lead us, at times, to similar interpretative conclusions as the most ardent hermeneutically sensitive scholar.1—I do not want to place authentic reading of scripture simply into the realm of the academy—the hermeneutical chasm, in passages, like Mark 13:24-27 is so great that extra caution, and sensitivity is not just ideal, but required, for the twenty first century interpreter reader simply does not read the text in the same way as the initial readership. 2 This hermeneutical chasm becomes evident in the language of cosmic catastrophe in Mark 13:24-27.
For instance when we hear that the ‘sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heaven will be shaken’ we need to ask whether we are right to read this text literally, so that the fall of Jerusalem is followed by a ‘cosmic breakdown’. Or, do we adopt a different understanding of the nature of language and follow N.T. Wright and R.T France, amongst others3, in seeing that the cosmic catastrophe language of Mark 13:24-25 is being used symbolically to describe to describe historical and political events.
N.T. Wright warns us that ‘such language [Mark 13:24-25] cannot be read in a crassly literalistic way without doing it great violence’4 .In chapter ten of New Testament and the People of God, Wright in describing Jewish apocalyptic thought draws attention to two key points. Firstly, he argues that few Second-Temple Jews were ‘looking for the end of the world’–that is the end of the space-time universe. Secondly, he argues that Jewish and Christian apocalyptic literature is ‘a complex-metaphor system which invests space-time reality with its full, that is, its theological, significance.’5. Likewise in Jesus and the Victory of God Wright defines Jewish second temple eschatology, and therefore that of Jesus, as being about,
‘the climax of Israel’s history, involving events for which end-of-the world language is the only set of metaphors adequate to express the significance of what will happen, but resulting in a new and quite different phase within space and time history’6.
Wright follows in the line of his teacher and mentor George Caird. However, we should note that Caird does not totally remove the cosmic breakdown language from the bible. Caird famously, in a highly influential book, The Language and the Imagery of the Bible7, wrote,
the Biblical writers believed literally that the world had a beginning in the past and would have an end time in the future.
They regularly used end-of-the-world language metaphorically to refer to that which they knew well was not the end of the world ‘8
N.T. Wright, it seems, takes part of Caird’s analysis very seriously (2) but downplays or rejects any notion of the dissolution of the cosmos (1). He states confidently ‘that there is virtually no evidence that Jews were expecting the end of the space-time universe.’9 In stark contrast to Wright’s view Edward Adams in the recently published monograph ‘The Stars Will Fall From Heaven’10, with N.T Wright in his critical sights, has produced an excellent resource in attempting to bring under scholarly focus a variety of texts which refer to ‘cosmic catastrophes’. His conclusions show that Caird’s viewpoint described above (1) does have strong biblical and intertestamental support. After detailed interaction with may texts he reaches the conclusion ‘that the created universe is destined to be dissolved is clearly expressed in the Old testament….. Jewish apocalyptic and related writings.’11
‘in the light of the comparative evidence, language of a cosmic catastrophe such as we find in the New Testament simply cannot be regarded as conventional, first century language for referring symbolically to socio-political change.’14
‘In the end, we cannot be entirely certain how the writers (or redactors) of these texts meant the language of global and cosmic catastrophe to be understood.’13
However, although Adams leaves the door open in some sense, it is closed firmly again for the ambiguity of these passages, does not lead Adams, on the basis of his other studies to allow a question mark to be placed over cosmic catastrophe language used in the New Testament. For ,
If Adams is right, and the evidence certainly points in his favour, then it is clear that Wright has overstated his position. However, this does not mean that all language of ‘cosmic breakdown’ is to be taken literally, for Caird’s second point remains potentially valid for some ‘cosmic catastrophe language, does seem to refer to socio-political events within space and time, and anticipates the continuation, not the cessation, of the present created order. In other words, just because some second temple Jews believed in the end of the world, does not not necessarily mean, as we shall see, that all end-of-the-world language actually refers to the end of the world.
Adams, himself, leaves the door open for such an interpretation when he, after discussing in a section ‘Global/Cosmic Catastrophe Language in Oracles against Specific Places’12 , concludes,
In contrast to Adams I do not believe that this is the case for Mark 13. A full discussion of Adams scholarly and provocative monograph cannot be given here. However some clarity can be brought into the situation by exploring some of the Old Testament allusions in verse 2415.
“But in those days, after that tribulation, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
Behold, the day of the Lord comes,
cruel, with wrath and fierce anger,
to make the land a desolation
and to destroy its sinners from it.
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
and the moon will not shed its light.
Bearing in mind C.H Dodd, who said that a quote or allusion in the New Testament often presupposes the original Old Testament context behind the allusion and not just the allusion itself,16we must take the context of the Isaiah allusion seriously. When we do we find that Isaiah 13:9-10 is set within an ‘oracle concerning Babylon'(13:1). The focus of the prophecy does appear to be global in places for we have a prophecy of a coming day (v6,9) in which YHWH, as the divine warrior(v4c), will bring destruction to the nations of the world (kingdoms v4 , nations v4 , whole land v5). In contrast to the creative order of Genesis 1:14-18 there will, on the day of YHWH’s visitation, be, whether this is understood as literal or metaphorical, cosmic disorder (10:13). However, following the prophetic narrative flow of Isaiah 13 we see that this language of cosmic disturbances does not result in the disintegration of the cosmos, but in a new age, in which YHWH will restore the fortunes of Israel (Is 14:1-2). We may say then, that Isaiah 13 desribes a localised judgement on Babylon, using symbolically the language of global and cosmic destruction and judgement.
The larger context of Isaiah 13-14 shares a number of parallels with the larger context of the eschatological discourse at a number of levels.
YHWH is acting to destroy Babylon. Isaiah 13:1
YHWH is bringing destruction to the temple. (Mk 13:2)
Language of cosmic disturbances is used to set scene for destruction of Babylon
Language of Cosmic Disturbances are being used to describe the destruction of Jerusalem.(Mk 13:24-25)
This is the Day of YHWH’s coming
Jesus embodies the presence of YHWH (Mark 13:3 in the light of prologue.)
Destruction will be followed by restoration (Is 14:1-2)
Tribulation will be followed by the the restoration of God’s people (Mk 13:27)
It is likely, then, given the similarities between Mark 13 and Isaiah 13-14, that the allusion to Isaiah 13:9-10, is meant to evoke not only the allusion itself but its larger context. Although reference is being made in Mark 13:24-25 to ‘cosmic events’ the focus of the judgement is the locality of Jerusalem and the temple, the events of Mark 13:24-25 are part of Jesus’ answer to the disciples question concerning the destruction of the temple. In agreement with Hatina ‘The point which needs to be stressed …. is that the cosmic, universal-type language is used figuratively to describe the demise of a political entity within history. It is not a reference to the closing act of history.17
As YHWH came to judge babylon, he is also coming to punish Israel. As YHWH brought restoration to exiled Israel after the destruction of Babylon, YHWH will bring restoration, through the ‘Son of Man’, to his exiles.
It seems then that Jesus, or the final editor of Mark, intended the readers and hearers to recognise his allusions to Isaiah 13:9-10, and I suggest that it is plausible, and likely, that the readers were intended to also pick up the contexts of the Isaianic background. A similar point, although admittedly more tentative, can be made by comparing Mark 13:25 with MT Isaiah 24:4-5. I say more tentative as it lacks direct textual allusion but both passages evoke the imagery of disturbances in the skies. The target of the this day of vengeance in Isaiah is not Babylon, but Edom. Is Jesus, or the Markan editor, shaping his material in such a way to say that Jerusalem is now like Babylon and Edom ,and will face a judgement within space and time in the form of a socio-poltical catastrophe? To support an affirmative answer to this question we are reminded by Hatina that Isaiah 24:4-5 is followed by the gathering of God’s people, a theme which is also picked up by Mark 13:27. Other possible allusions include Ezekiel 32:7-8, Joel 2:10, 3:15, and Amos 8:9, which, although admittedly being linguistically weaker than Isaiah 13, also, arguably, use cosmic imagery to describe a localised crisis.
Following on from what we have suggested should be understood as the loclaised destruction of Jerusalem we read of ‘ the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.’ (Mark 13:26). Turning to the main commentaries we may feel that an interpreter is basically faced with a choice of either going the way of France and Wright and see this passage as referring to vindication of the Son of Man before the ancient of days, or by following a mainstream position of seeing this passage as prophecy of the visible parousia. Although we shall briefly explore both options, I suggest, that a false choice lies before us, and that the meaning of this passage lies somewhere in between both options, in that Mark 13:24-27 s calling attention to a non-visible parousia, in which Jesus, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated.
1I follow N.T. Wright in adopting a critical-realist reading of scripture which steers a middle course between the extremes of positivism, and naïve realism on the one hand, and extreme post-modern suspicion on the other hand. See Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 31-44.
2 R.T France, before commenting on Mark 13:24-27, rightly points out, “The key to this understanding in particular of vv. 24–27 lies in our willingness and ability to hear the prophetic imagery as it would have been heard by those in Jesus’ day who were at home in OT prophetic language, rather than as it is ‘naturally’ heard by Christian readers for whom the ‘coming of the Son of Man’ has since gained a different connotation through its association with the idea of παρουσία (a word which is conspicuously absent from this discourse in Mark)France, The Gospel of Mark.
3Andrew Perriman, The Coming of the Son of Man: New Testament Eschatology for an Emerging Church (Paternoster Press, 2005), 38-47.
4 Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 284.
5 Ibid., 299.
6 Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 209.Also of note is his response to criticism of Dale Allision in Jesus & the Restoration of Israel: A Critical Assessment (Downers Grove, Ill: InterVarsity Press).
7G. B. Caird, “The Language and Imagery ofthe Bible,” London: Duckworth 1: 980.
8 Ibid., 256.
9Wright, The New Testament and the People of God, 299.
10Adams, The Stars Will Fall from Heaven.
15See the detailed analysis provided by Rikki Watts in G K Beale and D A Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Apollos, 2008), 225-227.
16 The biblical writers often worked with an illusion in its original context. This does not mean that they could not creatively transpose it do a different key, its original context often steers the transposition. As Dodd days ‘In general, then, the writers of the New Testament, in making use of passages from the Old Testament, remain true to the main intention of their writers. Yet the actual meaning discovered in a given passage will seldom, in the nature of things, coincide precisely with that which it had in its original context. The transposition into a fresh situation involves a certain shift, nearly always an expansion, of the original scope of the passage.’ C. H. Dodd, According to the Scriptures: the sub-structure of New Testament theology (Nisbet, 1952).
17HATINA, “The Focus of Mark 13,” 53-59.
Mark 13: The Day of YHWH
Timothy Geddert, follows T.J Weeden in locating the ‘interpretative key’ to Mark 13 in a different pericope of Mark. Weeden asks the question,
‘Where one began looking in the Gospel for help in interpreting chapter 13 would be the key methodological issue. The soundest methodological procedure would be to seek help in understanding the concerns of chapter 13 in that section of the Gospel where the concerns are most likely clearly addressed.’1
Weeden answers his own question using 8:34-9:1 whereas, Geddert, due to the use of ‘sign language’ locates the interpretative key in 8:11-13. Whilst I would not deny that these passages (8:34-9:1, 8:11-13) are important, it is necessary, assuming that Mark is not a ‘clumsy writer’ and that there is a literary and theological unity to the gospel, to set Mark 13 in the context of Mark’s overall theological agenda and structure. A structure which, following Rikki Watts and Joel Marcus, is declared in Mark’s opening citation and prologue. For Rikki Watts the opening citation and in turn the prologue
‘indicate that the overall conceptual framework for his Gospel is the Isaianic NE [New Exodus]… This suggests that for Mark the long awaited coming of Yahweh as King and Warrior has begun’2
The Markan Jesus, if the implications of the prologue are worked out throughout the gospel3, inaugurates the coming of YHWH, for he is, in some sense, the embodiment of YHWH.4 Mark 13, when read in the light of this prologue, yields, as we shall see, high christological results.
According to the final form of the gospel of Mark the disciples, after leaving the temple, comment on the beauty of the Temple.5 Jesus responds by saying that these great building will be destroyed, and one stone will not be left upon another. Jesus leaves the temple and sits facing the Mount of Olives (v3), and in answer to the disciples question, seeks to explain, in verses 3-36 when this destruction will take place and what sign will be given for its arrival (v4)6. Several commentators recognise that the location of the Mount of Olives is often associated in prophetic literature with Jerusalem and the Temple (Ezek 11:23; 43:1ff; Zech. 14:1-11). Although these allusions are left relatively unexplored by some commentators, we note that they provide a link with the Markan theme of the arrival of YHWH established in the prologue. In Ezekiel YHWH abandons the temple, leaving it open for judgement,—‘the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city and stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city’ (Ezek 11:23). It is also, for Ezekiel, the place from which YHWH will re-enter the city and fill it with his presence (Ezek 43:1ff). Similar, although different, themes are found in Zechariah. The prophet announces that a day is coming when Jerusalem is to be attacked by the nations. This battle which brings exile, rape and plunder for the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Zech 14:2) will be followed by a time when YHWH will battle against the nations. YHWH comes to the Mount of Olives which results in geographical disturbances which result in a valley being formed from which the inhabitants of Jerusalem can escape (Zech 14:4-5)7.
N.T Wright, amongst other scholars8, picks up the Zechariah allusion and stresses that it is Jesus who acts symbolically in choosing the Mount of Olives as a location,
‘The force of the setting then seems to be that this way Jesus’ paradoxical retelling of the great story found in Zechariah 14 in predicting Jerusalem’s last great struggle, the ‘coming of YHWH’, and the final arrival of the divine kingdom he was acting to fulfil, in his own reinterpreted fashion, the prophecy of Zechariah.’9
On the other hand, for R.T. France ‘the more obvious effect is to recall the the place where according to Ezekiel 11:23 God stopped after abandoning the temple.’10.
It is not necessary for the purpose of our study to choose between Zechariah and Ezekiel as possible Old Testament backgrounds. However, we may simply note that it is plausible that Mark 13:3 is providing a theo-geography in which we can say that Jesus fulfils and embodies, as with the prologue, the role of YHWH. As the embodiment of YHWH he has visited the temple and found it wanting, its destruction is certain (Ezek 11:23). The day of the Lord is coming, a time of tribulation will befall the city. Yet this will not be the end for God will act through the Son of Man to gather his people (Zech 14). This interpretation of the symbolic nature of the Mount of Olives is far from certain, but, as we shall see, in our analysis of Mark 13:24-27, it coheres well with other parts of the eschatological discourse, namely its climax in the ‘coming of the son of Man.’
1T. J. Weeden, Mark: traditions in conflict (Fortress Press, 1971).cited in Geddert, Watchwords, 29.
2R. E. Watts, Isaiah’s new Exodus and Mark (Delft Univ Pr, 1997), See chapter 3, citation from page 90.likewise and independently Joel Marcus makes the same basic point.
‘If, as we have contended, the larger Deutero-Isaian context is in view in Mark 1, John the Baptist and Jesus are set firmly within the context of Jewish apocalyptic eschatology by the citation of Isa. 40:3 in Mark 1:3. Their appearance on the scene fulfils the prophecies of old because it heralds eschatological events,because it is the preparation for and the beginning of the fulfilment of that end so eagerly yearned for since Old Testament times: the triumphant march of the holy warrior, Yahweh, leading his people through the wilderness to their true homeland in a mighty demonstration of saving power.’J. Marcus, Way of the Lord (Tamp; t Clark Ltd, 2004), 29.
3M.E. Boring brings together a number of texts which support a high Christology. These texts, which do not include an analysis of Mark 13, include Mark 1:11;1:16-20; 1:24,;1:23-27, 2:1-12; 4:35-41; 5:6; 6:48; 6:50; 7:1-23; 9:2-8; 9:37; 12:1-11; 12:35-37; 13:6,13; 13:31; 14:60-64; 15:39. He concludes his analysis,
‘ Mark should be located among those NT authors with a ‘high’ Christology who afﬁrm the ‘deity’ of Christ. While no one of the nineteen texts catalogued above is compelling in itself, in the aggregate they incline on toward the view that Mark affirmed what is now called the ‘deity of Christ’,though this was no this way of formulating the issue.’ 471 M. E. Boring, “Markan Christology: God-Language for Jesus?,” New Testament Studies 45, no. 04 (1999): 451-471.
4One struggles to find appropriate language to describe Markan Christology. It is inappropriate and anachronistic to see it as on par with the later dogmatic affirmations of later creedal formulations. Driggers, who explores the divine presence in Mark, although unfortunately leaves Mark 13 relaively unexplored, uses language of ‘possession’ rather than embodiment.
“There are of course no assertions of ontological sameness, as in the christological formulations of later church councils. God and Jesus are at one level different characters; but to the extent that God’s spirit possesses Jesus those character boundaries become, and remain, blurred.’ 232
I. B. Driggers, “The politics of divine presence: Temple as locus of conflict in the Gospel of Mark!,” Biblical Interpretation 15, no. 3 (2007): 227-247.
5The unnamed disciples comment on the magnificence of the temple is thoroughly understandable. This temple, commissioned by Herod, was a complete renovation of the Temple of Zerubbabel (Jos. Ant. 15:11.1-3, Jos. Jewish War 5.5.1-6). Work began in 20/19 B/C. It is sometimes mentioned that this rebuilding task did not finish till shortly before the Jewish War (John 2:20). However, the beauty of this building would have been readily evident during Jesus ministry as the bulk of the building task was completed within a decade. The disciples amazement may well have been at the size and beauty of the stones being used. (Ant. 15.391-402, War. 184-226)
6These two questions, of timing and accompanying signs have been understood in a number of different ways. Hooker, Joel Marcus and Beasley Murray, amongst others, see the second question ‘all these things‘(ταῦτα πάντα) as looking at eschatological events beyond ‘these things’ (ταῦτα).’ However, there is no textual reason to be confused about this, unless of course one assumes that the passage is actually about the second coming. The simplest reading is to assume that they are an example of synonymous parallelism, in which both questions relate to the same event of these things/all these things. We can be confident that this is how this would have been understood in the first century as Lukan parallel (Luke 21:7) , assuming here Markan priority, omits ‘all (πάντα)’ so that both questions refer to ‘these things’ (ταῦτα). In Mark 13:28-30 the terms ταῦτα and ταῦτα πάντα are reintroduced, this time at the end of the response which Jesus is giving. The disciples questions, which follow on from his announcement of the destruction of the temple, are about this event, an event which will be fulfilled within this generation. See the helpful discussion in Robert H. Stein, Mark (Baker Publishing Group, 2008), 590-591.
7James R. Edwards is incorrect in his commentary to state that in Zech 14:1-8 the mount of Olives is ‘ is the place from which God declares the capture, sacking, and devastation of Jerusalem.’ It is after the plunder of the city that God comes to the mount of Olives to bring rescue to his people. J. R. Edwards, The Gospel According to Mark (Apollos, 2002).
8Such as M. D. Hooker, Gospel According to St Mark (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2001), 305.
9Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God, 345.
10France, The Gospel of Mark.
Posted in Historical Jesus, Mark's Gospel, N.T. Wright, Quest for the Historical Jesus, second temple judaism, tagged A.D 70, gospel of mark, Historical Jesus, Mark13, Parousia, pitre, Wright on July 18, 2009| 1 Comment »
Jesus, if the Jesus tradition contained in the synoptic gospels is at all a reliable witness to the Historical Jesus, proclaimed the arrival of the kingdom of God and also issued a warning of the judgement which would soon fall, on the nation, the city and the temple. We follow George Caird and Ben Meyers in stressing that Jesus’ message, like John the Baptist, and that of his disciples, differs considerably from contemporary evangelism.
‘The disciples [and we may add Jesus and John the Baptist] were not evangelistic preachers, sent out to save individual souls for some unearthly paradise. They were couriers proclaiming a national emergency and conducting a referendum of national survival. 1
‘ It is historically out of the question that John [and Jesus] conceived judgement along the individualistic lines characteristic of later Western thought. Rather, he conceived of judgement in collective, or better, ‘ecclesial terms’. ie. in terms of God’s people Israel. To miss this is to miss the context-a massive tradition- in which John [and Jesus] consciously and publicly situated himself and out of which came his every word and act.’ 2
All of this can be said without actually turning to the eschatological discourse of Mark 13. However, when we do, anticipating the interpretative task that follows, we see that Jesus announced that the coming destruction and downfall of Jerusalem and its temple would be followed by a time of blessing in which the Messiah, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated (Mark 13:26-27) and the elect, arguably the exiled people of God, are gathered together. In other words, the cities destruction is part of the necessary tribulation which must take place before the arrival, in some sense, of the eschatological age.
In this last sentence I use the word ‘tribulation’3 deliberately to denote a second temple eschatological concept and not simply as a substitute for the words ‘suffering’ or ‘hardship’.
Brant Pitre’s recent doctoral thesis republished as Jesus, the Tribulation and the End of Exile4, demonstrates that this concept of tribulation is firmly established within the texts of late second temple Judaism and that it is plausible that Jesus, along with many of his contemporaries, shared such an eschatological view. Pitre reaches this position by studying a variety of texts composed between 200BC to 30AD such as Epistle of Enoch, Testament of Moses and several documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls5. From his analysis of these texts Pitre draws together a number of aspects of the concept of tribulation in late second temple Judaism.
1. The tribulation is tied to restoration of Israel and the End of Exile.
2 . A righteous remnant arises during the tribulation.
3. The righteous suffer and/or die during the tribulation. This sometimes includes the suffering and/or death of a
4. The tribulation is tied to the coming of the Messiah, sometimes referred to as the ‘Son of Man’
5. There is a tribulation which precedes the final judgement.
6. The tribulation is depicted as the eschatological climax of Israel’s exilic sufferings, often through the imagery of the
Deuteronomic covenant curses.
7. The tribulation has two stages (1) the preliminary stage, and (2) the Great tribulation.
8. The tribulation precedes the coming of the eschatological kingdom
9. An eschatological tyrant, opponent, or Anti-Messiah arises during the tribulation.
10. Typological images from the Old Testament are used to depict the tribulation
11. The tribulation is tied to the in gathering and/or conversion of the Gentiles.
12. .The tribulation has some kind of atoning or redemptive function.
13. The Jerusalem Temple is defiled and/or destroyed during the tribulation.
14. The tribulation precedes the resurrection of the dead and/or a new creation
Pitre is to be applauded for his significant study which offers contributions to both Second Temple scholarship and New Testament studies. However, it is problematic to sketch out a second temple view of ‘tribulation’ on texts from late second temple Judaism (200BC – 30 AD). Firstly, we do not not actually know how mainstream these non-canonical books were, and whether there content was known by the general population. However, we do know, with a relateviely high degree of confidence that signifcant parts of the Old Testament (Law, Prophets,) were widely read by the population at large. Would it not make more sense, therefore, to look, not only at texts from late second temple Judaism, but also at tribulation themes within the Old Testament? Secondly, and more positively, I suggest that a thorough study of ‘the day of the Lord’ should take place alongside an Old Testament study of tribulation6 for the concept of the day of the Lord has the potential of bringing together the bi-polar themes of judgement and blessing, and may be an appropriate tool, like that of tribulation, for bringing a coherency to Jesus’ proclamation of the kingdom and his warning of imminent catastrophe.7
It is my belief, alongside Pitre, that Mark 13 and Mark 10:35-45 are further examples of this tribulation theme and will be studied in this, and the following, chapter. In the light of Pitre’s study I want to suggest that the concept of tribulation, and the related theme of the ‘day of the Lord’ are part of Jesus’ narrative world, and that any attempt to understand Jesus’ kingdom proclamation or his forecast of the imminent catastrophe which is to befall the nation, without paying due attention to the eschatological narrative world of tribulation is a historiographical and exegetical mistake.
Mark 13: Hypothesis, Dialogue and Verification8
Those familiar with the exegetical and hermeneutical landscape of Mark 13 will no doubt realise the serious challenges which are to be faced by the interpreter. The literature is vast, the issues are complex, the battle lines have been drawn,and, of top of all this, it cannot be studied in isolation from other biblical minefields9. However, the complexity and length of this study is curtailed by focussing our attention on an overarching hypothesis10. Our hypothesis is,
Hypothesis: ‘In Mark 13 Jesus prophecies, amongst other things, the coming destruction and downfall of the Temple and the city of Jerusalem. This suffering is part of the eschatological tribulation—the negative side of the Day of the Lord—which precedes the arrival, in some sense, of the eschaton, in which the messianic Son of Man, as the embodiment of YHWH, is vindicated and the exiled people of God are gathered in’.
This hypothesis does not take place in a scholarly vacuum but is in dialogue with a number of scholars. In agreement with R.T France11 and N.T Wright12, who emphasise the prophecy has its focus on the destruction of the temple and Jerusalem, I reject the interpretation of Mark 13, followed by Edward Adams13, Beasley-Murray14 , the modern day Schweitzer, Dale Allison15, and the historical Schweitzer16, in which Jesus is predicting a global apocalyptic cosmic catastrophe and his own literal parousia. However, I part company with Wright and France in their understanding of the ‘coming of the son of man’. They are right,in my opinion, to reject the mainline scholarly ‘visible parousia’ interpretation but are misguided, in my opinion, to simply interpret it as vindication. In contrast to both of these positions, I seek to put forward and defend the view that Jesus believes that after the destruction of the temple he will re-visit the nation, in some sense, as the embodiment of YHWH—for the Day of the Lord has arrived!
It is now time, given we have a hypothesis and suitable dialogue partners, to wade into the exegetical waters of Mark 13, with the hope that we may emerge with a fish or two, namely plausibility and coherency, as verification. To be continuued…..
1 Caird, G. B. “Jesus and the Jewish Nation.” Athlone, London (1965). also Wright JVOG 320-339,
2Caird, “Jesus And The Jewish Nation,”also see N. T Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God (London: SPCK, 1996), 320-339.
3 Within Biblical Scholarship this concept has lacked some conceptual and terminological clarity. It is referred to in various ways such as ‘the final ordeal and confusion’(Emil Schurer), ‘Messianic Woes’ (R.H Charles), ‘prelude to the messianic age’ (Joseph Klausner), ‘preliminary time of Evil’ (Hartman). It is Brant Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile: Restoration Eschatology and the Origin of the Atonement (Baker Academic, 2006)., and to a lesser extent Dale C. Allison, End of the Ages Has Come: Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (Fortress P.,U.S, 1985)., who bring precision and conceptual clarification to such scholarly disorder. See JTEE 1-31
4Pitre, Jesus, the Tribulation, and the End of the Exile.
5 The full list is 1 Enoch 93:1-10;91:11-17, 1 Enoch 91-107, The Book of Daniel, The Book of Dreams , The book of Jubilees, The Third Sibylline Oracle, the Psalms of Solomon, The Testament of Moses, 1QH, 4Q171, 4Q174 & 4Q177, 1QS, CD, 1 QM, 4Q246, 1 Enoch 37-71
6For our current interests of Mark 13 we may note in the judgement oracle against Babylon found in Isaiah 13:6,9 makes reference to the day of the Lord ( éåÉí éäåä,? ?μέρα κυρίου LXX) On this day, which will come upon people like a woman in labour, the Lord will come and strike Babylon with his wrath and fierce anger, on this day the stars will not give light and the sun will be dark, (Is 13:10). Similarly, in Mark 13 the destruction of the city will is described in terms of a cosmic catastrophe (Mark 13:24-25) and of birthpangs (Mark 13:8). This will be discussed again later in this chapter, but for now I simply want to make the point that the concept of the day of the Lord may prove a fruitful a area as the distinct but interrelated study of tribulation by Brant Pitre. We may also note, as a supportive argument, that Mark, in his prologue brings together Ex 23:20, Is 40:3 and Malachi 3:1 with the introduction ‘As is is written in the prophet Isaiah’. Joel Marcus and Rikki E Watts have demonstrated that this is not a error but the author of Mark is trying to make a theological point, namely, that the gospel, and Jesus’ ministry, are to be understood against the backdrop of ‘the way of the Lord’. We simply note in passing, whilst agreeing with the thrust of Watts and Marcus, that the ‘way of the Lord’ (Marcus) or Isaiah’s new exodus(Watts) is tightly related tot he concept of the day of the Lord. Malachi 3:1 is set in the context of the day of the Lord (Mal 3:2) and YHWH’s comign in judgement against his temple, whereas Is 40:3 is also about YHWH coming to his people in mercy and restoration (Is 40:9-11). We see that Mark, like Jesus’ kingdom proclamation and warning of imminent catastrophe, has brought together the twin themes of YHWH’s return, that of judgement and restoration. See R. E. Watts, Isaiah’s new Exodus and Mark (Mohr Siebeck, 1997), 4; Joel Marcus, The Way of the Lord (T.& T.Clark Ltd, 2004), 2.
7 See the article in ABD 2:82 by Richard Heirs in which he breaks the ‘day of the Lord’ material into the following categories.
1) YHWH’s judgement of the foreign nations
YHWH’S judgement against Israel, Judah or the Jewish People
8From a methodological point of view opt for a hypothesis-verification approach to historiography. I follow N.T Wright, contra to naïve or positivist realism, in seeing knowledge of the past is achieved through a method of hypothesis and verification. A hypothesis: ‘is essentially a construct, thought up by a human mind, which offers itself as a story about a particular set of phenomena, in which the story, which is bound to be an interpretation of those phenomena also offers an explanation of them.’
For a historical hypothesis to be a good hypothesis, and receive verification, it must
1. must include all the data [evidence]
2. must construct a basically simple and coherent overall picture
3. prove itself fruitful in other areas
N.T. Wright, The New Testament and the People of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God v. 1 (SPCK Publishing, 1992), 99-109.
9 A useful literature survey and history of scholarship has been provided by G.R. Beasley Murray. His latest book on this topic is George R.Beasley- Murray, Jesus and the Last Days: Interpretation of the Olivet Discourse (Paternoster P., 1994).which is based upon his earlier works, G. R. Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen (Macmillan, 1957); G. R. Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future (London: Macmillan, 1954).As scholarship does not stand still we must add to this the more recent contributions of R. T. France, The Gospel of Mark: a commentary on the Greek text (Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002); N.T. Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God: Christian Origins and the Question of God: v. 2 (SPCK Publishing, 1996), 339-367; E. Adams, “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel,” TYNDALE BULLETIN 56, no. 2 (2005): 39; TR HATINA, “The Focus of Mark 13: 24-27: The Parousia, or the Destruction of the Temple?,” Bulletin for Biblical Research 6 (1996): 43-66; T.J. Geddert, Watchwords: St.Mark 13 in Markan Eschatology (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement (Continuum International Publishing Group – Sheffie, 1989).
10I will not focus any attention on issues raised from either source or form criticism. I treat Mark 13 as a literary whole and seek to interact with it from a literary historical perspective. Questions of original form and composition history have been taken up by other scholars, including my research supervisor. D. Wenham, The rediscovery of Jesus’ eschatological discourse (JSOT Press, 1984). Lloyd Gaston, No Stone on Another: Studies in the Significance of the Fall (Supplements to Novum Testamentum; Leiden: Brill, 1970), 41-64.
11R. T. France, Jesus and the Old Testament: his application of Old Testament passages to himself and his mission (Regent College Publishing, 2000), Appendix A; R. T. France, Divine Government, 2003; France, The Gospel of Mark.
12Wright, Jesus and the Victory of God.
13Adams, “The Coming of the Son of Man in Mark’s Gospel”; Edward Adams, The Stars Will Fall from Heaven: Cosmic Catastrophe and the World’s End in the New Testament and Its World (Library of New Testament Studies): Cosmic Catastrophe … Its World (Continuum International Publishing Group – T & T C, 2007).
14Beasley-Murray, A commentary on Mark thirteen; Beasley-Murray, Jesus and the Future; Murray, Jesus and the Last Days.
15Dale C. Allison, The End of the Ages Has Come: Early Interpretation of the Passion and Resurrection of Jesus (New Ed.; T.& T.Clark Ltd, 1987); D. C. Allison, Jesus of Nazareth: millenarian prophet (Fortress Press, 1998); “A Plea for Thoroughgoing Eschatology,” http://www.jstor.org/stable/3266712.
16Albert Schweitzer and Walter Lowrie, The Mystery of the Kingdom of God: The Secret of Jesus’ Messiahship and Passion (London: A. & C. Black, 1925).
Jesus and His Narrative World
Jesus, as a Jew, along with his Jewish contemporaries, was living and perceived the world as part of an unfolding story, a story which, unlike post-modern counterparts, claimed to be the true story of the world.1 This continuing narrative looks back on the relationship between YHWH, the creator God, and his covenant people, whilst simultaneously looking with hope to a future age, a messianic age of deliverance from ones enemies and the establishment of peace and shalom. There is a risk to be recognised for the historian of such a meta-narrative approach, namely, that there is no firm ground from which this story can be absolutised. This risk is amplified by the bi-polar problems of data, that the data we have, from which we can emplot meta-narratives, is simply to vast and complex, which is to be affirmed alongside the problem of absense of data. This refusal of the data to be pinned down and easily systematised or placed into a narratival scheme means that the seeming objectivity of the scholarly consensus is a myth. These critiques are valid, but a non-totalsiing narrative is an essential tool for the historian, whether or not, he or she uses the term, for it is impossible to do history without generalising in some sense, but a fair recognition that the narrative which you are telling (i.e. Identifying increased militarisation of Europe as a main cause of first world war) or the narrative wolrd which you are creating of a past culture or individual, (i.e. The worldview of Roman Empire, The outlook of life from a Tibetan Buddhist perspective, the hopes and aspirations of the enlightenment) is non-totalizing It does not claim to be objective, and totalizing—this is how everyone saw the world—but but it does seek plausibility whilst simultaneously being epistemologically humble. It does claim ho have it all sewn up, but it is a ‘useful’ rule of thumb for engaging in historical research.
In fact it should be relatively straight forward to state that 1st century Jews-despite immense variation– shared, to a greater or lesser extent, the story of monotheism, covenant and eschatology. The one true God [monotheism] had called a people [covenant] and given them the law. At some point God would act in history to bring in an age of blessing and shalom[eschatology]. The exact details, such as [who are his people? Whose interprettaion of the law?, what would happen to the gentiles at the eschtaon?] receive a variety of interpretations from within second temple Judaism, yet we must not allow this complexity and valid postmodern criticisms of history and narrative give way to a total cynicism.
Chapter 2: Rules of Engagement
In an interesting and stimulating chapter Wright sets forth some of his own methodology and concerns about Piper’s approach.
Wright reminds his readers of the danger of following a systematic approach to the bible which brings a ‘theology’ to the text rather than letting the text speak for itself. ‘But start with exegesis, and remind yourself that the end in view is not a tidy system, sitting in the hard covers of a shelf where one may look up the ‘correct answers’, but the sermon, or the shared pastoral reading, or the scriptural word to Synod or other formal church gatherings, or indeed the life witness to the love of God… this is letting scripture be scripture’ (24)
For Wright it is vital that when looking at ‘justification’ we ‘pay attention tot he actual flow of the letters’. We should also listen to the other Pauline texts such as Ephesians and Colossians.
Wright engages with Piper on the role of 1st century sources for illuminating an interpretation of the bible. Piper says that first century sources can be used to ‘distort and silence what the New Testament writers intended to say.’ This can happen through misunderstanding the first century idea. Piper brings in as support the book edited by Carson ‘Justification and Variegated Nomism’ which seeks to show, at least Carson’s editorial hand does, that Sanders was incorrect to describe second temple Judaism as being covenantal nomist. Wright disagrees with Piper in saying that Carson’s concluding comments do not necessarily match the scholarly work contained in the chapters. His is a point which has been made by several reviewers of Justification and Variegated Nomism.
Piper is reluctant to let 1st century texts inform our reading of scripture. Wright demonstrates extensively that we simply must let other texts inform our reading for unless we read other Greek texts we would not know what the Greek New Testament was saying. Wright shows how the NIV sometimes lets his theological agenda control its translation of scripture. Particular attention is paid to Romans 3:21-26 in which the NIV translates in a way which supports its own theological stance but obscures the Greek meaning.
In summary we can say that Wright wants his approach to a be a ‘historical approach’. He is wary of a theological approach which does not take history seriously.