I am currently doing a thorough study of Jesus, The Tribulation and the End of Exile (JTEE) by Brant Pitre. Here are some reflection on his work on tribulation themes within Second Temple Judaism. Any comments?
(a) Historiography and Second Temple Judaism
Due to a lack of serious scholarship in this area Pitre is to be applauded for offering a serious study which seeks to ‘trace the development and shape of the concept of eschatological tribulation in late Second Temple Judaism.’ E.P Sanders criticisms against Schweitzer may well have been correct when levelled against his use of sources, but can no longer, in the light of Pitre, be used to criticise some of his conclusion, as Pitre demonstrates, in the words of one reviewer,
‘successfully that the nexus of tribulation, the end of exile, and the coming of Messiah is present within enough strands of Second Temple Jewish literature to establish the plausibility of Jesus himself merging these themes in his own person and work.
Pitre studies and examines texts dated from 200BC to 30AD. These dates are not arbitrary but are timebound as the ‘chosen time frame time frame is bound on one end by the earliest Jewish apocalypses and on the other by the lifetime of Jesus himself. ‘
These texts, those composed between 200BC to 30AD, seventeen in all, are studied to answer the following questions.
How is the eschatological tribulation depicted in any given text?
What is the precise literary context in which the tribulation is described or referred to?
Is the tribulation in question explicitly messianic?
What (if any) scriptural basis is provided for the expectation of the tribulation?
Is there any connection between the eschatological tribulation and the restoration of Israel and the end of Exile?
These texts include Epistle of Enoch. Testament of Moses and documents from the Dead Sea Scrolls. From these texts, usually an analysis of a section from within the document as a whole, Pitre draws the following conclusions.
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 messianic figure.
4.The tribulation is tied to the coming of the Messiah, sometimes referred to as the ‘Son of Man’
5.There is a tribulation 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 ingathering 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
A number of questions are raised by Pitre’s methodology at this point.
Pitre, in limiting his study to texts produced between 200BC and 30AD, fails to include an analysis of the Hebrew Bible/Septuagint in his study. In one sense we can understand that he wants to look at later texts to show the development of tribulation ideas in second temple Judaism, yet we are faced, on the hand, with limited knowledge of the influence and reception history of texts such as Testament of Moses and the texts uncovered in the Dead Sea Scrolls. To be on more solid ground regarding the beliefs on the tribulation in ‘common’ or ‘mainstream’ Judaism we would be better placed in seeing tribulation themes as being found in the Hebrew Bible/Septuagint. By this I mean that although the canon was not necessarily fixed —there are no hard and fast lines delimiting God’s words.— , it is not possible to make a historical reconstruction of ‘tribulation’ beliefs without exploring the rich resources of the law and the prophets.
Pitre offers an insightful understanding of tribulation themes in the Testament of Moses. This work, undoubtedly, is useful for understanding the mindset/worldview for its author and initial readers. However, we simply do not know how widely read this text was, and whether its opinions were accepted by Judaism at large. Or to look at another text, we may say that the Pitre’s study of the War Scroll found at Qumran, shows us the view of tribulation from this community, but this view cannot then be placed on Common Judaism, for the relationship between a sectarian group and those outside of it is complex, with both similarities and differences.
However, if tribulation themes, although developed in 2nd temple Judaism, are found in the law and the prophets, we can be more confident that the theme of tribulation may have been common theological currency in the ‘average’ second temple worldview. Pitre impressively has shown us the route which could be followed, but a thorough study of Law, and most definitely the prophets, would be useful.
In my own study I have found that the curses of Deuteronomy may provide a seedbed from which later apocalyptic and tribulation themes can grow, and that once in the prophets the theme of tribulation, in one guise or another is present. For instance the book of Malachi, dated to the fourth of fifth century BC, which I will return to in discussion of the Lord’s prayer, offers a prophetic look to the arrival of the ‘day of the Lord’. OF interest to us is the fact that this text is post-exilic, perhaps contemporary to Nehemiah, and looks to a day, because of the unfaithfulness of God’s people, of reckoning.
|English Translation of MT
“For behold, rthe day is coming, sburning like an oven, when tall the arrogant and tall evildoers uwill be stubble. The day that is coming ushall set them ablaze, says the Lord of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch.
|English Translation of LXX
For, behold, a day comes burning as an oven, and it shall consume them; and all the aliens, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that is coming shall set them on fire, saith the Lord Almighty, and there shall not be left of them root or branch.
διότι ἰδοὺ ἡμέρα κυρίου ἔρχεται καιομένη ὡς κλίβανος καὶ φλέξει αὐτούς, καὶ ἔσονται πάντες οἱ ἀλλογενεῖς καὶ πάντες οἱ ποιοῦντες ἄνομα καλάμη καὶ ἀνάψει αὐτοὺς ἡ ἡμέρα ἡ ἐρχομένη έγει κύριος παντο κράτωρ καὶ οὐ μὴ ὑπολειφθῇ ἐξ αὐτῶν ῥίζα οὐδὲ κλῆμα
In the recently published book by Pate, C. Marvin, and Douglas Welker Kennard. Deliverance Now and Not Yet: The New Testament and the Great Tribulation we find an analysis of the book of Isaiah and Zechariah for themes of tribulation. Pate and Kennard in dialogue with Dale Allison state
‘Allison does not take into consideration the Old Testament, especially Isaiah 24-27, Zechariah and Daniel…In failing to do this, Allison overlooks the key issue regarding the tribulation.’
It is this criticism of Pate and Kennard which can be levelled against Pitre’s work.
Pate and Kennard may offer us a further insight into the concept of tribulation in the first century, but their discussion is brief and they ask different questions of the texts than Pitre. They are concerned to show whether atonement is mimetic or vicarious in the texts, whereas Pitre uses the ‘return from exile’ hermeneutic. To take this discussion further, for those in support of Pitre’s basic thesis, a full analysis the ‘law and the prophets’ for tribulation themes is necessary and urgent. As will be shown in the discussion of the Lord’s prayer this study could enhance our understanding of key gospel texts.
Pitre has correctly brought out themes of tribulation in second temple literature but we may note, although this does not undermine his approach, that some texts which may refer to the tribulation have not been included in his study. For instance Wisdom of Solomon 3:5-6 and 19:22 have been read, by Pate and Kennard, as ‘reorientating of the eschatological idea that the godly will undergo the Messianic Woes at the end of time to a Hellenistic setting.‘ Pitre does not discuss them, they read as follows,
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,
And no torment shall touch them.
2 In the eyes of fools they seemed to die;
And their departure was accounted to be their hurt,
3 And their going from us to be their ruin:
But they are in peace.
4 For though in the sight of men they be punished,
Their hope is full of immortality;
5 And having borne a little chastening, they shall receive great good;
Because God tested them, and found them worthy of himself.
6 As gold in the furnace he proved them,
And as a whole burnt offering he accepted them.
7 And in the time of their visitation they shall shine forth,
And like sparks among stubble they shall run to and fro.
8 They shall judge nations, and have dominion over peoples;
And the Lord shall reign over them for evermore.
9 They that trust on him shall understand truth,
And the faithful shall abide with him in love;
Because grace and mercy are to his chosen,
And he will graciously visit his holy ones. (Wisdom 3 1-9)
3) Pitre has demonstrated that an ‘expectation of messianic tribulation can be found in a diverse range of various genres of Jewish literature from the period.’ Yet, we must be careful, as Pitre is, not to overstate our case. Although Pitre has found tribulation themes across a range of literature we are not in the position to state whether this was a theme with ‘normative’,’mainstream’ Judaism, or if it is a theme how prominent was it? Did the average Jew await/worry about/pray about the tribulation? Did Jesus wait the tribulation? Such a question cannot be easily answered, although we may, on the basis of Pitre’s work, say that it is appropriate to construct a ‘tribulation’ hypothesis, which seeks verification from the gospel data.
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