Re: [XTalk] GOSPEL (OF THE KINGDOM) OF GOD
- To: Crosstalk
In Response To: Bob Schacht
On: Kingdom of God
Bob warns us not to disregard the conclusions of the JSem (2010):
BOB: The Fellows of the Jesus Seminar are inclined to the second option:
Jesus conceived of God's Rule as all around him but difficult to discern.
God was so real for him that he could not distinguish God's present activity
from any future activity. He had a poetic sense of time in which the future
and the present merged, simply melted
together, in the intensity of his vision. But Jesus' uncommon views were
obfuscated by the more pedestrian conceptions of John, on the one side, and
by the equally pedestrian views of the early Christian community, on the
BRUCE: In other words, Jesus was misunderstood by nearly everybody in his
own time and for decades thereafter. Nothing is impossible, but this theory
makes Jesus out to be about the worst communicator in the history of
Some people, and I find myself among them, are interested in the historical
Jesus: the Jesus that really lived and talked and happened. Others are more
interested in the tenable Jesus: the one that can be preached and held up as
edification to the young in our current world. I think the JSem as a group
pattern with the latter, and that this is nowhere clearer than in the idea
Bob quotes: that Jesus preached not a literal but a pervasive Kingdom. I
would fill in this statement in three ways.
THE KINGDOM IN THE GOSPELS
There is a clear Kingdom Trajectory in the Gospels, and I here consider it
previously established and operationally certain that the order of the
Gospels, or more specifically of their final textual states, is Mk > Mt > Lk
> Jn.1. John the B clearly thought that the world was going to end, and a new
order of things would replace it. Just what that order would be like, we may
leave undecided, but he (and his audiences) anticipated a near-future
historical event. Something not true now, but about to be true.
2. Jesus . . . well, that is the argument. But at least in Mk 13, Jesus is
describing a geophysical catastrophe which will accompany the last days, and
this is certainly compatible with the kind of things John was saying. The
more so if, as some of us find, Mk 13 is even a late addition to Mk, but in
any case the demonstration for Mk comes out this way.
3. Luke largely takes over the Mk 13 talk, and much else compatible with it.
His own additions are heavy on the theme of, You do not know when the master
will return, so keep yourself in shape (etc etc). This too, and there is a
lot of it, presupposes a future event, unpredictable (which Jesus is made
also to insist in Mk 13), but finite; not yet realized.
At the same time, Lk also has Jesus say, "The Kingdom of Heaven is within
you." Meaning, it is already near and is resident in the community of
believers, rather than (so to speak) vice versa. This idea has no precedent
in Mk. Here is a little idea beginning to sprout up alongside the inherited
idea, and to point in a quite different direction.
4. In John, this "already here" and "not of this world" theme is even
In sum, and insofar as the Gospels are any clue, an original historical
expectation is giving way to a presentist affirmation. To coin a phrase,
imminent becomes immanent.
I think we see here a group moving away from what was increasingly an
untenable position, and into something more teachable and less vulnerable to
one more week when nothing happens.
THE KINGDOM OUTSIDE THE GOSPELS
1. In Paul, if we take Paul seriously (meaning, chronologically and minus
interpolations), we see the same progression: less and less assurance about
whether Paul himself would be present for the expected Final Event. The same
line is followed, but increasingly so, in the postPauline material.
2. In that segment of the postPauline material which is not directly
attributed to Paul, we find serious discomfort, as a practical matter, with
the idea of a literal future Kingdom. This explodes more or less in 2 Peter,
where people outside are jeering at the expectation of a near future end of
the world. According to my dating of 2 Peter (and nobody I know puts it
earlier), it is about 60 years since Jesus died, or more than two
generations (never mind the one generation to which a firm promise was made
in Mk 13), and people are saying, Where is this Coming of Jesus? And then
they laugh themselves silly. And 2 Peter, not following the usual
deuteroPauline line, says rather lamely, Well, you see, God's timescale is
not the same as ours. Leading to jokes like the one that begins, God, what
to you is a million years?
So there are two strands of development, both tending to abandon, or if not
to abandon, to be embarrassed in public by, the idea of the Kingdom as a
future literal historical event. Unless we want to invert the order of the
Gospels, or to stand the Paulines and the Deuteropaulines on their heads,
that's what the early Jesus followers were doing, across two or three
It follows, I think, that we are on pretty safe ground in identifying the
Literal Future Kingdom as the early idea, and the Community of Believers
Kingdom, the presentist Kingdom, as the late idea. And it would also seem to
follow that Jesus, being at the early end of the Kingdom Trajectory, most
likely held and preached a version of the Literal Near Future Kingdom.
Every meeting should close with prayer, right? I am not certified to
administer a whole prayer, and so instead I will quote part of one. This is
not in Mark, so it is not demonstrably early, but it is in all probability
pre-Lukan, and the form in which Luke gives it was somewhat elaborated by
Matthew. Here is the part of the prayer:
Thy Kingdom come,
Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.
This does not speak of believers emulating God, or of the community of
believers as a whole emulating Heaven. It expects a future situation, in
which (as is not now the case) God's way of doing things will obtain also on
This is not the Gospels (though it does show up in the Gospels), and it's
not Paul, and I am not going to use the tricky word Church. I am going to
call it early praxis: what the early believers (or a recognizable subset of
them) did and sang and prayed, not too long after the death of Jesus. I
think it qualifies as a third piece of evidence, in contact with but not
dependent upon, one or more of the other two, that the Kingdom expectation
was originally future.
If so, it must follow that the JSem have gone with the wrong end of the
timeline. This is not surprising. They did as much (as I and some others
pointed out, oh, decades ago) with their Gospel evidence, their dance of Red
and Pink. Not a single saying in Mark is either red or pink in the eyes of
JSem. All the good stuff is in Mt/Lk, that is to say, they credit the Nice
Jesus of the Second Tier Gospels. And ignore all the rest.
So now we have explained the JSem, and perhaps that is a step in the
direction of clearing up the Historical Jesus question at least a little
That the JSem enterprise is successful, I need not say; it is on the record.
If you tell people what they are predisposed to like, they will welcome it.
If they sold stock in JSem, I would buy some, as a hedge against, well, the
coming global economic conflagration. But their position seems to me at
bottom sentimental and not historical; it is reached by ignoring what to the
historian is the earliest evidence. I am accordingly not moved by the JSem's
many pronouncements, and their publications in many colors, to neglect what
the body of evidence for 1c Jesus and his followers, left to itself, can
perhaps still tell us.
E Bruce Brooks
Warring States Project
University of Massachusetts at Amherst
- <<Ariel, D.T., A Survey of Coin Finds in Jerusalem,
Liber Annuus 32, 1982, pp 273-326.
Unless we have an old print copy in the pre-1985 stack here,
the data for denarii in Jerusalem is out of reach
just now, so, at least for the time being, I'll just shift to your
view that there weren't that many around in the city.
I'm having trouble getting hold of it as well, so I'll have to go by
memory, unfortunately. I did contact Ariel himself, but he's got nothing beyond
a single paper copy. While it's not strictly on topic, I do have H Gitler's
'A COMPARATIVE STUDY OF NUMISMATIC EVIDENCE FROM EXCAVATIONS IN JERUSALEM'
(Liber Annuus 1996), which covers bronze coinage from the city. No
imperial bronze is recorded from before the 4th Century, after the abolition of
the provincial mints, and their replacement with imperial ones.
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