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Re: apocalyptic Jesus and the problem of evil

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  • RSBrenchley@aol.com
    Sukie Curtis writes: Perhaps Jesus was not utterly consistent in his theology, but why should we take seriously his Love your enemies and Be
    Message 1 of 13 , May 1, 2000
      Sukie Curtis writes:

      Perhaps Jesus was not utterly consistent in his theology, but why should we
      take seriously his "Love your enemies" and "Be perfect/compassionate as your
      heavenly Father is perfect/compassionate" and at the same time think that
      Jesus imagined God wiping out the enemies of justice? Which would you claim
      to be closer to the heart of the HJ's life (in both words and deeds)?

      This is where I need to be more familiar with the extratestamental material.
      Jesus claimed to be, or at the very least was claimed to be by the movement
      he started, the Messiah. In a pre-70 context, this claim had, if I am
      correct, pretty specific apocalyptic implications. I came across some
      material recently (available at
      http://members.aol.com/FLJOSEPHUS/starOfBethlehem.htm) linking the star which
      'stood' over Bethlehem with the one which 'stood' over Jerusalem immediately
      before the outbreak of war. Such a star seems to have had pretty plain
      implications to the Jews! If we look at Messianic documents (I'm using what I
      have to hand) then in 11Q Melchisedek we find: ...and Melchisedek will avenge
      the vengeance of the judgements of God... and he will drag [them from the
      hand of] Satan and from the hand of all the sp[irits of] his [lot]. And all
      the 'gods [of justice]' will come to his aid [to] attend to the de[struction]
      of Satan.'
      It's pretty vengeful stuff, but I wonder how good is to triumph without
      the destruction of evil? I'm a bit puzzled by 'gods of justice'; I wish I had
      the original (I'm using Vermes' translation); could it be 'Elohim of
      justice'? Possibly angels of justice? I wonder whether the angelic messiah
      figure could point to the origin of angel Christologies? In any case, I'm
      assuming that this was the sort of expectation that formed the background to
      Jesus' claim.
      The NT writers appear to have known all about apocalyptic expectations of
      the Messiah, and, post-70, they begin to distance themselves, moving towards
      the later paradigm shift which produced the familiar tendencies to
      spiritualise Jesus. Matthew 26:53, for instance: Do you think that I cannot
      appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of
      angels? This seems to reflect, and reject, the expectation of angelic armies
      assisting the Jews, which we find in the War Scroll, and in Josephus, who,
      listing the omens which led the Jews to anticipate victory, records that
      'before sun-setting, chariots and troops of soldiers in their armour were
      seen running about among the clouds, and surrounding of cities' (War, 6.5). I
      think this sort of stuff sets the tone for Jesus' time, however politically
      inexpedient it may have been subsequently. Jesus has to have been a man of
      his time, as if he wasn't, how could he have communicated with those around
      him?

      Regards,

      Robert Brenchley

      RSBrenchley@...
    • Robert M Schacht
      On Sun, 30 Apr 2000 21:27:25 -0400 Sukie Curtis ... response to ... understand ... of ... Sukie, I think we need to distinguish here
      Message 2 of 13 , May 1, 2000
        On Sun, 30 Apr 2000 21:27:25 -0400 "Sukie Curtis" <sbcurtis@...>
        writes:
        >
        > ...I agree that apocalyptic hopes are an utterly understandable
        response to
        > intense suffering and persecution, especially for a people who
        understand
        > their God to be a just, compassionate God. And yet, almost without
        > exception (a notable exception being the way some scholars, including
        > Crossan, portray Jesus as having an eschatological but non-apocalyptic
        > outlook), those hopes for the 'Kingdom of God' contain the dark shadows
        of
        > violence. What's good for "us" results in torment and destruction for
        > "them." ...

        Sukie,
        I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic, which
        embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorative apocalyptic.
        That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God will put
        everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrow a
        phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or by
        afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two). You have
        seen too much of the writings that emphasize the latter, whereas it can
        be argued that Jesus' apocalyptic leaned more to the former type. Just as
        an example, recall that when J the B sent his disciples to Jesus to ask
        whether he was the messiah, Jesus answered (Matthew 11:2-5//Luke 7:18-23)
        with quotes from Isaiah about the blind receiving their sight, the lame
        walking, the lepers cleansed, etc.
        In general, I commend to you E.P. Sanders' chapters on The Kingdom
        (Chapters 11-13) in his The Historical Figure of Jesus.

        Bob
        Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
        Northern Arizona University
        Flagstaff, AZ
      • Brooks, George X
        Robert Benchley writes: Perhaps Jesus was not utterly consistent in his theology, but why should we ... Benchley raises an interesting point. Of late I have
        Message 3 of 13 , May 2, 2000
          Robert Benchley writes:

          "Perhaps Jesus was not utterly consistent in his theology, but why
          should we
          > take seriously his "Love your enemies" and "Be perfect/compassionate as
          > your
          > heavenly Father is perfect/compassionate" and at the same time think that
          > Jesus imagined God wiping out the enemies of justice? Which would you
          > claim
          > to be closer to the heart of the HJ's life (in both words and deeds)?"
          >
          Benchley raises an interesting point. Of late I have gravitated to an
          "either / or"
          scenario with the HJ's REAL personality. One, his preaching and
          conversations
          could have had the sound and gnostic quality of much of the Gospel of John
          and the
          Gospel of Thomas. Which would mean that he was more of the "Philo" stamp of
          Judaism to me. And the part of his movement that was dominated by former
          Zealots
          and "Iscariot" families, preferred to emphasize his potential for military
          victory over
          Israel's oppressors.

          Or, two, he could have been more in line with the Maccabean traditions, like
          those described in Robert Wise's FINE book _The First Messiah_, where the
          internal needs of a "commune" organization brought the "love one another"
          out loud and clear.... but without any real diminishment of the military
          goals
          of liberating the Chosen People and Zion.

          I would be interested in any input that would help me make up my mind
          about which of the two options makes the most sense.

          George Brooks
          Tampa, FL
        • Sukie Curtis
          ... I agree, and I suppose that is the kind of question I was trying to raise without doing so very clearly. When *others* claim Jesus was an apocalyptic
          Message 4 of 13 , May 2, 2000
            Bob Schacht wrote:
            >
            > Sukie,
            > I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic, which
            > embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorative apocalyptic.
            > That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God will put
            > everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrow a
            > phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or by
            > afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two).

            I agree, and I suppose that is the kind of question I was trying to raise
            without doing so very clearly. When *others* claim Jesus was an apocalyptic
            prophet or say they're "comfortable" with that identification, what are they
            meaning? Are they including that dark shadow of violence as part of the
            solution to evil?

            You have
            > seen too much of the writings that emphasize the latter, whereas it can
            > be argued that Jesus' apocalyptic leaned more to the former type.

            Yes, Bob, but if I have "seen too much of the writings that emphasize the
            latter," it is because they exist in plenty, even in the NT. Whether one
            attributes such sentiments to the HJ or to the community or to an author's
            hand makes all the difference.


            Sukie Curtis


            Just as
            > an example, recall that when J the B sent his disciples to Jesus to ask
            > whether he was the messiah, Jesus answered (Matthew 11:2-5//Luke 7:18-23)
            > with quotes from Isaiah about the blind receiving their sight, the lame
            > walking, the lepers cleansed, etc.
            > In general, I commend to you E.P. Sanders' chapters on The Kingdom
            > (Chapters 11-13) in his The Historical Figure of Jesus.
            >
            > Bob
            > Robert M. Schacht, Ph.D.
            > Northern Arizona University
            > Flagstaff, AZ
            >
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          • Mahlon H. Smith
            ... Sorry to be a nit-picker about terminology, but I fail to see how Q s catalogue of events that allegedly *have occurred* (Matt 11:2-5//Luke 7:18-23) can be
            Message 5 of 13 , May 2, 2000
              Sukie Curtis wrote:
              > >
              > > ...I agree that apocalyptic hopes are an utterly understandable
              > response to
              > > intense suffering and persecution, especially for a people who
              > understand
              > > their God to be a just, compassionate God. And yet, almost without
              > > exception (a notable exception being the way some scholars, including
              > > Crossan, portray Jesus as having an eschatological but non-apocalyptic
              > > outlook), those hopes for the 'Kingdom of God' contain the dark shadows
              > of
              > > violence. What's good for "us" results in torment and destruction for
              > > "them." ...

              Bob Schacht replied:


              > I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic, which
              > embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorative apocalyptic.
              > That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God will put
              > everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrow a
              > phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or by
              > afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two). You have
              > seen too much of the writings that emphasize the latter, whereas it can
              > be argued that Jesus' apocalyptic leaned more to the former type. Just as
              > an example, recall that when J the B sent his disciples to Jesus to ask
              > whether he was the messiah, Jesus answered (Matthew 11:2-5//Luke 7:18-23)
              > with quotes from Isaiah about the blind receiving their sight, the lame
              > walking, the lepers cleansed, etc.

              Sorry to be a nit-picker about terminology, but I fail to see how Q's
              catalogue of events that allegedly *have occurred* (Matt 11:2-5//Luke
              7:18-23) can be called "apocalyptic" unless that word is emptied of all
              its denoted meaning. An apocalypse is by definition a "revelation" of
              some divine secret that is not immediately apparent, usually in some
              visionary (dream-like) description of future events. While the
              restorative feature of blind/see, lame/walk, dead/raised are ultimately
              traceable to graphic eschatological promises in prophetic books like
              Isaiah, even these sources are not properly described as "apocalyptic"
              but rather "utopian."
              There are apocalyptic statements ascribed to Jesus in the synoptic
              gospels -- e.g., "I saw Satan fall" (Lk 10:18) & "You will see the Son
              of man seated at the right hand of Power, etc." (Mark 14:62) -- but I'm
              afraid J's alleged instruction to JB's disciples to "Go and tell John
              what you (pl.) hear and see" is not one of them. For by definition what
              is publicly visible in the current order cannot be apocalyptic.

              Forgive the pedantry, but let me just quote M. Rist's summary
              description of apocalyptic in the Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible
              (p. 161):

              "Apocalypticism is hopelessly pessimistic concerning this present age of
              human history, which is evil and corrupt, with no propspect whatever of
              betterment or improvement. Since it is irredeemable, it must be brought
              to a calamitous end by divine intervention. Along with this pessimism
              there went the related conviction that there is nothing the righteous
              can do to make this age a better time in which to live. Everything
              awaits God's expected intervention. Thus mankind is relieved of
              responsibility for the evils of this age."

              Thus, the Apocalypse of John & the little apocalypse of Mark 13 are true
              apocalypses. But most of J's sayings in the gospels are not, since they
              do not share either this fatalistic view of the current age or the
              helplessness of humans in general. This is especially true of the
              stories of J's healings in which human's are told that they are
              responsible for their own cures without any miraculous divine
              intervention (e.g., "Your faith has made you well," "Rise, take up your
              mat & walk"). And such an optimistic, this-worldly view is true of most
              of J's descriptions of the KofG. Again, I quote Rist:

              "The doctrine of the kingdom of God is quite different. According to it
              God has not abdicated this earth to Satan; furthermore, this present
              (and only) age is capable of improvement if men will only learn to do
              God's will. Consequently, the kingdom-of-God concept is optimistic
              insofar as this present age is concerned, and requires that men help to
              improve it. The defeatism of apocalypticism may well account for the
              almost complete absence of ethical and social teachings from the
              apocalypses."

              I think it is this last set of observations that tips the balance
              against those who want to describe HJ (or even JB) as an apocalypticist.
              For either they ignore the demonstrable characteristics of the Xn &
              Jewish apocalypses properly so-called & thus apply the term
              "apocalyptic" to material that has no demonstrable root in apocalyptic
              cosmology OR they are forced to deny the historical authenticity of the
              most distinctive features of the gospels' descriptions of Jesus.

              So, while I agree with Bob that the concept of "restoration" is crucial
              for interpreting HJ, I cannot describe this as "restorative
              apocalyptic." For while HJ describes an idealized KofG, he does not ask
              anyone to wait for God to act to establish it some time in the future.
              Rather, he is confident that the KofG is accessible now & he invites
              others to celebrate it with him - even those secular types whom true
              apocalypticists would regard as creatures of this evil age & therefore
              destined for ultimate destruction.

              Shalom!

              Mahlon
            • Robert M Schacht
              On Tue, 02 May 2000 10:14:28 -0400 Mahlon H. Smith ... all ... Mahlon, Of course you re right. I was basing my thoughts on a realized eschatology according
              Message 6 of 13 , May 2, 2000
                On Tue, 02 May 2000 10:14:28 -0400 "Mahlon H. Smith"
                <mahlonh.smith@...> writes (responding to Bob):
                >
                >
                > Sorry to be a nit-picker about terminology, but I fail to see how Q's
                > catalogue of events that allegedly *have occurred* (Matt 11:2-5//Luke
                > 7:18-23) can be called "apocalyptic" unless that word is emptied of
                all
                > its denoted meaning. ...

                Mahlon,
                Of course you're right. I was basing my thoughts on a "realized
                eschatology"according to which the Kingdom was already breaking into the
                world (in the view of those writers espousing a realized eschatology) by
                the work of Jesus, ushering in the eschaton (or so it seemed to them.)
                You know the usual references.

                In an odd and somewhat limited way, they were right: we recognize that
                Jesus ushered in a new era because we count our years, however
                inaccurately, from his life.

                Bob
              • Ron Price
                ... George, The latter makes the most sense for it helps to explain the historical fact of Jesus crucifixion. Ron Price Weston-on-Trent, Derby, UK e-mail:
                Message 7 of 13 , May 3, 2000
                  George Brooks wrote:

                  > Of late I have gravitated to an
                  >"either / or"
                  >scenario with the HJ's REAL personality .......
                  >
                  > One, his preaching and conversations
                  >could have had the sound and gnostic quality of much of the Gospel of John
                  >and the Gospel of Thomas .......
                  >
                  >Or, two, he could have been more in line with the Maccabean traditions ...
                  >
                  >I would be interested in any input that would help me make up my mind
                  >about which of the two options makes the most sense.

                  George,
                  The latter makes the most sense for it helps to explain the historical
                  fact of Jesus' crucifixion.

                  Ron Price

                  Weston-on-Trent, Derby, UK

                  e-mail: ron.price@...

                  Web site: http://homepage.virgin.net/ron.price/index.htm
                • RSBrenchley@aol.com
                  There are several posts I want to respond to, but I am recovering after being attacked on the way home from work the other night, and am not up to coping with
                  Message 8 of 13 , May 4, 2000
                    There are several posts I want to respond to, but I am recovering after being
                    attacked on the way home from work the other night, and am not up to coping
                    with more than one right now. Please bear with me.

                    Robert M. Schacht writes:

                    << I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic, which
                    embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorative apocalyptic.
                    That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God will put
                    everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrow a
                    phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or by
                    afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two). >>

                    Do we have any examples of complete or reasonably so apocalypses which go
                    for the one at the expense of the other? It's easy to find examples which
                    encompass both; contrast for instance the vengefulness of Rev.19:17-20:3,
                    etc., etc. with the scene at the end of the book. Surely this combination of
                    blessings and curses is a familiar theme adapted from the prophets? I agree
                    that parts of it are not comfortable reading, and we can be very selective in
                    our readings; the old 2-year British Methodist lectionary consistently took
                    passages of prophetic blessing and left out the judgmental bits. I don't
                    think this is a very helpful approach though.
                    Obviously, there is a lot of fantasy at work in apocalyptic; nobody has
                    visited the last judgement, seen the lake of fire, etc., and come back to
                    tell the tale! I think there is an underlying theological point, though,
                    which is valid. How exactly to you deal with evil, whether we are talking
                    about the individual mass murderer, monstrous regimes like the Nazis, rebel
                    movements like UNITA and the RUF, or the even bigger evils like third world
                    debt or institutional racism which seem to derive from the very way things
                    are ordered in this world, without judgement and the destruction of the evil?
                    The question is, I think, how far will the judgement go, and only God herself
                    can answer that one.
                    I can illustrate the point from the current situation in Sierra Leone.
                    The Lome peace agreement was the result of a situation where both sides had
                    fought each other to a standstill. It granted a blanket amnesty for all
                    actions in the war up to that point. It has solved nothing; atrocities are
                    still going on, and the rebels appear to be going through the motions of
                    disarming with one hand, and preparing for renewed hostilities with the
                    other. To live with evil without judging it will never free anyone from its
                    influence.
                    The UN, quite rightly, say that there can be no amnesty for crimes
                    against humanity. I think many of us would probably agree that some crimes
                    are just too terrible to be left unpunished. So Foday Sankoh, the rebel
                    leader, is now a frightened man who dare not attend talks outside the
                    country, because he can be arrested anywhere outside the borders of Sierra
                    Leone. There are, essentially, three groups of rebels. there are the people
                    directly responsible for the war; they are few - I have heard fifty quoted -
                    and their names are well known. Then there are those who have been
                    responsible for atrocities. Again, they are relatively few, and their names
                    are known. I think most of us would agree that these two groups should pay
                    the penalty for their crimes. Then there are the vast majority of rebels,
                    many of them children who have been forced to commit atrocities, or used as
                    slaves; many of them people who have been forced to join the RUF. I have a
                    'direct line' to the victims via my wife's cousin, who is chair of the
                    amputees' association; they are generally regarded as innocent victims, and
                    when they come in and disarm, that is how they are treated.
                    Today, this is pretty much how we would expect God to act; there is a
                    sound theological basis to the reconciliation progress. In Jesus' day, you
                    slaughtered your enemies when you got the chance, and expected God to act
                    likewise. Much of the vision of judgement is culturally mediated, depending
                    on how the writer would expect people to act on a defeated foe; this is then
                    projected onto God. But I think the underlying point about the necessity of
                    judgement remains valid.

                    Regards,

                    Robert Brenchley

                    RSBrenchley@...
                  • Robert M Schacht
                    ... after being ... coping ... Gladly. I m sorry to hear of your trials, and hope that your recovery is swift and complete. ... which ... apocalyptic. ... put
                    Message 9 of 13 , May 4, 2000
                      On Thu, 4 May 2000 16:55:31 EDT RSBrenchley@... writes:
                      > There are several posts I want to respond to, but I am recovering
                      after being
                      > attacked on the way home from work the other night, and am not up to
                      coping
                      > with more than one right now. Please bear with me.

                      Gladly. I'm sorry to hear of your trials, and hope that your recovery is
                      swift and complete.

                      >
                      > Robert M. Schacht writes:
                      >
                      > << I think we need to distinguish here between a punitive apocalyptic,
                      which
                      > embodies the violence of which you speak, and a restorative
                      apocalyptic.
                      > That is, the basic note of apocalyptic is that in the end, God will
                      put
                      > everything right. What is at issue is how She will do that. To borrow
                      a
                      > phrase, He can either do that by comforting the afflicted, or by
                      > afflicting the comfortable (or, of course, some mix of the two). >>
                      >

                      To which you responded:

                      > Do we have any examples of complete or reasonably so apocalypses
                      which go
                      > for the one at the expense of the other? It's easy to find examples
                      which
                      > encompass both; contrast for instance the vengefulness of
                      Rev.19:17-20:3,
                      > etc., etc. with the scene at the end of the book. Surely this
                      combination of
                      > blessings and curses is a familiar theme adapted from the prophets?

                      Indeed there is ample precedent in the Torah for this, although probably
                      also in the Prophets. This is a good point. However, the classic
                      blessings and curses in the Torah do not appear in an apocalyptic
                      context. Can you give me a good example from the prophets of what you
                      have in mind?

                      But while we're speaking of OT precedents, don't forget also that the
                      major meaning of "salvation" in the OT was corporate: God would save
                      *Israel*. I think the soteriology here is critical. Only in the Prophets
                      of the Exile, when there was no Jewish state to save, did soteriology
                      begin to become personal.

                      >... I think there is an underlying theological point, though,
                      > which is valid. How exactly to you deal with evil, whether we are
                      talking
                      > about the individual mass murderer, monstrous regimes ..., or the even
                      bigger evils ...
                      > which seem to derive from the very way things
                      > are ordered in this world, without judgement and the destruction of
                      the evil?
                      > The question is, I think, how far will the judgement go, and only God
                      herself
                      > can answer that one.

                      You touch on the classic problem of Theodicy here. In a sense,
                      apocalyptic provides an answer, of sorts, to theodicy.

                      >
                      > ... In Jesus' day, you
                      > slaughtered your enemies when you got the chance, and expected God
                      > to act likewise. Much of the vision of judgement is culturally
                      mediated,
                      > depending on how the writer would expect people to act on a defeated
                      foe; this
                      > is then projected onto God. ...

                      This is common enough. But our task is to find out what *Jesus* thought
                      or did about such matters. Was Jesus counter-cultural, in this case, or a
                      man of the people? Jesus appears to reframe this debate in a number of
                      ways.
                      Passages like the Beelzebul controversy seem to suggest that Jesus
                      thought in terms of a struggle between the forces of good and evil, and
                      was understood in these terms by some.
                      To him, corporate salvation may have referred to the total "good". Acts
                      of individual salvation (e.g., healing) were skirmishes with a larger
                      frame of reference.

                      In any case, I think you have made an interesting connection between
                      apocalyptic and theodicy that merits further examination.

                      Bob
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