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RE: [XTalk] Re: apocalyptic Jesus and the problem of evil

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  • 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 1 of 13 , May 2 5:08 AM
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      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 2 of 13 , May 2 5:27 AM
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        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 3 of 13 , May 2 7:14 AM
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          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 4 of 13 , May 2 11:26 PM
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            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 5 of 13 , May 3 2:32 AM
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              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 6 of 13 , May 4 1:55 PM
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                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 7 of 13 , May 4 10:05 PM
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                  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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