Failed wisdom and millennialism
- Dear X-Talkers,
I have for some time now given thought to the tension that seems to be
implied in some trends within the current Quest which seek to reject all
forms of millennialism in the HJ.
Robert J. Miller, who has graced our list, is, as I understand it, one of
the proponents of this rejection. While I am myself inclined primarily to
see Jesus as a wisdom speaker rather than an millennialist, it occurs to
me that there may be a reason not to reject the latter outright.
It has been argued that since John the Baptist and Paul were millennialist
then surely Jesus must also have been. This I do not find to be a very
However, let us for a moment focus on the meaning of Jesus' baptism, a
baptism that necessarily implies an acceptance of John's
message. According to Mark Jesus continued to proclaim the message of John
after the latter had been imprisoned. Indeed it is in this context that
Jesus seems to convert the first disciples. How reliable is Mark in these
implicit statements is hard to know. The do not seem to be theological
motivated narrative constructed by Mark.
If we accept Mark's construct as historically sound, can we make sense of
Jesus' movement from near eschatology to a realised eschatology? I think
so. If we assume that the execution or imprisonment of John turned into a
disenchantment with what appear to be a failed millennial hope. Then
Jesus' transformation into a wisdom version of the kingdom, a realised
eschatology, could be perceived by John's followers as the fulfilment of
their hopes. Jesus would be giving them the key to hold their reverence
for John as a true prophet in spite of his apparent failure. Jesus would
thus appear as a reformer inside the John movement, who could draw many of
John's disciples into the Jesus movement. I would assume that the first
disciples of Jesus would not clearly differentiate between Jesus message
from before and after the reform.
This I would say in part explains a certain proclivity in the early Jesus
tradition towards a near eschatology.
As the title implies I also find it possible that wisdom could fail. Some
who associated with Jesus because of the ethical or social aspect of the
message may nonetheless have been more interested in knowing about the end
product. Not the seed, but the greatest of trees (or shrubs), not the fire
aglow, but the fire ablaze. Can we be certain that Jesus did not lay such
concern to rest by using traditional prophetic or even apocalyptic