Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Myth of a Continuing Exile

"The notion that Jews in the late Second Temple period saw themselves as sinners permanently punished by God and in need of salvation from the sufferings of exile and Roman domination is a myth expressed particularly by New Testament scholars in order to provide a theological grounding for the mission of Jesus to Israel. The most that can be said is that some wicked actions, like the internecine struggles and other sins of the Hasmonaeans in the 60s BCE, could be having brought about specific national disasters such as the capture of Jerusalem by Pompey in 63 BCE."
So says Martin Goodman in Rome and Jerusalem: The Clash of Ancient Civilizations (London: Penguin, 2007), 194, and I agree. Although it is more nuanced than Goodman's summary suggests, N.T. Wright's view that most Jews still saw themselves as being in exile (in some sense) is wrong.

On the other hand, after teaching Mark 1 in class this afternoon, I am reminded again how well Wright's model explains the introduction to Mark's Gospel. Mark certainly uses the imagery of exile and return metaphorically to describe the activity of John--the voice calling in the wilderness (Isa 40:3)--and Jesus, whose Gospel ministry John prepared.

This is the first of three posts on this topic. Here are the other two:
N.T. Wright on the Continuing Exile
Why N.T. Wright is Not Totally Right


Bill Erlenbach said...

While exile might not be the most accurate term, certainly the occupation was not seen in neutral terms. You mention Isaiah. I wonder if Isaiah's "highway" and "suffering servant" passages don't point to some sort of "now and not yet" understanding of the return from exile. Arguably one sees the embracing of a "completed-but not fully realized" view in the lament Psalms. It would seem reasonable that the second temple Jews could also have embraced this kind of thinking in relation to their own circumstance. Of course I am merely speculating here, but perhaps it is not a exile vs. non-exile choice. Perhaps there was a perspective that in some way considered both to be true.

Isaac said...

I lean pretty heavily on Wright as you know. But I realized I haven't read him since I left Briercrest. So what is Israel's sin? Not recognizing Jesus? Not recognizing him as what?

The compelling thing about Wright's idea is how well it brings seemingly isolated passages into a central focus.

Is there another backdrop you are thinking about? Could it be that some (Christians, others) held this opinion and others did not?

Provokes a lot of questions. I'll save the rest for now.

d. miller said...

I think the "now and not yet" approach is helpful, Bill. This is certainly what Christians did with the resurrection. But I expect there was a variety of ways the "now and not yet" of the prophets was construed, and I'm not sure "exile" is the best term for it.

Isaac: I'm working on a follow-up post with a little more detail on why I think N.T. Wright is "Not Totally Right."

d. miller said...

The long follow-up post, Why N.T. Wright is Not Totally Right is now finished. I'll look forward to your thoughts.