Monday, April 19, 2010

The End Is Near!: The Apocalyptic Revelation of a Jewish Mystical Prophet (Part 3)



Scholars have vigorously debated the eschatology of Jesus since Schweitzer threw down the apocalyptic gauntlet. One of the most prominent modern defenders of Schweitzer’s basic apocalyptic theory is Bart Ehrman, who explains it as follows: “Jews who subscribed to this worldview maintained that God had revealed to them the future course of events, in which he was soon to overthrow the forces of evil and establish his Kingdom.” Against the claims of Marcus Borg, Jesus seems to have interpreted his mystical experiences as revelatory prophetic knowledge of the eschaton, not just as sacred ecstasy. Sidney Spencer’s explanation of prophetic mysticism seems to fit Jewish apocalypticists: “…if the prophet’s union with the divine is a functional union, if (as he believes) he is made one with God as his messenger for a particular end, his experience has nonetheless an essentially mystical quality.” Though they may not fit traditional Jewish mystical categories, apocalyptic prophets like Jesus are nonetheless Jewish mystics.

Jewish apocalypticism came into existence only about 150 years before Jesus. Apocalyptic theology is distinctly Jewish, and was derived from contemporary sacred and popular texts of the time. The Hebrew Bible supplied the notion of God’s kingly rule, with the book of Daniel supplying apocalyptic imagery, such as bodily resurrection, an eschatological judge (“Son of Man”), and cosmic dualism. Other apocalyptic literature, such as 1 Enoch and the Temple Scroll present the notions of a supernatural Messiah (by equating him with the Son of Man), placing one’s faith in the Messiah, and the imminent destruction and replacement of the temple. The Testament of Moses and the Psalms of Solomon reveal beliefs in catastrophes leading up to the eschaton, permanent reversals of fortunes, a final defeat of the Devil, and God’s re-establishment of the tribes of Israel in an eternal earthly kingdom through a Messiah. Along with Jesus, other ancient Jews such as Theudus, The Egyptian, Jesus son of Ananias, and John the Baptist all formulated a common apocalyptic theology derived from the available Jewish literature. They all preached repentance in the face of imminent catastrophe, judgment, and cosmic restoration. In the words of Jesus, "…there are some of those who are standing here who will not taste death until they see the kingdom of God after it has come with power” and similarly, “this generation shall not pass away until all is fulfilled.” Jesus believed the kingdom was just around the corner, and that individuals either stood with God or the Devil.

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