Wright’s Paul and the Faithfulness of God– Part Six

There is a better way of conceptualizing what Tom Wright means when he says that Jews in the Holy Land saw themselves as still in exile. Following the schema of Steck and Koch, he means that many, perhaps most of them saw themselves as still under some sort of judgment of God for their sins. In the threefold pattern of sin leading to judgment, and after judgment comes restoration, ‘exile’ is seen as one paradigmatic form of judgment on Israel. I would prefer just saying that many Jews saw themselves as still under judgment, even in Israel, still under a dark cloud, and they knew that something was wrong. Some of them, for instance those at Qumran or some of the Zealots, were taking a more worst case scenario view of things. Some of them did not think things were entirely out of kilter, but knew things weren’t quite right, hence the large response to the call by John the Baptizer for repentance.

Tom explains things a bit further on pp. 150-51: “What then does exile mean in the continuing sense? Answer: the time of the curse spoken of in Deuteronomy and Leviticus, a curse that lasts as long as Israel is ‘the tail and not the head’, still subject to the rule, and often the abusive treatment of foreign nations with their blasphemous and wicked idolatry and immorality, not yet in possession of the promised…global sovereignty…as long as we are still in Deut. 29 hoping and praying that Daniel’s 490 years will soon be complete, that the Messiah will come at last…” Tom makes a good deal of the fact that in Ezra 9 the writer still talks about Israel beings slaves even though they have returned to the promised land. Fair enough. But it is impossible to ignore the Maccabean experience and period. The truth is, many Jews pointed to the Maccabean experience as demonstrating they had in part for a while returned to the good ole days in the land. They did not forget the exile, or even the sense of dependency and loss and danger even when back in the land, but different Jews viewed the situation differently. It is doubtful for example that the Sadducees were advocates of the ‘we’re still in exile’ attitude. There was a mixture of views in the time of Jesus about the actual spiritual state of Israel, just as their was a mixture of views about the coming Messiah or Messiahs (or lack thereof).

Tom has done a much better and more detailed job making his case for the ‘we are still in exile’ idea, and he is right that there was more than enough sense of dis-ease that lots of apocalyptic literature was being produced before and after the Maccabean period. Such literature manifests a state of heart and mind that believes something is badly wrong, but that after judgment God will restore things to order. We may say there is a dominant theme of ‘we are still under judgment, still awaiting the consummation and the messiah’ and in some cases this included the suggested of a double return from exile, or a fuller return from exile, as Tom suggests.

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    Does Wright get into the origin of the expression “kingdom of God.” Of course, in the New Testament we hear it first on the lips of John the Baptist, but we are there given no explanation of how he came by the term.

  • David Suryk

    I think Wright might be on to something about many of the Jews seeing themselves as in Exile for their sins. To my mind Matthew’s Gospel sets up the Messiah as the answer to the Exile in Matthew 1:1-18. 1:1-16 outlines 14 generations from Abraham to David, 14 generations from David to Exile and 14 generations from Exile to Jesus called Messiah. Then 1:17 summarizes 1:1-16. Then 1:18 begins, “Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah…” It might have been assumed by those hearing the Jesus stories that the Jews were in Exile. Matthew seems to exploit that understanding. It also fits John the Baptist’s baptism for the forgiveness of sins.

    Furthermore, the Jesus story as solving Israel’s plight of Exile is re-enforced by the Old Testament story of Exile. Read the agonizing prayer in Nehemiah 9. Though back in the Land they are still slaves. What’s worse, contrary to the wealth of the nations coming to Jerusalem, their own wealth goes to the kings over them.

    Think too from Advent of the ancient Latin text that begins (translated as we sing it) as Matthew tells it–

    O come, O come, Emmanuel,
    and ransom captive Israel
    that mourns in lonely exile here
    until the Son of God appear.

    This is at least how I teach the Jesus story.

  • Guest

    I guess I’ll add a further thought while my previous comment awaits moderation. The Jesus story (as Matthew seems to start off explicitly) fits the Old Testament story of Israel remaining in Exile even after their geographical return to the land. Read the sad re-telling of the Israel story in Nehemiah 9 where the prayer ends with being in the land but as “slaves” and worse still (pace the wealth of the nations coming to Jerusalem) the wealth of their land goes to the kings over them.

  • Tim

    It seems to me that Wright may overplay his hand (i.e. bring exile up in contexts where it’s really not a major player, such as Gal 3), but so far as the OT prophecies which anticipated the end of exile go, the various aspects of that end were clearly not in place in Paul’s day. Put it this way: In a very real sense, the exile doesn’t end until God accomplishes what He has promised to accomplish. I think Tom is right to draw attention to that.

  • DonaldByronJohnson

    The Maccabees may have been seen by Jews as better than the Greeks or Romans as rulers, but they were not legitimate kings as they were not of Judah and the same is true for Herod.

  • leighcopeland

    By not mentioning the return of Yahweh you leave out his explanation of divine Christology that emerged right away in the Christian community