Apocalyptic nightmares are often tossed to congregations hoping to get the amygdala stimulated enough to change directions or support a cause or give money or get baptized … whatever. The issue in apocalyptic visions is survival. The question is either How do we survive? or Can we even survive?
American preachers and politicians and parents have been preaching this apocalyptic message all along — since our nation’s founding. But it’s nothing new.
Ancient Israel faced survival questions many times, and in his brilliant — and blessedly brief — book, Surviving Sacrilege: Cultural Persistence in Jewish Antiquity, Steven Weitzman sorts out various strategies Jews used to maintain their integrity and identity and history and culture and story. It’s a good book and one that could easily become a standard reading in classes in order to think both about Judaism but also any faith’s challenges to survive.
Weitzman’s chapter titles aren’t as helpful until one has read the book:
1 After Babel
2 Maccabean Maneuvers
3 Friends in High Places
4 Optical Elusions
5 Flights of Fancy
6 Conjuring Power
7 Playing Dead
8 The Art of Cultural Persistence
While reading this book I was doing some late night reading on Revelation and preparing a sermon for Christ the King Sunday from Revelation 1:1-8. Nearly every chapter was relevant to the sermon as each chapter provoked me into thinking about how John the Elder was responding to Rome and the powers of Rome through apocalyptic imagination. Anyway, here is Weitzman’s basic summary of how Jews strategized to survive in tact.Question: What strategies do you see in place today for Christians in various places in the world and in North America?
But before he sorts these themes out, he provides a three-strategy summary:
1. Appeasement and Symbiosis. Confronting empires too powerful to challenge directly, some Jews looked for ways to appease foreign rule and align Jewish tradition with its interests. This tactic, involving the arts of flattery, mimicry, and diplomacy, was used to cast Jewish religious tradition as consistent with and even conducive to the foreigner’s values and interests.
2. Resistance. Facing armies much larger and better equipped than their own, Jews developed ways to offset the enemy’s military advantages. Some of these were tactical in a conventional sense, involving alliances with third parties (enlisting Rome against Antiochus IV, for instance) or using surprise attacks and other battle ruses, but others were employed to create options beyond the real through the use of “magical” practice.
3. Flight, Concealment, Deflection. Some Jews, unwilling to either align themselves with foreign rule or challenge its control directly, used another tactic to sustain their ritual life: fleeing to places beyond the reach of foreign power. Of course, the Temple could not run away in the way a fugitive slave or prisoner could, but there were other ways to conceal Jewish ritual practice, or misdirect foreign rule in its effort to monitor Jewish religious practice.