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Jesus the Bridegroom

Jesus the Bridegroom January 24, 2014

Phillip
J. Long’s study of Jesus the Bridegroom traces the origins of Jesus’ imagery of
the eschatological wedding banquet.

Isaiah
25 is typically identified as the background, but Long demonstrates that this
passage is part of a rich tapestry of expectation. He draws from historical
accounts to describe the hints of “coronation” festivity in the story of David,
a theme that fits naturally with the Messianic expectation of a Davidic Branch.
He examines the tradition of wilderness festivity in the Pentateuch, and shows
how it was transformed in the prophecies of Isaiah. These themes are common at
Qumran and in other branches of Second Temple Judaism.

In
another chapter, he examines the imagery of divine marriage in the Old Testament.
Israel is Yahweh’s often wayward bride, who will, the prophets claim, will be
wooed back to her Husband. He nicely, for instance, ties Isaiah 40 to the
marital imagery of Hosea; “speak to her heart” in Isaiah is “romantic talk,”
Yahweh sweet-talking His bride home. Long is convincing in showing that
Zechariah 9’s prediction of the entry of the king draws on the nuptial imagery
of Psalm 45; Zechariah’s king enters the city as the bridegroom rejoicing to
find His bride.

When
he is done, Long has described a cluster of themes brought out in the ministry
of Jesus and the Synoptic gospels: When Jesus comes eating and drinking, He is
implicitly claiming to be the new David, the royal Bridegroom, come to
celebrate the restoration of the marital covenant and bring an end to Israel’s
exile.

Long’s
book is a revised dissertation, and occasionally betrays the tentativeness and
overstuffed qualities of that genre. The biggest flaw, though, is the failure
to incorporate the temple into his paradigm. He comes close to recognizing its
centrality in several places (when he notices that Isaiah 41 lists the
materials for tabernacle construction [86], or when he notes the connection
between the “cloud” and the nuptial chamber in Isaiah 4 [122]), but he doesn’t
follow through.

But
all the themes he enumerates come to expression in the temple – which is a
place of festivity, of marital covenant renewal, of enthronement of the divine
Bridegroom in the trysting place in the wilderness. Once the temple is brought
into the picture, the themes come together and the relevant material in the
Hebrew Bible expands rather exponentially.

I’m
not blaming Long, but his fine monograph is
overshadowed by the unfortunate modern myopia about the Bible’s temples and
priests.


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