How is Jesus the Son of David? – Romans 1:3

Star of David with Hebrew BiblePaul contrasts Jesus’ physical descent from David and the spiritual declaration he was the Son of God. Although some detect a reference to Jesus’s human and divine nature in this verse, it is more likely Paul has in mind Jesus’s life prior to the resurrection and his life as a result of the resurrection (Kruse, Romans, 42).

As with the claim Jesus is the Son of God, Paul’s claim that Jesus was “descended from David according to the flesh” underscores his messianic claim. If Jesus is the Messiah and the Son of God, then he must be from the line of David. Both Matthew and Luke include genealogies in their gospels to connect Jesus to the line of David through Joseph. Based on 2 Samuel 7:14, Davidic origin of the messiah is found in several texts in the Hebrew Bible and the literature of the Second Temple period. For example:

Jeremiah 23:5 (ESV)  “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.

Psalm 89:3–4 (ESV) You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one; I have sworn to David my servant: 4 ‘I will establish your offspring forever, and build your throne for all generations.’”

4QFlor 1:10-14 [And] YHWH [de]clares to you that 2 Sam 7:12–14 «he will build you a house. I will raise up your seed after you and establish the throne of his kingdom 11 [for ev]er. I will be a father to him and he will be a son to me.» This (refers to the) «branch of David», who will arise with the Interpreter of the law who 12 [will rise up] in Zi[on in] the [l]ast days, as it is written: Amos 9:11 «I will raise up the hut of David which has fallen», This (refers to) «the hut of  13 David which has fall[en», w]hich he will raise up to save Israel. Martı́nez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Translations) (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 353.

4 Ezra 12:31-32 “And as for the lion that you saw rousing up out of the forest and roaring and speaking to the eagle and reproving him for his unrighteousness, and as for all his words that you have heard, 32 this is the Messiah whom the Most High has kept until the end of days, who will arise from the posterity of David, and will come and speak to them; he will denounce them for their ungodliness and for their wickedness, and will cast up before them their contemptuous dealings.

In each of these examples the messiah is related to David (the seed of David, a branch out of David, etc.)  Psalm 89:3-4 and the fragmentary Dead Sea Scroll both allude to 2 Sam 7:14, a text which anticipates a son of David will rule in Jerusalem (Solomon), but also that a son of David will rule forever (Jesus). This future messiah in some way restores the broken line of David.

As Richard Longenecker points out, unlike the Synoptic Gospels, Paul does not usually connect the idea of Jesus as the messiah and his physical descent from David (Romans, 65). So why does he make the connection at the beginning of the book of Romans? Longenecker (and many others) suggest Paul is using an early Christian confessional statement in these verses. In order to connect with congregations he does not know, Paul alludes to a familiar confessional statement used in their worship.

Going a step beyond Longenecker, if this is a confessional statement, I would suggest this tells us something about the congregations in Rome. The language in the introduction is thoroughly Jewish and messianic. The gospel Paul preaches is about Jesus the Messiah, who is the son of God (a messianic title) and the fulfillment of the line of David (a messianic expectation). We know Jewish-Christian congregations in Rome were persecuted because they were rioting over Chrestus, likely an indication of intense debate within the synagogues over Jesus as the Christ.

Since Paul is the apostle to the Gentiles and has a well-deserved reputation for preaching a Law-free gospel to the Gentiles, it is important for Paul to begin his letter to messianic Jewish congregations with a clear affirmation that he believes Jesus is the Messiah and fulfills Jewish expectations about the Messiah.

The Messianic Son of God – Romans 1:3

At the beginning of Romans Paul describes the Gospel as concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 1:3-4). Although part of Paul’s address of the book to Christians in Rome, this is a rich theological description of Jesus which is based on Paul’s reading of the Hebrew Bible.

4q246The phrase “Son of God” is a messianic title used in Psalm 2. Other Second Temple period texts use a similar title for the coming messiah. In Psalm 2, the king of Israel is called the Lord’s anointed one (2:2) and “God’s son” (2:7) as he is enthroned in Zion. This anointed son of God will receive the nations as his inheritance (2:8) and all the kings of the earth (the nations) are to serve the Lord in fear (2:11). 2 Samuel 7:14 may be the source for Psalm 2, since David is promise that his son would rule after him forever.

Paul’s is not far from the language used by the Qumran community to describe a coming king who will rule on behalf of God:

4Q246 He will be called son of God, and they will call him son of the Most High. Like the sparks that you saw, so will their kingdom be; they will rule several year[s] over the earth and crush everything; a people will crush another people, and a province another provi[n]ce. Until the people of God arises and makes everyone rest from the sword. His kingdom will be an eternal kingdom, and all his paths in truth. He will jud[ge] the earth in truth and all will make peace. The sword will cease from the earth, and all the provinces will pay him homage. The great God is his strength, he will wage war for him; he will place the peoples in his hand and cast them all away before him. Martınez and Tigchelaar, The Dead Sea Scrolls Study Edition (Translations) (Leiden: Brill, 1997), 493-95.

The writer of this document describes a coming king as a “son of God” and a “son of the Most High” (ובר עליון) who will crush the enemies of God’s kingdom and establish an eternal kingdom. The scroll alludes to Psalm 2:9 (“crushing enemies”) and Isaiah 1 (the sword being removed, nations paying homage, but also Ps 2:11). The scroll also resonates with Luke 1:35, Gabriel’s words to Mary announcing she will be overshadowed by “the Most High” so that the child she bears will be called “holy, the son of God.” Not everyone agrees the scroll refers to a messianic figure (see Collins for a survey of the options). The title “son of God” has clear messianic overtones in the New Testament, and as Collins shows, sometimes the phrase was messianic at Qumran (184).

Paul begins Romans by announcing the Gospel of Jesus Christ, Son of God. To a Jewish ear, this is a clear statement that Paul believes Jesus is the Messiah and in some ways fulfills the messianic expectations of the Hebrew Bible. But he does not burst into history and destroy Israel’s enemies, crushing them with a rod of iron and ruling over a kingdom of peace. The Gospel is “God’s intervention in Christ” (Moo, Romans, 43), but the action of God in Christ destroys the power of the real enemy, the power of sin and death.

How does this apocalyptic reading of the first line of Romans playout over the rest of the book? How is Jesus “God’s intervention”?

 

See also:

García Martínez F. “The Eschatological Figure of 4Q246,” in Qumran and Apocalyptic. Studies on the Aramaic Texts from Qumran (STDJ 9; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1992) 162–179.

Collins, John J. “The Messiah as the Son of God,” in The Scepter and the Star (Second Edition; Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2010) 171–190.

Cross, Frank Moore. “Notes on the Doctrine of the Two Messiahs at Qumran and the Extracanonical Daniel Apocalypse (4Q246),” in D.W. Parry, S.D. Ricks (eds.), Current Research and Technological Developments on the Dead Sea Scrolls (STDJ 20; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996): 1–13.

Peter’s Sermon in Acts 3

In chapter 3 Peter is a bit more pointed than in his Pentecost sermon. He says that the people who are hearing the sermon are guilty of killing the Messiah. There are men in the audience who for Barabbas rather than Jesus! Peter accusing the crowd and the Temple aristocracy of killing an innocent man who was vindicated by God by the resurrection and ascension.

It is also more pointed in its description of what will happen when they repent – the “times of refreshing” will come. It appears, then, that Peter is promising the soon-return of the Messiah after Israel repents. The phrase is unusual, only appearing here in the New Testament.  In the  LXX the word “refreshing” (ἀνάψυξις) only appears only in Exod 8:15 to describe a pause int he cycle of plagues on Egypt.  It appears in the Apoc.Sedrach 16.3 as a description of heaven. There is no exact equivalent of the phrase in Acts 3 to describe the messianic age, despite E. Schweizer’s statement that the word refers to “messianic refreshment, the definitive age of salvation” (TDNT 9:644).

Solomon's PorticoThere are, however, a number of similar phrases in the literature of the Second Temple period which indicate that the language would have been well understood by the biblically minded Jews who were congregated in Solomon’s Portico that day.  Referring to the coming kingdom as “times and seasons” is also common, especially using the Greek καιρός (kairos). This word for time has the idea of the right time, the appointed time. Jesus used it in Acts 1, telling the twelve it was not for them to know the “times and the seasons.” It is highly unlikely that anyone in the Jewish crowd would have missed these eschatological allusions, even if they did not agree with them!

If the people repent, Peter says that God will send the Christ, Jesus who will fulfill the words of the prophets. Peter claims here that if the nation repents, then the messiah will return and establish the kingdom promised in the prophets. What is more, the ones who repent will participate fully in that kingdom, since a major aspect of the Messiah’s return (in virtually every view of the messiah) was a separation of “real” Israel from “false” Israel.

When Christ returns, he will restore all things (verse 21), a term which is also unique in the New Testament, yet a theologically packed term. The word does not appear in the New Testament or the LXX, but seems to have the sense of restoring creation to its original state. This too is a major expectation of the Hebrew Bible as well as the Second Temple period, the kingdom would be a restoration of the world to Eden-like conditions.

What we see therefore here in Acts is a clear statement that the Kingdom of God is about to begin. But there seems to be a condition – repent of the sin of killing the Messiah!  Acts 4-8 will describe the response to this offer from the majority of the “men of Israel.” Despite large numbers of Jews accepting Jesus as Messiah and Savior, Israel as a nation continues to resist the Holy Spirit in the chapters which follow.

Acts 2 and 3 are therefore the foundation for the resistance to the Kingdom found in Acts 4-8.  Are there other elements of this sermon which sound like they promise the dawning of the eschatological age?

Book Review: Darrell L. Bock and Mitch Glaser, eds. Messiah in the Passover

Bock, Darrell L. and Mitch Glaser, eds. Messiah in the Passover. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Kregel, 2018. 379 pp. Pb. $16.99   Link to Kregel

Darrell Bock and Mitch Glaser have edited several recent books on the topic of Israel, including To the Jew First: The Case for Jewish Evangelism in Scripture and History (2008), The Gospel According to Isaiah 53 (2012), The People, the Land, and the Future of Israel (2012), and Israel, the Church and the Middle East (2018), all published by Kregel. This volume collected essays from the staff of Chosen People Ministries, an evangelistic mission to Jews led by Glaser.

In the introduction to the collection, Mitch Glaser asks “Why Study the Passover?” For a Jewish person, Passover is a celebration of God’s deliverance of his people from Egypt. The feast celebrates the symbols of Sinai, Torah, and redemption. For a Christian, celebrating Passover is an opportunity to deepen one’s appreciation for the Jewishness of the Gospel. For Glaser, this “common experience” can better communicate the Gospel to Jewish friends (20).

The first set of essays gather the biblical foundations for Passover. Five essays survey portions of the canon which mention Passover: Passover in the Torah (Robert Walter), the Writings (Richard H. Flashman), the Prophets (Gordon Law), the Gospel of Luke (Darrell L. Bock), the Gospel of John (Mitch Glaser). The weakest of these chapters is the section on the prophets, simply because there are virtually no references in either the former or latter prophets to the Passover. Law could have included references to a “second Exodus” (Isaiah 40-55, for example) in this section, but instead he focuses his short chapter on the links between Elijah and the modern Seder. There are certainly links between Moses and Elijah, but many of these are post-biblical traditions. Both Bock and Glaser deal with the problem of the Last Supper as a Passover meal. Both weigh the evidence and conclude it was in fact a Passover meal, although there are several outstanding difficulties with the conclusion. The final essay in this section also argues the Last Supper was a Passover meal. Brian Crawford examines several passages in 1 Corinthians to conclude Paul used the Passover to deepen the Corinthian church’s experience of the Gospel (109). Communion is therefore passed on Passover tradition.

The second section of the book collects three essays Passover in Church history. Scott P. Nassau deals with the Passover in the early church (“Passover, the Temple, and the Early Church”). Early church history is tangled with post A.D. 70 Jewish Christianity. Hagg includes the Ebionites and Nazarenes as examples of Christian (or better, semi-Christian) groups who continued to keep Passover well into the Christian era. Of special interest is Melito of Sardis, a Hellenistic Jew who converted to Christianity and wrote Peri Pascha, “Concerning the Passover.” Although Melito created a Christian Haggadah, by the time of the council of Nicean there was a clear movement away from Passover in Christian practice. While Nassau only briefly mentions the Quaterodeciman debate, Gregory Hagg introduces the “Passover Controversies in Church History” with the Quaterodecimans. The name means “fourteen” and refers to Christians who chose to celebrate Easter on Passover (14 Nisan). Citing Ignatius’s letter to the Philippians, any Christian who celebrates Passover with the Jews “is a partaker with those that killed the Lord and his apostles” (132). By the time of Nicea, the Quaterodecimans were persecuted. While Hagg’s article begins to deal with Christian anti-Semitism (specifically blood libel), Olivier Melnick traces Christian attitudes toward Jewish people through the modern era.

A pair of essays forms the third until of the book on Jewish Tradition and the Passover. First, Zhava Glaser collects references to the Passover in Rabbinic Writings (the Mishnah, Talmud, Tosefta). It is in this vast literature that many of traditions now part of a Passover Haggadah began to develop. But many of these practices are rooted in biblical texts. For example, the first mention of four cups of wine is in the Mishnah, but Glaser follows Baruch Bosker in arguing the cups drawn on biblical imagery in the Torah itself. After the loss of the Temple, the Passover Haggadah was transformed into a celebration of the sacrificed Lamb which looked forward to a future redemption of Israel (168). Second, Daniel Nessim discusses the fascinating tradition of the Afikoman at Passover. I first ran across the practice in Craig Evans’s Word Commentary on Mark 8:27-16:20 (p. 390; Evans cites Daube, who appears in Nessim’s essay). The word אפיקומן is from Greek ἀφικόμενος, “he who comes.” Nessim argues the word is an acronym for seven elements of the Passover meal (see the chart on page 172). What is intriguing about the practice is the possibility

In the fourth section of the book focuses on the communication of the Gospel through Passover. First, Michael Cohen discusses what the Passover says about atonement. This seems strange since atonement is not mentioned in connection to Passover in the Torah, but it is the backdrop to the New Covenant and the sacrificial lamb does foreshadow Jesus’s once-for-all sacrifice (Hebrews 9:11-12). He then traces the theme of atonement through four stages represented by the Passover mean. Second, Larry Feldman offers several examples of the Gospel in the Passover Seder. He begins with the karpas, the dipping of the parsley into saltwater. The parsley is dipped twice into the sale water to remind participants of both the tears shed while in slavery in Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea. More significant, the parsley is related to the hyssop used to sprinkle the blood of the lamb. He suggests viewing the Seder in the light of its fulfillment in Jesus reminds the Christian of the time when God will wipe away all tears (Rev 21:4) as well as the redemption we have in Jesus (Rom 6:22-23). The section includes two brief sermons, “Jesus, the Lamb of God” (Richard E. Freeman) and “The Third Cup” (David Secada).

Finally, the fifth section of the book has four essays on celebrating Passover as a Christian. First, Cathy Wilson offers some practical advice on keeping Passover in a Christian home. She is clear that in the original Passover the shed blood of the lamb was central. The re-telling of the Passover story, the Christian ought to focus on Jesus as “our Passover lamb” (1 Cor 5:7). She narrates a Christian Haggadah similar to the “Messianic Family Haggadah” from Chosen People Ministries (Chapter 18). Although both follow the traditional order of service (seder), there are frequent references to New Testament when appropriate. Rachel Galilstein-Davis supplements this with “Passover Lessons for Your Children.” She begins with the observation that children are the most important part of a Passover celebration since the point of re-telling the Exodus is to re-inforce the story to the younger generation. She offers are new children’s lessons with crafts and other activities which highlight key aspects of Passover and teach a few Hebrew words along the way.  Finally, Mitch Forman offers a few comments on Passover foods and even shares some recipes (including gefilte fish and roast brisket).

The book includes nine appendices over twenty-three pages, a ten-page glossary of terms, nineteen pages of recommended reading and bibliography, and twenty-one pages of indices. Some of the appendices are valuable, for example “Passover Observances in Biblical History” and “Last Supper Sayings Compared,” of which are in charts. However, a list of the “Jewish and Protestant Canons of the Bible” and a map of the Exodus do not seem like a good use of space.

Conclusion. Glaser began this book with an argument in favor of Christians celebrating Passover, or at least incorporating elements of Passover into their Christian worship. Christians ought to not simply be aware of the Jewish roots of Christianity, but to drink deeply in the waters of the Hebrew Bible. In doing so, they will more fully understand how God has worked in the past, how he is working in the present and will work in the future. However, there is some risk when importing the practice of Passover back into Christian worship. As Glaser himself admits, we really do not have any idea how much Jesus’s practice looked like a modern Passover celebration (24). It is possible some (gentile) Christians can become overly attracted to modern Jewish practice to the point they misunderstand the Body of Christ in the present age.

This book is an excellent contribution to a Christian understanding of both ancient and modern Jewish celebration of Passover.

 

NB: Thanks to Kregel for kindly providing me with a review copy of this book. This did not influence my thoughts regarding the work.

 

A Rider on a White Horse – Revelation 6:1

The opening of the first seal is a chance to test the method described in the previous series of posts. I suggested that reading Revelation is like reading a political cartoon from another culture and time (see also this post on the seals  in general). There are several key images in the description of the first horse and rider: they are white, the rider has a crown and a bow, and he is “bent on conquest.” How would a reader in the first century have understood the image of a white rider? Of the four horsemen, the identity of this rider is the most frequently debated. (In fact, there is not really any discussion of the meaning of the sword, famine and pestilence!)  If we read the metaphors in the context of a first century Jewish Christianity, we may be able to read the imagery as John intended them in the first place.

The color of the rider is important, but it could support any of the following views. White is often associated with victory. Roman emperors, for example, dressed in white when they celebrated a victory (Charles, Revelation, 1:1620). But white is often associated with holiness, for example when the Lord returns in chapter 19 he is wearing a white robe, the martyrs under the altar of God are wearing white robes (chapter 5).

First, it is possible that the rider is the Roman Empire / emperor, or more generally, the triumphant warfare in the Roman period. This view is less popular than it once was, although a consistent preterist like Ken Gentry sees the white horse as the Roman empire as victorious over Jerusalem (Four Views on the Book of Revelation, 53).

A second possibility is that the rider is Christ and the image is the conquest of the gospel in the present age. Those who read Revelation as from an idealist perspective understand this as preaching of the gospel which continues throughout the present age. They note that in 19:11-16 Christ is the rider of a white horse at the time of his second coming, also wearing a crown. The white rider is the progress of the gospel going out to the nations throughout the present age. This is parallel to the Olivet Discourse. Matthew 24:14 implies the gospel will be heard throughout the world prior to the return of the Messiah.

But there is some trouble with this view, primarily in explaining the meaning of the crown and bow. Matthew 24:14 only says that the gospel will be preached to the end of the age, not that it will be victorious. It is a testimony to the nations, but not specified as being successful. The crown is a victor’s crown promised to the one who overcomes in Revelation 2:10 and 3:11. In 4:4 the elders surrounding the throne are dressed in white and wear στέφανος (stefoanos), but the locust from the abyss have them as well. The “son of man” in 14:14 has a στέφανος (stefoanos) as does the woman in 12:1. The use of νικάω in this context may not necessarily be “positive,” since the same word is used in 11:7 and 13:7 with reference to demonic forces.

A third possibility is that the rider on the white horse is a parody of Christ in 19:10-16.  The rider is a  “false messiah” or “anti-Christ.” The rider is the Anti-Christ, going out “bent on conquest” from the beginning of the tribulation. Several contrasts with the white rider in chapter 19 can be noted, for example, in 19:10-16 the name of the rider is “Faithful and True,” here the rider is given the power to judge and make war. The crowns are different, the weapons are different.

There is a different word used for crown in chapter 6 than in chapter 19. In 6:2 the rider has a bow rather than a sword and he is wearing a στέφανος (stefoanos); in 19:12 he has a sword (coming out of his mouth, describing the power of his word) and a διάδημα (diadema). In addition, the crown “as given” to him, an example of a “Divine passive.”  In addition, it was the Lamb who opened the seals in the first place, it seems unlikely that he would also be the rider. A bow is more naturally a symbol of an enemy, connected to the enemies of God rather than the presentation of the gospel. Ezekiel 39:3, for example, associates the bow with one of the ultimate enemies of God lead by Gog.

The first horseman as an anti-messiah parody fits well with the Olivet discourse since military conquests are associated with the nearness of the end, as are the presence of false-Christs. The word in Matthew, however, is pseudeo-christ not anti-christ.  Yet John himself saw the work of anti-christs even in his own time (1 John 2:18).

If the second through the sixth seal parallel the Olivet discourse, then perhaps it is best to see the first seal as a parallel as well. This leaves two options, the victory of the gospel and the progression of the Anti-Christ. Since the context of the second through fourth seal is not the verse about the gospel, but rather the appearance of false messiahs, it is best to conclude the white horse is a parody of the Messiah.

This conclusion would have been understood by a Jewish Christian readership which knew of the idea of a great persecution at the end of the age, and perhaps even the typology of Antichious Epiphanes from Daniel.  In addition, a Christian congregation may very well have known the teaching of Jesus about false-messiahs.  What is more, it is certain that a person living in the Roman empire would have understood the image as referring to Rome as the empire which is “bent on conquest.”

But there is nothing in this metaphor which invites the reader to identify the white rider with any political or religious figure in history, ancient or recent.  John is painting a picture in the mind of the reader of a conquering ruler who will make war against the people of God in the future with imagery drawn from the first-century Roman empire.

Is There a Messiah in 1 Maccabees?

If the writer of 1 Maccabees positioned Judas as David-revisited, it would be unlikely that he would look forward to a future messiah. The book represents a staus quo sort of Judaism, and is “opposed to the Pharisees, the apocalypticists, and the many sectarians in Judea itself” (Fischer, “Maccabees,” 4:442). There is no “return of Judas” theme in 1 Maccabees. His successor Jonathan is enthroned as a king in purple and gold (10:59-66) and as high priest (10:18-21). The writer makes it quite clear that the “yoke of the gentiles was removed” under the leadership of Jonathan (13:41). 1 Maccabees might be described as having a completely realized eschatology because hope for an eschatological age are entirely fulfilled in the Hasmoneans.

Image result for judah maccabee the hammerAs outlined in a previous post, Judas is patterned after the great heroes of the Hebrew Bible. But the brief hymn of praise in 3:3-9 may go beyond even the historical characters found in the biblical material. Goldstein suggests this section is derive from Isaiah 11:12 and 12:5 (Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, 245). Judas gathers the people to the Land and thereby makes his name known throughout the world. There are, however, no exact linguistic parallels between 1 Mac 3:9 and Is 12:5.

In the hymn of praise for Simon (14:4-15), it the Hasmonean dynasty which has established peace in the land and provided the needs of all of the people. Simon is even praised for restoring the temple to glory (14:15). In 14:8, the people described as tilling the land in peace. This is part of the blessings for covenant obedience (Lev 26:4, cf. Deut 28:12) as well as a promise from the prophets concerning the messianic age. Zechariah 8:12 and Ezek 34:27 promise a time of unprecedented prosperity when God restores the people to the land. Since the author of 1 Maccabees is describing the period of Simon in “messianic” terms, there is little need for a coming, future messiah to restore prosperity to the Land.

In 1 Maccabees 14:9, old men are pictured as sitting in the streets talking of good things. This may allude to the messianic age as a time of great rejoicing. For example, in Zechariah 8:4 old men and women in the streets as a symbol of peace. But 1 Maccabees 14:9 describes young men putting on “splendid military attire,” while Zech 8:5 describes children as playing in the streets. It is possible the Hebrew שׂחק, which normally means “to play,” was taken by the author of 1 Maccabees in the same sense as 2 Sam 2:14, to fight (HALOT 4 for bibliography). In this case, the verse might be taken as “children are play-fighting in the streets.”

In either case, the image of if a time when old men and children can rest from work because of the peace and prosperity of the day. While Zechariah sees this as a part of a return from captivity and messianic age, the writer of 1 Maccabees sees the peace as accomplished in Simon. In 14:10 Simon is described as supplying everyone with food and defense, something Goldstein sees as patterned after the kings of great Israel (1 Kings 9:15-19, 2 Chron 8:3-6, 26:6-15; see Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, 491). If a king was to be judged as a “good king” in Chronicles, he undertook building projects which defended the land. Like Judas, Simon’s fame spreads throughout the world.

The reign of Simon is described as a time when “all the people sat under their own vines and fig trees, and there was none to make them afraid” (14:12), a metaphor drawn from several passages in the Hebrew Bible. As early as 1 Kings 4:25, the peace brought by David’s reign is described as a time of safety, when each man sat under his own vine and fig tree. This image is repeated in Isa 36:16, although it is on the lips of the Assyrians when they promise to make peace if the Israelites surrender. More significant are Micah 4:4 and Zech 3:10 where the metaphor appears in clearly eschatological contexts.

In the messianic age there will be peace and safety and all will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree. The Hasmoneans claim to have created a kingdom of peace and safety. Whether they did or not is beside the point, perhaps 1 Maccabees could be described as “alternative facts” which support the script the new dynasty wants to use to support their power.

What should we make of this re-application of prophecy to a more or less secular political dynasty? It is not too difficult to think of several modern (recent) examples of this kind of propaganda in American politics. What is the theological damage to Second Temple period Judaism if the Hasmoneans are re-interpreting prophetic texts to support their regime? That answer may be instructive as we see this sort of thing happening in contemporary contexts.

The Consolation of Zion – 2 Baruch 35-44

Baruch goes to the ruins of the Holy of Holies and sits there weeping because “that of which we were proud has become dust” (chapter 35). He falls asleep and has a vision (chapter 36-37). In this vision he sees a forest surrounded by a high mountains and rugged rocks. A fountain appears in the forest and uproots the forest and even made the top of the mountain low. All which remained was a single cedar which was finally cast down. A vine arrives when the fountain is peaceful and tranquil, and finds the cedar.

Jewish-QuarterThe vine speaks to the tree and tells the fallen tree the forest was destroyed because of its sin.  All the cedar ever did was wickedness, never goodness. The cedar is burned to ash while the vine grows and becomes a valley full of unfading flowers. He prays for enlightenment so that he can understand the vision (chapter 38) and the Lord answers him (chapters 39-40). Israel is a vine frequently, see Isaiah 5, for example. This imagery is used in the rabbinic literature, see Sipre Deut. §312 (on Deut 32:9) and W. G. Braude and I. Kapstein, Tanna debe Eliyyahu: The Lore of the School of Elijah (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1981) 369. For both these references, see Craig A. Evans, Mark 8:27-16:20 (Dallas, Word, 2001), 220.

Zion is the forest and it will be destroyed and rebuilt after some time. It will then be destroyed again, four times in all. The last kingdom will be the harshest and will exalt itself above the cedars of Lebanon. After the last kingdom the Anointed One will come (the vine, in the vision). This is roughly parallel to the four kingdoms scheme of Daniel 2 and 7, although the writer here does not detail who the kingdoms are who will overtake Zion. The last ruler of the final kingdom will be captured and brought to Mount Zion where the Anointed One will convict him of his wicked deeds and kill him. The dominion of the Anointed One will “last forever until this world of corruption has ended” (40:3).

Baruch asks the Lord about the timing of the events of his vision (chapter 41). He is concerned because many in the nation have “cast away the law.” What will happen to those Jews who are not prepared for this judgment? The Lord’s response (chapter 42-43) concerns those who have “withdrawn” and “mingled with the nations.” The writer seems to have in mind both natural Jews and converts to Judaism who “mingle.” They will be considered as the mountains in the vision, who were “brought low,” and “corruption will take away those who belong to it.” Baruch reports this vision to the people (chapter 44-47).

He tells them the judgment on Jerusalem was just and fair and that the people ought to dedicate themselves to the Law (44:6-7). The ones who will inherit the peaceful time in the future are those who are prepared for it (44:13-14), they have “not withdrawn from mercy and they have preserved the truth of the Law. For the coming world will be given to these, but the habitation of the others will be in the fire” (44:15).

This vision and interpretation is remarkably important for New Testament studies since it clearly shows an expectation of a Messiah who will free Zion from the oppressive last kingdom and establish a peaceful kingdom on earth for a period of time. If this expectation persisted after the fall of Jerusalem when Baruch was written, it most likely was common a generation before when Jesus was active in Galilee. For at least some Jews in the twenties and thirties Rome was oppressive and they did look forward to an Anointed One who will deliver them. Many of the themes present in Baruch could go back at least to the turn of the era.

Since context of this vision the fall of Jerusalem on A.D. 70, the final enemy must be Rome. Jews living in the post-70 world would have longed for God to act justly and punish Rome for destroying the Temple. Baruch makes it clear that the punishment received was just and fair (the cedar in the vision), but also that a restoration of the Temple (and Jerusalem) is God’s plan.