Thursday, February 07, 2008

A continuing exile?

Would most Jews contemporary with Jesus have considered themselves still in exile?

Points that need to be considered:

  1. Some of Judah returned from exile after the Babylonian exile. A temple was built and the name 'Israel' adopted by many for just the southern tribes, even though the kingdom of Israel was still, as tribes – not just individuals, assimilated into Assyria. Under John Hyrcanus, Judaean territory began to increase.
  2. But, the Assyrian exile of Israel did not end with the return a minority of Judah from Babylon
  3. After domination by one foreign power after another, in Jesus' generation Judah (or 'Israel') found itself under yet another foreign power - Rome.
  4. The Prophets foresaw a restoration of Israel, and this event came with a complex of associated promises: a new heart, a new covenant, new creation, the gift of the Spirit etc. There is no evidence, as far as I know, of a fulfilment of this complex of associated promises before Jesus (correct me if I am wrong)

But did most Jews accept this as true of Israel in Jesus' generation? The evidence is sparse.

For Jesus (or Matthew, Mark or Luke) to have proclaimed a message implying or even explicitly stating the return from exile, it is not necessary to argue that all believed they were still in an exile. To have spoken of a restoration would have implied that Israel and Judah was still in exile, but this could have been an implicit critique of the Temple, and of the sort of confident righteousness with which the synoptics charge the Pharisees.

To make their critique a powerful one, the synoptic authors, and Jesus, would have been able to cite the Prophets for their case (point 4 above – regularly throughout the synoptics, culminating in the Luke 22:20 and the 'new covenant in my blood', the breathing of the Holy Spirit on the disciples in John etc.), as well as point to Diaspora regions (Acts 2 and Pentecost), point to Rome's domination, critique the Temple (as many did, not just Jesus) or mention the lost northern tribes (parable of the Prodigal Son? The mention of Anna in Luke 2?).

So did most Jews contemporary with Jesus have considered themselves still in exile? Perhaps it doesn't matter all that much. The message of a return from exile could have functioned as well as a critique of a supposed 'restored' self-identification, perhaps even more poignantly than as a restatement of an agreed fact. That said, the synoptics would have had the Prophets, the present political situation and the fact of lost northern tribes on their side. Perhaps that is one reason why so many were open to listen to the likes of John the Baptist and Jesus proclaiming Isaiah's 'good news' of the promised restoration?

There is much more to explore here, but it is getting late and I need to head to bed!


At 2/07/2008 8:04 AM, Anonymous Steven Carr said...

Paul thought the Roman authorities had been appointed by God.

Didn't Paul think the real Jerusalem was the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:26)?

As Paul was not in the Jerusalem above, it is a no-brainer that he thought he was in exile from the real Jerusalem.

At 2/07/2008 8:06 AM, Anonymous Ben Byerly said...

It seems like the term "exile" itself has become a lightning rod of debate for technical reasons. Perhaps, as your post points out, a better term would be that they are still in a state of "pre-restoration", hoping for restoration, or in a state of "hopeful expectation."

I'm sure you've already read Evan's article "Jesus and the Continuing Exile of Israel" in Newman's book discussing your favorite book of all time. (1999).

At 2/07/2008 1:25 PM, Anonymous David Garrett said...

It seems to me that we can locate most of the 'exilic' language in late rabbinic texts, and thus that the theme was refined and more fully developed at a period much later than the time of the early Jesus followers.

At 2/07/2008 1:28 PM, Anonymous David Garrett said...

Just adding to my last post, I wonder if it would be more accurate to understand the early Christians as having thought of themselves as 'sojourners' rather than 'exiles.'

At 2/07/2008 9:15 PM, Anonymous volker said...

Hi Chris,
sorry, this question is not quite to the point but related to eschatology: can you recommend any literature/web links on the hermeneutics and eschatology of the Left Behind -Series?
Thanks a lot!

At 2/08/2008 12:02 AM, Anonymous Doug Chaplin said...

You say "For Jesus (or Matthew, Mark or Luke) to have proclaimed a message implying or even explicitly stating the return from exile, it is not necessary to argue that all believed they were still in an exile." Absolutely. I think this was the point I was arguing for a few days back, when I misunderstood you. You are indeed righter than Wright.

At 2/08/2008 3:57 AM, Anonymous Bishop Dr. Prof. Barnacle said...

The following link should answer all your questions in a simple way you can understand:,2933,329408,00.html

At 2/10/2008 1:15 PM, Anonymous Chris Tilling said...

Hi Steven,
Great points.
“Paul thought the Roman authorities had been appointed by God”
Of course, some will reply that the Prophets said that the invading nations that carted Israel, then Judah, off to exile were appointed by God.
Concerning the real Jerusalem thought, nice one.
I guess my only thought was that I’m not sure Jews thought they were in exile in terms of distance from Jerusalem. Only the southern tribes were next door to it, and the rest of the northern tribes, even when indisputably in the land and not in exile, would need to make pilgrimage to the Jerusalem. But a good thought. I’ll need to have another look at the context again in Gal.

Hi Ben,
A good point. I wonder if exile could still have its place in the discussion, though, even if just as a critique (so, in the Matthean genealogy, for example)

Hi David,
Actually, there are some texts from later Rabbis, if I remember rightly, that speak as though they were not in exile. I’ll need to look that up. The exilic theme was very strong in Baruch.
Sojourners ... an interesting thought. I’ll need to spend more time in that thesis you sent me, but just one question: what would be the difference between the terms for you?

Volker mate,
Dr Volker mate, sorry!
Have a look at Suprised by Hope, by Wright. That essay I mentioned is here:

Hi Doug, yes, thanks for your feedback the other day.

Bishop, that is a bit funny, I admit.


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