Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Years of Silence?

I have often found that a lot of the "background to the Bible" stories we tell ourselves are gross oversimplifications, even misrepresentations of things.  They're like two dimensional flannel graph pictures.  Were the Pharisees all legalistic hypocrites?  Was Judaism a religion of works righteousness?

One I came across again yesterday was the idea of "years of silence" between Malachi and Jesus.  This seems a particularly Protestant story meant to exclude the Apocrypha from the canon.  A book I was reading pinned it to Zechariah 13, where it talks about a time when there will be no prophets.  But this is a very ambiguous passage indeed.  To connect it to the four hundred year period before Jesus seems very dubious indeed.

Yes, there may have been a sense in the post-exilic period that Israel didn't have prophets like in the "good old days" of Isaiah.  But I feel the same way--boy, I wish we had stuff going on like when Jesus and Paul were around.  So have we been living in a period of silence since the NT was finished?  Certainly a lot of Protestants treat the period from the NT to Martin Luther in exactly the same way.

In the end, the idea of a period of silence probably says more about us than it does the people who lived during this period.  We don't know about this period.  We may not know that a flurry of writing emerged in the 100s BC, books like 1 Enoch that Jude quotes and some of whose stories may stand in the background of 1 Peter.  We may not know of the wealth of prophetic type writing that emerged among the Essenes of the first century BC.

Or in hindsight we dismiss this writing as not truly prophetic.  Those groups died out.  They are certainly not my group.  Evangelicals by and large don't accept the dating of Daniel to the mid-160s BC or the late dating of other OT strands.  Frankly, not much literature has survived from the Persian or early Greek period of Israel's history.  There is a kind of "silence" of surviving literature from 400-200BC.

We don't see it.  We don't know it.  The Catholics have books from it.  So it's the period of silence.  It doesn't fit our scheme of what is important.

But there were high priests carrying out the sacrificial cultus of Leviticus throughout this period.  They probably observed the temple festivals more than through the entire period of the Kings.  Indeed, everything we read in Judges, Samuel, and Kings pushes us to suspect that the Law as we have it was followed much more in these "years of silence" than throughout the pre-exilic period.  It just wasn't filled with ideological sects like those that emerged around the time of the Maccabean crisis of the 160s BC.

Bottom line: Yes, we do not have prophetic material in our Bible from around the years 400BC to AD50, and Protestants do not have much if any material in their canon from this period.  But to call these years a period of silence seems about as skewed as saying that God hasn't spoken since the last book of the NT was written.

4 comments:

Jenny Brien said...

Or from Constantine to Luther...

Jared said...

Or the old Enlightenment saw of the "Dark Ages" from the sack of Rome to the rise of Charlemagne.

FrGregACCA said...

Or the West's pretty much complete ignorance of the history of the East Roman, the so-called "Byzantine" Empire, from Constantine until it fell to the Ottoman Turks in the 15th Century.

π² said...

So have we been living in a period of silence since the NT was finished?
I think if we are applying equal standards to the period between the Testaments to our current era, we would have to answer, “Yes.” I think for some, who believe prophecies have ceased (1 Cor. 13:8), that is an acceptable answer, but I think that interpretation defines prophesy too narrowly.