Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Zeal for the Law (Context of NT Judaism)

Yesterday, I ended up in my honor's classes giving a quick sketch of how the two hundred years of Jewish history before Jesus formed the Judaism from which New Testament Christianity emerged.
  • The Maccabean crisis (167-164BC) created a law-observant zeal at a time when law-observance was slowly fading away. Arguably the Pharisees and Essenes eventually flowed out of this crisis. If we want to understand the pre-Christian Paul, here's where we begin.
  • Messianic expectation really rises here as well. There really wasn't much expectation of a messiah going on prior to the early 100s BC. The idea that God might raise up an individual to defeat foreign oppressors gets a real push in this crisis and in the two books that will be written about it (1 and 2 Maccabees).
  • The Roman take-over in 63BC, including a defiling of the temple, heightens the desire that God raise up someone to defeat foreign powers, now the Romans. Psalms of Solomon gives us perhaps the best expression of what the Jews were wanting in a Messiah.
  • So N. T. Wright's sense of Jewish exile is heightened by these events and I personally wouldn't be surprised if John the Baptist has some Essene connection, which again would heighten the background of Christianity in a group alienated even from its own Judaism.
  • Also essential to the pre-Christian mix is the rise of apocalyptic Judaism in the early 100s BC and its continuance in groups like the Essenes. Here there was a sense that human power was not necessary to see the defeat of foreign powers because God had his angelic armies. Again, not much of this going on until the 100s BC.
In short, most of us don't have a good sense of the historical context of early Christianity. We think it flows straight out of the Old Testament with no need to know anything about the immediate historical context in Judaism. But our interpretations of the OT are often anachronistic. We don't know the events that led the NT authors to read the OT the way they did, which had a great deal to do with these developments.


Angie Van De Merwe said...

And how would you see the development of America and Constitutional law, then, Ken? Most Christians do believe that America is a Christian Nation.

American evangelicals are a new "breed of Christianity, but to hear some of them, their understand of Christianity was the foundation and faith of the Founders in framing the Constitution. Don't you think that anachronistic too?

Moral Theology was developed by the Roman Catholic Church wasn't it, and doesn't that kind of theology lend itself to focusing on the ordered structure (institutions), instead of the individual part (the citizen) within society? The order or structure in our society is the Constitution, while the individual citizen is the part within the ordered structure who lives in liberty until laws are enacted that regulate or specify particular behaviors as "legal" or "illegal". And don't our courts, take up to defend individuals who have grievances, while Congress sets about to makes laws that protect society at large?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

All groups have certain limitations, otherwise, they could not define their distinctiveness. All "humanity" is not such a concept, although it is part of America's value of defending "human rights" based on the "natural rights" argument. But, two strands underwrite "natural rights", a Christian one (Aquinas), and a material one (existence/egoism).
As a nation state, we cannot open borders, without discrimination, because we must protect national security, as we believe that citizens should be 'law abiding'. Some immigrants don't care to respect our laws, or our borders,and it seems that this is also the case with some in our Government,too!

It is idealistic to think that all people will come together and sing "Kumbayah", but that is what is being held as the "standard" nowadays.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

So really, as a corollary to Jewish sects, super-naturalism began when the Jews felt their dis-empowerment politically?

Should this be the stance Israel takes, now, on the world stage? Wouldn't that be self-defeating, in fact, self annihilating? And wasn't this the reason that Augustine created the "Just War Theory" to defend the right to self-defense?