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Chapter Five: Daniel and the Apocalyptists of Late Judaism
The original idea of the kingdom begun on the Day of the Lord was that the Jewish nation would be restored to its state of power and glory under King David. A descendant of David, the Messiah, would again be its ruler. Great hopes were placed upon such a descendant, Zerubbabel, but they came to nothing. Prophets after Haggai and Zechariah did not mention that a descendant of David would rule Gods kingdom. Who would be the ruler? God himself was the logical choice. After the Exile, the Kingdom of Judah had no king. It was a theocracy ruled by the Jerusalem priesthood.
In the 24th chapter of Isaiah it is written: The moon shall grow pale and the sun hide its face in shame; for the Lord of Hosts has become king on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem, and shows his glory before their elders. (Isaiah 24: 23) Zechariah states: If any of the families of the earth do not go up to Jerusalem to worship the King, the Lord of Hosts, no rain shall fall upon them. (Zechariah 14: 17)
The Messianic Kingdom of the earlier prophets and the kingdom of God seen by the prophets of the later post-Exilic age differ not only in that in the one the Messiah reigns, in the other God himself. Their whole nature is different. (Schweitzer, p. 25)
According to Schweitzer, the Messianic Kingdom of the earlier prophets is a spiritual and ethical dimension. It arises through the working of Gods spirit in men ... These prophets anticipate that, in the age of the Messianic Kingdom, not only will the ethical replace the non-ethical, but there will also occur a more or less widespread transformation of the natural into the supernatural. This, however, makes no difference to the nature of the Kingdom ... The operation of the Spirit of God working on men remains the dominating factor ... The spiritual and ethical character of the Kingdom is preserved. (Schweitzer, p. 25)
In Malachi, and in Joel and the writers of Isaiah 24-27 and Zechariah 9-14, this is no longer true. In them the Kingdom is supernatural in its very nature. It does not come in the operation of Gods Spirit in men, but appears as a ready-made divine creation. It is Daniel who draws out the consequences of the supernatural character of the expected Kingdom. Not only, like the prophets of the later post-Exilic period, does he disregard the Messianic king of Davids line: he puts in his place the Son of Man, a being whom God sends down from heaven to reign in the Kingdom. (Schweitzer, p. 25)
Daniels Son of Man
The book of Daniel is an apocalypse, which is a prophecy published under the name of a person (a revered religious figure) living in a time before the actual writer. Its prediction of events therefore has the advantage of historical hindsight. In the classical apocalypse the alleged writer undertakes to predict the course of history from his own day in the remote past to the age in which the real writer lives, as something glimpsed in a series of visions, and rounds it off with visions of the final age. Since the reader can establish the accuracy of the prophecies of past events, its is hoped that he will come to be convinced that the events still to come will occur as foreseen. It is also characteristic of apocalypses that ... they attempt to determine the date of the appearance of the Kingdom. They lay down all that must occur in order that it may come. They are at pains to give a survey of the events which, according to the preaching of the earlier prophets, belong to the final age, and thus offer a doctrine of their course and succession. (Schweitzer, p. 26)
Daniel, the historical figure, lived in the 6th century B.C. at the time of the Babylonian Captivity. He was a page in the court of Nebuchadnezzar famous for his ability to interpret dreams. Enjoying Gods favor, he escaped from a lions den. In contrast, the writer of the Book of Daniel lived in the 2nd century B.C. during the period of the Maccabean rebellion when religious Jews led by the sons of Mattathias overthrew the Greek Seleucid empire to establish an independent state. We can date its writing precisely because this writer presupposes in his prophecies the reconsecration of the Temple, but not the death of (the Seleucid emperor) Antiochus. He must therefore have completed the writing of his work between December 165 (when the temple was reconsecrated) and June 164 (when Antiochus Epiphanes died). (Schweitzer, p. 28)
The core of Daniels prophecy consists of several visions regarding political empires that rose and fell in the Middle East. There were four empires, each symbolized in animal form: The first, Babylon, appeared in the form of a lion with eagles wings. The Median empire, which succeeded Babylons, was presented as a bear half crouching .. (with) ... three ribs in its mouth. Then came a four-headed beast like a leopard with four birds wings on its back. This was the Persian empire. The fourth and final beast, of unknown species, was dreadful and grisly, exceedingly strong, with great iron teeth and bronze claws. This beast also had ten horns, including a small horn in the middle with the eyes of a man and a mouth that spoke proud words. This was the Greek empire of Alexander the Great and his successors. The empire of Antiochus Epiphanes was one of the ten horns, the most fearsome. (See Daniel 7: 1-8.)
The succession of beast-like empires described the course of political events between the 6th and 2nd centuries B.C., when the Jews were ruled by foreign powers. During this time, the prophets were promising an the end of the troubling period when God would again show favor to His People. A Kingdom of God would arrive, replacing the earlier kingdoms. Therefore, Daniel kept looking at the beasts in the vision. While he was looking, thrones were set in place and one ancient in years took his seat ... Flames of fire were his throne and its wheels blazing fire; a flowing river of fire streamed out before him ... The court sat, and the books were opened. (Daniel 7: 9-10) While Daniel watched, the fourth beast was killed and its carcass was destroyed. Some of the other beasts were allowed to remain alive for a time.
I was still watching in visions of the night, said Daniel, and I saw one like a man coming with the clouds of heaven; he approached the Ancient in Years and was presented to him. Sovereignty and glory and kingly power were given to him, so that all people and nations of every language should serve him; his sovereignty was to be an everlasting sovereignty which should not pass away, and his kingly power such as should never be impaired. (Daniel 7:13-14)
What does this vision mean? Daniel sees as events in which ordinary history gives place to the supernatural the destruction of the best which represents the kingdom of Antiochus Epiphanes and the handing over of the sovereignty in the Kingdom which follows it to a being whose form is like a son of man (whereas the representatives of the successive world empires have appeared in the form of animals). (Schweitzer, p. 29) This person, one like a man, was the Messiah. A kingdom ruled by the Messiah would succeed the four earthly empires and last forever.
In itself, the term, son of man, does not denote the Messiah or any other supernatural being but merely a human being. Ezekial used it this way and so does Daniel. However, in the context of Daniels vision of the four earthly kingdoms followed by an eternal Kingdom, son of man or one like a man assumes a new significance. This person is the heaven-sent ruler in the Kingdom of God. (Schweitzer, p. 30) Note that this figure represents a departure from earlier prophecies where the ruler is a descendant of David who rules a revived Jewish state, or, in some cases, God, who rules his own kingdom. In Daniel, God turns over kingly authority to a Messianic son of man.
Schweitzer speculates that by the time the Book of Daniel was written, Jewish prophets come to the view that God was too exalted to rule over an earthly city such as Jerusalem. God had begun delegating that function to heavenly figures such as the Archangel Michael. Also, the royal lineage descended from David was no longer in power; it could not, in any case, have ruled over a supernatural kingdom. Therefore, a new type of ruler, a supernatural Messiah, had to be found to assume the reins of control in Gods Kingdom. Daniels prophecy proposed the figure of son of man. Was this person someone who had lived on earth as a man? Was he also a son of David? Schweitzer is not sure.
The prevalent view among Biblical scholars is that, in Daniel, this Messianic figure is a preexistent being, who has always, like the angels, had his home in the heavenly regions ... (and) ... is sent down from heaven. (Schweitzer, p. 31) However, it is also possible that the Messiah will be a man who will be exalted to heaven at the end of time and will appear from there to reign in the Kingdom, endowed with a supernatural power that is there conferred upon him. (Schweitzer, p. 31) So the question arises whether the Messiah graduated from being a man to a supernatural state or he was always supernatural?
Daniel adds two other details to the scenario of the final days. First is the idea that right before Gods kingdom arrives, humanity will experience a period of unprecedented stress and suffering. In theological parlance, this is the pre-Messianic tribulation. It is one of the key signs indicating that the Kingdom of God is near. Many believe that, for the writer of the Book of Daniel, the persecution experienced under the Seleucid Antiochus Epiphanes IV was that tribulation. The saints (righteous Jews) were indeed delivered into his (Antiochus) power for a time ... (Daniel 7: 25) Alexanders Greek empire, split between many kings after his death, signified the fourth beast which had ten horns. Yet, some other interpreters of Daniels prophecy have found similarities to persons and events in other times.
The second detail arises from a description of events when the time of the earthly turmoil abruptly ends. At that moment Michael shall appear, Michael the great captain, who stands guard over your fellow-countrymen; and there will be a time of distress such as has never been since they became a nation till that moment. But at that moment your people will be delivered, every one who is written in the book: many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will wake, some to everlasting life and some to the reproach of eternal abhorrence. (Daniel 12: 1-2)
Daniel is here introducing the resurrection of the dead to his vision. Isaiah 24-27, writing around 300 B.C., had broached the idea in these words: On this mountain the Lord ... will swallow up death forever. (Isaiah 25: 7) But thy dead live, their bodies will rise again. They that sleep in the earth will awake and shout for joy; for thy dew is a dew of sparkling light, and the earth will bring those long dead to birth again. (Isaiah 26: 19) Daniel now ties the idea of the deads resurrection to deliverance of righteous Jews when the Archangel Michael appears. The dead are resurrected at the same time that the Kingdom of God arrives.
Why were the dead resurrected? Though frequently proclaimed by the prophets as imminent, the coming of the Kingdom was constantly deferred. In the course of time the thought must have forced itself upon their minds that there was a problem here. As age succeeded age, more and more of the righteous were being deprived of participating in the Kingdom as their generation passed away. If belief in the Kingdom was to remain strong, there must be an accompanying belief in the resurrection (of the dead) which would take place at the coming of the Kingdom. (Schweitzer, p. 32) On the other hand, if the dead of previous generations were not resurrected, those who had striven to become righteous and well-pleasing to God in hopes of the Kingdom could have no prospect of attaining it unless its coming took place in the lifetime of their generation. (Schweitzer, p. 32) It was therefore a matter of simple justice.
The Religion of Zoroaster
When the Jews were deported to Babylon, they became exposed to foreign cultures. Although Cyrus allowed the Jewish exiles to return home to Judaea, they remained a part of the Persian empire until the Persians were themselves overthrown by Alexander in 333 B.C. There was then a period of more than two hundred years in which the Jewish people were subject to Persia. While tolerant of their subject peoples religions, the Persian empire had adopted the religion of Zoroaster (Zarathustra) as its state religion. Like Jewish prophecy, this religion included a vision of the final days in which the conflicting forces were morally defined. Considering that the Jews found Persian culture to be relatively benign, it is not surprising that Jewish religion absorbed many influences from Zoroastrianism.
Zoroaster was a religious philosopher who appeared in Bactria (present-day Afghanistan) between 650 and 600 B.C. After wandering for several years in search of a royal patron, he persuaded the Persian king Vishtaspa (who may have been the father of Darius I) to accept his religious system. The new religion spread fast. Its basic concept was that life on earth reflected a cosmic struggle between the forces of good and evil. The supreme god, Ahura-Mazdah, who had created the world, was the only real god. He led the forces of good against the evil forces led by Angra-Mainyu (Ahriman) to win a great victory in the final days. Zoroasters scheme of moral dualism also applied to daily life.
Zoroastrianism was a religion that encouraged progress toward civilization. Zoroaster himself was living in a time when human society was converting to agriculture from a nomadic way of life. Whatever aided that conversion was considered good while it was bad to remain with the old ways. Honesty, trustworthiness, humility, cleanliness, hard work, respect for property, and humane treatment of domestic animals were virtues to be encouraged. Evil was associated with the values of nomads who made a living from robbing farmers and herdsmen. The struggle between good and evil permeated all aspects of life. A distinction was even made between good animals such as oxen and dogs and bad ones such as frogs, snakes, ants, and scorpions. It was expected that each worshiper would aid the forces of goodness with an eye to stamping out evil.
Like Jewish prophecy, the writings of Zoroaster presented a scenario of the last days. Angels figured prominently in that event. Their existence reflected a transition from polytheistic religion to monotheism. Former gods aligned with Ahura-Mazdah became angels siding with the forces of good. The gods worshiped by nomadic bandits became demons. There were hierarchies of angels on both sides. Zoroastrianism held that the struggle between good and evil would culminate in a climactic event in which the evil forces would be destroyed and judgment would be pronounced on them.
The Zoroastrian cosmology also included a Messiah. The picture that came to be formed of the events of the final age was that at the end of time a redeemer figure will snatch control of the world from Ahriman (the evil prince), just when he seems to be winning the final struggle. An interesting feature is that this redeemer does not belong to the heavenly powers surrounding God, but comes into existence on earth. (Schweitzer, p. 37)
Albert Schweitzer believed that Zoroastrianisms most important contribution to Jewish religious thought was the indispensable idea of resurrection as a prelude to participation in the Kingdom of God. (Schweitzer, p. 37) The Zoroastrian religion held that, after death, the souls of righteous persons would be allowed to cross the Cinvat Bridge to a heavenly domain where they would enjoy the food and drink of immortality. (Schweitzer, p. 37) The souls of evil persons would not be allowed across that bridge but would instead experience endless torment. Alternatively, all souls might rise together at the end of the world.
The two views could be reconciled by proposing that souls of the departed experienced a temporary state of bliss (or torment) until the end of the world when these souls were reunited with their bodies in a general resurrection of the dead and were then judged as candidates for admission to the Kingdom of God. In the Zoroastrian religion, the final damnation at the Judgment is often replaced by a sentence of refining punishment which will one day have an end. The notion of (Christian) Purgatory probably has its roots in Zoroastrianism. (Schweitzer, p. 38)
Both the Zoroastrian and late Jewish religions looked forward to a Kingdom of God which would appear at the end of time. Their outlooks were otherwise different. The Jews thought of God as a nationalistic deity who would intervene in human history on their behalf. Jewish religious prophecies therefore responded to political events. Zoroastrianism, on the other hand, was the product of a single thinker who was interested in creating a new civilization leading to Gods kingdom. Unlike Judaism, it shows a concern for cultural progress. In the cosmic struggle between good and evil, humanity is enlisted as Gods ally.
Zoroastrian worship made use of fire. Animal sacrifices were abolished. As in the Book of Malachi, the imagery of fire suggested moral refinement. Religious Jews picked up from Zoroastrianism the idea that on the Day of Judgment the wicked would be destroyed in a burning pit. They also absorbed its cosmology of demons, of angels and archangels arranged in hierarchies, and of Satan as the personification of evil. Daniels view that God was surrounded by a host of heavenly beings comes from Zoroaster. So does the idea of the archangel Michael who guards the nations.
Above all, however, Zoroastrianism bequeathed to late Jewish religion the idea of a dualistic struggle taking place in heaven and on earth. It is not just God who enters into the picture, but God battling Satan for mastery of the world. A particular legacy of Zoroastrian thought was its negativity directed against the human body. Bodily desires and temptations were considered products of the devil needing to be suppressed by the mind. The Gnostic idea of torturing the body for the sake of eternal life was a product of Zoroasters fierce dualism. The Manichaean religion, at one time a major rival to Christianity, also reflected this point of view. St. Augustine had been a Manichaean early in his life.
The Kingdom of God in Late Judaism
Certain prophetic writings not included in the Bible had a profound influence upon Jesus world view. Showing traces of the Zoroastrian cosmology, they were produced by scribes associated with the Pharisee sect in the century before Christ until Jerusalems destruction in 70 A.D. Schweitzer discusses four such works: the Apocalypse of Enoch, the Apocalypse of Baruch, the Apocalypse of Ezra, and the Psalms of Solomon. After this time, Jewish prophecy became extinct and rabbinical scholasticism came to dominate Judaism.
The Apocalypse of Enoch and Psalms of Solomon are dated to the first century B.C., shortly before Jesus lived. They might well have influenced Jesus thinking. The other two works, the Apocalypses of Baruch and of Ezra, could not have been known to Jesus since they were written after the destruction of the Temple in 70 A.D. However, all were products of the Pharisaic culture existing at this time.
The Pharisees were that group of religious Jews who were called Chassidim or the Party of the Pious. While outside the Temple hierarchy, they were strictly loyal to traditional Jewish religion. This segment of religious Jews supported the Maccabean revolt against the Seleucid empire but later ran afoul of the Hasmonean rulers of Judaea, who were descended from the Maccabees. The Pharisees became estranged from John Hyrcanus I and his son, Alexander Hyrcanus, in the period between 110 B.C. and 76 B.C. and experienced great persecution. Persevering in their faith, they were respected by the people.
In the Apocalypse of Enoch, written during the reign of Alexander Jannaeus or his immediate successors, we find the pious in the Pharisaic circle looking forward, in the midst of grave affliction, to the Kingdom of God. (Schweitzer, p. 43) The Psalms of Solomon reflect the situation after Pompey the Great assumed power in Judaea in 64 B.C. The Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra were written by Pharisees in the 1st century A.D., after the Romans had destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. Their writers are concerned with the question of why God has twice allowed Jerusalem to fall.
All four works were disliked by Jewish rabbis after the fall of Jerusalem. Although they were written in Hebrew, no copies remain in the Hebrew language or in Greek, a language into which they were soon translated. The rabbis would then have nothing to do with apocalypses or Greek texts. Instead, copies of these late-Jewish works have come down to us from Latin, Syriac, Ethiopic, and Armenian translations. They are today among the sacred works of secondary importance known as apocryphal writings.
For us, however, the two earlier works are an important source of information about religious views in Jesus time. They may therefore provide clues as to what Jesus himself was thinking. Schweitzer notes that the two works show disagreement about the ruler of Gods Kingdom: The Apocalypse of Enoch adheres to the view of the Book of Daniel, according to which the Son of Man is the ruler appointed by God over the Kingdom, which is thought of in purely supernatural terms. The Psalms of Solomon, on the other hand, look for the Kingdom of the Messiah of Davids line. (Schweitzer, p. 42)
These four products of late-Jewish religious thinking differ from earlier Biblical prophecies in one respect: They do not expect the coming of the Kingdom to follow upon some particular historical event, as Daniel did when he saw the desecration of the Temple by Antiochus Epiphanes as a sign of the end of ordinary history. True, they too are moved by historical occurrences to look out for the events of the final era and form a picture of it. But they give up the claim to be able to say anything more precise about the time when these will take place. What is new is that for them the coming of the time of the Kingdom of God depends upon conditions which must first be fulfilled in accordance with Gods will. (Schweitzer, p. 42)
The Apocalypse of Enoch
Enoch, father of Methuselah, was a patriarch who lived before the Flood. Like Elijah, he was taken into heaven without experiencing death. (See Genesis 5: 24) The Apocalypse of Enoch was preserved in an Ethiopic translation from Greek. Like Daniel, the writer (of Enochs Apocalypse) is supposed to have visions which give a survey of the events of world history as it approached the time of the end. The most important part of the book consists of the so-called Similitudes of Enoch (Enoch 37-69). These are explanations of the visions of the final events. Enoch presupposes and expands the eschatological expectation of the Book of Daniel. (Schweitzer, p. 45)
In the days preceding the coming of Gods kingdom, the fallen angels (who had mated with earthly women to produce giants) are held prisoner in a pit above a blazing fire awaiting Gods day of judgment, when their fate will be decided. A similar situation confronts stars which have disobeyed God in failing to appear in the night sky. The fallen angels ask Enoch to petition God for mercy. Enoch learns that their petition will not be granted.
Meanwhile, the spirits of the dead are being held in the underworld until Judgment Day. The righteous dead and the spirits of the martyrs, whose claim to admission into the Kingdom takes precedence over that of the righteous living, have separate places of honor. On the other hand, souls of the wicked can look forward only to eternal damnation. Demons appear before God to accuse men of committing sins. All are awaiting the day of judgment. This day must be postponed until there are enough righteous persons and martyrs to fill a fixed number of positions.
The countdown on the final days begins with an attack on Jerusalem by kings of the East, meaning the Medes and Parthians. God has sent angels to stir up these people against Israel. The outbreak of war begins the period of tribulation. The evil peoples, blinded by God, start killing one another. Miraculous disturbances occur in heaven and earth: The rain will cease, and the moon will change her order and not appear at her time. Members of the same family will attack one another in senseless rage. (Schweitzer, p. 47) God has meanwhile appointed angels to stand guard over the righteous who are living in the last generation to make sure no harm comes to them. They must remain alive at the time that the Kingdom of God arrives.
The Kingdom does arrive after the period of tribulation. The dead are resurrected, the Son of Man appears, and the Judgment of souls takes place. Enoch accepts Daniels view that this Son of Man is not a heavenly being belonging to Gods entourage ... he has always existed but has remained hidden until the time when he comes forward. (Schweitzer, p. 47) Yea, before the sun and the signs (of the Zodiac) were created, before the stars of the heaven were made, his name (the Messiahs) was named before the Lord of spirits. He shall be a staff to the righteous and the saints whereon to stay themselves and not fall, and he shall be the light of the Gentiles and the hope of those who are troubled of heart. For this reason has he been chosen and hidden before him (God) before the creation of the world and he will be before him for evermore. (Enoch 48: 3-6)
In Daniel, God had conducted the Last Judgment. In the Apocalypse of Enoch, that role is turned over to the Son of Man. Both prophetic works foresee that the Son of Man will rule Gods Kingdom. Enoch says: The Elect One (Son of Man, the Messiah) shall in those days sit on my throne and his mouth shall pour forth all the secrets of wisdom and counsel: for the Lord of spirits has given them to him. (Enoch 51: 1-3) And he (Son of Man) sat on the throne of his glory, and the sum of judgment was given unto the Son of Man, and he caused the sinners to pass away and be destroyed from off the face of the earth ... (while) ... the righteous and elect shall be saved on that day ... and the Lord of spirits will abide over them and with that Son of Man shall they eat and lie down and rise up for ever and ever ... All the righteous shall be angels in heaven. (Enoch 69:27, 62:13, 51:4)
Meanwhile, Gods avenging angels throw the evil kings into a burning fire in a deep valley. The Archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Phanuel do the same to the fallen angels. Sinners who repent of their sins on Judgment Day gain salvation. They are allowed to see the favor which God has bestowed on the righteous and seek a similar situation for themselves. Yet, while the resurrected martyrs are greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven, these self-confessed sinners will be least . Like Second Isaiah, Enoch predicts that a new heaven and earth will emerge. I will transform the earth and make it a blessing. (Enoch 45:4)
While Jeremiah and Ezekial wrote that God will implant his spirit in peoples hearts, in Enoch they partake of Gods wisdom, thought of as a heavenly being. The idea of wisdom personified is a Greek idea. Uniquely, Enoch places the seat of wisdom in heaven but does not activate it until Gods Kingdom comes. When wisdom came to make her dwelling among the children of men, and found no dwelling-place, she returned to her place and took her seat among the angels. (Enoch 42: 2) Wisdom is poured out like water ... The Elect One stands before the Lord of spirits ... In him dwells the spirit of wisdom ... And he shall judge the secret things, and none shall be able to utter a lying word before him. (Enoch 49:1-4) Such concepts foreshadow the early Christian doctrine of the Logos expressed in the Gospel of John.
The Psalms of Solomon
This work consists of seventeen psalm-like songs which function as an apocalypse. It was written not by King Solomon but by a writer who lived in the period following Pompeys capture of Jerusalem in 64 B.C. The Pharisees had suffered persecution under Hasmonean kings. Thousands had fled to the desert to escape their persecutors. The Psalms of Solomon give voice to the agony experienced during that time: In our tribulation we call upon thee for help. And thou dost not reject our petition, for thou art our God. Cause not thy hand to be heavy upon us, lest through necessity we sin. Even though thou hearkenest to us not, we will not keep away, but will come unto thee. For if I hunger, unto thee will I cry, O God, and thou wilt give to me ... Who is the salvation of the poor and needy, if not thou, O Lord ... Make glad the soul of the poor and open thine hand in mercy. (Psalms of Solomon 5: 5-12)
The power struggle within the Hasmonean court came to an end when both sides invited the Roman general Pompey to settle their dispute. Pompey decided against Aristobulus II, persecutor of the Pharisees. The Song of Solomon therefore sees Pompey as an instrument of God to punish the Sadducees and Hasmonean rulers. At the same time, in the process of taking control, Pompeys soldiers besieged and stormed the Temple mount. They penetrated the sanctuary and desecrated the altar of burnt offering by trampling on it. This could not be tolerated. Pompey subsequently lost a battle to Julius Caesar, fled to Egypt, and was murdered. Pompeys corpse remained unburied for a long time. The Pharisees saw in these events the hand of divine punishment.
Delay not, O God, to recompense them on their heads, to turn the pride of the dragon into dishonor. And I had not long to wait before God showed me the insolent one slain on the mountains of Egypt, esteemed of less account than the least on land and sea, his body borne hither and thither on the billows with much tossing, and no one buried him because he had given him to dishonor. He reflected not that he was man, and reflected not on the latter end; He said, I will be lord of land and sea, and he recognized not that it is God who is great, mighty in his great strength. He is king in heaven and judges kings and kingdoms. (Psalms of Solomon 2: 19-30)
The writer of the Psalms of Solomon returns to the conception of a Messiah from Davids lineage found in earlier prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekial. The phrase, Son of Man, is not mentioned. The writings express joy that the Hasmonean dynasty, though seated upon Davids throne, had ended; for now there would be an everlasting kingdom. One day, God would appoint a Messiah descended from David to rule that kingdom. Behold, O Lord, and raise up unto them their king, the son of David, in the time when thou choosest, O God, that he should reign over thy servant Israel. And gird him with strength, that he may shatter unrighteous rulers, and that he may purge Jerusalem from the heathen that trample her down to destruction ... Then he will gather together a holy people, whom he shall rule in righteousness, and he shall judge the tribes of the people that has been sanctified by the Lord his God. (Psalms of Solomon 17: 21, 26)
By the 1st Century B.C., the House of David had been out of power for several centuries. Could its kingship be revived? Schweitzer thinks it more likely that by then people thought the Davidic Messiah would be a supernatural being sent from heaven. The Psalms of Solomon assume that the resurrection has taken place. Human beings who participate in Gods Kingdom must be in supernatural form. But they that fear the Lord shall rise to life eternal, and their life shall be in the light of the Lord and shall come to an end no more. (Psalms of Solomon 3: 11)
If the resurrected dead participate in the Kingdom, earlier conceptions of a Davidic Messiah no longer apply. What about those persons still alive when the Kingdom arrives? Are they transformed into a supernatural state to be like the resurrected dead? What about the foreigners who come to Jerusalem to serve God? There are many unanswered questions.
The Psalms of Solomon do not propose a general resurrection of the dead but only of the righteous. The unrighteous dead stay dead. Live sinners perish for ever. (Psalms of Solomon 15: 13) Only those whom the Messiah regards as sons of God are allowed life in the Kingdom. The scheme here is much like that in Ezekial where only those with marked foreheads to denote their righteousness are allowed to survive Jerusalems destruction. For the mark of God is upon the righteous that they may be saved. Famine and sword and pestilence ... shall pursue the ungodly ... As by enemies experienced in war shall they be overtaken, for the mark of destruction is upon their forehead. (Psalms of Solomon 15: 6-9)
The Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra
The nominal author of the Apocalypse of Baruch was Jeremiahs friend, Baruch, to whom the prophecies of Jeremiah were dictated in the 6th century B.C. The author of the Apocalypse of Ezra was the priest and scribe who led the caravan of Jews returning from exile a century later. In fact, both writings originated in a time shortly after 70 A.D. when Titus destroyed Jerusalem. They purport to describe the course of historical events from Babylons destruction of the Temple in 586 B.C. until the Roman destroyed it again in 70 A.D., as rounded off with a vision of the final days.
In that troubled time, religious Jews had many questions. The Apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra consist of a conversation with God about the authors moral concerns. Why did God again and again deliver his people into the hands of the Gentiles? Why was Gods Kingdom repeatedly delayed? What about the justice of last-minute repentences which allowed chronic sinners to escape punishment? Would devout Jews ever be spared of such difficulties?
The answer given by God in these two apocalypses was that much of the misery experienced in this world was a result of original sin incurred by Adam and Eve when they disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. Those ignorant parents of humanity had no idea how much suffering they would cause. Why was Jerusalem repeatedly destroyed? God explained that this city rebuilt after the Exile belonged to the temporal world whose structures were subject to decay; but the New Jerusalem promised in the future referred to a heavenly city that would never pass away. Augustine picked up on that theme four centuries later when the city of Rome was sacked.
To placate his questioners, God kept reassuring them of their glorious future in the coming Kingdom. Ezra could not be lued away from concern for all humanity. He complained of the many righteous ones whose hopes had been repeatedly dashed. God was reduced to the reproach: Thou comest far short of being able to love my creation more than I. (4 Ezra 8: 47) Ezra asked for permission to intercede on behalf of others. God sternly rejected this. On the Day of Judgment none shall pray for another, nor shall anyone accuse another; for then everyone shall bear his own righteousness or unrighteousness. (4 Ezra 7: 102-105) Although God had allowed this in earlier times (as when Moses prayed for the people of Israel), it would not be possible on the Day of Judgment .
The resurrection of the dead posed a problem for believers in a Messianic kingdom ruled by a descendant of David. How could angel-like creatures coexist with human beings? Later prophets had answered this question by replacing the Kingdom of the Davidic Messiah with one ruled by a supernatural Son of Man. Survivors of the last generation who were supernaturally transformed would be in the same form as the resurrected dead. However, the prestige of earlier prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah was too strong for the later apocalyptists simply to abandon the idea of a kingdom ruled by Davids descendant. In prophets such as Zechariah 9-14, Malachi, and Joel, the writers of Ezra and Baruch find models of kingdoms ruled by God himself. Two different types of kingdoms were sanctioned by scripture.
The apocalypses of Baruch and Ezra therefore proposed that the two types of kingdom appear in succession. First would be the kingdom of the Davidic Messiah, inhabited by human survivors of the last generation. Those persons, remaining in a natural state, would lead a blessed existence in a (spiritually) transfigured world. Then would come the general resurrection, the Judgment which is to be conducted by God, and the completely supernatural King of God. This second, eternal Kingdom will be shared by the righteous of all generations, who will have become supernatural, angel-like beings through the resurrection, together with those righteous survivors of the final generation who had previously belonged to the Kingdom of the Messiah. At the appearance of the Kingdom of God they will be transformed into the same supernatural form as those who have risen from the dead. (Schweitzer, p. 60)
The solution to the contradiction is the same in both apocalypses: The Messiah is not an earth-born king raised to Messiahship, but a being who comes from heaven to earth. The two kingdoms follow one another in succession, and consequently ... the Messianic Kingdom does not last for ever but is only the prelude to the everlasting Kingdom of God. (Schweitzer, p. 60) However, the mechanism of the transition between the two kingdoms is different. Baruch does not say how long the Messianic Kingdom will last, only that the Messiah returns to heaven when it comes to an end. In Ezra, on the other hand, the Messianic kingdom lasts for 400 years. Then the Messiah dies, along with all other living persons. The resurrection of the dead takes place seven days later, and then Gods eternal reign begins.
Baruch and Ezra write from the perspective of a world that has grown old and may indeed be approaching the final days. According to Ezra, the history of the world is divided into twelve periods of equal length. Nine and half had passed when Ezra, the scribe, lived in the 6th century B.C. Now it was near the end of human history. The author of Ezras apocalypse, who lived after 70 A.D., was able to see that the fourth empire described in Daniel was not the Greek empire founded by Alexander the Great, but Rome. It was an eagle rising from the sea. By the 1st Century A.D., the apocalyptists believed that the underworld had almost reached its full allotment of souls. Nothing could stop the final events from taking place soon.
The arrival of the final age will be indicated by wonderful events in nature and the occurrence of the pre-Messianic tribulation. (Schweitzer, p. 61) When the time of the world is ripe and the harvest of the evil and the good has come, the Almighty will bring upon the earth and its inhabitants and upon its rulers confusion of spirit and terrifying terror. And they shall hate one another and provoke one another to war ... And every man who is saved from the war shall die through an earthquake, and he who escapes from the earthquake shall be burned in the fire, and all who escape and survive all these perils will be delivered into the hands of my servant, the Messiah. For the whole earth shall devour its inhabitants. But the holy land will have mercy on him who belongs to it (righteous Jews) and will protect its inhabitants in that time. (Baruch 70: 1-3, 8-71)
This tribulation would end when the Messiah suddenly appeared. He would accuse and destroy the last Roman emperor. Nations that were enemies of Israel would also be destroyed. The earth would bear a great increase in agricultural produce. Manna would again descend from on high. Diseases would be abolished. Wild beasts would come from the forest to minister to men. Even the pain of child birth would be felt no more. This would not yet be the kingdom of God. It would be the kingdom of the Messiah, a place transfigured but not wholly supernatural. Baruch described it in these terms: It is the end of that which is corruptible and the beginning of that which is incorruptible. (Baruch 74:2)
The first of the two kingdoms, the Messianic kingdom, would be inhabited only by those persons who had survived the tribulation. None yet would have risen from the dead. The Messiah who ruled this kingdom would be someone who had descended from heaven since rulers of Davids line are no longer found on earth. (Schweitzer, p. 63) This Messiah cannot be an earthly ruler on whom God has bestowed his spirit. Yet, Ezra and Baruch cannot ignore the fact that the prophets of old proclaimed that the Messiah would be descended from David.
Accordingly they have to claim that he (the Messiah) is descended from David, and at the same time is a being who comes from heaven. The only possible solution of the problem would be to assume that the Messiah is a descendant of David born in the final generation, who begins his reign only after he has become a supernatural being as a result of having risen from the dead. This is the only way in which it would be possible for a Messiah thought of as a supernatural being to be in fact a descendant of David. This is the solution underlying the Messianic self-consciousness of Jesus. (Schweitzer, p. 63)
The souls of the righteous dead from previous generations would not be resurrected until after the Messianic kingdom came to an end and the Messiah returned to heaven. After seven days a second kingdom would begin which God himself rules. And it shall be, after these (400) years, that my son, the Messiah, shall die, and all in whom there is human breath. Then shall the world be turned into the primeval silence seven days, as at the first beginning; so that no man is left. But after seven days shall the aeon which is still asleep awake and that which is corruptible shall perish. The earth shall restore those that are at rest in her and the dust those that sleep therein ... The most High shall appear upon the throne of judgment. (4 Ezra 7: 29-33)
No mention is made of Son of Man in Ezra or Baruch except for a passage in Ezra which speaks of the Son of Man coming from Mount Zion on the clouds of heaven with the fiery breath of his mouth to destroy a great host. Schweitzer supposes that this passage has been added by a later writer to make the apocalypse consistent with other writings. Ezra takes pains, however, to refute the idea expressed in Daniel and in Enoch that God appoints the Messiah to conduct the last judgment and rule his everlasting kingdom. No, that happens only with the first kingdom. The second kingdom is Gods alone.
Such were questions asked about the Kingdom of God in the second half of the 1st century A.D. While the authors of the apocalypses of Ezra and Baruch writing forty years after the Crucifixion made no mention of Jesus, the apostle Paul, a Pharisaic Jew, was aware of the issues involved in their prophetic works. For him it was clear that Jesus was the Messiah and that, with Jesus death upon the cross, the Messianic kingdom was about to begin. Like Ezra and Baruch, Paul expected two Kingdoms: first the Messianic, in which Jesus reigns, and after that the everlasting Kingdom of God. Like them, he does not speak of the Son of Man, though Jesus had used this expression of himself. Like them, he is concerned to establish that in the everlasting Kingdom which follows the resurrection of the dead no one but God comes into consideration. (Schweitzer, p. 66)
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