Justice and Apocalypse: Part I of II
If apocalyptic literature truly is, as E. Käsemann says, the “mother of all Christian theology”[i] then one can assume that it has had significant influence on many of the theological doctrines and beliefs that we hold today. In reading through many of the various Jewish and early Christian apocalyptic texts, the theme of justice stands out as one of the common concerns of the apocalyptic author.
What is the reward of the righteous? What is the punishment of the wicked? Such questions are intrinsic to apocalyptic literature and to justice as we know it today. However, differences occur between the questions of justice proposed in apocalyptic literature and the beliefs held by the ancient Jews, and thus one can see a shift in the concept of justice, influenced by said literature, into the modern Christian conception of justice that we hold today.
The purpose of this paper, therefore, is to examine the various elements of Jewish apocalyptic literature as they apply to the Christian understanding of justice, and thus how they differ from the ancient view of justice. Through this examination, evidence will show that the Jewish Apocalypses were an essential influence in developing the Christian understanding of Divine Justice.
We will first discuss the nature and characteristics of apocalyptic literature while clarifying two specific aspects important to arguing the thesis. We will then discover the development of justice from pre-exilic Judaism to post-exilic by examining specific passages from the book of Job, and the apocryphal book of 1 Enoch. Finally, we will see how this relates to the idea of Christian justice.
[i] Qtd. in The Beginnings of Christian Theology
With Specific Focus for this Paper
Because this paper concerns the specific idea of justice, the characteristics of apocalyptic literature that deal specifically with justice must be more closely examined and understood. One of these elements is “crisis”—though apocalyptic literature speaks to readers from all lifestyles, they are originally written by and for people experiencing crisis in the form of persecution. This point will be clearer once exilic influences are discussed, but the key point is that the very reason why the Hebrews were forced to consider questions of justice and the judgment of the end times is because they needed to develop a system of thought that helped them overcome the imminent persecution and injustices they were enduring.
The Apocalyptic authors experiencing injustice and persecution began to realize that, if YHWH truly was a God who kept his promises, then justice could not be imminent and worldly, for many faithful Jews were dying without the physical reward for their righteousness. Thus, post-exilic Old Testament eschatology developed around the coming of the messiah who would bring justice for all the righteous, and who would banish the wicked from based on their deeds. Inherent in this belief however, was the implication that this messiah and his justice were yet to come, and when they did, it would be the end of time. This is why eschatology is inherent to the “new wave” of Hebrew justice, and why it has become essential to a modern Christian understanding of the virtue as well.
THE NATURE OF APOCALYPTIC LITURATURE
Characteristics of Apocalyptic Thought
Despite Käsemann’s proposition, the general corpus of apocalyptic writings has primarily been thought of as confusing or too vague for scholarly critique, and thus, until the last two centuries has been largely unstudied as in academia[i]. That this is true is shown largely by the many grandiose interpretations of apocalyptic thought, both in movies like Knowing and in literature such as the Left Behind series, both of which draw heavily from Christian or Jewish apocalypses (notably the Revelation of John).
However, since the study of Apocalyptic literature has begun, great strides have been made in identifying motifs and characteristics that aid in defining the category of apocalyptic thought. Collins defines Apocalypse as:
“A genre of revelatory literature with a narrative framework, in which a revelation is mediated by an otherworldly being to a human recipient, disclosing a transcendent reality which is both temporal, insofar as it envisages eschatological salvation, and spatial insofar as it involves another, supernatural world” (emphasis added).[ii]
Revelation, for the purpose of this paper, is defined as “the revealing of secret or hidden divine knowledge by a supernatural force”. This is an appropriate characteristic for apocalyptic literature because the Greek “ἀποκάλυψις” literally means “Out of secret”. Thus, the revealing of hidden knowledge is an essential part of any apocalyptic work. The medium of revelation rarely comes directly from God, but is most always from the mouth of an angelic being to the author of the Apocalypse. Finally, this revelation typically comes in narrative form. This aspect, along with the typical pseudonymity of works, serves in aiding the “supernatural” milieu of the genre.
Because this hidden knowledge is divine, it necessarily communicates a transcendent reality—that of the supernatural world which will manifest at the end of time. Essential to this reality is the concern of humanity’s Eschatological Salvation—Heaven or Hell, the righteous and wicked, and the coming of the messiah are all questions that are asked in every apocalyptic narrative.
[i] Collins, John J. The Apocalyptic Imagination, 2 ed. (Grand Rapids: Wm B Eerdmans, 1998.), 3.
[ii] Ibid. 5
PRE-EXILIC JEWISH JUSTICE
The Jewish conception of justice before the exile was predominantly a social justice in that it was both imminent (the “here and now”) and it was physical (restoration of worldly rights). The Jewish word for justice is “mishpat” (מִשְׁפָּט), which essentially deals with “the restoration [judgment] of a situation or environment which promoted equity and harmony in a community”.[i] Closely tied with this idea of justice (and many times used synonymously) is that of judgment (Hb. Din), and Righteousness (Hb. Tsedaqah-צְדָקָה). Furthermore, because God is the covenant maker, true justice involves fidelity to and imitation of His divine justice.[ii] Finally, the synonymy of justice to that of judgment and righteousness, especially in a legalistic and social setting, implies that to be just is based off what one does . Indeed, this is affirmed when justice is equated to “mercy” and “kindness” and considered a “way of life” (hb. Derek—דֶּרֶךְ). For the ancient Jews, those who lived by moral acts reaped the rewards in this life.
Because the Jews were a deeply social and a covenantal people, their works of morality dealt primarily with fulfilling the worldly needs of those in their community. God (and his faithful who keep his covenant) has a particular concern for the poor, the widow, and the fatherless (Psalm 146:9)[iii], which is testified to numerous times throughout the bible. The important aspect is that, even from those poor and widowed who are seeking the justice of God; they are seeking only to restore the worldly rights to which they are naturally entitled. [iv] Conversely, when calling upon God for vindication on those whom have been unjust, they sought retribution in the form of death of their enemy or loss of their enemies land or wealth (Psalm 68:1-2). [v] In this sense, to the Jew, death (insofar as it was untimely) was more of a punishment for the unjust than it was a relief for those waiting for justice. Thus, they are not seeking more than they are due, nor are they seeking some eternal or “after death” reward—for the poor Jew, justice was sought in the here and now.
In the Book of Job
The book of Job is perhaps the best book in the Old Testament to illustrate the idea of ancient Jewish justice; however, it poses some challenges that must first be addressed. The authorship of Job is commonly held to be a composite of anonymous writings, spanning various many centuries.[vi] The dates of composition range from 7th-4th century BCE. This poses the biggest problem, for this time period is completely after the exile of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 BCE, and predominantly after the exile of the Southern Kingdom of Judah in 586 BCE. Therefore, how can this be an example of pre-exilic Jewish thought if written mostly during and after the exiles? There are a couple of theories that, when considered together, posit an answer for this question. First, evidence shows that the story of Job is highly influenced by Babylonian and Edomitic mythology that pre-dates the exile of the Jews, and which would have been handed down orally for centuries pre-dating the composition of this text.[vii] Secondly, from a narrative standpoint, the story is told from the perspective of the patriarchs, the time of Abraham and Isaac, before the exodus and the kingdom. Considering these two theories, it is acceptable that the authors or the text are presenting views from the time before the exile.
Though perhaps not the primary question of the book, the narrative deals heavily with theodicy—why the good suffer and the wicked flourish. Indeed, while on the surface this may seem to be the same question that arises in apocalyptic literature, it is the answer and the manifestation of justice that make this uniquely pre-exilic Judaism.
Narratively the composition can be broadly mapped as follows:
I: Job’s Wealth and Trials (Ch.1-2)
II: First Speeches and Responses (Ch. 3-14)
III: Second Speeches and Responses (Ch. 15-21)
IV: Third Speeches and Responses (Ch. 22-28)
V: Job’s Final Plea (Ch. 29-31)
VI: Elihu’s Speech (Ch. 32-37)
VII: The LORDS Speech (Ch. 38-41)
VIII: Job’s Restoration (Ch. 42)
For the purpose of this paper, we will focus only on Chapter 42; though a brief review is needed to understand the book as the whole. Job was a righteous man who lived in the land of Ur (1:1) and who was blessed by God with great wealth (1:3-4). One day, with Satan present, the Lord offers Job as an example of righteousness (1:8) and Satan asks that he be allowed to test Job to prove to the Lord that Job is only faithful because he is blessed with abundance (1:9-12). Satan first tests Job by killing his livestock, servants, and children, and Job responds by blessing the name of the Lord (1:13-22). Next Satan inflicts Job with bodily sores from head to toe (2:7). His wife tries to get Job to denounce God, and Job’s three friends (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) come to visit him in his suffering (2:9-13). What follows from chapters 3-28 is a series of speeches in which Job’s friends insist he must have sinned to incite God’s wrath, and Job’s unwavering, though distraught, adherence to God. From Chapters 29-31 Job pleads to God for an answer about why he is suffering these in inequities. In 32-37, Elihu, a young man witnessing the argument, steps in and pleads God’s case to Job. 38-41 consist of God’s answer to Job, in which He states that Job cannot possibly understand the nature of God’s eternal and divine plan. Finally, chapter 42 is the restoration of Job and the focus of this exegesis.
Job first responds to God’s chastisement, which seems to be a measure of righteousness based on his acceptance and repentance. In 42:2, Job acknowledges the omnipotence of God and the certainty of His providence—it cannot be “thwarted”. In verses 3-5 Job responds to the direct words of God’s speech—“who is this who hides council without knowledge”[viii]—Job acknowledges that he has acted foolishly, doubting the council of the LORD and admits that now “[his] eyes see [God]”. Finally, in verse six Job says, “I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes”. The fact that Job despises himself is proof of his penitence, and while the dust and ashes seem ambiguous, it may refer to an acknowledgment of God’s power to cast Job to death if he so desires—from dust and ashes Job was created, and to those he returns at death. The focus is the recognition of Job’s humble contrition, which in God’s eyes makes him righteous (Psalm 51).
In verses 7-9, the true effect of Job’s righteousness first begins to show—God, though angry at Job’s three friends for what is, in effect, slander, instructs Job to intercede for them. “The LORD is far from the wicked, but he hears the prayer of the righteous” (Prov. 15:29). The very fact that God hears Job’s plea for his friends is proof that he is righteous, and as such, God will justly restore what belongs to Job.
Verse 10 is arguably the crux of the entire chapter—“And the Lord restored the fortunes of Jobwhen he had prayed for his friends ; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before”. The restoration of Job is God’s just response to Job’s obedience and action . Furthermore, loosely according to Mosaic Law (Ex 22:3)[ix], God justly restores twice as much to Job as was taken. Verse twelve states, “The Lord blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning”, and indeed Job was so blessed that he even gave his daughters an inheritance (v. 9), a practice that would have been unheard of in Job’s day considering he had seven son’s. This seems to signify that Job was blessed beyond measure. Finally, Job lived 144 (12 x12 or a multitude) more years and saw 4 more generations of his family, until he died old and “full of days”. This again points to Job’s blessing, but seems to imply that death was the end, not the beginning of his justice.
Job is the best example of a narrative concerning pre-exilic Jewish justice. Job, a righteous man and worthy God’s positive justice, is tried by Satan in a test of his righteousness. Though Job wavers slightly and questions God, he never strays from his righteous path and shows a contrite heart despite his suffering. For this, Job is rewarded by a restoration of his worldly good in this life . There is no waiting until death for his reward; in fact, his death seems to bring no consolation at all. This was the problem that the Jews of the post-exile began see.
[i] Freedman, David Noel, ed. The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol 3. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 1127.
[ii] Vanhoozer, Kevin J., ed. Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible. (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009), 415.
[iii] Freedman, 1128
[vi] Coogan, Michael D. ed. The New Oxford Annoted Bible: Augmented Third Edition , (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007) 726.
[vii] Ibid. (cf. Buttrick, George Arther, ed., The Interpreters Bible, Vol 3. (New York: Abingdon, 1954.), 878)
[viii] All Bible passages taken from the NRSV
More by this Author
Furthering my integration of Theology and Psychology, this hub explains Kholberg's stages of Moral development, as well as Virtue, and asks the philosophical question about how the two interact. If you like hard...
J.R.R. Tolkien is arguably one of the most beloved and influential writers of modern times. His works are also inherently (though not obviously) Christian in nature. Read this article to learn more about Tolkien as a...
The following is not meant to be a step by step manual for fixing a bad relationship. Rather, it is meant to be an examination of one's self and the relationship as a method of analysis to figure out what aspects of the...