As I noted in a previous series of posts, most scholars nowadays presume that the clear eschatological promises and expectations woven throughout the New Testament "Scriptures" have not yet been fulfilled, even though they also clearly read as though they were meant to be interpreted as to-be-fulfilled in that first century generation. In this post I want to continue that sporadic series I started late last year.
For those who follow this blog, it should already be abundantly clear that I have thought about this academically hot topic in lengthy detail for over a decade (see here and here and here and here and here and here), so this isn't some kind of stream-of-consciousness eisegesis or exegesis on my part. I have researched this topic extensively, and I have reached a point in life when I am willing to share how I feel about it all. I am seriously bothered by both the hubris of many contemporary biblical scholars and the apathetic torpor of brilliant academicians who specialize in the field of Second-Temple Judaism and early Christianity. Even though most of them admit that the New Testament corpus of literature clearly refers to first century cataclysmic events about "the end of the world" in direct relation to first century historical events surrounding the Roman/Jewish wars, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the fall of Herod's Temple in AD 70 (the axis mundi of first century Rabbinic Judaism), they all nevertheless invent farcically esoteric theories and inane paradigms for interpreting first century Judean eschatological language to justify their presumption that such "prophecy" and historical allusions to first century events were not really divinely revelatory prior to the events they describe, and also did not actually become fulfilled in the first century. All "prophecy" supposedly must be recorded to look like they're referring to past events. But it wasn't all true prophecy anyway, because we know that the end of the world has not literally occurred yet, according to Gospel prophecy. At best, the parousia of Christ has been delayed thousands of years, and no one knows the day nor the hour.
I have hundreds of pages of notes among scholarly publications that I own, highlighting such professional opinions. After all these years of trying to become convinced along with them, I now think that such presumptions are based entirely upon official yet questionable dogmas that developed organically through various politically and ecclesiologically philosophical concerns which arose centuries after the Second-Temple early Christian period. Only those scholars who are not beholden to questionable tribalistic dogmas are brave enough to challenge the status quo, reading the texts with literary, historical, and rhetorical integrity.
Although today's post is only topically related to the subject of New Testament eschatological fulfillment in the first century, I consider this post to be a unique and important shift in perspective. I have never commented publicly at length about Christian "scriptures" that are clearly pseudepigraphic and vaticinium ex eventu. In the past I have insisted that the New Testament Scriptures are historically reliable and rhetorically coherent, or else they are false and unreliable witnesses to first century expectations and events. In this post, I'm not going to stop insisting as much. Instead, I will be upping the ante to such positions. Despite the many and disjointed scholarly conjectures about New Testament eschatological promises being unfulfilled and delayed, even delayed beyond our own future (in the present time), I will be insisting in future posts that a huge amount of writings outside of the New Testament literary corpus actually bear witness to the New Testament eschatological expectations, and thereby testify literarily to first century historical events being their actual fulfillment. I will be upping the ante today by using pseudepigraphic, ex eventu "scriptures" to illustrate that first century fulfillment was the primary reason for composing such "scriptures."
In this post, I want to show how one, small, and highly relevant piece of pseudepigraphic Jewish-Christian literature that has clearly been written after the events of AD 70 (and thereby vaticinium ex eventu by design), can be an extremely valuable and helpful specimen for understanding and appreciating the New Testament eschatological message of first century fulfillment. The specimen of which I am speaking is known as 4 Baruch (the Paraleipomena Jeremiou, also known in the Ethiopic tradition as "The rest of the words of Baruch," the scribe of Israel's prophet, Jeremiah).
Below is an excerpt taken from Dale C. Allison's translation of 4 Baruch 9:7-21.
...After saying these things, and while standing in the area of the altar with Baruch and Abimelech, he became like one of those handing over his soul. And Baruch and Abimelech remained weeping and crying with a great voice, "Woe to us because our father Jeremiah, the priest of God, has left us and gone away." All the people heard their weeping, and they all ran to them, and they saw Jeremiah lying on the ground as though dead. And they tore their garments and put dust on their heads and wept most bitterly. And after these things, they prepared themselves to bury him. And behold! a voice came, saying "Do not bury one who yet lives, because his soul is returning to his body again." And when they heard the voice, they did not bury him, but for three days they remained in a circle around his body, talking (with each other) and being perplexed as to what time he was going to stand up. After three days, his soul re-entered his body, and he raised his voice in the midst of all and said,
"Glorify God with one voice, all (of you) glorify God and the Son of God who awakens us, Jesus Christ the light of all the ages, the unquenchable light, the life of faith. And it will happen after these times that there will be another 477 years, and he will come to earth.1 And the tree of life, which is planted in the middle of paradise, will make all the unfruitful trees bear fruit, and grow, and send forth shoots. And it will make the trees that had (sprouted) and grown great and said, 'We have sent our top to the sky,' together with their high branches, to shrivel up; and that firmly rooted tree will cause them to be condemned. And it will make that which is scarlet to become white as wool. The snow will be turned black, the sweet waters will become salty, and the salty will become sweet in the great light of the joy of God. And he will bless the islands so that they produce fruit by the word from the mouth of his Christ. For he will come, and he will go out, and he will choose for himself twelve apostles, so that they might preach the good news among the nations. He whom I have seen has been adorned by his Father, and he is coming into the world upon the Mount of Olives; and he will fill the hungry souls."
While Jeremiah was saying these things concerning the Son of God, that he is coming into the world, the people became furious and said, "These are once again the words spoken by Isaiah the son of Amos when he said, 'I saw God and the Son of God.' Come then, and let us not kill him by the death (with which we killed) that one, but let us stone him with stones."....2
In this story, the prophet Jeremiah is miraculously revived for the purpose of sharing an eschatological vision of Jesus Christ coming hundreds of years later, to the land of Israel. At that special eschatological time, "the tree of life" which is planted in the protological Garden of Eden --the "middle of paradise"-- will bring about miraculous change among the nations surrounding Israel: unfruitful trees will bear fruit and send out shoots for future Garden expansion. The apostate leadership of Israel, described throughout the literature of Second-Temple Judaism and early Christianity, are the trees who would be judged by God severely, for they would sprout and grow greatly, boasting like one who ascends to heaven, up to the plane of ruling stars. The surrounding trees of Israel would become shriveled up and condemned by "that firmly rooted tree" of life in the midst of Paradise.
At that time, that Tree in paradise will also reverse the fortunes of the surrounding trees of Israel's land in order to expand the Garden's fruitfulness. A tiny portion of this fortune-reversal pericope is structured chiastically, for poetic emphasis:
A) that which is scarlet will become white as wool (i.e. the "unclean" will become "clean")
B) the snow will be turned black (i.e. the "clean" will become "unclean")
B') the sweet waters will become salty (i.e. the "fresh" will become "repugnant")
A') the salty will become sweet (i.e. the "repugnant" will become "fresh")
Finally and wondrously, all of this would take place "in the great light of the joy of God." That Son of God, "Jesus Christ," whom Jeremiah had seen while lying on the ground in virtual death for three days, would come into the world upon the Mount of Olives, and fill the hungry souls. As Dale C. Allison, Jr. has highlighted:
A reader of the NT may think of stories in which Jesus is on the Mount of Olives... One might also recall the many texts in which the risen Jesus discourses on the Mount of Olives. It is more likely, however, that the second coming is in view. 4 Baruch takes up the language of Zech 14:4-5, an eschatological text which Jewish readers often connected with the resurrection of the dead and which some early Christian texts associated with the parousia. If so, 4 Baruch likely assumes, in line with a host of other ancient sources, that Jerusalem, the axis mundi, will be the center of the end-time events.3
Notice carefully that Allison presumes that Jesus' discourses on the Mount of Olives can be separated conceptually from the "second coming," the "parousia," and "the resurrection of the dead." According to Allison, the author of 4 Baruch imagines along with "a host of other ancient sources" that Jerusalem was the center of the end-time events, but Allison's own personal eschatological convictions about the parousia and the resurrection of the dead preclude the possibility of the "end times" actually being fulfilled in the destruction of first century Jerusalem. But why must we assume this, too?
Here's an honest question of mine: Why not consider all of those events taking place in that first century generation, as Jesus said it would?
Allison associates all of those things with a "second coming," a phrase that isn't even mentioned in the New Testament! The closest remark to a "second" coming of the Lord Jesus is found in Hebrews 9:28, which, in its very close context alongside verses 24-27 (compare with Heb. 9:8-9), clearly refers to Christ's appearance at the end of the ages, in that generation. The author of Hebrews is the one who defines the terms for us, and sets the time-frame in which the end of the ages takes place. He says that Christ "appeared" once "at the end of the ages" to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. It is in that immediate context that he also mentions that Jesus would "appear a second time" (which, if you were a recipient of this authentic letter among a first century audience, such an "appearance" would obviously be in that generation because the first "appearance" was at the end of the ages, not the beginning of the ages). That second appearance would not be to put away sin (which, in context, means to suffer repeatedly, to sacrifice himself again, etc.), but instead to save all those who eagerly waited for him. Such an eager expectation happens to comport very well with preterist hermeneutic, because most (!!) eschatological expectations of Second-Temple Judaism hoped for ancestors to be raised from the dead-ones in Hades/Sheol at the coming of Israel's Messiah.
Let's now rewind a bit, and get our focus back onto 4 Baruch.
Let's not forget that 4 Baruch is clearly vaticinium ex eventu and pseudepigraphic. Baruch, the servant of Jeremiah, did not prophesy about Jesus Christ by name, or his disciples by number. We should now be asking why anyone after the fulfillment of such extraordinary first century events would write as though they actually were old testament prophets of Israel, foreseeing motifs of eschatological renewal and resurrection hundreds of years in advance.
Let's now ask an obvious question: Why would an author (or redactor) of "scriptural" history such as 4 Baruch compose such a story?
Isn't it obvious that 4 Baruch was designed to persuade readers after the events of AD 70 that they had already been clearly fulfilled in that generation of Jesus and his apostles, within the first century?
For most Christians this is a large pill to swallow because it appears heterodox. I'm not bothered by such suspicions. I think there are numerous ways in which to fit such paradigms into orthodoxy; but sorting that out is not a concern of mine at the moment. For now, I'm just thinking out loud about what I have studied and how I think it can be interpreted; and I think there are only two ways to interpret 4 Baruch 9:7-21. Either the New Testament promises and expectations of imminent eschatological fulfillment were historically reliable and rhetorically coherent, or else they were false and unreliable witnesses to first century expectations and events. 4 Baruch was composed long after such first century fulfillment, to tell a story about the destruction of Jerusalem in Jeremiah's day. That story concludes with Jeremiah being martyred like Jesus Christ for telling Israel about a vision he had while lying as a dead man for three days. That vision was about the trees of Israel (i.e. the leaders) being condemned by God's chief and chosen tree, the Tree of life. That vision promised the definitive beginning of God's proctological Garden-expansion project finally getting underway; but that necessitated purging all the rotten trees around the Tree of life, in order to spread seeds of life upon the surrounding nations. At that time, the unclean would become clean, and the fresh waters of Israel would become repugnant. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, would come into the world upon the Mount of Olives and fill hungry souls. All of that, notably, referred to the appearing of Christ a second time in that generation, at the end of the ages, to save all those who eagerly waited for him. It alluded to the "end time events" of Zechariah 14, an eschatological text which ancient Jewish literature and iconography connected with the resurrection of the dead-ones from Sheol/Hades who had been awaiting eternal life with their promised Messiah's exaltation to the right hand of his Heavenly Father.
With all of this in mind, I still contend that if Christians continue to presume that the clear eschatological promises and expectations woven throughout the New Testament Scriptures have not yet been fulfilled, even though they also clearly read as though they were meant to be interpreted that way, the integrity of New Testament scriptures as historically reliable and rhetorically credible witnesses to Jesus Christ will never be taken seriously by the surrounding world.
4 Baruch is not an exception to that rule either. 4 Baruch 9:7-21 was meant to be interpreted as to-be-fulfilled in that first century generation in which Jesus, Israel's Messiah, had lived and died, was raised from the dead-ones, and was vindicated in the promised destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70, like YHWH's word was vindicated in his prophet Jeremiah's life and message about the destruction of Jerusalem and Israel's first temple (Jer. 52:12-16; cf. 2 Kings 25:8-12; 2 Chron. 36:17-21; Psa. 137).
1. The Greek manuscripts actually read εἰς τὴν γῆν, "into the land." The translation of γῆν as "earth" is often misleading because it is easily interpreted anachronistically. Ancient eastern cultures thought in terms of territories, tribes, and land.
3. Ibid. p. 443