M is for messianic: when the saints come floating in

Messianism is the second great heretical tendency, following quickly on the heels, nipping at the ankles of puritanism. The first disciples of Christ held several extravagant notions popular among the persecuted jews of his time. In particular, they believed, Christ himself had said it, that the end of the physical world would come in their own time; and they looked forward to the Last Judgement, the thousand-year reign of the Saints, and the violent destruction of the profane world.

These doctrines, a mixture of Old Testament and Christian prophecies, were brought into sharper focus after the death of Christ, by the great Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Vespasian. Their most famous expression was in the book of the Apocalypse, in which the pagan Roman Empire was clearly designated as the earthly Babylon, ripe for destruction.

—The concept of the Messiah in Jewish thought was far more complex before the destruction of the Second Temple (70 CE) than after. Neufeld contends, “contrary to traditional assumptions of a ubiquitous and consistent messianism in early Judaism, numerous recent studies have pointed out that messianism was a fluid and diverse phenomenon.” Over time, for obvious reasons, the established Jewish leadership refrained from defining the messiah in exalted terms, since radical messianism was explained to be a cause to the destruction for the Temple and to Israel’s dispersion. According to Kay Smith, of Azusa Pacific University, “from approximately the 3rd century BCE, to the 2nd century CE, the Jewish world was very pluralistic. During the Second Temple period, Jews interpreted and interacted with their scriptures differently than today.” Read More:http://www.kesherjournal.com/Issue-23/Complexity-in-Early-Jewish-Messianism

But, once again the fourth century brought a change. When Rome became a Christian state, and the Christian church began to enjoy secular power, the orthodox gradually lost the taste for revolutionary doctrines. If the secular state were to blow up, the established church would blow up as well, and that did not now seem as desirable as previously thought. So, the old texts were reinterpreted. The Apocalypse was omitted from the canon of Scripture by the Council of Laodicea; Saint Augustine afterward explained it away as a pious allegory; and in 1431 the whole idea of the millennium was condemned at the Council of Ephesus as a superstitious aberration.

—The main tendency in New Testament scholarship for over a hundred years has been to attempt to resolve these difficulties by denying the historical reality of Jesus’ claim to messiahship. Scholars of this viewpoint maintain that Jesus did not regard himself as the Messiah at all and that his disciples proclaimed him the Messiah after his death. Jesus, they claim, could not have foreseen his rejection, death, and resurrection, as ‘the idea of a suffering, dying, and rising Messiah or son of Man was unknown to Judaism. But can this view be supported? Read More:http://www.kesherjournal.com/Issue-23/Complexity-in-Early-Jewish-Messianism image:http://travsd.wordpress.com/2012/01/18/stars-of-vaudeville-426-danny-kaye/

Those who insisted on clinging to the pre-establishment ideas of Christianity found themselves as newly minted heretics; and convincing themselves, as heretics tend to do, that they were the only true Christians, they still looked on Rome, though now Christian, as Babylon and on its ruler as the betrayer of Christ, Antichrist.

—Appropriating the Johannine tradition, moreover, Kemper explicitly identifies the Messiah as the Torah or the Word, the “mystery of the bread of the New Testament.” Kemper extends this older notion and links Jesus symbolically to the holiday of Pentecost, the fiftieth day after Passover, which in the rabbinic imagination celebrates the giving of Torah at Sinai. Having identified Jesus in this manner, Kemper is able to apply the kabbalistic interpretation of Pentecost to the Messiah. That is, according to the standard symbolism affirmed in works of theosophic kabbalah, Pentecost is identified with the third of the ten gradations, which is called most frequently Binah, the attribute of God’s understanding. —Read More:http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/journals/ssr/issues/volume1/number1/ssr01-01-a02.html image:http://entertainment.desktopnexus.com/wallpaper/436283/

When Biblical interpretation could lead to such practical inconveniences as this, clearly something had to be done about the Bible. One answer which, as we have seen,was found useful, was to evade inconvenient or unedifying texts by representing them as allegorical. Unfortunately, allegory is a game at which two can play, and before long the established church would find that while its tame theologians were using it to explain away subversive texts, impertinent heretics were using it to explain away useful and orthodox texts. In the end the Church would come to the view that the best thing to do with the Bible was to suppress it altogether: to keep it firmly locked up in dead languages and to dole out to the people only such texts and such interpretations, as could not possibly raise any doubts about the divine basis of the established church and all its practices.


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