Three Key Questions a A Grand Narrative

We have talked about a larger story. But should we be thinking of a single larger story? Can these different strands be combined into what historians have called a single 'grand narrative'? The historians' idea of a 'grand narrative' is rooted in the biblical conception of history as a linear and purposeful progression. So perhaps the collapse of that idea among contemporary historians (in reference to modernity)86 should serve as a cue to biblical scholars to rethink the issue. The same warning has to be sounded if we assume that the different strands are parts of a coherent whole which we can now reconstruct; or, to change to the image of a jig-saw puzzle, if we assume that there must be a complete picture which we

(19-163); for the theme in 4 Ezra see M. E. Stone, Fourth Ezra (Hermeneia: Minneapolis: Fortress, 1990) 149-51.

81. Exod. 32.32-33; Ps. 69.28; Dan. 7.10; 12.1; Mai. 3.16; Mb. 30.19-23; 36.10; 39.6; 1 En. 89.61-64, 70-71; 98.7-8; 104.7; 108.7; CD 2Q.\Q\Apoc. Zeph. 7.1-8; T.Abr. (A) 12.7-18; 13.9-14.

82. Dan. 7.22 LXX; Mb. 32.19; Wis 3.8; lQpHab 5.4; cf. 1 En. 95.3; 1QS 5.6-7; 1(JJ 12[= 4].26; 1QM6.6; 11.13f.; T. Abr.(A) 13.6\Apoc.Ab. 22.29. The thought is clearly echoed in 1 Cor. 6.2.

83. Isa. 26.19; Dan. 12.2-3; Hos. 6.2; 2 Macc. 7.10-11, 14,23, 29; 1QH 19[= 11].12-14; Shemoneh Esreh 2. See further below § 17.6b.

84. Pss. Sol. 14.6; 15.10; 1 En. 22.10-13; 103.7-8; 2En. 10; 40.12-42.2.

85.1 En. 27.1-2; 54.6; 90.25; 91.14; 100.9; 103.7; 4Ezra 7.36-38; cf. already Isa. 66.24. See further J. Jeremias, hades and geenna, TDNT1 (1964) 146-48, 657-58.

can somehow hold in our minds apart from the pieces (the picture on the box) and which we can use to fit the pieces together to make up the whole. For the various attempts of twentieth-century scholars to construct other larger myths from what they took to be the extant parts do not inspire confidence.87 What became apparent was that the resulting myths were the constructs of twentieth-century scholarship rather than of the ancients themselves. Should, then, alternatively, the various motifs be regarded simply as a sequence of disparate insights, hopes, and aspirations which were put forward without any pretence to completeness?

Probably so. In sequencing the above themes I have attempted to put them in an appropriate order. But how the themes are to be related to one another is hardly clear. For example, Ezekiel 34 envisages both Yahweh restoring and pastoring his sheep and David as shepherd (34.1 1-16, 23-24); the Messiah figure does not seem to play any part in the return of Israel from exile. Does the return of Yahweh to Zion depend on the Temple being rebuilt? How to square the different expectations regarding the Gentiles in regard to restored Israel? Are tribulation and judgment the same thing? Was the hope of new creation simply a more radical expression of hope for restored prosperity? Texts like Isaiah and Jubilees correlate some of the motifs, but leave others uncorrelated. The animal apocalypse of 1 Enoch (chs. 85-90) is the nearest attempt at comprehensiveness, but not all of the above strands are woven in. 4 Ezra also helps clarify some of the sequence probably most often in view: 'the day of judgment will be the end of this age and the beginning of the immortal age to come, in which corruption has passed away, sinful indulgence has come to an end, unbelief has been cut off, and righteousness has increased and truth has appeared'

More important, we need to recall that many of the texts covered in the above review are sectarian in character. By no means can we assume that each text expressed a broad consensus view. The point is not simply that we need to allow, in effect, for different 'Judaisms' and thus for different 'stories' by which different Jews interpreted their lives and expressed their hopes. It is more the fact that other Jews, other Jewish sects, often fell under the condemnations or were excluded from the hopes expressed in these documents. In other words, the factionalism of Second Temple Judaism reinforces the fragmentary, and indeed disputed, character of many of these hopes in the detail with which they were spelled out.88 None of this is to deny that those who spoke with hope for the future trusted implicitly that Yahweh is king and that he had a coherent purpose for Israel which he was in process of unfolding. It is simply to recognize the tensions

87. I refer to the 'Mandean fever' of the early decades of the century and the quest for the pre-Christian Gnostic redeemer myth and 'the divine man'.

between the strands and the various expressions of that hope and to acknowledge not least the tensions between the different strands of Second Temple Judaism which expressed what may still have been a common hope rather differently.89 One visionary's 'coherent story' is not easily synthesized with another's.

This should not occasion any surprise to those familiar with the tradition. A study of early Christian expectation gives an equally fragmentary yield, a series of flashes of insight into what might be expected, which are equally difficult to synthesize.90 And Christians of successive generations have been content to affirm a hope of heaven, even though the scope of that hope is hard to articulate beyond a sequence of glimpses afforded in Christian tradition — the parousia (return) of Christ, resurrection and judgment, no marriage or sexual relations, a heavenly banquet, participation in the worship of heaven, and so on — hardly a coherent story or grand narrative of life beyond death.

Insofar, then, as Jesus' kingdom talk 'plugs into' the Jewish expectation of the time, we have to bear in mind the same question as to whether he and his hearers operated with a single, comprehensive story. Or should we be prepared for an equivalent series of glimpses of the beyond and flashes of insight, rather than a coherent, complete story?

Was this article helpful?

0 0
Study Aid

Study Aid

This Book Is One Of The Most Valuable Resources In The World When It Comes To Getting A Scholarship And Financial Support For Your Studies.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment