Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Post-Mortem Salvation, Mercy for the Righteous, Elihu

I'm continuing my way through Justification and Variegated Nomism, Volume 1: The Complexities of Second Temple Judaism. I have three items:

1. Richard Bauckham talks about the Apocalypse of Zephaniah, which could date anywhere from the first century B.C.E.-the first century C.E., and its origin could be within Second Temple Judaism or even Christianity. The Apocalypse of Zephaniah has a view that was unusual within Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, according to Baukham, and that is that there is an opportunity for the wicked dead in the abyss to repent----at least prior to the last judgment. After the last judgment, however, the Apocalypse of Zephaniah concurs with other Jewish and Christian writings that the opportunity for repentance has passed.

2. On page 181, Bauckham discusses recipients of mercy. According to IV Ezra, or at least the "unconverted Ezra" in that book, God shows mercy to sinners who lack good works, not to the righteous. II Baruch and the Enoch traditions, by contrast, hold that God's mercy is specifically for the righteous, who have plenty of good works and yet are imperfect. This reminds me of a couple of things. First, there is Jesus' statements in the synoptic Gospels that he came to call not the righteous, but sinners. Second, I thought of how some scholars have characterized the position of the Judaizers whom Paul criticizes: that they already were good on account of their works, but that they still needed forgiveness (presumably through Christ's sacrifice) to take care of those few areas where they are imperfect. But Paul had a much dimmer view of humanity's sinfulness and predicament.

3. On page 200, Robert Kugler talks about the Testament of Job, and how Testament of Job 43 says that Elihu was possessed by Satan and thus lost his wealth. This interested me because I have long wondered how to regard Elihu's contribution to the Book of Job, which contains some of the same points that Job's other friends have made, and yet may also set the stage for God's rebuke to Job that Job does not know much. Elihu is not condemned at the end of the book, in contrast to Job's other friends, and scholars have said this is because Elihu's contribution was added later. Those who do not believe in those kinds of layers, however, have different explanations, such as one saying that Elihu was young and so God didn't criticize him, thinking that Elihu didn't know any better. It's interesting to see how Elihu is regarded within the History of Interpretation, and I see that the Testament of Job viewed him quite negatively.

I appreciated how the Jewish Encyclopedia characterized Elihu's speeches (see here): "God is the educator of mankind, who punishes only until the sinner has atoned for his sin and recognizes his wrong-doing. Then God has attained His object, to 'bring back his soul from the pit, to be enlightened with the light of the living' (xxxiii. 17-30). Elihu, therefore, holds a middle ground, maintaining that God neither 'takes away judgment,' nor sends suffering merely as a punishment, but acts as the educator and teacher of mankind (xxxiv. 5; xxxv. 1, 14; xxxvi. 10, 22)."

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