Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Heavenly and Earthly Zion

In my latest reading of W.D. Davies' The Gospel and the Land, there were two issues that stood out to me.

1.  First, there was the issue of the heavenly Jerusalem.  According to Davies, there's a notion in the pseudepigrapha that the heavenly Jerusalem will one day come down to earth, at the time of Israel's eschatological restoration and renewal.  But, in the Tannaitic period, there was more of a notion that the heavenly Jerusalem would remain in heaven, meaning it would not descend to earth.  As far as the perspective that is in the New Testament is concerned, Davies notes that the Book of Revelation presents a new Jerusalem coming from heaven to earth, but that Revelation differs from strong elements of Judaism in that Revelation depicts the heavenly city as lacking a Temple.  Davies also mentions New Testament passages that imply or talk about a heavenly Zion or Jerusalem----in Galatians and Hebrews----but, as far as I could see (and I could have missed something), Davies does not comment on whether the authors of these passages believed that the new Jerusalem would descend from heaven to earth.

Something on page 162 stood out to me: "But God's habitat is not on earth: he is in heaven, and Zion, therefore, must have a heavenly reality."  The concept of a holy mountain has long puzzled me.  I've read that there was an ancient view that gods inhabited a mountain----think Mount Olympus.  Perhaps such a view is in the Hebrew Bible as well, for God is said to dwell in Zion, and Isaiah 14:13 depicts Helel (which the King James Version translates as "Lucifer") attempting to exalt himself as he plots to sit on a mountain in the sides of Zaphon.  Isaiah 14 also depicts Helel seeking to ascend to heaven above the stars, but perhaps Helel in the story thinks that the mountain is so high that it reaches up to heaven and is above the stars.

But maybe it was the case that there were ancients who realized that earthly mountains were not actually occupied by God or gods.  In the case of ancient Jewish authors who recognized this, how did they deal with passages about God dwelling in Zion?  Perhaps what they did was to say that God dwelt on a mountain in heaven, not on earth, and that was how the concept of a heavenly Zion developed.

2.  Second, Davies discusses the issue of Paul's stance regarding the earthly Temple.  Paul believed that believers were a Temple (I Corinthians 3:16), but does that mean that Paul dismissed the value of the earthly Temple?  I have not finished this chapter, so I do not currently know where Davies will land on this issue.  But what I got out of my latest reading was "not necessarily".  One reason Davies gives is that Qumran and the Pharisees believed that they were somehow creating holy space that was similar to what the Temple offered, and yet that did not mean that they opposed an earthly Temple in Jerusalem.  Qumran thought that the Jerusalem Temple was corrupt, but it envisioned a time when Jerusalem would be purified.  And the Pharisees recognized the Jerusalem Temple.  Another reason is that Paul appears to present a picture in which Jesus will come to earth, cleanse the earthly Temple of the man of sin, and restore Israel (Romans 11:26; II Thessalonians 2).

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