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Preterism and the Study of Apocalyptic Literature During the Intertestamental Period

“Gary Amirault” writes:I donʼt see, Ed, how the intertestamental period presents a problem to preterism. First of all, I donʼt believe they were ordained Scriptures.
Preterism and the Study of Apocalyptic Literature

Edward: I donʼt either. However, I think the world-ending apocalyptic ideas in certain intertestamental writings contained very similar ideas, expectations and phrases to those found in the “ordained” Christian Scriptures. Which is why I doubt that either the intertestamental works, or the early Christian works, were “ordained.”

Speaking of responses to Preterism, over a hundred years ago, Strauss in two chapters of The Life of Jesus Critically Examined, disputed it and other conservative attempts to preserve the Bibleʼs inerrancy concerning predictions of Jesusʼs parousia. And there is a non-Christian (an atheist) on the web who has composed a feisty response to Preterism.

Speaking of Preterism itself, “Partial” and “Full” Preterists disagree on how to interpret various Scriptures. And if you type into google, “Problems with Preterism,” you can even find conservative Evangelical Christians with a third opinion, i.e., they argue for an interpretive outlook called “historicism” and disagree with both Preterism and Futurism.

Speaking of more mainstream moderate/liberal scholarship, see Professor James D.Taborʼs “Jewish Roman World of Jesus” website which discusses some of the most interesting intertestamental writings and contains much useful scholarly data, here and here, and here.

Another interesting mainstream scholarship online article about N.T. expectations of the end is Jona Lenderingʼs, “The 77 Generations

Thereʼs also my article, “The Lowdown on Godʼs Showdown” that contains footnotes on the meaning of Lukeʼs “time of the Gentiles” that go hand in hand with what Lendering wrote above about the “77 generations” in Luke.

Gary: The Jews did not end up including them in their canon. They are filled with Persian beliefs…

Edward: Yes, the book of Daniel and its final judgment scenario probably owe a debt to previously developed Persian beliefs about the final judgment and afterlife. Daniel stands out among every other book in the O.T. for having definite ideas about the afterlife and final judgment, and scholars believe it was a edited into its final form, later than all other O.T. books. That reinforces the case made by mainstream scholars who study the rise of apocalyptic during the intertestamental period. For information on Daniel, the date of its final edit (some portions of it were added later than others), and the way it fit into the rise of intertestamental apocalyptic interest and writings. See the works of one of the worldʼs greatest living Daniel scholars, John Joseph Collins: The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception (2-Volume Set), Eds., John Joseph Collins & Peter W. Flint (2001); Daniel: A Commentary on the Book of Daniel (Hermeneia: A Critical and Historical Commentary on the Bible) by John Joseph Collins, et al (1994); Daniel: With an Introduction to Apocalyptic Literature (Forms of the Old Testament Literature, Vol 20) by John Joseph Collins, et al (Paperback 1984); The Apocalyptic Vision of the Book of Daniel (Harvard Semitic Monographs, No. 16) by John Joseph Collins; The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism: Apocalypticism in the Modern Period and the Contemporary Age by Stephen J. Stein (Editor), John Joseph Collins; Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls by John Joseph Collins (Paperback 1997); The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (The Biblical Resource Series) by John Joseph Collins (Paperback 1998); Seers, Sybils, and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, V. 54) by John Joseph Collins & Florentino Garcia Martinez (Paperback 2001)

Gary:…which unfortunately found their way into Christianity via the Greek Old Testament, that is, the Septuagint. However, the great battle, the end of the world, etc can all be found in the New Testament.

Edward: The idea of a great battle was found in the Dead Sea Scrolls before Jesus was born. Of course there probably will continue as always to be wars. Some chance of even a nuclear holocaust. Especially after the planet reaches 10 billion and nations are trying to grab their last share of the water, oil, and rare minerals on this dying corpse of a planet. And then of course, the last few human beings will struggle to survive and hold on for a couple more generations in a world limited to pre-medieval technology. And then if they die out, the human-less planet earth will continue spinning in space until the sun goes nova. And even then our galaxy will probably still be around, as will billions of other galaxies. At what point in cosmic time does Jesus return?

Gary: The apostles truly felt they were living at the “end of the world,” and from a Jewish point of view, they WERE living at the end of the world, that is, the end of the Mosaic Priesthood, the end of the Old Covenant,

Edward: In the pseudepigraphical “letters of Peter” in the N.T., the “second letter of Peter” talks about mockers coming in the last days and asking “where is the sign of his coming?” According to you, Peter could have easily referred such mockers to “the end of the Mosaic Priesthood and end of the Old Covenant,” since Jesusʼ death and resurrection had settled those matters already, viz., see the book of Hebrews. Or, according to your view, Peter could have pointed without doubt to the soon coming destruction of Jerusalem (which was probably already destroyed when those pseudepigraphical letters were composed!), but instead, Jerusalem is NOT mentioned at all. The “coming” is considered as something that would happen later (perhaps a thousand years later), and in the following terms:

1st Peter:
…The glory that is soon [mello] to be revealed…[5:1]
He [Jesus] was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times [or last days, or end of times]…[1:20]
The end of all things is at hand. [4:7]
In 2nd Peter 3:8 a feeble attempt is made to explain Jesusʼ delay by stating:
With the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.
Such a late attempt to make excuses for Jesusʼ delay is an obvious failure. It makes a mockery of all the predictions made by earlier authors in the New Testament. It is like saying that when God “inspired” the Biblical authors to say they were living in the “last hour,” or in the “last days,” or when He inspired the author of Hebrews to write that it was only a “very little while” before the “Son of Man” would “come,” God really meant “hours” and “days” and “very little whiles” that were “thousands” of years long. In other words, it implies that God was unable to put words into the minds of his prophets that meant what He intended them to mean, and had to cover His tracks at a later date (i.e., in a late-dated letter) by ignoring or redefining a host of words. The excuse offered by the author of 2nd Peter even contradicted the predictions in 1st Peter that “the glory is soon to be revealed,” and the “end of all things is at hand.” Moreover, even the author of 2nd Peter did not suspect that the end was very far off, certainly he did not imagine it to be as far as 2000 years in the future, for he also wrote:
God is not slack concerning his promise, the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night: what manner of persons ought you [the second century Christians he was addressing] to be…looking for, and hastening the coming of God…we are looking for new heavens, and a new earth. [2 Pet 3:9-13]
How come Peter isnʼt focusing on the main focus that Preterists want him to focus on, i.e., the destruction of Jerusalem? Instead heʼs focusing on typical apocalyptic expectations.

And he add Edward: …In the last days mockers will come with their mocking, following after their own lusts, and saying, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all continues just as it was from the beginning of creation.” [2 Pet 3:3-4]
Obviously these “mockers” were asking, “Where is the promise of his coming,” because the earliest Christians like Paul, James, the authors of the Johannine letters, the author of Hebrews, and the author of Revelation all predicted the very soon return of Jesus in final judgment of the WHOLE world. By the time 2nd Peter was written, these “fathers” had all “fallen asleep,” including, one might add, Peter himself, the alleged author of this very late letter. So somebody in the church took it upon themselves to write (or should I say, felt inspired by God to make up excuses) a pseudonymous letter attributed to Peter and supposedly written before his death, as a last ditch effort to counter such “mockery.”
The author of the letter of Jude (a letter composed even later than the pseudonymous 2nd Peter) reproduced the above passage from 2 Peter to illustrate that the end could not be far off, since “mockers” were plaguing the church in his day with this very same question, and notice the reply given to those mockers, the reply being taken from another pseudepigraphical work, The Book of Enoch!
Certain persons have [present tense, i.e., in Judeʼs day] crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for condemnation…these men revile the things they do not understand…about these Enoch prophesied saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment.”
…But you, beloved, remember the words spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ, that they were saying to you, “In the last times there shall be mockers, following after their own ungodly lusts.” [Jude 4, 10, 14-15, 17-18]
Thus, the authors of both Jude and 2nd Peter agreed that they were addressing mockers then plaguing the church, and they replied to such mockers with expectations of

  1. “Glory soon to be revealed,”
  2. “A new heaven and earth.”
  3. And a prophecy from Enoch, “Enoch prophesied saying, ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment.’” For some reason, the certain prophecy of the soon destruction of Jerusalem, or any mention of Jerusalem in fact, simply escapes both “Peter” and “Jude.” It looks as if they were replying to the “mockers” with expectations of an apocalyptic other worldly visible coming and final judgment of the entire world, not just “Jerusalem,” which 2 Peter however adds cautiously, could be a thousand years away—a last desperate attempt to try and take focus off the delay of the parousia.
Gary: the end of them being Godʼs representatives in this world. And New Heavens and Earth were right upon them, that is a New Covenant which was typified by Heavens and Earth both in the Old testament and the New.

Edward: If you can believe that the expectation of a new “heavens and earth” meant simply the destruction of Jerusalem,
…and believe that “Enochʼs prophecy,” ‘Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of his holy ones to execute judgment,’ meant simply the destruction of Jerusalem (When It Means No Such Thing In The Book Of Enoch Itself!)…

…and believe that when the angels prophesied in Acts at Jesusʼ ascension, “You shall see Jesus return just as he has left,” refers to the destruction of Jerusalem

…and other explicit apocalyptic verses of warning in Paulʼs letters to churches quite distant from Jerusalem, also referred to the destruction of Jerusalem? As when Paul wrote:…the rulers of this age…are passing away [“will not last much longer” - Todayʼs English Version].…Do not go on passing judgment before the time [i.e., “before the time” of final judgment which he predicted was near at hand], but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of menʼs hearts…The time has been shortened so that from now on both those who have wives should be as though they had none [i.e., Paul preached that the time was so “short” that it was better if married Christian couples “from now on” treated each other as if they were not married, probably a reference, among other things, to the path of abstaining from sex that Paul mentions in that same chapter in 1 Cor.]; and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it [i.e., they should be concentrating on serving God whose final judgment was not long off]; for the form of this world is passing away [“This world, as it is now, will not last much longer” - Todayʼs English Version]…These things were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come…Proclaim the Lordʼs death until he comes [i.e., Paul did not say, “Proclaim the Lordʼs death until the day you die,” but rather, “until he comes,” which means that he considered Christʼs coming to be nearer than the time when the believers he was writing to would all be dead]. We [Paul and the first century believers being addressed] shall not all sleep……At the last trumpet…the dead will be raised…and we shall be changed. Maranatha [=“Come Lord”] [1 Cor 2:6; 4:5; 7:29-31; 10:11; 11:26; 15:51-52; 16:22]

Or consider what Paul wrote to the believers at Thessalonica:…how you turned to God from idols…to wait for His Son from heaven [Compare 1 Cor 1:7, “…awaiting eagerly the revelation (revealing) of our Lord Jesus Christ,” and, Heb 9:28, “Christ…shall appear a second time…to those who eagerly await Him.” These instructions to “eagerly wait” for Christʼs return reveal how imminent the second coming of Jesus was believed to be.]…For who is our…crown…Is it not even you [the first century Christians being addressed], in the presence of our Lord Jesus at his coming?…May establish your hearts…before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints. For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we [Paul and the first century Christians being addressed] who are alive and remain [notice how Paul included himself as one who will still be alive] until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep…the dead in Christ shall rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air…May your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. [1 Thes 1:9,10; 2:19; 3:13; 4:15-17; 5:23]

Historical Bible scholars (not to be confused with conservative Evangelical Christian “historicists”) see no need to advance an interpretation that attempts to define so many things in terms of the “destruction of Jerusalem” and a metaphorical “coming” of Jesus, because they know what intertestamental apocalyptic was preaching, and can see how early Christianity parallels it (right down to making similar excuses for “failed” expectations of the “last generation!”— see James D. Taborʼs articles above on such failed “last generation predictions among the authors of the Dead Sea Scrolls)

Question for Preterists, Why did 2nd Peter answer the “mockers of Jesusʼs coming” with the reply, “one day is as a thousand years?”

Gary: Surely the end of the Jewish world came at the end of the first century, right after the intertestamental writings: Ancient and Modern Traditions That Bind (This article deals with two major ones) by Gary Amirault

Edward: Gary, Thanks for sending that article. Is it located on your tentmaker site? Thatʼs an excellent piece youʼve written, and it should be required reading for all Pre-Mil Dispenstionalists. My online article, “The Lowdown on Godʼs Showdown” is also cited at Preterist websites, because thereʼs a lot of verses whose “temporal meanings” both preterists and historical students of the intertestamental period of apocalypticism agree on. So, I certainly agree with your many statements in your article that stress the temporal nearness of Jesusʼs coming, as believed by first century Christians living a generation after his death.

I also understand Miles Coverdaleʼs statements which I looked up on the web. Coverdale argues that metaphors were lifted from the O.T. and applied by the authors of the N.T., so N.T. authors cited ancient metaphors taken from their most prized holy books, the Hebrew Scriptures.

What Coverdale overlooks or perhaps ignores is that words and phrases are not locked into the same meanings they possessed ages ago. The old phrases and metaphors were being used in a new apocalyptic context. There was an increasing pessimism about world history and about the extent of control that “evil” had over the entire world. It was believed that world history was nearing its end, the ruling empires of the earth being listed from “head to toe” of a statue in Danielʼs dream, the head of the statue being gold (most valuable), then silver, brass, iron, and finally the “feet” were “iron and clay.” The outlook was so bleak once you got to the “feet of iron and clay” that only a supernatural intervention could reverse matters and set the worldʼs governance right.

Consider also that the book of Daniel was composed from the alleged point of view of a Jew living in ancient Persia circa 600 B.C.E. who had visions of “the time of the end,” or, “the end of the days [ages],” when those who “sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” “Shut up the words, and seal the book,” he was commanded, until the day of final judgment. The fact that the book of Daniel came to light 400+ years after its alleged “shutting/closing,” is evidence that expectations of an imminent final judgment existed at that time, circa 165 B.C.E. Neither was the idea of “ancient books” being “found” near the “end of time” an uncommon motif. See for instance the book (actually “books”) of “Enoch,” written from the alleged point of view of a patriarch who lived before the Flood of Noah, his writing being rediscovered “seventy generations” later.
See Jona Lenderingʼs, “The 77 Generations

In the case of the book of Daniel it came to light at a time in Hebrew history when a Greek despot, Antiochus (160s B.C.E.), was trying to force the Jews to accept the Greek religion. Such persecution included the crucifixion of thousands of Jews, and the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem by Antiochusʼ dedication of it to the Greek god, Zeus. Given such events, it is little wonder that the thought crossed the minds of many devout Jews (along with the author of the book of Daniel) that the final judgment of humankind could not be far off, but indeed must be near:

“They shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate…There shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book. And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever. But thou, O Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book, even to the time of the end: many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased [speaking of the day of the Greek rulers of Palestine, who probably boasted of the superior knowledge of Greek civilization, circa 165 B.C.E.]…Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end [circa 165 B.C.E.]. Many shall be purified, and made white, and tried; but the wicked shall do wickedly: and none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand…But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days [or end of the ages].” (Daniel 11:31 & 12:1-4, 9-10,13)

The description of “the end” found in Daniel 12 was in the minds of devout pre-Christian Jews who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls who lived to see their country taken over by the Romans. The description of “the end” also entered the minds prominently of 1st-century C.E. prophets and/or the followers of Jesus, since they had entered yet another era of fear, disillusionment and hope of supernatural rescue by God. The author (discoverer) of the book of Daniel and the author of the Gospel of Matthew both lived in times of occupation and subjugation by foreign rulers, one under the Greeks, one under the Romans, and both agreed that Godʼs final judgment of all humankind was imminent, the “end” could not be far off:
“The harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father…” (Matthew 13:40-41, based on the description of “the end” found in Daniel 12) “And he shall send his angels…and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other…This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled.” (Matthew 24: 31,34)

Christian viewed Jesus as being the supernatural intervener who would “set the world right” and vanquish the devilʼs influence. Jesus was even expected to be the first fruits of the general resurrection (see Daniel) which was expected soon by his followers—see Paul in his earliest letters, to the Thessalonians and Corinthians. But the general resurrection of the dead and the final judgment didnʼt happen, so Christian expectations about the nearness of the final general resurrection had to be explained away or excuses were invented in very late letters like 2 Peter.

In short, before Jesus was even born, people were looking for signs and hints that theirʼs was “the last generation,” the end of history, and that a final judgment and general resurrection could take place soon. People who lived before Jesus was even born were trying to decipher which generation would live to see “the end.” They divided history into various periods and claimed that things had reached “the end,” the “feet of iron and clay,” etc. Some also predicted that a mysterious Biblical figure like “Melchizadek” would be exalted to the role of world judge and come and judge the world. The Dead Sea Scrolls also mention another such figure, but donʼt name him. See James D. Taborʼs articles mentioned above.

The idea arose that a “son of man” would come and judge the world. That prediction was probably based on the image of the “son of man” mentioned in Daniel (though in Daniel the “son of man” was not meant literally, but was a corporate figure representing Israel coming to God, not a singular figure coming to the earth to judge it). However, the idea of a “son of man” mentioned in early Enochian speculations was that of a singular figure appointed by God to judge the world (though the Enochian “son of man” literature is difficult to date, probably close to the rise of Christianity if not parallel with it, two figures in the Dead Sea Scrolls DO pre-dated Christianity.) For more on the rise of intertestamental apocalyptic see James D. Taborʼs website as well as the following works: The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism: Apocalypticism in the Modern Period and the Contemporary Age by Stephen J. Stein (Editor), John Joseph Collins; Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls by John Joseph Collins (Paperback 1997); The Apocalyptic Imagination: An Introduction to Jewish Apocalyptic Literature (The Biblical Resource Series) by John Joseph Collins (Paperback 1998); Seers, Sybils, and Sages in Hellenistic-Roman Judaism (Supplements to the Journal for the Study of Judaism, V. 54) by John Joseph Collins & Florentino Garcia Martinez (Paperback 2001)

Gary: Contra Pre-Millennial Dispenstationalists, Preterists point out verses such as these in Hebrews:
1:2 “In these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world.” Note “last days.” The writer wrote to “Hebrews.” Surely he was speaking of his own time, not 2,000 years in the future.
Hebrews 10:25, 37 “Not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more, as you see the day drawing near. For yet in a very little while, he who is coming will come, and will not delay.” Hebrew was written just a few years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70AD which perfectly fits in to “a little while.” However, 2,000 years is a long delay.

Hebrews 9:26 “Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation, He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” The word “consummation” means “to complete entirely.” And when does this occur according to the author of Hebrews? “Now,” that is, 2,000 years ago.

Edward: Well spoken! To which I would only add the following points:

  1. No mention is made of the destruction of Jerusalem in those verses.

  2. Note the logic behind the argument in Hebrews 9:26. The author argued that continuous sinning “since the foundation of the world” required blood sacrifices “often.” But God saw to it that Jesusʼs sacrifice occurred at a time when no further sacrifices would be required. That time could only be “at the consummation” or “at the end of the age” when the time of final judgment for all sinners had arrived.

  3. Even worse is the fact that “at the consummation” can also be ranslated, “at the end of the age.” What does that phrase mean, “the end of the age?” A verse in the Gospel of Matthew defines it precisely: “At the end of the age…the Son of Man will send forth his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father.” (Mat.13:40-41 - the author evidently based his description of “the end of the age” on Daniel 12, which was a description of the final judgment of mankind) So that is exactly what the author of Matthew and the author of Hebrews predicted would happen in their day, i.e., the final judgment of mankind.

The End (pun intended)

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