- Hardcover: 208 pages
- Publisher: The Seabury Press; First Edition edition (1968)
- Language: English
- ASIN: B0006BVIXQ
- Package Dimensions: 8 x 6 x 0.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
- Average Customer Review: 4 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #4,238,600 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Kingdom of God and Primitive Christianity Hardcover – 1968
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Schweitzer traces the Kingdom of God idea from the earliest prophetic writings and explains how it developed until the time of Jesus. He then explains how Jesus interpreted his own role in the Kingdom and how the Apostle Paul and the church passed it on. Schweitzer points out concepts of the Kingdom of God from the prophetic writings which were incorporated into the Christian faith.
In the 9th century BCE, Elijah and Elisha contended for the faith of Yahweh as Israel's God as opposed to Baal. Over time, the idea of "the day of Yahweh" emerged in which the God of Israel would prevail over and judge the nations which opposed Israel. In the 8th century BCE, Amos developed the idea further by stating that Israel would be judged as well and that only a righteous remnant would be saved.
The captivity and exile of Israel gave rise to prophetic writings which greatly developed the concept of the Kingdom of God. Here we have a restored and liberated Israel as the Kingdom of God led by a Davidic king anointed by God, ie a Messiah. We also have the ingathering of the 12 scattered tribes of Israel and a miraculous transformation of nature in the age to come. In Jeremiah, the exiles will be released from captivity, forgiven, and led by the spirit. We also have a future king arising from the "branch" of David. In Malachi we have the return of Elijah in the last days proclaiming the Day of Yahweh. In Joel we have the end times being heralded by an outpouring of the spirit and miracles and in Zechariah we have a pierced messiah and a smitten shepherd.
Schweitzer explains how the latter part of Isaiah (chapters 40 to 66), known as Deutero-Isaiah, seemed to have shaped much of Jesus' own beliefs in regard to the Kingdom. Here we have a new Heaven and a supernaturally transformed earth. Isaiah stresses the importance of ethics toward one's fellow man over ritual requirements of the law.
In the apocalyptic book of Daniel written in the second century BCE, we are introduced to the Son of Man and the idea of a resurrection of the dead to judgement in which the righteous would be rewarded.
The Jewish apocalyptic writings of late Judaism, ie contemporaneaous with Jesus, reveal further developments of the Kingdom of God which can be found in Christianity. In Enoch, the Son of Man figure is further developed as well as the exaltation of martyrs. In the Psalms of Solomon we have the tribulation of the end times. In Baruch and Ezra we have the concepts of original sin and a Heavenly Jerusalem. We also have the Messianic Kingdom preceding the eternal Kingdom of God which gave rise to the Christian idea of the millenium. In Baruch we have a Davidic messiah living in the last days who would rise from the dead and be transformed into a supernatural being who would begin his reign on earth. Jesus undoubtedly believed this about himself. Schweitzer suggests that Baruch and Ezra give us insights into first century apocalyptic ideas which the Apostle Paul may have been familiar with prior to his conversion.
Schweitzer uses the gospels of Matthew and Mark as the oldest and most reliable sources which illustrate Jesus' own concepts regarding the Kingdom of God.
John the Baptist's call for repentance was validated by water baptism which also prepared one for the future baptism of the spirit. The idea of being marked for salvation can be found in (Ezekiel 9:4) and the symbolic use of water to remove sins can be found in (Jeremiah 4:14; Zechariah 13:1; and Ezekiel 36:25). The baptism of the spirit in the end times is echoed in (Joel 2:28). This same imagery is also seen at rhe Pentecost.
Jesus made use of the Son of Man figure as the vehicle by which God would judge the earth and separate the righteous from the wicked. Schweitzer claims that Jesus believed that the Son of Man would return before his disciples would complete their journeys through Israel procalaiming the good news of the Kingdom. He also used the idea of the tribulation of the end times which his disciples would have to endure. Jesus took the role of the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 53 upon himself to spare his followers from the tribulation and to hasten the arrival of the Kingdom. "Lead us not into temptation" is a plea for his followers to be spared from the tribulation. Jesus also identified John the Baptist with Malachi's figure of Elijah in the end times.
Jesus was unique in that he combined the figures of the Son of Man and the Davidic Messiah as future roles for himself. Jesus was recognized as a prophet rather than a messiah since there cannot be a messiah without a kingdom. Jesus made use of (Psalm 110:1) to illustrate how he was subordinate to David in the present world but would be superior to David as the Messiah in the future Kingdom.
The original followers of Jesus believed he would return in glory as the Messiah in the near future. The Lord's Supper was originally a festive meal anticipating the heavenly banquet of (Isaiah 25:6-8). It was later transformed into a solemn event comemorating Jesus' death.
Eventually, the early Christians had to deal with the delay of Jesus' return. The Apostle Paul felt that the Kingdom had already arrived although was not fully manifested. To Paul, believers were transformed into a resurrected state to form a mystical body of Christ. Since they were living by the spirit, the ritual law, which applied to the former world, did not apply to them. The Jewish followers of Jesus felt that the Kingdom had not yet arrived and that the law was still valid. However, both Paul and the original disciples believed that the Kingdom of God would come in their generation. I would add that it is a mistake to suggest that Paul anticipated an institutionalized religion of Jesus that would continue for another 2,000 years.
The problem with the delayed parousia was left to the Church Fathers. However, Paul's idea that the Kingdom can be experienced in the present found its home in the Christian church.
The book should prove of interest to Jews as well as Christians, and to anyone interested in ancient Judaism, religious history or the more specific focus of the historical development of late Jewish and early Christian apocalypticism (or prophetic revelations related to the idea of God's coming kingdom). Now, before any non-religious eyes glaze over, two notes:
1. Schweitzer himself had, nearly half a century earlier, noted and popularized the concept that scholars as well as lay people tend to cast Jesus in the form of their preferred image of ideal humanity, ethics, social action (or inaction), etc. He rightly pointed out (in The Quest of the Historical Jesus, 1906) that you can't honestly deal with the "historical" (or the spiritual) Jesus unless you see that he was focused on proclaiming and preparing for the immediate arrival of a supernaturally instituted Kingdom of God revolving around Judea and Galilee (area of Israel's earlier Northern Kingdom). In other words, the subject matter of our reviewed book as well as his much earlier related one is crucial for any educated person in countries heavily influenced by Christianity.
2. The writing style of the book I found very agreeable, flowing. His chronological and thematic approach creates the sense of a story that is fun to follow. And it is not theologically or historically technical in terminology or background needed. He makes few scholarly references although a reader well informed in biblical studies will realize just how much deep scholarship is behind the text. Particularly conservative readers (theologically) will not always agree with him, nor will many more liberal ones, which Schweitzer certainly knows. Yet he does not labor to prove his case on points of potential controversy. He does what I think works well for the broadest swath of his likely readers.... He strikes the balance of explaining backgrounds and his reasoning, with brevity, and moving the story along from key point to key point. While it was easy reading, I also noticed that some re-reading shows just how packed it is with history and the development of ideas -- more than can be retained initially.
This is in addition to the copious amounts of Scripture Schweitzer quotes, showing the source of his points, and in their contexts not in a "proof-texting" way. This is a nice feature of the book -- that the reader can get a real flavor of the message of each of the many prophets he features, along with their historical setting, without having to look up passages repeatedly. Yet the quotes are of reasonable length.
To keep this review relatively brief, I must give only a summary sketch of the several stages of Kingdom expectation which Schweitzer traces, from the period just prior to the exile of the Northern Kingdom (mainly Galilee) and Southern Kingdom (mainly Judea and Jerusalem, over a century later in 586 B.C.E.) to the time of Paul. Concepts of the Kingdom all had Israel at the center of a new worldly arrangement involving either the punishment of Gentile nations or at least their dependence on the Jewish Kingdom under God (the God of "Abraham, Isaac and Jacob"). The author cites the progression of views on aspects of the Kingdom with their corresponding points on who God and other supernatural beings are, what God's judgment will be, how those who have died will be handled, etc. He traces influences from outside of Israel as well as within.
Isaiah is the prophet to introduce the conviction that the Kingdom of Peace will be headed by an Anointed One (Messiah) from the line of King David. Jeremiah upholds this but adds the idea of a new covenant with Israel, written on people's hearts. He also teaches what other prophets after the return from exile do, that Gentiles will ultimately be treated compassionately by God and be able to participate in the Kingdom, assuming they accept and worship Israel's God.
In this chapter, which is about 1/3 of the book, Schweitzer also analyzes the introduction and uses of additional terms and concepts often passed over or misunderstood in reading Jesus' or the Gospel authors' use of them. These include Suffering Servant, Son of Man, resurrection of the dead and the pre-messianic tribulation period (prior to the final Kingdom of God).
Next comes "The Kingdom of God in the Teaching of Jesus". One main point of several in this chapter is the affirmation of this historical theologian's long-held position that Jesus did believe he was the Messiah but that he made no public pronunciation of it. Only his closest circle of disciples were let in on the "secret". The Gospel of Mark, which Schweitzer (with most scholars of his time and since) calls the earliest, focuses often on this factor, puzzling scholars through the ages. Schweitzer's explanation of the final "Passion" evening of Jesus' life in light of this and Jesus' messianic understanding clears up some otherwise murky statements from the Gospels. Jesus' views were based, he says, not only on the early prophets but also on ideas developed in later prophets in our current Bible and others, up to nearly his own time.
He states that Jesus "...assumes that a man born as a descendant of David in the last generation of mankind will be revealed as the Messiah in his supernatural existence at the coming of the Kingdom. He is convinced that he is this descendant of David." (That is, upon the Kingdom's supernatural appearance; emphasis mine, pp. 103, 104)
One point I found of particular interest might be easily missed because of its brevity and that it is placed in a footnote. (Interestingly, most of the footnotes point back to previous sections, noting where a given subject had been introduced or developed further... a helpful tool for serious readers.) That point is a change in Schweitzer's view of Jesus' understanding of his death. He notes that while writing the various editions of his The Quest... he had believed that Jesus, "... in accordance with the [Suffering] Servant passages, regarded his vicarious sacrifice as an atonement. As the result of further study of late Jewish eschatology and the thought of Jesus on his passion, I find that I can no longer endorse this view." (p. 128, emphasis mine). He does develop reasons for this understanding in the text.
The final two chapters are "Primitive Christian Belief in the Kingdom of God" and "The Kingdom of God in Paul". In characteristic succinctness, Schweitzer shows how all he has concluded about Jesus' view of the Kingdom and his role in it carried over into the earliest form of Christian faith. To the same grounding belief in the immediate coming of the Kingdom, preached by John the Baptist and Jesus, is added, after Jesus' death: "...belief in his Messiahship. The believers know... that he regarded himself as the coming Messiah.... To primitive Christian belief, and it is important to take this into account, Jesus was not the Messiah during his earthly existence. He became it only in the supernatural state that he acquired through the resurrection..." (p. 131).
In subsequent sections on resurrection beliefs and the nature of Jesus' appearances, Schweitzer yet again impresses me with insights and explanations of puzzling aspects of conflictual accounts of the post-burial/appearance period which to me make sense of these accounts better than other explanations, of which I have read many. This matter and that on atonement are examples which alone are worth getting and reading the book for. But there are many, many additional points of value.
A refreshing thing about Schweitzer's work is that it is appears to come from an independent mind, but not one that seeks novelty for novelty's sake, or for notoriety. He remarkably allows the texts to speak for themselves and give a detailed picture without falling to the naive belief that they are somehow always accurate or must be harmonized because they are revealed accounts containing a clear and authoritative "deposit of faith".
Throughout the whole book, Dr. Schweitzer has refrained from any hint of preaching or suggesting applications for our individual or collective faith. On the final page he allows himself to go there briefly: "For centuries Christianity looked for [the Kingdom which would come of itself] in vain. It could not easily come to terms with the fact. It had to try to understand what could be learned from it.... The task was laid upon it of giving up its belief in the Kingdom which would come of itself and giving its devotion to the Kingdom which must be made real" (emphasis mine).
Now read his concluding remarks while remembering that they were written not in the optimistic days of Protestant liberalism before World War I, but soon after World War II and after a lifetime battling disease and much more in the African jungle. (This is no ivory tower theologian.) He says it is through Paul that we learn "... that the way in which the coming of the Kingdom will be brought about is by the coming of Jesus Christ to rule in our hearts and through us in the whole world. In the thought of Paul the supernatural Kingdom is beginning to become the ethical and with this to change from the Kingdom to be expected into something which has to be realized. It is for us to take the road which this prospect opens up". (p. 183)