Shuck and Jive

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Did Jesus Expect a Violent Overthrow?

James Tabor is back from another trip to the Holy Land. He is an exciting biblical scholar who blogs at JesusDynasty. His book is out now in paperback with new information about the Talpiot Tomb. I reviewed his hardcover here.

I do have one disagreement with James Tabor. It could be a matter of semantics, but if so, a big one needing clarification. He writes on his latest post:

Jesus preached the imminent and violent overthrow of the religious and political establishment by the power of God himself. This revolution was cryptically referred to as “the coming of the Son of Man in the clouds of heaven” (Daniel 7:13-14, 26-27), and Jesus claimed to be the direct agent of this anticipated deposal.
What is a violent overthrow especially as it relates to "the power of God himself?" Does not violent overthrow ultimately mean human beings violently overthrowing one another, regardless of how God is involved?

I much appreciate James Tabor's views of Jesus. He has opened my eyes a great deal. But as regards to violence, whether from God or not, I have to say that Jesus was not violent. This is where I go with John Dominic Crossan God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now:

That leaves me with these conclusions. The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen soon. The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen violently. The Second Coming of Christ is not an event that we should expect to happen literally. The Second Coming of Christ is what will happen when we Christians finally accept that the First Coming was the Only Coming and start to cooperate with its divine presence. (p. 231)


  1. Being a literalist, I think what Crossan said is bull. John, do you ever read Van Impe? or Lahaye? If not, maybe you should give their opinion a thought.

  2. Curious that you mention [Jack] Van Impe (and his lovely wife, Rexella). He referred to me by name on one of his television programs (not favorably, I might add).

    I know the work of Van Impe, Lindsey, Lahaye, and all of those folks. I find that apocalyptic stuff to be the antithesis of the faith of Jesus.

    I grew up with that. It is false on so many levels. But what is most disturbing is that it requires blind belief and obedience and the demonizing of those who ask questions or disagree.

  3. I'm in agreement with you, John, and also with Crossan; Jesus preached nonviolent resistance to the Roman Empire. Nonviolence is so central to his message that I have to wonder what Tabor was smoking when he came up with that theory.





  5. Hey Seeker,

    I think Tabor has a great deal of evidence on his side. He follows in the tradition of Albert Schweitzer. The idea is that there were a whole bunch of apocalyptic prophets and that Jesus was one of them. I think Schweitzer felt the apocalyptic Jesus was of little use in the modern era. Crossan and the Jesus Seminar said that Jesus was not apocalyptic.

    I don't really know what to think. They all have evidence. Unless I am overwhelmingly convinced one way or the other, I will go with the non-violent parable speaking Jesus who said the kofg is in you and around you and growing like a mustard weed!


    Jack denounced me and Rexella shook her lovely head in pity over this article I wrote for the
    Billings Gazette.

    I consider it a badge of honor, but I can't find it in his archives! : (

  6. The Second Coming is an interesting topic. If it does occur, I highly doubt it will occur in an obvious manner. I think this because I can't help but think of Jesus' first reception as the Messiah. In the Gospels, the point was that the religious elite were so sure of their own interpretation and take on rules that they couldn't be flexible enough to see otherwise.

    So why would we expect the Second Coming to happen as we predict? Why do we even expect that we're close to understanding the events that occur?

    But in terms of violence, I actually do think it would occur, but not in a typical way. The Second Coming is often associated with radical change, and restoring things to what they should've been. Often, change of that nature is internally violent, as we release a bad behavior in exchange for a good. It can cause tremendous upheavel. Pursuit of radical truth often does that.

  7. John,

    Crossan has made what I think is a very strong case that John the Baptist preached what he calls apocalyptic eschatology, which waited on God to usher in the Kingdom of God from on high, whereas Jesus advocated what he calls sapiential eschatology, in which humans would usher in the in-breaking Kingdom of God. As Crossan puts it, "In apocalyptic eschatology, we are waiting for God to act. In sapiential eschatology, God is waiting for us to act."

    I wrote an entry about this in my blog last September.

  8. Thanks Heather and Seeker,

    Great post, Seeker and I agree. Just to be clear for everyone, neither Tabor or Crossan are apocalyptic now. Both would regard current apocalypticism as nuts and bad for us.

    They are talking about whether or not Jesus, in his first century context, was with the apocalyptic crowd or not.

    Tabor, along with Bart Ehrman, Dale Alison, Paula Frederickson, and others see that Jesus did think that he was part of God's big action that would happen immediately.

    The Jesus Seminar debated this question early on in its deliberations and voted that Jesus was not apocalyptic. Those who thought Jesus was apocalyptic left the seminar.

    I think that was unfortunate. That is why I am pleased that Tabor and Crossan are having a public dialogue so that non-professionals can at least understand the arguments.

    For me, I don't think Jesus was apocalyptic, but I am no scholar. Some of that is because I don't want Jesus to be apocalyptic. But some is because I truly think the guy did not have that outlook.

    But, certainly, the apocalyptic outlook was prevalent, and Jesus could have adopted it, like Paul apparently did.

    If Jesus did, he was wrong on that point, like Paul was.

    My big question for Dr. Tabor is about the violence involved. Could one have had the view of a great divine cleanup, to use Crossan's phrase and not have it be violent?

    Violence only occurs between humans, afterall. The movement that Jesus believed and that Paul believed could have been something imminent, but yet non-violent (ie. conversion as opposed to coercion).

  9. Shellybear,

    please do not type your comments in all caps. In internet etiquette this is called "yelling" and it is extremely rude.

    You have made a grievous error equating belief with "agreement". Belief is not intellectual assent, it is trust, reliance, hope. Nothing in faith is a matter of "agreeing or disagreeing", "black and white". It is about trusting God and venturing into the unknown future with hope and love for our neighbors. I sincerely hope one day that you discover what it is like to have a faith like that.