Reading: New Creation in Paul’s Letters – Chapter 3, Early Jewish Literature

In this chapter, the author delves into Second Temple Judaism, which had had a chance to develop theology around both Creation and Isaiah’s New Creation. This, of course, preceded Paul’s use and no doubt informed Paul. He begins by stating that the situation of the material is diverse, too diverse, to write of a single social reason which produced the apocalyptic fascination with the idea of the New Creation. This apocalyptic thought found it’s way into Paul’s writing, and later into the Book of Revelation, but before them, there was the books of Jubilees and Enoch, not to mention the Dead Sea Scrolls. In all of this, he is attempting to establish the “broad social and historical framework” in which the use of the new creation them gave hope and group identity to the Jews.

To begin with, he notes the renewal associated with the eschatological outlook, something not always seen in the apocalyptic. He notes the difficulty of discovering the dominant theme in several of the books. One could be a total restructuring of the world while another could be a completely new creation – and sometimes, within the same book. Further, this is shown to represent either a cosmic viewpoint or what de Boer called, a forensic viewpoint. It is the same thing we see in the interpretation of Genesis and Isaiah, and the questions left. Is the New Creation cosmic or local? All of this is a set up to more unanswered questions. After all, each track as Jackson calls it, would lead to different interpretations and thus get the reader nowhere fast in determining the way in which Paul saw the concept. Fortunately, Jackson doesn’t waste our time on exploring this area, but does entice us just enough with the cosmic v. forensic image and instead moves to examine only the Book of Jubilees.

After detailing his four reasons for centering in on Jubilees, and most striking is the connection to Paul, Jackson moves on to giving a broader view of the identity politics of the ancient book. In this section, he interprets Jubilees through the social situation which gave rise to it. It was a time of failed promises, in which Israel had returned from exile only to find themselves under one regime after another until the Maccabean Revolt allowed them some measure of independence. This time was filled with great crisis and eventually saw the Romans coming in to restore order. But before them, there is the inescapable reality that Israel was now a hodge-podge of races with borders which didn’t match up to the biblical mandates. All of this was playing into the rise of the fervor of the new creation and helping to inform the developing interpretation of what exactly that phrase meant.

The next subsection’s title is revealing, “Reclaiming Identity through the Redefinition of Time and Space.” For those familiar with Jubilees, and if not then one should become familiar with it, the Creation story is greatly expanded and ordered in such a way as to give a certain primacy to Israel. No doubt, there were pulling from extant dogma at the time, but nevertheless, they are interesting. Jackson cites this as one of the cues in the book which points to the idea that Jubilees was devoted to resurrected the national identity. To preserve their national identity, familiar stories were reordered to tie certain events to specific doctrinal ideas. This created a pattern of history which Jackson aptly points out, and it is one which feeds into the concept of new creation. Jackson uses this building pattern to tie the Jubilee Year to both the cosmic and the anthropomorphic redemption. After laying such a foundation, Jackson moves on to tackle the specific phrase in Jubilees.

As one might suspect, the concept is filled with relevance to the Exodus story and the pattern of restoration. Again, and while this is not the point of Jackson’s work, the concept of, or rather, the very lack of the concept of ex nihilo is made present during Jackson’s review of the “renewing” of all of Creation in the New Creation. What is present, however, is the idea of cosmic renewal which is connected to Exodus and the cosmic war. I think that those who approach the concept of the new creation without an adequate education in the cosmology of Exodus, or Genesis for that matter, will tend to miss many of the important concepts of what is being spoke about when any ancient author writes of a renewing, or a new, creation, earth or creature, which Jubilees does. Of further interest to this point is the connection to Jerusalem which is made in Jubilees regarding new creation. As I wrote earlier, a temple theology would see the new creation centered, just as in Genesis 1, on the temple. Here, Jackson comes close to echoing that sentiment as well as when he relates that the new creation restores the covenanted position between YHWH and Israel (49), which is calls the “ultimate eschatological restoration.” Finally, he is right to, as it is throughout the recurring themes of restoration, to note that while there are nationalistic concerns, no one can divorce the spiritual issues at stake which raises the need for the new creation.

Leaving the Book of Jubilees, Jackson moves into discussing the Dead Sea Scrolls. New Creation as a phrase is not mentioned in the Dead Sea Scrolls, so Jackson bases his examination on the abundant use of the phrase “the end of days.” It is a rather weak section, built on admittedly unclear meanings and contested scholarship; however, the point of a dissertation, I’m told, is to push scholarship, meaning that sometimes, you have to be a little controversial. Still yet, I’m not sure of his thesis here. While the communities which contributed to the DSS look forward to the End with great vigor, many of them cared little for the Temple or a renewing of the world, it would seem. In the DSS, I would see the viewpoint as more apocalyptic rather than eschatological. Of particular connection to Paul, however, is the doctrines found there regarding the restoration of humanity, something humans lost due to Adam, at the return of the Messiah.

Post By Joel Watts (10,113 Posts)

Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

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