Writing a few years ago, James Jordan discussed the theme of exile in the Bible. His thoughts follow:
Someone asked about the reservations some of us have about Wright’s exile-theology. Here are a few thoughts:
1. The Ur-exile was from the Garden of Eden. From that perspective, all of Old Creation history takes place in exile, until Jesus. Thus, Wright is surely correct to make exile a large category. (I dealt with this to some extent in my monograph *Sabbath Breaking and the Death Penalty,* where I showed that under the Old Creation, humanity was EXCLUDED from sabbath, and that this explains much of what the Law required regarding the sabbath day observances.)
2. Within this large Exile, there are sub-exiles and also times of return and establishment in semi-Edens or proto-New Creations. Descent into Egypt is a kind of exile, and Joshua’s conquest a return from exile. But then notice that in 1 Samuel 1-4 the Ark “Himself” goes into exile into Philistia (related to Egypt according to Genesis 10), defeats their gods, and then returns, eventually to be enthroned in Solomon’s Temple.
3. It’s been a while since I read/perused Wright’s works on the gospels, but he seems to argue that the Jews never REALLY came back from the Babylonian exile. I don’t think this is correct, and have the following observations:
3a. The books of Daniel, Ezekiel, and Zechariah redefine the “land of God” as the Oikumene, within which a much smaller “holy land” is the center (much smaller than what Israel inhabited in the former days, from Joshua to Zedekiah). In Daniel 8, the leaders of the Oikumene are sheep and goats, members of this new larger flock. There is a whole shift in the definition of the “land” here that very few have noticed.
3b. After the first Babel, God gave a land to Abraham. This begins an historical arc that continues until the Babylonian exile in the days of Jeremiah, etc. There is a new land given, and a new historical arc begun, when God confuses the tongues (reading) of the second Babel in
Daniel 5. This new land is not the land promised to Abraham as concerns its boundaries, but is the double land of the Oikumene and the Holy Land within it. To wit:
3c. The release of the Jews from Babylon by Cyrus is not to go back into the land promised by Abraham, whose boundaries are no longer relevant. It is a double release. On the one hand, some go back into what is now called the Holy Land and Holy City (new terms in this new Restoration Covenant era). On the other hand, some are spread out as the “four winds of heaven” within the Oikumene to serve as witnesses. This is a double return, though a “spiritual” return rather than a geographical movement. The greater spiritual power and glories of this new age are described in Zecharia 1-6 and Ezekiel 40-48.
3d. There was a great apostasy from this calling to bear witness in the days of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, described/prophesied in Daniel 11. The priests of Jerusalem desired to remake the Holy City into a Greek city, with olympic-style games and all the rest. They tossed out the
Zadokite High Priest Onias III (committing the “abomination that causes desolation”), and took over the city. When Antiochus determined to enforce the Hellenization of Jerusalem, and provoked the Maccabees to revolt, he was only doing what he thought the leaders of the Jews wanted him to do — and in fact what the DID want him to do.
3e. This fall of the Restoration Covenant ushers in a new spiritual exile. It is not a geographical exile, but a spiritual one. The Maccabees did not reinstall the Zadokite line as High Priests, but took it over for themselves. There was never a true and valid HP in Judaism again (until Jesus, who was more than Aaron of course). There were valid priests for the offerings of the altar and holy place, but no valid HP for the Day of Covering in the Most Holy. (Jesus never attends the Day of Covering in the gospels.)
3f. Understood this way, Wright’s thesis can be reestablished on even firmer and stronger grounds. They were indeed in exile, an even worse exile than ever before. They were not dominated by Babylonians, but by demons, as we see from the gospels — the demons
apparently house in the synagogues!
3g. As for later Jewish literature, it seems that Jewish nationalists rejected their call to be a nation of prophets within God’s Oikumene, and considered that the Oikumene was a place of exile, and that someday they would have a Davidic nation of their own again. This was simple unbelief, and a rejection of their wonderful high calling to serve in God’s Oikumene. To the extent that Wright may agree with this woeful opinion, he would be in error.
4. In conclusion, the real failure is not with Wright, who is after all a NT theologian and specialist. The failure is on the part of the OT theologians he is reading, who utterly fail to deal with the distinctive qualities and glories of the post-exilic Restoration covenant and the new
larger and greater “land” of the Oikumene. By and large, the “post-exilic” time of the Old Creation is viewed as some kind of amorphous appendage to OT history. Not so. It is the first phase of the New Covenant, and a time of greater spiritual glory than ever before.