Did Jesus believe the end of the world was nigh?

Week 2 of Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society was a lot of work for me, mostly because it was essay week. The assignment was to read and compare Jesus’ prophecy of the destruction of the Temple in Matthew 24, Mark 13, and Luke 21. In these very similar passages, Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple, war, and many false prophets coming in his name. We were supposed to describe how these passages helped the early Christians make sense of the world around them, keeping in mind that the New Testament was written a half-century or more after Jesus’ death (i.e. around the time of the Temple’s destruction in 70CE). 

This was a difficult topic for me because I’m still struggling a lot with the difference between the spiritual Jesus that I was brought up to worship as God, and the historical Jesus who was most likely an apocalyptic preacher. (Though I have decided to keep these two versions of Jesus separate in my mind, for now.) I took the time to read The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison.

The Encyclopedia of Apocalypticism, Volume 1

Chapter 8: The Eschatology of Jesus, by Dale C. Allison

Allison’s essay addresses the controversy of whether or not the historical Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet – a phenomenon which was common at the time of Jesus. The reason this question is so controversial, despite the strong apocalyptic message of Jesus’ speeches, is because it would suggest 1) that Jesus was just one among many apocalyptic prophets and 2) that Jesus was wrong, since the end of the world proved not to be so nigh, after all.

Allison surveys current arguments for and against Jesus’ eschatology. He then demonstrates that the New Testament has undeniable eschatological imagery and phrasing. He points out that although it’s possible that the authors of the New Testament had eschatological leanings when Jesus did notthere’s no reason to believe that they mistakenly, or intentionally, changed Jesus’ message; therefore, it is very likely that Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher.

As I thought about my assignment, however, I pondered the possibility that perhaps the authors wrote the passages about the destruction of the Temple after the fact, and then attributed the words to Jesus in order to help make sense of the tragic destruction of Jerusalem by Rome. Did Jesus really foresee the destruction of the Temple? Or were the authors of the Gospels trying to provide spiritual guidance to their people during a time of great turmoil?

In the end, I decided that, since this prophecy isn’t the only eschatological speech Jesus made, he was very likely an apocalyptic preacher – regardless of whether he believed the end of the world was nigh. I plan to read some more on this subject before fully making up my mind, though. 

What does everyone else think? Was Jesus an apocalyptic preacher? Did he believe the end of the world was coming in the near future? Were certain passages of the Gospels written by people who retroactively attributed a prophecy of the Temple’s destruction to Jesus?

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society – Thoughts on the first week

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society

The first week of Coursera’s Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society, taught by Bernard Dov Cooperman at the University of Maryland is complete! And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. One thing that impresses me is the development of Coursera’s discussion platform since the last time I took a course (a couple years ago). The discussion board is much easier to navigate now. Plus, there is a striking lack of trolls considering the topic. Trolls were a huge problem in the last class I took (one on Greek Mythology). I don’t know if this lack of trolls is specific to this course, or if they’ve been beaten away from Coursera altogether, though. We’ll see!

In this course, Dr. Cooperman wants to depart from the question that is usually asked: “Why were the Jewish people persecuted throughout history,” and look at the issue from a different angle: 

“Our focus is not on why a majority society saw Jews as different or reacted with violence to Jews’ “otherness.” Rather, we ask how, in a society dedicated to religious uniformity, one group of people was tolerated even though it refused to join the dominant faith. Many modern writers assume that Christianity, and perhaps religion itself, is inherently intolerant of non-believers. But we will see that neither religious nor secular world views necessarily lead to toleration or discrimination…Our question then is not: how tolerant was this religious society towards members of other faiths? Rather we ask, how did a religious society manage to practice tolerance, and under what circumstances did that practice break down?

Dr. Cooperman begins his lectures by asking the students a question: what is the difference between tolerance and toleration, and why do we think he chose the phrase “the practice of tolerance” for the title of his course. 

When I looked up the definitions of toleration and tolerance in the Merriam-Webster dictionary, this is what I came up with:

toleration – a) the act of tolerating something; b) a government policy of permitting forms of belief and worship not officially established

tolerance – a willingness to accept feelings, habits, or beliefs that are different from your own. 

From these definitions, many of us concluded that toleration was an act and tolerance a feeling. However, there is also a more subtle difference: the “practice of toleration” in Cooperman’s course title could refer to the act of accepting and embracing people who are different than ourselves. So this course is about how, at some times throughout history, the Roman Catholics truly accepted the Jewish people rather than just allowing them to remain in their midst. It remains for Cooperman to show us the ebbs and flows of this “practice of toleration.”

Cooperman then provided many links and references to introduce us to the Jewish faith, including this YouTube link to part 2 of a series called “History of the Jews.” This week, Cooperman is focusing mainly on Judaism and Christianity as it was during Jesus’ time and during the following Jesus Movement of early Christianity. An important issue to note about the dynamics of these two groups was that the early Christians were Jews. Cooperman points out that Paul was not a systematic thinker trying to re-create rules of Judaism, but a Jew who had undergone a powerful spiritual experience and who was most likely struggling to make sense of these new revelations. He urged us to read Paul’s letters to the Romans and keeping an eye out for passages that show this tension in Paul. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to complete this assignment yet, but I’ll post my findings when I do. 🙂

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and Jews in Italy – Enrollment!

Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society: The Church and Jews in Italy

Well, I’ve shown a terrible lack of discipline this week. Quite against the spirit of Resolution 5: Please, Just Stop! I have signed up for several Coursera MOOCs this year – Practicing Tolerance in a Religious Society begins on March 10, and runs for 6 weeks. I intend to post my thoughts on this course weekly. 

a little later…
I’ve now looked over all the lecture notes for the first week and I’m so thrilled at all the wonderful supplemental reading suggestions provided by Dr. Cooperman! One reason I only rarely sign up for these Coursera classes is because I have an OCD need to read all suggested readings and totally immerse myself in a subject. And such a thing simply isn’t possible within a course’s time-frame. And then I get all nervous and shaky and feel overwhelmed. So I tend to focus on Great Courses lecture series instead, because I can go as slowly as I want. But I really love being able to interact and network with people who have similar interests (albeit different opinions) – and that’s what I love about Coursera.  

So I’ve vowed that I will simply move through this entire course and not fret about reading everything. I’ll just write down all the suggested readings, and I can get to them later during my personal studies.

Does anyone else have this tendency to get frustrated when you can’t read everything, or to over-commit to your passions and interests?