Monday, October 3, 2011

The "Jewish State" revisited

Sari Nusseibeh, professor of philosophy at Al-Quds University in Jerusalem, has a fascinating op-ed piece up at Al Jazeera...

Nusseibeh makes a number of points which resonate with the theopolitical literature I've been absorbing over the past year or more, found mainly in the work of William T. Cavanaugh.

The article highlights the complex nature of ancient traditions in late Modernity. Cavanaugh has convincingly shown that the characterizations of "religious" and "secular" are constructs of the modern nation-state, the ascendant and still-prevalent form of organizing people and power within territorial boundaries. Nusseibeh is right to point out that calls for a "Jewish state" are incoherent based on present political arrangements, not to mention the slippery nature of "Jewishness" in our secular age.

My only quibbles with the article have to do with some assertions Nusseibeh with regard to the Bible. First was his assertion that Jerusalem is mentioned nowhere in the Torah, which is surprising considering his later reference to Abraham. In Genesis 14, Abraham passes through Salem and is blessed by the priest-king Melchizedek. Salem, by any notes or commentary that I've ever seen, is generally assumed to be pre-Isrealite Jerusalem. Next is his assertion that "Jerusalem is quite obviously the city of Jesus Christ the Messiah." This simply seems wrong. While it's quite true that Jerusalem is the climactic location of Jesus' life and ministry on earth, he was from the Galilee, outside Judea. It was this "outsider" status which Jesus tactically used to his advantage to critique the power structures of Second Temple Judaism in his day.

(No) "Peace Without Eschatology"
In The Jewish-Christian Schism Revisited, John Howard Yoder looks to the circumstances of late First Temple Judaism in the book of Jeremiah and sees not only the seeds of the church which would follow Israel's Messiah, Jesus, four hundred years later, but also the theological judgment and sociological prescription for the Jewish people. Anachronistically put, the "Jewish state" under Israelite monarchy had failed utterly, resulting in systemic idolatry at the highest levels of government down to the worship practices of the citizenry. The theological judgment comes from Yahweh through the prophets: This idolatrous nation will fall, a faithful remnant will remain. The sociological prescription is for the faithful remnant to not succumb to the temptation of kingship again, which would certainly only repeat the development of systemic idolatry. While part of Israel does indeed return to ravaged Judah from Babylonian exile (not all did), re-established Second Temple Judaism in Jerusalem developed on top of occupied territory, Greek then Roman and so on.

Seen Christianly, Jesus looks at the circumstances in Roman-occupied first-century Jerusalem and tells his disciples, "Truly I tell you, not one stone (of the Temple) here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down" (Mt. 24:2). And the role of territory or land is recast in Christian theology, specifically eschatology. God's kingdom is not of this world (Jn 18:36) but is certainly in the process of impinging upon it. In Revelation 21, God shows John a vision of the final "kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven." The vision is indeed of Jerusalem, but not Jerusalem as we have know it in times ancient or present. In this vision of the city of God, John "did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple" (v 22). Also in this vision, Israel comprises the gates to the city while the Church comprises the foundations, a city that never crumbles with gates that never close, and light that never ceases to shine.

On the way to this beautiful vision, the Christian should look with suspicion on claims to temporal supremacy loaded into such terms as "Christian nation" or "Jewish state." Such concepts and pursuits are idolatrous on biblical-theological grounds, not to mention their incoherence given our secularized world. They entail a tacit commitment to violence and a form of power which followers of Jesus must disavow. The diaspora Jew and resident alien Christian should work tactically toward embodying faithfulness in their scattered communities and interwoven storied traditions, seeking the peace of the cities to which the Lord has sent us into exile (Jer. 29).

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