So-called “Exalted Patriarchs” and Early Christology

What comes to mind when you think of Job?

Probably his innumerable sufferings, his insufferable friends, his desire to speak to God, and his dust-and-ashes when God speaks back.

But what probably does not come to mind is this:

Job said to his friends, “Be silent! Now I will show you my throne and the glory and the majesty that is among the holy ones. My throne is in the upper-cosmos, and its glory and majesty is from the right hand of the Father. The whole world will perish and its glory will be destroyed, and those who cling to it will partake in its overthrow. But my throne exists in the holy land, and its glory is in the era of the unchanging. … My kingdom is forever and ever, and its glory and majesty exists in the chariots of the Father.”

This mini-speech is not found in the biblical book of Job, of course (don’t worry, you’re not missing a page). Rather, it is from the pseudepigraphal work, Testament of Job (TJob). This writing is a kind of “fan fiction” account of Job that is based on the canonical book but goes in all sorts of different directions.

Of particular interest to me is how TJob takes a thread that shows up in the Greek/Septuagint translation of Job (namely, that Job was actually a king of Edom, and his friends were kings, too) and runs with it. The climax of the cycle of speeches as retold in TJob is when Job rebukes his friends and declares he is more than they see in his squalor on earth: he is, in fact, a heavenly king who rules at the right hand of God.

Wait, what?

Judaism and “Exalted Patriarchs”

That was my response when I read this text several years ago as part of my research on Christology and Jewish messianism. But I simply logged it in a database and moved on.

Over the past 2 years, I’ve been chipping away at a book that collects and analyzes all the main Jewish primary source texts that are relevant for understanding how Christology developed in the church. I came back across the above TJob passage, and I began looking more closely at it. As I studied it, I recognized that it has not received much attention at all from this angle (it’s been studied extensively for other themes). One thing led to another, as these things go, and the result of all that analysis has just been published in Novum Testamentum:NovT.png

“’My Kingdom Lasts Forever’: Bringing King Job (T.Job 31–33) into the Conversation on Exalted Patriarchs and Early Christology,” NovT 61/3 (2019): 308–328.

It’s a bit of a technical piece, to say the least. But in essence it is an exploratory look at this passage from the angle of “exalted patriarchs.”

What do I mean by that?

Within the field of Jewish messianism and early Christology, one of the key frameworks used to understand how and why early Christians all-of-the-sudden started treating Jesus as divine is that of “exalted patriarchs.” This refers to how a variety of non-canonical Jewish writings portray OT figures in a special or even super-human way. It’s not all that surprising that these writers did this with such OT heroes: with the canonical accounts of Enoch’s non-death, Jacob’s ladder-vision, Moses’s shining face, Elijah’s chariot ride to heaven, and the mysterious “Son of Man” in Daniel, there was a lot of OT fodder for creative reflection.

In essence, this article attempts to add this portrayal of Job (in TJob) to the roster of such exalted patriarchs, whereas it had been almost entirely overlooked before now. It leaves a lot of unanswered questions (because I don’t have the answers!), but hopefully it helps move the ball forward.

Some Clarifications

It’s worth mentioning two caveats, however.

First, I’m not 100% settled on how much stock to give the whole “exalted patriarchs” idea when it comes to the developmental influences on early Christology. There’s no doubt that the literary phenomenon existed in the Jewish world. But it’s not clear how much attention the NT authors gave to it. That said, the use of Melchizedek (in Hebrews), the reference to Enoch (in Jude), and the radiance of Moses and Elijah (in the transfiguration accounts) suggest that there may be something here. But I certainly wouldn’t push things even remotely as far as, say, Crispin Fletcher-Louis or Daniel Kirk (both, in unique ways, use divinized/idealized humanity, drawn from the study of angels and exalted patriarchs, as the dominant lens on understanding Jesus).

Second, one of the issues I address in the article is the perennial question about whether TJob is essentially a Jewish work (that pre-dates the NT to some degree) or a Christian work (that post-dates it). I ultimately settle on the former. But if it were the result of a Christian writer (making it similar to apocryphal gospels and other such things), I actually think more questions arise.

  • If the work is Jewish, then (as I argue in the article) it fits with a handful of other similar portrayals of various figures found in the Dead Sea Scrolls and pseudepigrapha.
  • But if it is Christian, then one has to ask, “What on earth would inspire a Christian to portray Job, of all people, as the eternal king sitting on a heavenly throne at the right hand of God?” (Martin Hengel, in effect, asked the same question decades ago)

Lot’s of questions. Just another day in the world of intertestamental Judaism and early Christology!

Connecting to the pew

The world of non-canonical Jewish writings can be bewildering. These writings are often esoteric, and mainstream media and critical scholars often use these writings to undermine canonical writings. Many Christians, thus, approach things like pseudepigrapha, apocrypha, and the Dead Sea Scrolls with suspicion or even fear.

This post isn’t meant to address those issues—I attempt to get into them in my canon book.

What I will say, however, is this. As I have worked on over 200 non-canonical passages that deal in some way with messiahs, exalted patriarchs, angel intermediaries, kings, prophets, and so on—with an eye towards seeing how they might relate to the NT depiction of Jesus—I have come away with one main conclusion. No matter how “exalted” a figure may be depicted in a Jewish writing (with Job in TJob being one of the highest on the scale), none of them come close to the fullness of Christ as articulated in the NT.

In fact, my general hypothesis about these other points of comparison is that they all have taken some thread from the OT (star of Jacob, prophet-like-Moses, angel of the Lord, Elijah, Melchizedek, righteous “Branch,” and so on) and tried to sew something with it. This explains why you have all kinds of different ideas among Jewish communities. Knowing this, in turn, helps the reader understand what was going through the heads of the early followers of Jesus who were always scratching their heads to figure out who exactly he was (“A prophet…Elijah revived…a king…a teacher?”).

But what makes the NT different is that ALL the threads are combined in one person.

In other words, the real question for Christology isn’t whether the NT authors were aware of this or that intertestamental Jewish writing and it’s localized take on, say, the “Son of Man.” The real question is how they went back prior to the Jewish writings to the OT itself and realized that all the various ideas revealed by God along the way find their telos in one person: Jesus.

For isn’t that the highest Christology possible?

 

Feel free to email me for a copy of the article.

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