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Eschatology in the Making: Mark, Matthew and the Didache.

This study, which began life as a doctoral thesis submitted to the University of Melbourne, looks at the question of the development of eschatological thinking in the early church. The author argues that the common view that an original expectation of an imminent parousia gradually faded as time went on, thanks to the delay of the Lord's return, is a misleading oversimplification, and that in fact it was less a general problem over the delay that affected people's expectations than particular local situations, e.g. of believers dying, the events of AD 66-70, etc. Balabanski argues her case by looking at four sets of eschatological material, Matthew 25:1-13 (which she takes to be based on pre-Matthean tradition), Mark 13, Matthew 24 and Didache 16.

In discussing Matthew 25:1-13 Balabanski acknowledges her debt to the work done on the history of the traditions by A. Puig i Tarrech in his La Parabole des dix vierges, but she disagrees with his view that verses 5 and 7a are Matthean redaction, and argues instead that verses 5-7a are a pre-Matthean interpolation in the parable, reflecting early Christian eschatological imagery (as found in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5). She argues that they were added to the parable of Jesus in order to address the problem of Christians who had died (the issue also addressed in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 5): this was indeed a problem to do with the delay of the parousia, Balabanski concludes, but it was a problem that arose very early indeed, and was no longer a major concern when Matthew wrote.

Her examination of Mark 13 includes substantial discussion of literary, structural and source considerations. She is cautiously impressed with K. D. Dyer's syntactical analysis, which concludes that verses 14-20 and 24-27 do not come from the same source. She argues herself that a `Judean oracle' lies behind verses 14-18, while much of the remaining apocalyptic material of the discourse (verses 8, 17, 19-20, 24-27) came from a different source. Mark is writing between verses 23 and 24 shortly after AD 70: the events and flight of verses 14 ff. have taken place, giving rise to much eschatological excitement, and Mark through his editorial contributions (e.g. verses 7, 10) tries to cool down people's imminent expectation, which is particularly associated with the Temple. The picture we get is not of imminence in steady decline, but having had a resurgence and needing to be controlled by Mark.

The author gives substantial attention to the Judean oracle of verses 14-20, and argues at length for identifying it with the oracle described by Eusebius and Epiphanius which supposedly led the Jewish Christians to flee to Pella just before AD 70. She considers the objections to the Eusebian tradition, but argues that the setting up of the `desolating sacrilege' was the take-over of the Temple and of Jerusalem by the Zealots, including their installation of Phanias as high priest; the new dominance of the Zealots made the position of the passivist Christians untenable, and they headed to Pella and beyond.

In leading us into Matthew 24 Balabanski argues that the whole of Matthew 23-25 should be seen as one discourse, and she then explores Matthew's well-known eschatological and ethical interests including on the way a discussion of Matthew 13:51, seen as a parable about a householder bringing out foods from the store in a judicious way, taking into account their shelf-life). On Matthew 24 itself she argues for a `two-sequence schema', with verses 6-14 being one sequence, and verses 15-30 another parallel sequence. Matthew has significantly changed Mark in ways that reflect his context: he is writing after the destruction of the Temple (like Mark), but unlike Mark he is not cooling off the imminent expectation, but if anything restoring it by his addition of `immediately' in v. 29 (in a way that reflects his general interest in eschatology). Matthew in his discourse is reflecting on the questions of theodicy raised by AD 70, in a way that is somewhat analogous to other Jewish apocalypses.

Finally Balabanski looks at Didache 16, arguing for its dependence on Matthew, but seeking to show that the author has tried to clarify things that were not clear in Matthew (e.g. about the resurrection of the saints), but also to build up the ethical and community life of the church.

Balabanski's book is an impressive thesis, which ranges widely, offers good critiques of different views, and argues all sorts of interesting points in an intelligible and often original way. Not that she is always wholly persuasive: she is quite likely right to associate the parable of the virgins with what is going on in 1 Thessalonians 4, but her reconstructed parable (without the bridegroom being delayed and coming at midnight), though in some ways simpler than the Matthean parable, is in other ways less forceful. And she does not give sufficient attention to the possibility that Paul may have known that parable in something like the Matthean form, as well as the `Q' parable of the thief.

More generally, although she is to be applauded for her bold forays into source- and tradition-criticism in a day when many scholars despair of such criticism, she does not go very fully into the possibilities: thus she admits that Matthew may have known a non-Markan form of the `Judean oracle' (noting 24:20 `nor on a sabbath'), but she does not consider the other evidence (e.g. in Luke and Paul) which may point towards the oracle going back much earlier than the war of AD 66-70 (as I argue in my discussion of the eschatological discourse. She does not interact in detail with my arguments, dismissing my analysis politely but incorrectly on the grounds that I operated `according to the form-critical assumption that there was a single version of the tradition that is recoverable', p. 81).

On the Judean oracle she is right in saving that it could have come out of the context of AD 66-70, but the language of the oracle reflects more the story of Antiochus Epiphanes in 169 BC than any first-century events and could very easily have come out of an earlier context than AD 66-70 (whether AD 39 or the ministry of Jesus); arguably its attribution to Jesus would be more easily understood in that case than if it was a brand new oracle delivered shortly before the writing of Mark. As for Matthew having more imminence than Mark, it perhaps depends on whether Matthew's addition of `immediately' is more significant than his omission of Mark's `in those days' (Mark 13:24).

To say that all the detailed arguments of the book are not fully persuasive does not change the fact that the book is a valuable discussion, full of good things, and the overall thesis about the development of New Testament eschatology not being a simple linear process, but much more complicated and episodic is well taken.
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Author:Wenham, David
Publication:The Journal of Theological Studies
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Oct 1, 1998
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