Restoration: Old Testament, Jewish, and Christian Perspectives

By James M. Scott | Go to book overview

TRAJECTORIES OF RETURN, RESTORATION AND
REDEMPTION IN RABBINIC JUDAISM:
ELIJAH, THE MESSIAH, THE WAR OF GOG AND THE
WORLD TO COME

Chaim Minkowsky
Bar-Ilan University


INTRODUCTION

Before beginning to discuss notions of return, restoration and redemption in Rabbinic Judaism, it is essential to emphasize that we should not expect to find in the literature of Rabbinic Judaism one single all-encompassing, comprehensive, systematic scheme in these matters. After all, “the Rabbis” consisted of very many individual personages whose lives spanned hundreds of years and who lived in two greatly disparate geographical areas, Israel and Babylon. Furthermore, the specific elements of belief in such larger matters as the coming of the messiah, the end of days and the world to come are notoriously inconstant and easily change and metamorphose. Though a certain fundamental ideological core, consisting of a belief in the coming of the messiah, in the rebuilding of the temple and in the resurrection of the dead, permeates all of rabbinic literature,1 the disagreements among the various passages dealing with these ideas are vast and the inconsistencies innumerable.2

The foundational text for our exposition will be a few lines in an early rabbinic text, Seder Olam. This work is a chronography of the biblical period, which was composed sometime soon after the destruction of the second temple and transmitted by R. Yose ben Halaphta, a second-century rabbinic sage.3 In Chapter 17, Seder Olam

1 I do not mean to say that these three notions are necessarily related one to
another, only that a belief in all three of them is basic to rabbinic thought.

2 This is why I prefer to use a term like “trajectories,” which makes it clear
that there is no straight line of development, but rather multitudes of converging
and diverging lines. I first saw the term used in this manner by J. M. Robinson
and H. Koester, Trajectories through Early Christianity (Philadelphia: Fortress,
1971).

3 Seder Olam was misleadingly characterized by Hermann Strack in his
Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (New York: Doubleday, 1965) 225, part
of which characterization was retained by Günter Stemberger in his Introduction
to the Talmud and Midrash (2nd ed.; Edinburgh: Clark, 1996) 326, and few
scholars have been aware of the nature of this text. From the writings of some of
the great scholars of rabbinics of previous generations, such as Leopold Zunz and
Louis Ginzberg, it is clear that they considered Seder Olam to be a very early
work, though neither discussed it extensively. I deal with these matters at length
in my forthcoming critical edition of, introduction to, and commentary on this
work, which will be published by the Dinur Center for Research in Jewish
History. Since the claim that Seder Olam was composed in the classic period of
rabbinic thought is important for the thrust of my arguments, a description of the
work and a short summary of my conclusions are found in the Appendix to this
paper.

-265-

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