Finding Jesus in the Apocrypha

Money. Sex. Power. Piety. This is the name of the class that I’m taking this week at Golden Gate in between the Fall and Spring semesters (during the J[anuary]-term). The class focuses on the period between 500ish BC and 50 AD, or what’s known as the Second Temple Period of Judaism.

As part of prep for the course I’ve read many writings that I’d never read before, including books and excerpts of books from the Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha–categories that have slippery definitions depending on who/what you read but which at the minimum equate to various levels of “Jewish or Christian writings that are outside the canon of Scripture.”

One of the major characteristics of this period of Jewish history and the literature produced within it is a further development and discussion of ideas about eternal life. We clearly see the evidence of this discussion in the New Testament in passages like Acts 23:1-10, where the Apostle Paul is examined before the Sanhedrin and shrewdly uses the differing opinions of the Pharisees (the theological progressives) and the Sadducees (the theological conservatives) on the idea of whether there is a resurrection to his advantage.

51ZMUSgfpNL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_In Early Judaism: Texts and Documents on Faith and Piety (one of our texts for this course), authors Nickelsburg and Stone summarize one such excerpt from the Wisdom of Solomon chapters 2-5 as:

…the case of a righteous man whose enemies condemn him to death, believing that there is no reckoning after death. To their surprise, after their death they are confronted by the righteous man, exalted in the heavenly courtroom. As their judge, he condemns them to that punishment whose existence they had denied. (p. 134)

To be sure, this already sounded like an interesting portion from this document of Early Judaism. However, I was surprised by the powerful emotions the passage stirred as I recognized within it echoes of various New Testament descriptions of Jesus.

From Wisdom of Solomon 2:

2 17“Let us see if [the righteous man’s] words are true, and let us test what will happen at the end of his life; 18For if the righteous man is God’s son, He will help him, and He will deliver him from the hand of his adversaries. 19Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is and make trial of his forbearance. 20Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected.”

In 2:21-4:19 the book takes a detour from the narrative to discuss God’s purposes in destining the good for eternal life, examining Him allowing the righteous to suffer in this life, the eventual fate of the righteous in the life to come as well as rewards and punishments, and Biblical examples of the righteous who died before their time. The scene following the wicked men’s murder of the righteous man and their own eventual deaths picks up in 4:20:

4 20“They will come with dread when their sins are reckoned up, and their lawless deeds will convict them to their face. 5 1Then the righteous man will stand with great confidence in the presence of those who have afflicted him and those who make light of his labors. 2When they see him they will be shaken with dreadful fear, and they will be amazed at his unexpected salvation. 3They will speak to one another in repentance, and in anguish of spirit they will groan and say, 4‘This is the man whom we once held in derision and made a byword of reproach-we fools! We thought that his life was madness and that his end was without honor. 5Why has he been numbered among the sons of God? And why is his lot among the holy ones? 6So it was we who strayed from the way of truth, and the light of righteousness did not shine on us, and the sun did not rise on us.'”

Wow. There’s a lot I could say about this passage, but I’ll content myself with simply saying that parallels in the Gospels immediately popped up and I couldn’t help but be thankful for the Righteous One–God’s son– who suffered on my behalf and will stand in judgement at the end of all things and intercede on my behalf. Thanks be to God!

For those interested, here are two passages from Matthew that came to mind:

“In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him and said, ‘He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! He is the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He has put His trust in God; let God rescue Him now–if He wants Him! For He said, ‘I am God’s Son.'”  -Matthew 27:41-44 (HCSB)

“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, just as  a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on His right and the goats on the left…Then he will also say to those on the left, ‘Depart from Me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels…And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.'” -Matthew 25:31-33, 41, 46 (HCSB)