This is my final article in a brief series responding to the charge that preterism is anti-Semitic. The charge arises in that preterists hold that many New Testament passages prophesy the judgment of Israel. I have already shown how this charge is misdirected in several respects. But now I will show that if the charge is accurate, then Jews are themselves anti-Semtic. As odd as it may sound, this is the moral logic of our day’s politically-correct world.
The Old Testament
Revelation has John speaking strong words against apostate Judaism. He clearly writes of synagogues as a “synagogue of Satan” (Rev 2:9; 3:9; cp. Jn 8:44) and Jerusalem is called “Sodom and Egypt” (Rev 11:8), and more. The preterist approach to the book finds even more evidence of strong language against Israel. In Bratcher and Hatton’s Handbook on the Revelation to John, which “concentrates on exegetical information important for translator, and . . . attempts to indicate possible solutions for translational problems related to language or culture” (vii). When they get to Rev 2:9 they well note that “it is probable that these are Jews” to whom John is negatively referring. But then they write: “If translators feel that translating Jews literally will give the wrong impression to readers, it will be helpful to say ‘those who say (claim) to be God’s people, but are not’” (47). This avoids language many deem anti-Semitic.
But such strong language against Jews is no different from the way the classical prophets of the OT spoke against Israel. In the OT the prophets denounced Israel, as we see in for example in: Jer 23:1ff; Eze 34:10; Isa 56:8-11.
Isaiah denounces Israel: “Alas, sinful nation, / People weighed down with iniquity, / Offspring of evildoers, / Sons who act corruptly! / They have abandoned the Lord, / They have despised the Holy One of Israel, / They have turned away from Him” (Isa. 1:4). He calls her leaders “rulers of Sodom” and her people “people of Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:10). Was Isaiah anti-Semitic?
In Isa 10:5-6 Assyria is sent by God against a “godless nation” (Israel). In fact, he scathingly derides the temple in his day: “he who kills an ox is like one who slays a man; / He who sacrifices a lamb is like the one who breaks a dog’s neck; / He who offers a grain offering is like one who offers swine’s blood; / He who burns incense is like the one who blesses an idol. / As they have chosen their own ways, / And their soul delights in their abominations” (Isa 66:3).
Jeremiah calls Jerusalem a harlot (like John does in Revelation!): “You are a harlot with many lovers…. You have a polluted land” (Jer 3:1, 2). “I saw that for all the adulteries of faithless Israel, I had sent her away and given her a writ of divorce, yet her treacherous sister Judah did not fear; but she went and was a harlot also” (Jer. 3:8).
Does not Israel’s own Scripture, the Tanak (our OT), warn them of God’s wrath if they turn against him (as evangelicals believe they did in rejecting Jesus and demanding his crucifixion)? Deuteronomy 28:15ff and Leviticus 26 are just two Mosaic warnings to this effect. Thus, Walker well notes that “this threat-tradition cannot be dismissed as inherently anti-Semitic. Once again Jesus was standing four-square within an accepted tradition seen throughout the canonical prophets, whereby God’s people and their institutions could be denounced in the name of Israel’s God. Indeed within the Jewish sectarianism of Jesus’ day the pronouncing of judgement upon the present regime in Jerusalem was not unusual.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls
The DSS were written by a sect of Jews who separated from Jerusalem to live in the area of Qumran sometime around 100 B.C. They wrote many documents regarding their reasons for leaving Jerusalem and the temple system. They held out hopes of the current high-priestly aristocracy being overthrown so that Jerusalem could be purified. Their writings scathingly revile Jerusalem, the temple and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. Were these devout Jews anti-Semitic? Consider their writings:
In 4QpNah the Qumranians “accommodated the whole text of Nahum to Jerusalem (‘Nineveh’), indicating the way in which even texts that did not originally concern faithless Israel could be read as if they did.” There they even declared of their fellow Jews that Jerusalem was the “dwelling place” of the wicked of the nations.
Commenting on Hab 2:8 they wrote: “Interpreted this concerns the last priests of Jerusalem, who shall amass money and wealth by plundering the peoples. But in the last days, their riches and booty shall be delivered in to the hands of the army of the Kittim [i.e., Romans]” (1Qp Hab 9).
The Qumranians scorned the temple priests. The high priest “robbed God and amassed the riches of the men of violence who rebelled against God, and the took the wealth of the peoples, heaping sinful iniquity upon himself” (1Qp Hab 8:11-12). 1QpHab 7 speaks of the “Wicked Priest” so that when he “ruled over Israel his heart became proud, and he forsook God, and betrayed the precepts for the sake of riches. He robbed and amassed the riches of men of violence who rebelled against God, and he took the wealth of the peoples, heaping sinful iniquity upon himself.”
They interpret Hab 2:8 thus: “this concerns the last priests of Jerusalem, who shall amass money and wealth by plundering the peoples. But in the last days, their riches and booty shall be delivered into the hands of the army of the Kittim [Romans]” (1QpHab 9). They write: “The city is Jerusalem where the Wicked Priest committed abominable deeds and defiled the temple of God. The violence done to the land: these are the cities of Judah where he robbed the poor of their possession” (1QpHab 12). In the Tosefta (t. Men. 13:22) we find the reason for the destruction of the first century Temple: “On what account did they go into exile? Because they love money and hate one another.”
The Qumranians withdrew from Jerusalem partly due to Jerusalem’s leaders being “the Spouter of Lies who led many astray that he might build his city of vanity with blood and raise a congregation on deceit” (1QpHab 10:12). The separatist Qumran community deemed Jerusalem “a place of vanity built with blood” (CDC 12:2), a “fortress of wickedness” (4QTestimonia).
Johnson (“The New Testament’s Anti-Jewish Slander and the Conventions of Ancient Polemic,” Journal of Biblical Literature 108 : 439): “Anyone who has read the Dead Sea Scrolls knows that the community that wrote them had an extreme hostility to all outsiders.” They called Jews outside of their community “sons of the pit” (1QS 9:16; CD 6:15; 13:14), who are ruled by the angel of darkness (1Q3: 19-21; 5:2, 10), and are “the ungodly of the covenant” (1QM 1:2). Of those Jews they write in 1QS 2:4-10: “Be cursed of all your guilty wickedness! May he deliver you up to torture at the hands of all the wreakers of revenge.”
Thus, the Qumran community deemed Jerusalem as defiled and worthy of divine curse (CDC 1:3; 4:18; 5:6; 6:16; 12:1-2), as did much of the apocalyptic literature beginning in 200 B.C., as we see in 1 Enoch 83-89; The Apocalypse of Weeks; T. Levi 17:10; and Jubilees 23:21.
In the final analysis, if we believe that the New Testament is the inspired word of God…. And if we believe that it records actual historical events and statements…. Then we have to interpret it according to its original intent. Though it is true that some racists have used the statements of the New Testament to justify ill-treatment of Jews, this is an abuse of this historical document. These people should be rebutted on moral and theological grounds, not by throwing out the NT. Nor by suppressing the meaning of what John wrote in Revelation.
Book of Revelation Made Easy (by Ken Gentry)
Helpful introduction to Revelation presenting keys for interpreting.
Also provides studies of basic issues in Revelation’s story-line.
See more study materials at: www.KennethGentry.com