A. Finitsis, Visions and Eschatology: A Socio-Historical Analysis of Zechariah 1–6

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 12 (2012) - Review

Finitsis, Antonios, Visions and Eschatology: A Socio-Historical Analysis of Zechariah 1–6 (LSTS, 79; New York/London: T & T Clark, 2011). Pp. 208. Hardcover. US$110.00. ISBN 978-0-567-43098-4.

In this book, based upon his Ph.D. thesis (University of Chicago, 2007; supervised by John J. Collins and co-directed by David Schloen), Antonios Finitsis proposes a new category to describe the eschatology of Zech 1–6: “restoration eschatology,” an innovative type of eschatological thinking in which the eschaton is brought to the present. Restoration eschatology is different from both apocalypticism and millennialism.

In the introductory chapter Finitsis challenges the assumption of a genetic relationship between prophecy and apocalypticism and introduces both his main conversation partners (Plöger, Hanson, and Cook) and the two areas of interest in the book: the sociological context of Zechariah and the visionary method he uses to express his ideas.

Chapter two deals with the relationship between prophecy and apocalypticism. Finitsis uses a broad definition of the category of “eschatological,” which he defines as “the whole spectrum of ideas that describe ‘the end’; those that regard it as a shift and/or transition that is supposed to take place in the near future and those that consider it a terminal point” (p. 7–8). Within the realm of eschatology he distinguishes between preexilic prophetic eschatology and postexilic prophetic eschatology, contrasting the latter with proto-apocalyptic eschatology and apocalyptic eschatology, the latter notion introducing the notion of a final judgment after the resurrection of the dead.

In chapter three Finitsis evaluates the different proposals for the social settings offered by scholars to explain the relationship between prophecy and apocalypticism. Here he engages a critical discussion of the contributions of three scholarly proposals: Plöger's ideas of the emergence of a theocracy during the Second Temple period and the conflict between the priestly and prophetic tradition; Hanson's theory of a conflict between visionaries and hierocrats in the postexilic period; and, more briefly, Cook's argument that proto-apocalyptic texts may be produced by authors or redactors who are in a position of power rather than living on the periphery of a society.[1] He concludes that “we cannot lose sight of the particularity of the historical record lest we give up the particularity of the material and end up working with the methodological similarities created by the overriding pattern of the comparisons” (p. 63).

This leads to an attempt to reconstruct the postexilic social setting on the basis of the available historical and archaeological sources in chapter four. In the first part of the chapter Finitsis describes how a Persian province relates to the empire. He identifies three strategies of the Persians to promote unity even where there was no uniformity: using propaganda in order to create a sense of dynastic continuity and sanction from local religious traditions, making efforts to secure the loyal cooperation of the local elite, and being benevolent towards local sanctuaries in order to gain both political and material support. In the second part Finitsis discusses the population size of the Persian province Yehud. Here he critiques the proposals of Weinberg and Barstad and sides with the ethnoarchaeological analysis provided by Carter leading to the conclusion of a population size of Jerusalem in the period 539–450 B.C.E. of 1,500 citizens and 13,350 for Yehud.[2]

In chapter five Finitsis sets out to read Zech 1–6 in its socio-historical context. Before turning to Zech 1–6, Finitsis first surveys the book of the prophet Haggai. Finitsis describes the Zerubbabel oracle in Hag 2:20–23 as the climax of Haggai's prophecy. The prophet is able to employ restoration eschatology because of “the presence and suitability of Zerubbabel for a messianic role. His [the prophet's] eschatological viewpoint was successful because it acknowledged the post-exilic socio-economic reality and found a way to address the people's objections while maintaining a high level of excitement and hope for the future” (p. 125). Finitsis then turns to Zech 1:7–6:15, which shares the eschatological viewpoint of Haggai, and in which contemporary figures are included in the heavenly world, an innovation in the history of messianic ideas and eschatological expression. Zechariah adds another dimension to this picture: the cooperative character of the leadership of king and priest. In doing so he “casts messianic hope into a new form radically different from previous expressions. Whenever the messianic topic comes up, Joshua and Zerubbabel are presented in an intertwined way” (p. 135).

In chapter six Finitsis discusses the role of the prophet Zechariah and the way he used the visionary form to communicate his prophetic message. Here he draws on the work of Michael Riffaterre to explain how the prophet uses the visionary medium to enhance his authority.[3] The medium at the same time enables a greater participation of the audience in the communication of the message. The restoration eschatology of Zechariah is to be distinguished from apocalypticism. Restoration eschatology and apocalypticism may share the same visionary technique, but the content is different: in restoration eschatology there is no transcendent salvation, and the change which is announced is neither catastrophic nor cosmic. Given Zechariah's background in priestly circles, his interest in cultic matters is not a surprise, but he presents himself mainly as a prophet. Finitsis considers Zechariah successful as a prophet: he convinced his audience to take his message seriously and to take the action he suggested. His success in the rebuilding of the postexilic community was the reason for being included in the prophetic canon, even when he was less non-conformist than most of the other writing prophets. In the final chapter Finitsis summarizes the argument of the book.

Finitsis's book is an engaging read. He rightly distances the vision material in Zech 1–6 from apocalypticism and millennialism. Chapter four in particular makes an illuminating contribution to the reconstruction of the postexilic social setting of Yehud and the nature of the relationship of the Persian Empire to its provinces. Yet this reader is not persuaded that Finitsis has made a convincing case for “restoration eschatology.” This is due to a number of weaknesses in chapter five where Finitsis discusses the textual material of Haggai and Zech 1–6, which is something like a test-case for his proposal. Here one does not find the rigour which was demonstrated so well in earlier chapters.

In a number of cases one finds a return to earlier positions which have been challenged in recent discussions. As an example I mention a subject which is one of the building blocks of Finitsis's thesis: the idea of a double coronation of both Joshua and Zerubbabel, postulated for an earlier version of Zech 6:12, which was subsequently edited out, because—quoting Collins—“the coronation never took place” (p. 134).[4] Finitsis's adherence to this questionable double coronation hypothesis (which he erroneously attributes to Meyers and Meyers as well as Petersen) raises two questions.[5] (1) If failure of prophecy was a reason for correcting the text of Zech 6, why was the supposed failure (pp. 121–2) of Haggai's prophecy identifying Zerubbabel as the expected messiah not corrected as well? (2) How can both prophets be considered successful if their prophecies contained something which cannot be called a minor error; did their audience not notice that Zerubbabel never became king? Towards the end of the book Finitsis discusses the possibly surprising inclusion of Zechariah in the canon of the writing prophets; unfortunately, however, this failure of prophecy does not play any role in that discussion.

Sometimes Finitsis should have been more independent in his adoption of views of earlier scholars, such as Petersen's argument that Zechariah is using “filial language” to describe the relationship of the two olive trees to God. Petersen rightly stated that the Hebrew word ben has “the sense of denoting a member of a class,” but his following comments are more problematic. Petersen holds that “language of sonship has been used earlier in Israel to describe the relationship of the community's leader to the community's deity,” and concludes that “What seems significant about the Zechariah vision is its emphasis on two sons of oil. Earlier one could only speak of one significant son, the king. The import of Zechariah's vision is that two sons may now be spoken of.”[6] Finitsis accepts this case of what Barr would have called an “illegitimate totality transfer” as a serious argument and concludes: “the appropriation of filial language means that these two figures are viewed as community leaders” (p. 133 n. 127).[7]

At other times one would have expected more discussion of the Hebrew text rather than just following a contemporary Bible translation. In his discussion of Zech 1:16 Finitsis quotes the NRSV: “Therefore, thus says the LORD, I have returned to Jerusalem with compassion; my house shall be built in it […]” (p. 128). The argument in the next paragraph depends on the past tense used in this translation. Finitsis writes: “It is very important to notice the fine balance Zechariah strikes among the past, the present, and the future” (p. 128). If the verse plays such an important role, one would have expected at least some discussion of the translation of the verbal form שַׁבְתִּי. Some, like the NRSV, render this Qatal form as a past tense (“I have returned”), while others, like the NJPS, prefer a non-past tense: “I graciously return.” Interestingly, the NRSV has a non-past tense rendering of the same verbal form in Zech 8:3: “I will return to Zion” (where the NJPS has a past rendering: “I have returned”).

In conclusion, this book left me with a somewhat mixed impression. On the one hand there is an engaging discussion of the relationship of Zech 1–6 and (proto-)apocalypticism, as well as an informative reconstruction of the social setting of postexilic Yehud. On the other hand, when Finitsis's hypothesis of restoration eschatology is put to the test in a reading of Haggai and Zech 1–6, the quality of the argument seems inferior and the author fails to convince at least this reader.

Although the typesetting of the book is generally of high quality, there are some minor glitches: some Hebrew words are written from left to right (pp. 133 n. 31, 134 n. 133 [2x]), a Hebrew font should have been used for זרע (now it reads “the noun [rz” [p. 120 n. 68]). Additionally, it is not ideal that the same Latin character (s) is used for a šin in some cases (e.g., “smm,” p. 112 n. 37) and for a ṣāḏē in others (“yishar,” p. 132 n. 125). Finally, there is an error when it is claimed (160), “As far as this prophet is concerned, Joshua and Zechariah are ‘the two anointed ones who stand by the LORD of the whole earth’.” Substituting Zerubbabel for Zechariah, as per the conventional interpretation, is not really an improvement in my view, but that is another matter.

Wolter H. Rose, Theological University, Kampen, The Netherlands

[1] O. Plöger, Theocracy and Eschatology (trans. S. Rudman; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1968); P. D. Hanson, The Dawn of Apocalyptic: The Historical and Sociological Roles of Jewish Apocalyptic Eschatology (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1979); S. L. Cook, Prophecy and Apocalypticism: The Postexilic Social Setting (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1997). reference

[2] J. Weinberg, The Citizen-Temple Community (trans. Daniel L. Smith-Christopher; JSOTSup, 151; Sheffield: JSOT, 1992); H. M. Barstad, The Myth of the Empty Land: A Study in the History and Archaeology of Judah During the “Exilic” Period (SO, 28; Oslo: Scandinavian University Press, 1996); C. E. Carter, The Emergence of Yehud in the Persian Period: A Social and Demographic Study (JSOTSup, 294; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1999). reference

[3] M. Riffaterre, Fictional Truth (Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1990). reference

[4] J. J. Collins, “The Eschatology of Zechariah,” in L. L. Grabbe and R. D. Haak (eds.), Knowing the End from the Beginning: The Prophetic, the Apocalyptic, and Their Relationship (JSPSup, 46; London/New York: T&T Clark, 2003), 80. reference

[5] C. L. Meyers and E. M. Meyers, Haggai, Zechariah 1–8 (AB, 25B; New York: Doubleday, 1987), 349, cf. 353, 363; D. L. Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1–8 (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1984), 279. reference

[6] Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1–8, 233. reference

[7] J. Barr, The Semantics of Biblical Language (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1961), 218. reference