The Kingdom of Heaven in Kindred Systems, Judaic and Christian -- By: Jacob Neusner

Journal: Bulletin for Biblical Research
Volume: BBR 15:2 (NA 2005)
Article: The Kingdom of Heaven in Kindred Systems, Judaic and Christian
Author: Jacob Neusner


The Kingdom of Heaven in Kindred Systems, Judaic and Christian

Jacob Neusner

Bard College

“Kingdom of Heaven” figures prominently in one Judaic system, forms part of the background of another, and plays no role whatsoever in a third, which makes possible the comparison and contrast of Judaisms. What is at stake in this exercise is how and whether “Kingdom of Heaven” functions as a category-formation in the Aggadic theology as it does in the Evangelists’ account of Jesus’ teaching and the media framed to bear that message. In Aggadic and Halakic contexts, by contrast, the theme of God’s rule pervades, but the particularization of that theme as “Kingdom of Heaven” forms no more than an inert category-formation, one that figures as part of the back- ground of ideas that everywhere inhere but nowhere take an active, generative role.

Key Words: Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven, Qaddish, category-formations, systemically generative, systemically inert, Halakah, Aggadah

Why Does the Formula “Kingdom of Heaven” Figure in the Systemic Comparison of Category-Formations?

Theological systems of social thought produced by diverse heirs of the Hebrew Scriptures concur on generative category-formations: Israel/Gentiles, sin-repentance-atonement, for example. These are critical not only to the Aggadic theology that structures the Rabbinic system but, appropriately adapted, to the theological constructions that animate other canonical communities. But a component deriving from Scripture that figures prominently in one Judaic system may form part of the background of another or play no role whatsoever in a third. So the comparison and contrast of Judaisms begins with the available theological category-formations: generative or inert.1

“The Kingdom of Heaven” provides one such case. It is generative in one continuator-system of Scripture, inert in another. When, specifically, we come to the theme the Kingdom of Heaven (in Rabbinic writings) or the Kingdom of God (in Christian ones), we find what forms to the one an inert reference-point, lacking systemic mission or position, and to the other, a category-formation integral to the construction and the working of entire compositions of thought. In the Aggadic system it is one way of referring to God’s dominion—that alone. In the Christian system set forth in the Synoptic Gospels, it defines the heart of Jesus’ message. Indeed, it is so systemically active that a particular literary medium, the parable, is designated as principal medium for the message. That surely justifies classifying the conception as a generative category-formation by the ...

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