Eschatological Images of Prophet and Priest in Edward Schillebeeckx’s Theology of suffering for Others

Heythrop Journal 43 (1):34-59 (2002)


Eschatological images of Jesus as found in Jewish and Christian texts constitute the foundation of Edward Schillebeeckx’s positive orientation to suffering for others. Jewish prototypes provided the early Christians with an understanding of Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection as the advent of the eschaton. The pre‐existing biblical figures, which early Jewish Christians appropriated in the aftermath of the devastating crucifixion, provided traditional categories through which the life and death of Jesus could be meaningfully interpreted. Jesus as the eschatological prophet‐martyr and Jesus as the suffering, eschatological high priest of the Epistle to the Hebrews are the most prominent and complex of the ancient figures. In Schillebeeckx’s analysis, each of the two composite titles ascribed to Jesus is an amplification of a prophetic or priestly prototype. The use of both models is predicted on Jesus’ compassionate and redemptive response to suffering – healing the sick, comforting the bereaved, giving hope to the oppressed, and proclaiming eschatological salvation.Schillebeeckx’s historical‐critical investigation of Jesus’ perception of his anticipated death, as revealed in the Last supper narrative, and his analysis of the meaning ascribed to the crucifixion in primitive Christianity establish the basis for a theology of redemptive suffering in the early church. Schillebeeckx has critically examined three pre‐New Testament interpretations applied to Jesus’ crucifixion: the death of the eschatological prophet‐martyr in the Deuteronomic tradition of the prophets whose proclamations were typically misjudged by Israel; the fulfilment of the divine scheme of salvation through the suffering of the ‘righteous one’, who is ultimately exonerated by God; and a vicarious, atoning sacrifice. The interpretative categories examined by Schillebeeckx with respect to the crucifixion are closely related to the biblical images upon which his theology of suffering is based.

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Elizabeth K. Tillar
Plymouth State University

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