In my latest reading of W.D. Davies’ The Gospel and the Land, Davies sums up his argument about Jesus, the New Testament, and the land of Israel.
Essentially, Davies argues that the land of Israel was de-emphasized within the church when the Gentiles entered it in great numbers. The land promises that God made to Abraham and Israel were then downplayed, or they were reinterpreted in terms of cosmic renewal, an afterlife, a heavenly Zion, or salvation. Davies acknowledges some complexity to this picture, however, as he notes that there were Jewish-Christians who still held fast to the land promises, and that Paul himself highly esteemed Jerusalem and supported donations to it during a famine. Moreover, Davies contends that, even earlier than the church, Jesus himself “paid little attention to the relationship between Yahweh, and Israel and the land” (page 365). Davies argues against the claim that Jesus was a Zealot and affirms that Jesus’ focus was on the creation of a community “governed by selfless service alone” (page 352). Davies also states that Jesus was open to the salvation of the Gentiles.
It was interesting to read Davies after Ben Witherington’s Jesus, Paul, and the End of the World. Witherington, like Davies, says that Jesus envisioned Gentiles worshiping the God of Israel. But Witherington also affirms that Jesus had more of a focus on Israel, maintaining that Jesus wanted an outreach to Jews in the Diaspora and thought that some of them would be at the eschatological banquet.
Another issue that came up in my reading of Davies was roots. Davies states that a reason that Gentiles admired Israel and entered the church was that they themselves felt rootless. By joining the church, they became part of a family that Paul said went back (at least spiritually-speaking) to Abraham. They inherited a history, in short. But Davies also speculates that the detachment of the church from its Jewish heritage, which was in part due to the inclusion of Gentiles, led the church to focus on theology in its search for self-definition. Judaism, by contrast, concentrated on halakah rather than theology, for, according to Davies, Judaism had no problem with rootlessness. Davies mentions some things that complicate this picture, however, such as the fact that early Christianity itself had somewhat of a halakic focus, for Christianity was called “the Way”, plus the Didache was essentially a collection of church halakah.