Thursday, December 01, 2005

Resurrection, part 4

Today, I'm going to quote some passages from non-canonical Jewish literature. These passages mainly show how the Jewish understanding of resurrection was physical. If any Catholics are reading this, you'll have to excuse me for referring to 2 Maccabees as non-canonical. :-)

The first passage is about the suicide of a feller named Razin during the Maccabean crisis.

Still alive and aflame with anger, he rose, and though his blood gushed forth and his wounds were severe he ran through the crowd; and standing upon a steep rock, with his blood now completely drained from him, he tore out his entrails, took them in both hands and hurled them at the crowd, calling upon the Lord of Life and spirit to give them back to him again. This was the manner of his death (2 Maccabees 14:45-46).
Notice that Razin called upon the "Lord of Life" to give his entrails back to him. This shows Razin's expectation of a physical resurrection. He was dying and expected to come back to life and recieve his entrails back.

Earlier in Maccabees, we find a similar passage:

And when he was at his last breath, he said, "You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the king of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws." After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth is hand, and said nobly, "I got these from heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again" (2 Maccabees 7:9-11).
Again, we have somebody giving up body parts with the expectation that he would get them back from God. His understanding of resurrection is clearly physical.

This next reference was written in response to the Jewish revolt in the first century, so it brings us closer to the time of Jesus.

For the earth shall then assuredly restore the dead. It shall make no change in their form. But as it has recieved, so shall it restore them. And as I delievered them unto it, so also shall it raise them (2 Baruch 50:2).
The "make no change in their form," is an interesting thing to say in light of 1 Corinthians 15 where Paul argues that the resurrection involves a transformation. But anyway, the emphasis in this passage seems to be continuity between the dead and the raised. I suspect that's what it means by saying there will be no change in their form. The important thing to notice in this passage is that the resurrection refers to the earth giving up the dead. This is contrary to the Jehovah's Witness view that resurrection has nothing to do with the bodies that have returned to the earth.

This next verse is pretty much the same:

And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it, and the dust those who dwell silently in it, and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them (4 Ezra [2 Esdras] 7:32).
Clearly, the author thinks resurrection involves bodies exiting their graves.

There's one more passage I want to quote, and it's from 1 Enoch, which was very influential in the first century, even among Christians apparently. In 1 Enoch, God said:

And in those days shall the earth also give back that which has been entrusted to it, and Sheol also shall give back that which it has received and hell shall give back that which it owes. For in those days, the Elect One... For the day has drawn nigh that they should be saved... And the Elect One shall in those days sit on my throne (1 Enoch 51:1).
I left in the reference to the "Elect One" to show the agreement with the canonical references. The Elect One appears to be the same person as David mentioned in Ezekiel, since he sits on God's throne. The Elect One is the messiah.

That's it for Jewish background on the resurrection. The purpose of going into this background is to show that "resurrection" referred to something very specific in Jewish literature, and the literature on the subject is fairly consistent. As I said before, the Jews believed in (1) a general resurrection of all the dead, (2) on the last day, (3) ushered in by the Messiah, (4) for the purpose of eschatological restoration (or judgment in the case of Daniel), (5) that involved their bodies existing their graves. Physicality was part of the definition of resurrection, so the idea of somebody being resurrected while their body remained in their grave would've been nonsense to a Jew during the time of Jesus. It would've had about as much meaning as a married bachelor or a four-sided triangle.

Tomorrow, I want to show how some of these Jewish ideas of resurrection are reflected in the New Testament.

to be continued... Part 5


At 12/01/2005 5:38 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

Do you think it's a good argument to say that if Jesus really were not resurrected and the disciples were lying, then it would have been much easier to have proclaimed a spiritual resurrection instead of a physical one?

At 12/01/2005 6:36 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

If by "spiritual resurrection," you mean a non-physical resurrection, then that would've seemed to anybody in the first century to be a contradiction in terms. If Jesus were still in the tomb, and they wanted to argue that he was alive in some sense, they could've argued that his soul survived the death of the body, but they would not have called that a "resurrection."

At 12/01/2005 9:35 AM , Blogger Jeff said...

However, the concept of a disembodied spirit is one that was very familiar. If they wanted to pull off a claim of continued spiritual authority under the direction of Jesus, claiming his spirit was still around would have been a much easier claim to make and defend.

In fact, it seems this was the initial conclusion drawn by the disciples when Jesus was walking on the water toward the boat, and again when He appeared in the upper room, walking through a wall. Jesus had to set the record straight by eating, and with Thomas, by having his wounds touched.

At 12/01/2005 6:43 PM , Blogger daleliop said...

But being killed and remaining as a disembodied spirit is not the same thing as being killed and rising to life. Matthew 21 says "From that time on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life."

So, the disciples couldn't claim Jesus had somehow survived his death and was now a disembodied spirit, either, because that would clearly contradict what Jesus had said earlier about how he would be raised to life.

At 12/01/2005 11:42 PM , Blogger ephphatha said...

You're right, Dale. "Raised to life" would've automatically implied physical resurrection. "Physical resurrection" is really redundant, because that's just what resurrection means--a physical body coming back to life.

At 12/02/2005 1:02 AM , Blogger Steve said...

well, resurrection is a rebirth of a person.

Now, if a person is more than flesh and bones, then I dont see why it couldn't refer to something metaphysical instead of physical.

I realize we're saying both occur at the same time, Im just asking why one could not occur without the other, and have a purely spiritual resurrection.

At 12/02/2005 2:02 AM , Blogger daleliop said...

But the soul can't die, so any "resurrection" must be a physical resurrection.

At 12/02/2005 3:26 AM , Blogger ephphatha said...

Dale is right. If the soul survives the death of the body, then what does it mean for that soul to be resurrected? It's already alive.

Now the Jehovah's Witnesses do not believe that the soul survives the death of the body, so in their case, they could say resurrection is spiritual since it involves a spirit coming to life. The problem with their view is that (1) it's contrary to any first century understanding of what a resurrection was, (2) it causes problems with identity, since there's no continuity between the person who dies and the person who rises, and (3) it is contradicted by the specific evidence for bodily resurrection in the New Testament, which will be coming up in a blog near you.

At 12/02/2005 5:31 PM , Blogger Steve said...

true, the soul cant die, but that doesn't mean it cant come back after leaving earth. In that sense, it has come back from beyond.


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