Wednesday, June 04, 2014

Resurrection Beliefs in Second Temple Judaism

James Efird reports that a diversity of opinion concerning the resurrection existed within Second Temple Judaism. Some put credence in the notion that the resurrection from the dead would consist in the old body being conjoined with the human spirit; others believed in soul sleep, whereas yet others accepted Greek concepts of immortality. He maintains: "No one set of ideas really held the day, but most people seem to have believed in some form of resurrection. Whether it was physical or spiritual, future or present, to be accomplished in this historical continuum or in a supra-historical sphere--none of these was really the theory. Each theory has its own advocates and in some instances the ideas were rearranged in such ways as to present 'new' hypotheses" (The New Testament Writings: History, Literature, Interpretation, page 18. Emphasis in the text).

Moreover, Efird notes that some believed a new physical body would be raised whereas others contended that a non-material body would be resurrected from the dead. On a related note, John J. Collins cites 1 Enoch to support his position about "resurrection of the spirit." He argues that 1 Enoch 104ff uses astral imagery to describe the resurrection of the just: they will be like angels "and associates of the host of heaven." Based on such passages, Collins observes: "Here again, we are dealing with resurrection, not an unbroken state of immortality. But there is no mention of bodily resurrection or of return to life on earth. What is envisaged is the resurrection of the NEPES or spirit and its transformation to an angelic state" (Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls, page 113). Collins also invokes Jubilees 23 as part of the testimony concerning ancient resurrection beliefs in Judaism. From Jubilees 23:30ff, he makes this point clear: "Here again we have a notion of resurrection that is neither immortality of the soul, in the Greek sense, nor resurrection of the physical body" (ibid).

How much clearer could Collins be when he states, "But it is by no means the case that Jews always thought of resurrection in bodily terms" (ibid)? He insists that what Daniel and Enoch say about the resurrection could best be described as "resurrection of the spirit" as opposed to resurrection of the body.

Jeffrey Asher further makes a case for understanding Paul's language in 1 Corinthians 15 about a "spiritual body" as a corpus informed by pneumatic stuff, based on ancient denotations of the Greek term pneuma and notable philosophical concepts at the time. See Asher's published work Polarity and Change in 1 Corinthians 15: A Study of Metaphysics, Rhetoric, and Resurrection (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2000).


Βασίλειος said...

2 Maccabees refer to resurrection without any belief to a distinct spirit or soul in any condition (sleep etc). So Efird's categorization of the versions of resurrection, as it is reported, is biased or at least incomplete.

Edgar Foster said...

Efird's work is not meant to be extensive or comprehensive; it's an introductory work that I once used to teach NT classes. The book has since been replaced for that course, and I no longer teach NT anyway because of enrollment problems. But you're correct that many other views could be expressed about 2nd temple Judaism.

JimSpace said...

Hi Edgar,
Does John Collins mention 1 Enoch 51* in that book? George Nickelsburg in his 1 Enoch 2 Hermeneia Commentary explains that this text is referring to resurrected life on a restored earth. Rolf Furuli understands it the same way, as do I.

* R H Charles’s translation of 1 Enoch 51:

Edgar Foster said...

Hi Jim,

I was using the google books edition which has limited privileges unless it's purchased. But I did not see 1 Enoch 51 covered in that book although it might be. Doing a search did not yield any results in the book.

Thanks for the link.

Best regards,