NT Wright, pages 127-128:
The constant factor, throughout the types of belief we have surveyed, is Israel’s god himself. The vision of YHWH’s creation and covenant; his promises and his faithfulness to them; his purposes for Israel, not the least his gift of the land; his power over all opposing forces, including finally death itself; his love for the world, for his human creatures, for Israel in particular, and especially for those who served him and followed in his way; his justice, because of which evil would eventually be condemned and righteousness upheld—this vision of the creator and covenant god underlies the ancient belief in the national and territorial hope, the emerging belief that the relationship with YHWH would be unbreakable even by death, and the eventual belief that YHWH would raise the dead.
The biblical language of resurrection (‘standing up’, ‘awakening’ etc.), when it emerges, is simple and direct; the belief, though infrequent, is clear. It involves, not a reconstrual of life after death, but the reversal of death itself. It is not about discovering that Sheol is not such a bad place after all. It is not a way of saying that the dust will learn to be happy as dust. The language of awakening is not a new, exciting way of talking about sleep. It is a way of saying that a time will come when sleepers will sleep no more. Creation itself, celebrated throughout the Hebrew scriptures, will be reaffirmed; remade.
The national element in this hope is never abandoned. The promise remains. But out of that promise there has grown something new, which, once grown, will not (as we shall see) wither away: the belief in resurrection, not just as an image for the restoration of nation and land but as a literal prediction of one element in that restoration; not simply metaphor, but also metonymy. It is that double function that we shall now explore as we trace the meaning of ‘resurrection’, within the broader context of continuing thought about life after death through the turbulent world of second-Temple Judaism.
Did you ever watch the art program that featured a British nun with huge front teeth who would go on and on about a painting, telling you everything you didn’t want to know about it, and more? The good Sister would see in a painting the subtlest of nuances…or she was just making up a lot of crap.
“Look at the dim background behind the man in this painting. Do you see how this demonstrates the artist’s somber mood; his melancholy character; his ambivalence to the central character in the foreground? And notice the anguished face of the man in the painting. It is as if every injury and hurt of his young life can be summed up in his furrowed brow….Can you see that?”
To which I would respond, “No, Sister. All I see is a dead guy slumped over in a bathtub.”
I get the same feeling when reading Wright’s statement above.
So much deep, poetic contemplation interwoven with deep philosophical undertones regarding the emerging belief in a bodily resurrection, which suddenly appears in the final books of the Old Testament during second-Temple Judaism. Not a new belief, mind you, but the “harvest” of the seed planted in the earliest texts of the OT: of the Hebrew God’s faithfulness and promise of redemption to his people…even after death.
“No, Rev. Wright. Beautiful, poetic explanation, but face the facts: the emerging (new) belief in a bodily resurrection was the product of a brutal conquest and occupation of Judah by foreign powers. Whereas in the past, Jews expected blessings in this life for obeying Yahweh’s Law, now with no hope of blessings in this life, the reward for obeying God’s Law is pushed into the future by the astute preachers and theologians of the day. A future reward that no one will ever be able to come back and tell us whether or not they actually received it. In this emerging, flowering, coming of age belief system, God’s blessings and rewards will be given after death…and no one will ever be able to deny the veracity of this righteous reward system.”
Read part 16 here.