A Layman’s Review of NT Wright’s, The Resurrection…, Part 17, The Views of post-Biblical Judaism

Chapter four of NT Wright’s, The Resurrection of the Son of God, is a very, very long read, all 76 pages of it.  It deals with only one subject:  the views of Jews living in the period of time between the Old and New Testament eras regarding an after-life.  Below are excerpts:

NT Wright, page 129:

Jews, it used to be said, believed in resurrection, while Greeks believed in immortality.  Like most half-truths, this one is as misleading as it is informative, if not more so.  If the Bible offers a spectrum of belief about life after death, the second-Temple period provides something more like an artist’s palette:  dozes of options, with different ways of describing similar positions and similar ways of describing different ones.  The more texts and tombstones we study, the more there seem to be.  Almost any position one can imagine on the subject appears to have been espoused by some Jews somewhere in the period between the Maccabean crisis and the writing of the Mishnah, roughly 200 BC to AD 200.

And yet.  The old half-truth had got hold of something which is in itself quite remarkable.  As we have seen, the Bible mostly denies or at least ignores the possibility of a future life, with only a few texts coming out strongly for a different view; but in the second-Temple period the position is more or less reversed.  The evidence suggests that by the time of Jesus, roughly in the middle of the period we are now examining, most Jews either believed in some form of resurrection or at least knew that it was standard teaching. 

Gary:  So what happened?  Did God just forget to mention the concept of an after-life in the first 2/3 of the Old Testament?  Or did God intentionally withhold, hide, or only occasionally hint of this information for several thousand years, for reasons known only to him, allowing millions of human beings to perish in the torments of Hell without any advance warning? 

Or,…was the concept of an after-life simply invented by despondent, oppressed Jews, suffering one disaster after another after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians,  struggling to maintain any hope possible,under the boot of one Gentile occupier after another for over 500 years?

NT Wright, page 137:

(Speaking of the first century Sadducees, the aristocratic ruling and priestly class of Jewish society)  …Their own supposed explanation (for why they held out against the doctrine of resurrection)—that the doctrine was not to be found in the foundational texts of scripture, namely the Pentateuch—is as we have seen prima facie true; there is nothing remotely like Daniel 12:2-3, Isaiah 26:19, or Ezekiel 37:1-14 to be found either in the Pentateuch or in the whole of the “Former Prophets’ (the historical books from Joshua to Kings).  But by the first century, as we shall see, the discovery of ‘resurrection’ texts even in the Torah itself had become a regular occupation of the Pharisees, as it was to become, in a measure, of the Christians also.

Gary:  From here, Rev. Wright launches into a lengthy discussion of the concept of resurrection appearing in all sorts of non-canonical Jewish writings during this inter-Testament period, such as I and II Maccabees, I Enoch, the Wisdom of Solomon, Baruch, the writings of Philo, the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, and much more.  In these writings the concept of a re-embodied existence occurring after death…and not just after death, but after ‘life after death’…becomes more and more the standard view of most Jews…including Jesus of Nazareth.  However, no Jew during this time period believed that the general resurrection of the dead and of the nation of Israel had happened yet.  This resurrection would occur sometime in the future.  Neither did any Jew of this time period believe that any individual had ever been resurrected in the past; not Adam, not Enoch, not Noah, not Abraham, not Moses, nor Elijah.  The idea that an individual would be resurrected prior to the general resurrection of all the “righteous” dead was unthinkable in first century Judaism.

Ok, I get the point Reverend.  I would agree:  no first century Jew would have believed that a dead man had been resurrected without an enormous amount of proof…like seeing this resurrected dead man with his own two eyes!

But doesn’t the issue of an evolving belief in resurrection…only occurring in the post-exilic era bother Rev. Wright?  It doesn’t seem to.

It bothers me.

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