NT Wright, page 64:
“Ordinary people in the Greco-Roman world clearly thought that from time to time one might see ghosts, spirits or visions of dead people. It was even possible to precipitate such encounters oneself. But we should not make the mistake of supposing that this had anything to do with resurrection. No such experiences would have persuaded anyone in that world that the total denial of resurrection in Homer and the tragedians had been broken. These visions and visitations were not cases of people ceasing to be dead and resuming something like normal life, but precisely of the dead remaining dead and being encountered as visitors from the world of the dead, who have not and will not resume anything like the kind of life they had before.
Nobody (among the Jews of second-Temple Judaism; the period in which Jesus lived) imagined that any individuals had already been raised, or would be raised in advance of the great last day. There are no traditions about prophets being raised to new bodily life; the closest we come to that is Elijah, who had gone bodily to heaven and would return to herald the new age. There are no traditions about a Messiah being raised to life: most Jews of this period hoped for resurrection, many Jews of this period hoped for a Messiah, but nobody put those two hopes together until the early Christians did so. It may be obvious, but it needs saying: however exalted Abraham, Isaac and Jacob may have been in Jewish thought, nobody imagined they had been raised from the dead. However important Moses, David, Elijah and the prophets may have been, nobody claimed that they were alive again in the ‘resurrection’ sense.
The martyrs were honoured, venerated even; but nobody said they had been raised from the dead. The world of Judaism had generated, for its rich scriptural origins, a rich variety of beliefs about what happened, and would happen, to the dead. But it was quite unprepared for the new mutation that sprang up, like a totally unexpected plant, within the already well-stocked garden.
King Herod heard of it, for Jesus’[a] name had become known. Some were[b] saying, “John the baptizer has been raised from the dead; and for this reason these powers are at work in him.” 15 But others said, “It is Elijah.” And others said, “It is a prophet, like one of the prophets of old.” 16 But when Herod heard of it, he said, “John, whom I beheaded, has been raised.”
Now Herod the ruler[a] heard about all that had taken place, and he was perplexed, because it was said by some that John had been raised from the dead, 8 by some that Elijah had appeared, and by others that one of the ancient prophets had arisen. 9 Herod said, “John I beheaded; but who is this about whom I hear such things?” And he tried to see him.
NT Wright, page 413
What does this story tell us about the world of second-Temple Jewish belief? If we assume that Herod and his courtiers really did say something like this, it seems to be an exception to the general rule, that ‘the resurrection of the dead’ would happen to all the righteous dead simultaneously, not to one or two here and there.
(Why would you question if Herod and his courtiers really did make these statements, Rev. Wright? It is written right there in the Holy Bible! Don’t you believe in the inerrancy and divine inspiration of Holy Scripture??)
My dear Rev. Wright: There is a world of difference between, “nobody, nobody, nobody, nobody” and “Herod and his courtiers were an exception”! You made a very emphatic, no-exceptions statement earlier in your book that “nobody (among Jews of the second-Temple era in which Jesus lived) imagined that any individuals had already been raised, or would be raised in advance of the great last day.”
You have just shot yourself in the foot, my dear man!
If Herod and his courtiers could imagine that John the Baptist had been raised from the dead, then why couldn’t Jesus’ despondent disciples, after seeing him crucified, imagine the same had occurred to their beloved Jesus? Since individual resurrection seemed to be a believable possibility based on the above Bible passages, maybe the belief in the resurrection of Jesus began when one or two of the disciples ‘saw’ the ‘risen Jesus’ in a crowd, or glimpsed, for a brief moment, a ‘risen Jesus’ in the distance, or “saw” the ‘risen Jesus’ in a vision, such as what Paul says happened to him…triggering multiple disciples to see visions of a resurrected Jesus, starting an oral legend that would build and be embellished each time it was told so that 35-45 years later when someone first wrote down this story, it had blossomed into the beautiful, supernatural tale that we find in the Gospel of “Mark”, and then further embellished by “Matthew”, “Luke”, and “John”.
Bottomline: So, dear reader, we have evidence, directly from the Bible itself, that the concept of an individual being resurrected prior to the general resurrection of all the righteous was indeed a possibility in the minds of first century Jews.