Rise of Belief in Resurrection within Biblical Religion by Stephen L. Cook

Modern readers of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament are often surprised that most biblical intimations of everlasting life and resurrection are earthy and embodied rather than ethereal. To offset the forlornness of death, the Scriptures counterpose promises of sumptuous, embodied, and tangible life. Death’s cold, dark menace is opposed by such blessings as lush trees growing in the temple (Ps 52:8), streams of life flowing (Ps 46), and the showering down of new life by God manifest as the thunderstorm (Ps 29). With death defeated, living, breathing, communal, and familial experience flourishes. The rise of belief in physical, bodily resurrection fits and confirms these earlier biblical symbols and ideals.

The various miracles of raising the dead in the Gospels (see Mark 5:38-43, Luke 7:11-17, John 11:38-44, Matt 27:52) did not embarrass the earliest Jesus followers as they do many modern people. An imminent, end-time rising of the dead was a known expectation within some apocalyptic Jewish quarters around the time of Jesus. We have only a handful of texts relevant to resurrection that were produced during Jesus’ era, but those that we do have show that some first-century Jews believed that history was rushing toward a messianic climax, including the dead rising.

At least some Jews believed that the Messiah’s appearance was at hand, heralded by “signs” (Isa 61:1, Luke 4:18) and especially by resurrections. Textual evidence for this view includes Isa 26:19 (especially in the Septuagint), 4Q521 from the Dead Sea Scrolls, and a text in Q (see Luke 7:22-23, Matt 11:4-5) that quotes the very same signs of the Messiah, including resurrections, that 4Q521 does. We do not know how representative these texts are, but the appearance of resurrection in Q shows that it was considered a portent of the Messiah’s arrival even outside of strictly apocalyptic groups.

Some scholars have identified two strands of thought within early Judaism, separating Jews stressing resurrection from Jews emphasizing wisdom for living. The latter group included itinerant sages teaching a way of life. The intermingling of both types of Jewish thought in texts such as Wis 2:1-3:9 shows that Judaism was not so polarized. Scholars who claim that Q lacks resurrection err as well. Their view runs aground on Q 13:28-30 , with its banquet of the resurrected, and on Q 11:29-32, where the dead rise up to speak on judgment day.

Daniel 12:2 declares God will defeat death (see also Isa 25:7, Isa 26:19) and resurrect “many.” This captivating passage became a key text in some Jews’ anticipation of messianic resurrection. Some scholars say “many” means only some will be raised, but as in this word’s use in Isa 2:3, it likely refers to all (see Isa 2:2). Despite the appearance of many in Isa 53:11-12, God’s servant acts on behalf of all (see Isa 53:6); Mark 10:45 and Mark 14:24 also use the term many, but elsewhere Jesus gives his life for all (see 1Tim 2:6).

Daniel 12:2, a text written in the second century B.C.E., is not the earliest Jewish text about the dead rising. 1 Enoch 27:1-4 reflects even earlier Jewish ideas about resurrection. Texts such as Isa 26:19, Isa 53:11 (see NIV), and Ps 22:29 (see NAB) all show that some in Israel likely already believed in bodily resurrection by the Babylonian exile. Still earlier, more than one ancient Near Eastern deity claimed power over death, and the biblical God jealously reserved the same power to himself (Deut 32:39, 1Sam 2:6, 1Kgs 17:17-24, 2Kgs 4:18-36, 2Kgs 13:20-21). God even raises one dead individual in Sidonian territory, that is, in the god Baals backyard (1Kgs 17:8-24).

Biblical scholar Jon D. Levenson has researched in detail how an explicit hope for a general resurrection at history’s end arose organically from deep roots in Scripture. Long-established hopes and dreams within Scripture—symbols and mythic images such as Eden’s rivers of life and tree of life—converge and pour forth in resurrection faith, according to Levenson. His work has not won over all biblical scholars, but it is powerfully argued. Far from imposing an alien “theological” reading, Levenson traces how ideals and urgings native to Israel’s Scriptures grew and developed over time, resulting in an overt resurrection faith.

Stephen L. Cook, "Rise of Belief in Resurrection", n.p. [cited 23 Nov 2017]. Online: http://www.bibleodyssey.org/en/people/related-articles/rise-of-belief-in-resurrection-within-biblical-religion

Contributors

Stephen L. Cook

Stephen L. Cook
Professor, Virginia Theological Seminary

Stephen L. Cook serves as the Catherine N. McBurney Professor of Old Testament Language and Literature at Virginia Theological Seminary. He is the author of several books, including Reading Deuteronomy: A Literary and Theological Commentary (Smyth & Helwys, 2015); Conversations with Scripture: 2 Isaiah (Morehouse, 2008); and The Apocalyptic Literature (Abingdon, 2003).

The supreme male divinity of Mesopotamia and Canaan.

Of or relating to ancient lower Mesopotamia and its empire centered in Babylon.

Common Era; a notation used in place of A.D. ("Anno Domini") for years in the current calendar era, about the last 2,000 years.

A collection of Jewish texts (biblical, apocryphal, and sectarian) from around the time of Christ that were preserved near the Dead Sea and rediscovered in the 20th century.

The historical era of Judaism spanning the periods of Persian and Roman rule, from the 6th century BCE to the 3rd century CE.

A period of time that appears most often in apocalyptic texts and refers to a future time marked by radical change, at the end of human history.

general condition of living away from ones homeland or specifically the Babylonian captivity

A West Semitic language, in which most of the Hebrew Bible is written except for parts of Daniel and Ezra. Hebrew is regarded as the spoken language of ancient Israel but is largely replaced by Aramaic in the Persian period.

Moving from place to place; lacking a permanent location.

The religion and culture of Jews. It emerged as the descendant of ancient Israelite Religion, and is characterized by monotheism and an adherence to the laws present in the Written Torah (the Bible) and the Oral Torah (Talmudic/Rabbinic tradition).

A collection of first-century Jewish and early Christian writings that, along with the Old Testament, makes up the Christian Bible.

A hypothetical source of sayings about Jesus conceived to explain common materials in Matthew and Luke.

Relating to thought about the nature and behavior of God.

Ps 52:8

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Ps 46

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Ps 29

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Mark 5:38-43

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Luke 7:11-17

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John 11:38-44

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Matt 27:52

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Isa 61:1

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Luke 4:18

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Isa 26:19

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Luke 7:22-23

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Matt 11:4-5

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Wis 2:1-3:9

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Daniel 12:2

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Isa 25:7

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Isa 26:19

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Isa 2:3

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Isa 2:2

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Isa 53:11-12

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Isa 53:6

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Mark 10:45

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Mark 14:24

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1Tim 2:6

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Daniel 12:2

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Isa 26:19

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Isa 53:11

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Ps 22:29

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Deut 32:39

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1Sam 2:6

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1Kgs 17:17-24

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2Kgs 13:20-21

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1Kgs 17:8-24

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