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Friday, November 26, 2010

Resurrection guest article

Resurrection: Origin of Belief by Elaine Nelson

The Resurrection is central to Christianity, for without the Resurrection there would be no Christians. While the Jews at the time of Christ believed in an afterlife, the first evidence is found in the Old Testament with God’s promise to Abraham that he would have descendants as the sand of the sea, and would inherit the land. This was the only immortality held by most ancient peoples, although there is evidence in their tombs that there was belief in an afterlife requiring food, servants, even animals.

The writer of Ecclesiastes wrote of death that came to everyone: “The living know at least that they will die, the dead know nothing; no more reward for them, their memory has passed out of mind. Their loves, their hates, their jealousies, these all have perished, nor will they ever again take part in whatever is done under the sun” (Ecc. 9). Death was final: “while man goes to his everlasting home. And the mourners are already walking to and fro in the street….or before the dust returns to the earth as it once came from it, and the breath of God who gave it" (Ecc. 11).

Christianity was born out of Judaism, but as the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote: “There is nothing new under the sun” and all religions have gradually developed their beliefs, often building on earlier ones. Judaism originated in the Sumerian and Assyrian cultures where Ur is located, the place where Abraham lived and was called by God. At that time there was still idol worship and practices differing greatly from later established Judaism.

While Abraham is revered by the Jews, it is Moses whose name is a synonym for the Law given to them at Sinai. This is considered to be the birth of the Jews as a distinct ethnic and religious group. God gave them very specific rules by which to live and practice their religion. Even then, there was only the promise of a long life and posterity as their blessing. Moses died without knowing of a resurrection and it was long afterward before the idea gradually was introduced into their religious beliefs.
Job is often cited as believing in a resurrection with his famous words: “I know that my redeemer lives.” (Some translations have “avenger). But the correct translation should be “vindicator” a Hebrew word which refers to the next of kin who has the duty of avenging the blood of a brother or protecting his title to property after his death. The role of the vindicator is to insure justice for his own kinfolk, bound to him by ties of blood. “Yet from my flesh shall I see God” is an ambiguous phrase which can mean either :“away from my flesh” (after death) or “from the vantage point of my flesh” (in this present life). The text is so corrupt that we can only conjecture what the original may have been. There is nothing in the book of Job indicating who is the author; the time when he lived; nor that he was a Hebrew. Because “Yahweh,” the divine name used by the Hebrews, and the other common designations for God: Elohim, El, and Eloah and Shaddai are not used; Bible scholars are unable to ascertain these answers. The Jewish Talmud has long observed the tradition that Moses was the author but it is impossible to confirm that. The one identifying feature is that the name “Satan” was never used in Jewish history until the late 6th or 5th century B.C., which would indicate that no earlier date could be authenticated.
During the Diaspora in Babylon and later Persia, the Jews came under the influence of those cultures. Those beliefs included the concepts of both good and evil; Heaven and Hell, and a Satan that were not in the Jewish religion. Up to that time, the Hebrews had attributed all that happened to their God, and there was no personal hereafter, it was only the nation that would be blessed. In their sacred scriptures, Heaven was the exclusive abode of Yahweh, God of the Israelites and they believed that after bodily death their abode was in Sheol, the place of the dead (Gen: 37:35, Job 7:9, Ps. 49:15), Prov. 15:11: Is. 38:10, Ezek 32:27, Hab. 2:5). This became a common belief when Jesus told the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 19-31), where the poor man died and was in Hades, another synonym for Sheol. In the Hebrew Scripture there is no direct reference to a postmortem Hell--or to a Heaven. These terms enter Jewish lore after the destruction of the First Temple in 586 B.C., and the subsequent Exile of Jews to Babylon when they fell under the influence of Persian dualism and Zoroastrianism--which made a profound impression on Jews, and later Christians, and Muslims.

Daniel is apparently the last writer of the Old Testament who first introduced a hope for the afterlife. As an apocalyptic, he wrote of a coming kingdom with the “ancient of days appearing on a throne to pass judgment. At the end, “those who lie sleeping in the dust of the earth many will awake to everlasting life, the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12).

There is no consensus on the date of Daniel. Actually, the professors of Old Testament History at Wheaton College (Walton) and Harvard University (Kugel); professors of the Bible as Literature (Gabel, et al); and the Interpreter’s Bible Commentary all place the date no earlier than the second century B.C. the SDA Bible Dictionary gives a much earlier date, ca. 6th or 5th century B.C., although in its comments there is acknowledgment that a majority of Christian scholars attribute it to an anonymous author of the time of the Maccabean revolt during the middle of the 2nd century B.C. and agree that scholars recognize that the historical sections of the book contain “numerous historical inaccuracies, anachronisms, and misconceptions,” and that some of the prophetic specifications seem to fit Antiochus (and many commentators who accept the book as genuine prediction by Daniel will allow at least some application to Antiochus in ch. 8 or 11) does not prove that a later fulfillment might not fit the requirements even better and more completely.“

Thus Adventists are  hold a minority view in their adoption of Daniel as being written in the 5th or 6th century B.C., perhaps because of major doctrines that are based on the acceptance of Daniel as being the last apocalyptic prophet in the OT. The interpretation of Daniel 9 and the specific date for the cleansing of the sanctuary is accepted by most scholars as the history of the time of the Maccabean Revolt and the description of Antiochus Epiphanes that polluted the altar. The unique Adventist interpretation totally discounts the Jewish Revolt in the second century and moves it almost a millennia later. This particular interpretation resulted in what Adventists have described as the “Great Disappointment” of 1844: that being the year predicted when God would come to claim His people. Had they been students of history, as well as fluent in Greek and Hebrew, and had not depended solely on the KJV with its often faulty translations. those mistakes would not have been made.

It is Paul, the earliest NT writer, who first wrote of Christ’s resurrection in what is considered to be his first epistle: “We believe that Jesus died and rose again, and that it will be the same for those who have died in Jesus: God will bring them with him (1 Thes. 4:14). More than a generation later, the Gospel writers told the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. By the time they were written (not earlier than 60 A.D.), there were already many Christians throughout the Middle East and the Resurrection became the central theme of Christianity, giving hope to all.

This most important of all Christian doctrines: life after death and the hope of eternal life--was only a gradual dawning of the earliest inklings in late Judaism that found its fulfillment in the Resurrection of the Messiah; the beginning of Christianity; and the culmination of all men’s hopes and dreams of the possibility of life after death. All this, because of the belief in what happened 2,000 years ago in a small and remote region of the vast Roman Empire and that revolutionized the world since that time.

Sources: Kugel, James L. How to Read the Bible: A Guide to Scripture Then and Now.
Gabel, John B., et al. The Bible as Literature: An Introduction.
Panati, Charles. Sacred Origins of Profound Things.
The SDA Bible Commentary
The Interpreters One Volume Bible Commentary
Walton, John H. Ancient Near Eastern Thought and the Old Testament.
It was only recently during a study of the book of Ecclesiastes that I realized that perhaps the book was written to not only reveal the wisdom the writer had acquired with regard to the world but also that the book may have also provided fodder for subsequent ideas to develop. That it might have been the necessary step in the progressive understanding which God used to reveal the concept of a resurrection. The book asks the question where does the spirit of man go? His answer is that it returns to God.

(Eccl 3:21 NIV)  Who knows if the spirit of man rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?"

(Eccl 12:6-7 NIV)  Remember him--before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken; before the pitcher is shattered at the spring, or the wheel broken at the well, and the dust returns to the ground it came from, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.

Once the idea that the spirit returns to God the possibility of God doing whatever He wants with the spirit becomes possible. The spirit is in the control of God and if God wanted to reanimate a spirit He could and it would make sense for Him to do that with the ones He loves. At least looking back from our perspective as we try and determine the ways in which a religion grew in understanding and principles. We may well never know exactly how some of these doctrines developed but we must realize that they did develop they had a growth in small increments. That after all is the way humans work, we learn by a step by step process where we apply information in a way that builds upon previous information. That is what the Bible does and we misread it when we pretend that there was some kind of ultimate truth presented from the beginning and people simply forgot that truth. Because in fact that is not what the Bible does and that is not what the Bible ever taught. It is an assumption based upon poor logic and poor assumptions.  ---RC

1 comment:

Mark said...

Another source for the history of the idea of resurrection in Jewish and Christian thought is "Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews" by Prof. Kevin J. Madigan and Professor Jon D. Levenson, both of Harvard Divinity School.