Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel

Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life

Copyright Date: 2006
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 304
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    Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel
    Book Description:

    This provocative volume explores the origins of the Jewish doctrine of the resurrection of the dead. Jon D. Levenson argues that, contrary to a very widespread misconception, the ancient rabbis were keenly committed to the belief that at the end of time, God would restore the deserving dead to life. In fact, Levenson points out, the rabbis saw the Hebrew Bible itself as committed to that idea.The author meticulously traces the belief in resurrection backward from its undoubted attestations in rabbinic literature and in the Book of Daniel, showing where the belief stands in continuity with earlier Israelite culture and where it departs from that culture. Focusing on the biblical roots of resurrection, Levenson challenges the notion that it was a foreign import into Judaism, and in the process he develops a neglected continuity between Judaism and Christianity. His book will shake the thinking of scholars and lay readers alike, revising the way we understand the history of Jewish ideas about life, death, and the destiny of the Jewish people.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-13515-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  5. List of Abbreviations
    (pp. xvii-xxii)
  6. 1 The Modern Jewish Preference for Immortality
    (pp. 1-22)

    That classical Judaism firmly believed in the resurrection of the dead—indeed, insisted upon it as a defining tenet of the community—today comes as a shock to most Jews and Christians alike. The reasons are not hard to find.The American Heritage Dictionarygives as the first meaning of “resurrection” (lowercase) “a rising from the dead or returning to life” but soon defines “Resurrection” (uppercase) as “the rising again of Christ on the third day after the Crucifixion.” The latter meaning, which has historically stood at the very center of the Church’s proclamation of its gospel, has deeply colored...

  7. 2 Resurrection in the Torah?
    (pp. 23-34)

    The objections to the doctrine of resurrection that we explored in our first chapter arose, as it were, from outside the religious tradition itself. Their origin lies in rationalistic and scientific thinking that, while not altogether unprecedented in the premodern world, has risen to its fullest prevalence only in the past three and a half centuries, in the wake of the scientific revolution. In essence, these objections are directed at the very idea of a God who interrupts the course of nature, supervening and contravening the laws that have governed life from its very emergence. In their more extreme form,...

  8. 3 Up from Sheol
    (pp. 35-66)

    In the field of biblical studies, renowned for its deficit of basic agreement and the depth of its controversies, one cannot but be impressed by the longevity and breadth of the consensus about the early Israelite notion of life after death. The consensus, to be brief, is that there was none, that “everyone who dies goes to Sheol,” as Johannes Pedersen put it about eighty years ago, “just as he, if everything happens in the normal way, is put into the grave.”¹ To be sure, Pedersen’s fascinating description of Sheol makes it clear that he does not believe that the...

  9. 4 Are Abraham, Moses, and Job in Sheol?
    (pp. 67-81)

    In the first half of the fourth century C.E., the Babylonian sage Rava raised a grave doubt about Job, the paradigmatic innocent sufferer of the Bible. “Job denied the resurrection of the dead,” the rabbi pronounced, thus placing the revered biblical figure among the heretics.¹ The rabbi’s proof text is of a kind with the assertions of the hopelessness of Sheol that we have examined:

    As a cloud fades away,

    So whoever goes down to Sheol does not come up. (Job 7:9)

    Rashi, the revered eleventh-century commentator from northern France, seconds this view in his comment on these words of...

  10. 5 Intimations of Immortality
    (pp. 82-107)

    In the previous chapter, I argued against the preponderant opinion among scholars that until the emergence of an expectation of resurrection, Sheol was the routine destination of all who died. Instead, I defended the minority position that sees that dark, dreary netherworld as “a term of personal engagement,” as Phillip Johnston puts it,¹ generally employed to designate only a negative death, that is, a death that is marked by violence, punishment, prematurity, or a broken heart. The biblical Sheol is not, it must be stressed, the same thing as the Christian hell or the rabbinic Gehinnom (Gehenna), the condign postmortem...

  11. 6 Individual Mortality and Familial Resurrection
    (pp. 108-122)

    In our second chapter, we discussed one of the prime warrants often adduced either for the rejection of resurrection (by better-informed individuals) or for its alleged absence, and the alleged absence of any notion of the afterlife, in Judaism (by less informed individuals). That warrant is the finality of death in the Hebrew Bible, or at least in most of it, and certainly in what is from a Jewish point of view its most important subsection, the first five books. For no resurrections take place therein, and predictions of a general resurrection at the end of time can be found...

  12. 7 The Man of God Performs a Resurrection
    (pp. 123-132)

    The intimate connection of infertility with death, and of childbirth and familial survival with resurrection, that we developed in our previous chapter appears nowhere in the Hebrew Bible with greater clarity than in 2 Kgs 4:8–37, the story of the great lady of Shunem and the wonder-working prophet Elisha ben Shaphat. The tale itself is deceptively simple. The wealthy woman, we are told, urges the prophet to stop at her house for a meal, and soon the practice becomes regular whenever the prophet is in town (vv 8–9). After a while, at her suggestion, she and her husband...

  13. 8 “Death—Be Broken!”
    (pp. 133-141)

    We have uncovered a widespread biblical pattern centering on the loss and restoration of a child, including in one prominent variant the loss of the very possibility of children because of sterility.¹ The pattern is probably most familiar from the book of Genesis, since this is the first and best-known narrative book in the Hebrew Bible. There it can first be detected as early as the story of Adam and Eve, who lose Abel to murder and Cain to exile but gain a replacement for the former through the birth of Seth (Gen 4:1–16, 25–26). It is more...

  14. 9 The Widow Re-Wed, Her Children Restored
    (pp. 142-155)

    Probably the greatest assault on Israel’s existence in biblical times was the Babylonian capture of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E., which resulted in the torching of the Temple (Yhwh’s own house), the overthrow of the House of David, and the exile of a significant segment of the populace of the southern kingdom, Judah (the northern kingdom, Israel, had fallen to the Assyrians about 135 years earlier). At the end of that exile nearly half a century later, as the Persian conquest of Babylonia and release of the Judahites loomed, an anonymous prophet (whom scholars call Second Isaiah because his writings have...

  15. 10 Israel’s Exodus from the Grave
    (pp. 156-165)

    We have now discussed at length two important biblical antecedents of the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, the characteristic embeddedness of the individual in family and nation and the close connection of exile with death. Now we must turn to the text in which these two combine to offer the best known and most stirring example of resurrection in the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Ezekiel’s celebrated vision of the valley of the dry bones:

    The hand of the Lord came upon me. He took me out by the spirit of the Lord and set me down in the...

  16. 11 The Fact of Death and the Promise of Life
    (pp. 166-180)

    Having now examined at length the questions of resurrection and immortality in their various permutations before the expectation of a general resurrection emerged, we are now in a good position to revisit the topic of our second chapter, the claim of the rabbis of the Talmudic age that the resurrection of the dead is already in the Torah. The first inclination of a scholar practicing historical criticism is to dismiss the claim as tendentious and anachronistic. For surely the rabbis, like the early Christians and, for that matter, religious people in all communities and times, here simply retrojected their own...

  17. 12 “He Keeps Faith with Those Who Sleep in the Dust”
    (pp. 181-200)

    The first transparent and indisputable prediction of the resurrection of the dead in the Hebrew Bible appears in Dan 12:1–3:

    ¹At that time, the great prince, Michael, who stands beside the sons of your people, will appear. It will be a time of trouble, the like of which has never been since the nation came into being. At that time, your people will be rescued, all who are found inscribed in the book. ²Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence. ³And the wise...

  18. 13 God’s Ultimate Victory
    (pp. 201-216)

    We have now established that the first universally acknowledged biblical reference to a general resurrection of the dead (Dan 12:1–3) is itself a passage rich in intertextual resonances. However new the belief may have been in the second century B.C.E. (when that passage was written), its textual articulation looks back to multiple scriptural antecedents of its own. One such antecedent lay in Isa 52:13–53:12, which speaks of the vindication and restoration of the servant of the Lord, so despised in his life, so humiliated in his death. The other lay in the “Isaianic Apocalypse,” which speaks of violent...

  19. 14 Epilogue: The Two Horns of the Ram
    (pp. 217-230)

    Our exploration into the rabbinic doctrine of resurrection has traced its ultimate origin to the transformation that nature undergoes as a result of the Divine Warrior’s astonishing victory. That transformation replaces sterility with fertility, childlessness with new descendants (and the return of lost descendants), hopelessness with a radiant future—death with life. Within the religion of Israel from the earliest time that we can identify it, the hoped-for transformation could not have been thought complete, or even real, without a restoration of the people Israel itself, and this perforce entailed a recovery from humiliation and defeat, a reconstitution of the...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 231-262)
  21. Index of Ancient Sources
    (pp. 263-272)
  22. Index of Authors
    (pp. 273-274)