Tuesday, July 10, 2012

NT Wright on Jewish Afterlife

I think if I were working on my doctoral dissertation today, I would blog through my resources. I think best by writing in front of an audience--like thinking out loud--which is why blogging works for me. Teaching is not about talking, but I learn best by talking to others about something I'm trying to learn (my apologies to former students).

I'm trying to get my brain back into the groove of the topic of the afterlife in Jewish literature, which I worked extensively on 10 years ago. I thought I might jot down some notes on some of the key dialog partners to remind myself of thoughts I used to have.  Having notes on the web is much better than note cards, since you can search them. ;-)
In The Resurrection of the Son of God, Wright's second chapter deals with relevant pagan views of the afterlife, with the conclusion that death is a one way street in them. Chapter 3 then goes through the OT, with a similar conclusion to others, namely, that the OT does not really have a category for a meaningful, personal afterlife, with the exception of Daniel 12:2-3.

He does consider Psalm 73 to say a little more--God receives the righteous person to glory. And Psalm 49:15 speaks of God ransoming the psalmist from the power of Sheol. This last verse in particular might easily be read in terms of some sort of separation of the dead, although it might have referred to being saved from death originally.

Of most interest to me, however, is his classification of afterlife belief in Second Temple Judaism.  His categories are:
1. No future life (Sadducees)
a. Dr. Bauer at Asbury once pointed out to me one thing that Wright says here: "They denied it because they were the conservatives" (131). Pop Christianity has the Sadducees pegged as the liberals, imposing modern social categories on the NT world. But at least on this issue, the Sadducees were the ones most in continuity with the OT as far as the belief (or rather disbelief) itself.

b. This is where Wright treats Acts 23:23, a key verse for processing the spectrum of resurrection belief at the time.  His key insight, in his opinion, is that this verse is about the intermediate state. "What the Sadducees denied, then, was on the one hand the resurrection, and on the other hand the two current accounts of the intermediate state" (133). He is opposing the view of Viviano and Taylor, JBL, 1992. I think he is partially right and partially wrong here.

c. In this section is the quote, "resurrection was from the beginning a revolutionary doctrine" (138). I believe Wright developed this a little in The New Testament and the People of God.  He footnotes here Alan Segal in relation to the rabbis (in The Resurrection, 1997, 113).

d. Other Jewish books he mentions are of course Sirach, Tobit, 1 Maccabees, 1 Baruch.

2. Disembodied afterlife
These are Jewish documents that Wright sees as rejecting resurrection while believing in afterlife. They include Pseudo-Phocylides, Testament of Abraham, 1 Enoch 103:3-8, 4 Maccabees, maybe Jubilees 23:30f.

He sees the dualistic framework that often underlies this view in 4 Ezra 7, perhaps in a comment attributed to Johanan ben Zakkai (bBer. 28b), although presumably these individuals believed in eventual bodily resurrection.  He mentions funerary inscriptions from Williams Cambridge History of Judaism, vol. 3, 1999, 90f.  Finally there is Philo.

3. Resurrection
"All the evidence suggests that, with the few exceptions noted already, it was widely believed by most Jews around the time of the common era" (147).

a. He starts with aspects of the Greek translation of the OT that reflect resurrection belief. Hans Cavallin's work (1974) has a section on this as well. Whereas Isaiah 26 was likely figurative originally, in the Greek translation it becomes pro-literal resurrection (26:14, 19).  Hosea 6:2 also, originally figurative, is now literal. Deuteronomy 32:39, Psalm 1:5, 21:30. The LXX of Job 14:14 makes it say exactly the opposite of what it said originally, as does Hosea 13:14. Job 19:26, while ambiguous originally, now clearly refers to resurrection. There is an extra statement of resurrection in Job 42:17.

I personally suspect that reflection on Scriptures like Isaiah 26 and Ezekiel 37 were catalysts for resurrection belief.  What was originally meant figuratively came to be taken literally.

Wright assumes that these are all bodily resurrections. With regard to Isaiah and Hosea he says, "No second-Temple reader would have doubted that this referred to bodily resurrection" (148). I have questions about the evidence for this statement. What does the LXX of Hosea mean when it says we will be raised to live in God's presence?

I also don't buy the old argument that vekroi must always mean "corpses."  This is potentially the etymological fallacy alive and at work in scholarship today. It doesn't matter that the word meant corpses originally. How did the word come to be used in common parlance.

"All the indications are that those who translated the Septuagint, and those who read it thereafter... would have understood the key Old Testament passages in terms of a more definite 'resurrection' sense than the Hebrew would necessarily warrant" (150).

b. 2 Maccabees, of course

c. He treats 1 Enoch here, which I think is mixed.  25:4-7 is fair enough.  In The Parables of Enoch (51), the righteous and holy become angels. Cf. 62:13-17, 91:10.

Wright acknowledges that 103:4 might be more about immortality than resurrection (citing Schurer 2.541).  Cf. 104:1-4.  This is a point where I am arguing for something different (cf. Collins).  I think there may be another category here (cf. Testament of Moses 10:8-10).  Psalms of Solomon 3:11 is less than clear (see p. 162 n. 135).

Apocalypse of Moses is clear resurrection (13.3), as is Sibylline Oracles 4.179-92.  TJudah may have a partial resurrection of the righteous (25.4).  Transformation in TBenjamin 10:6-9.  And of course 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch.  Eventually Pseudo-Philo (189-90) and the rabbis.

Wright changed my mind some time ago on the Wisdom of Solomon. It is not purely dualistic but does seem to look to a physical resurrection.

Josephus gives us the famous passages on the Jewish groups and their beliefs, somewhat hellenized to be sure. The Essenes are portrayed as dualists, the Pharisees are seen to hold to a resurrection of tje righteous but not the wicked. Much to return to here.

Wright wavers a bit on the Essenes. He thinks the external evidence points to resurrection belief and plays up two very exceptional fragments among the DSS: 4Q521 and Pseudo-Ezekiel. He also mentions 4QH 14, 19. John Collins is more definitive here (Apocalypticism in the Dead Sea Scrolls).

Many thanks to Wright for this superb work.  I gave a paper that ran through Jewish literature on the afterlife and categorized these sorts of positions in 1999, presented at the Historical Jesus section of SBL. Wright came up and asked for a copy of the paper afterwards. He was working on this book at the time. Of course he did a much better job with the topic than I did... ;-)


quadrilateral shapes said...

Quadrilateral just means "four sides" (quad means four, lateral means side). Any four-sided shape is a Quadrilateral. But the sides have to be straight.

John C. Gardner said...

How fortuitous. I myself will be beginning to read Wright's work again over the next few months again(and to finally complete it since I never finished reading it). He is a very good scholar.