Monday, August 06, 2012

Daniel 12:2-3 and Resurrection

It was 10 years after finishing my doctorate that my dissertation was published.  Trying to beat that pitiful record with the research I did on Jewish traditions about afterlife and resurrection during my 2004 sabbatical. I have a number of "chapters" I've presented here or there already but they need reformulated and edited.

I'm dividing Second Temple Jewish literature on the subject into 4 streams and trying to propose a somewhat developmental hypothesis. But I've decided to complete the writing in part by going source by source. The chapter on the stream that did not accept a meaningful afterlife is largely finished, so I turn here to one of the earliest sources in Jewish literature that holds to a meaningful afterlife, Daniel 12.
Although others have been suggested, Daniel 12:2-3 is the only passage in the Old Testament that all agree points to a meaningful life after death.  The point at which the historical account jumps to resurrection is somewhere in the years 167-164BC, during the Maccabean crisis. Then, like Mark 13:24 or Matthew 24:29, the account seems to jump to the final days of history in its current form. [1]

The conflict reaches a climax.  There is a time of crisis such as the world has never experienced before. [2] Then Israel ("your people") will experience salvation. What follows seems to be a partial rather than general resurrection of the dead. "Many" of those who sleep in the dust arise either to reward or punishment. Some of these rise to everlasting life and some to everlasting contempt.

It is tempting, as with 1 Enoch 22, to see the criterion for such resurrection in terms of those who have died without receiving justice in this world.  What determines who is awoken and who is not?  In 1 Enoch 22, it depends on whether the righteous have experienced their deserved reward in this world and similarly whether the wicked have received their just deserts. Daniel, however, does not give a clear rationale for the selection, although 12:3 may point to the basis for the righteous. Those who led many people to righteousness, a group called "wise," will shine like the stars forever.

Again, there is disagreement about whether this is now a third group of resurrected or whether this verse refers to those just mentioned who rise to everlasting life. Does Daniel here give us the criteria that has determined the reason for resurrection? It is tempting to fill in the rationale for resurrection with the rationale in other Jewish literature. In 2 Maccabees, for example, it would seem to be those who are martyred exactly for keeping the covenant who are going to be resurrected. Is that what Daniel means when it speaks of leading others to righteousness?

The text is similarly ambiguous both about the state of the resurrected prior to and after resurrection. Those who rise have been "those who sleep in the dust of the earth" (NRSV), an image of death that Paul also uses in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and 1 Corinthians 15:18. Does Daniel mean to imply that the dead are not conscious in the time between death and resurrection? Similarly, we are told nothing of the fate of the wicked dead.  They rise to everlasting contempt but nothing is said of what punishment or judgment they face.

Finally, it is uncertain how to take the image of the wise shining like the stars. It is a simile to be sure, they shine "like" the stars.  They do not literally become stars.  But how like the stars do they become?  Do they return to the earth for eternity or do they spend eternity in the heavens, like the stars...

[1] Although in the case of the gospels, N. T. Wright has argued that what follows is a highly poetic prediction of the destruction of Jerusalem.

[2] Imagery that Mark also applies to the time around the destruction of Jerusalem (13:19).


John Gardner said...

This is absolutely fascinating material. Keep this wonderful series going since it is good for all our souls, will help renew our minds, and love God more. Thank you very much.

Paul D. said...

In the Zoroastrian Bundahesh, at the resurrection, the bones of the dead are called from the dust, their blood from the water, and their life from fire. Some of those who are resurrected are then made into stars who gave enlightenment to other men.

That sounds a lot like Daniel to me in many ways.

Ken Schenck said...

The question with the Zoroastrian material is always the dating. The material we have is so much later than Daniel that it seems hard to affirm a clear relationship.