RESURRECTION (Heb. תְּחִיַּת הַמֵּתִים), the belief that ultimately the dead will be revived in their bodies and live again on earth. Resurrection is to be distinguished from the belief in some sort of personal existence in another realm after death (see *Afterlife) or in the immortality of the *soul. A major tenet of Jewish eschatology alongside the *Messiah, belief in resurrection is firmly attested from Maccabean times, enjoined as an article of faith in the Mishnah (Sanh. 10:1), and included as the second benediction of the Amidah and as the last of Maimonides' 13 principles of faith.
In the Bible
The standard biblical view of death took it as man's final state (cf. ii Sam. 14:14). Aside from such anomalies as Enoch and Elijah who were "taken" by God (Gen. 5:24; ii Kings 2:1), the common lot of all men, as it was then conceived, is aptly described in Job 7:7–9:
Remember that my life is a breath;
My eye will not again see good…
A cloud dissolves and it is gone;
So is one who descends to Sheol;
He will not ascend.
Rabbah correctly inferred that the author of this passage left no room for resurrection (bb 16a). This accords with the biblical doctrine of *reward and punishment which satisfies the demands of justice during the (first) lifetime of men. When in Hellenistic times the doctrine proved inadequate, "the extension of divine retribution beyond the tomb came as a necessary corollary to the idea of God's justice and the assurance of his faithfulness in fulfilling his promise to the righteous" (G.F. Moore, Judaism, 2 (1950), 319).
The components of the idea of resurrection were present in biblical thought from early times. That God can revive the dead is one of His praises: "I slay and revive; I wounded and I will heal" (Deut. 32:39; cf. Pes. 68a for the argument that death and life of the same person is meant); "yhwh slays and revives; He brings down to Sheol and raises up" (i Sam. 2:6; cf. ii Kings 5:7). His power to do so was exhibited through the acts of Elijah and Elisha (i Kings 17:17ff.; ii Kings 4:18ff.).
In poetry, severe misery, mortal sickness, and dire peril are figured as death-like states – the victim has descended into Sheol, the (nethermost) pit, the dark regions, the depths of the sea (Ps. 30:4; 71:20; 88:4–7; 143:3). Divine rescue from such circumstances is "restoring to life" (Ps. 30:4; 71:20; 143:11; Isa. 38:17ff.), "redemption from the pit," and "restoration of youth" (Ps. 49:16; 103:4–5; Job 33:24–30). This world, from which the victim is cut off and to which he wishes to be restored, is "the land(s) of the living" (Isa. 38:11; 53:8; Ps. 27:13; 116:9; 142:6; Job 28:13); in contrast to the dark region of death, it is also called "the light of the living" (Job 33:30; Ps. 56:14).
Biblical usage is identical with that of other Ancient Near Eastern poetry. The Mesopotamian sufferer is "plunged into the waters of a swamp" ("Prayer to Every God," Pritchard, Texts, 392a); Ishtar need but look and "one who is dead lives; one who is sick rises up" ("Prayer of Lamentation to Ishtar," Pritchard, Texts, 384c); the sufferer prays that "radiantly… let me enter the streets with the living" (ibid., 385a). A striking parallel to biblical idiom is the doxology that concludes the "Poem of the Righteous Sufferer" ("I Will Praise the Lord of Wisdom," ibid., 437d):
The Babylon[ians] saw how [Marduk] restores to life,
And all quarters extolled [his] greatness:.
Who but Marduk restores his dead to life?
Apart from Ṣarpanitum which goddess grants life?
Marduk can restore to life from the grave,
Ṣarpanitum knows how to save from destruction (trans. by W.G. Lambert, Babylonian Wisdom Literature (1960), 59).
In the Bible, similar figures are applied to the people of Israel in Ezekiel 37:1–14 (the vision of dry bones, which the tanna R. Judah classed as an allegory (Rashi: "An allusion to the Exile – as a dead man come to life the Israelites would return from Exile"): Sanh. 92b) and in Isaiah 53:8ff. (the suffering and dying servant of yhwh).
The idea of resurrection proper makes its first clear and datable appearance in Daniel 12:2–3. In a future time of great trouble (an allusion to Antiochus iv's persecution), a deliverance will come:
And many of those who sleep in the dusty earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, others to everlasting reproach and contempt. Then the knowledgeable shall shine like the brightness of the sky; those who justified the many, like the stars, forever and ever.
That is to say, the generation of the persecution, whose wicked members escaped punishment and whose loyal members died without enjoying a reward for their devotion, would be called back to life to receive their just deserts. Traditional theodicy, explaining national distress as the product of sin, was incapable of consoling the pious victims of Antiochus' agents, for this time it was precisely the righteous who died, while apostates flourished. The anguish of the moment was assuaged by the belief that in the coming deliverance the injustice perpetrated on earth would be rectified by a judgment rendered to the deceased, called back to life on earth for the purpose.
Isaiah 26:19 speaks in similar terms and in a context of world judgment: "Your dead shall live, my dead bodies shall arise – awake and sing you who dwell in the earth! – for your dew is as the dew of light, and the earth shall bring to life the shades." Whether this is indeed the later concept of resurrection rather than the earlier, figurative image of restoration is arguable. Critics tend to the first view, dating the passage to Hellenistic times.
Later Jewish exegesis, influenced by the Jewish doctrine of resurrection (see below), read it back into many of the above-cited passages, and others as well. Thus, e.g., the "waking" in which the beatific vision of Psalms 17:15 occurs was explained by Rashi as the resurrection (for the plain sense – a cultic experience – cf. Ps. 27:4; 63:3; and esp. Ex. 24:11). Often enough, however, medieval exegetes give the plain (figurative) sense in addition and prior to the resurrectional one: see Ibn Ezra to Deuteronomy 32:39; David Kimḥi to i Samuel 2:6 and Ezekiel 37:1. Their reserve and sobriety contrasts with M. Da-hood's wholesale adoption of the resurrectional interpretation in most of the above-cited Psalm passages, in addition to many others in which "long enduring life" of royal prayers (e.g., Ps. 21:5; cf. the royal prayers in Pritchard, Texts, 383d, 394a, 397c) and the "future" of the righteous (often meaning progeny as in Ps. 109:13) are whimsically and uncritically combined and offered as evidence of an early Israelite belief in resurrection and immortality (M. Dahood fails to distinguish between the two; Psalms, 3 (1970), xli–lii).
In the rabbinic period the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead is considered one of the central doctrines of Judaism. The tenth chapter of Mishnah Sanhedrin begins, "All of Israel has a portion in the world to come, as it is said (Isa. 60:21) 'And Thy people are all righteous, at the End they shall inherit the land…' and the following have no portion in the world to come: one who says, 'There is no resurrection of the dead….'" George Foot Moore in Judaism in the First Centuries of the Christian Era (2 (1950), 323) asserts "It must be further observed that, except on the single article of the revivification of the dead, there was no dogma and no canon of orthodoxy in this whole field [eschatology]." This dogma was one of the important points of dispute between the Sadducees and Pharisees (see Jos., Wars, 2:163; Ant., 18:16; arn1 5, 14). The rabbis included belief in the resurrection in the canonical liturgy – especially in the second of the 18 benedictions of the Amidah.
The doctrine of the resurrection seems to embody two significant areas: (1) the idea of retribution and reward for the Jewish nation as a whole and not merely for individuals; and (2) the idea that body and soul are a single indivisible unit, both essential and equal in the constitution of a human being. These two ideas may have developed, or achieved prominence, at different stages in the development of the doctrine (see below).
As to the first point, in the Israelite worldview the ultimate redemption was always a redemption of the whole people. The prophets predicted a future time when there will be peace, justice, and righteousness in the world. This reward would seem to come, then, only to those living at the time of the redemption. The doctrine of the resurrection of the dead enables righteous souls throughout history to have a share in the world to come (olam ha-ba). As Moore points out (ibid., 311–12) the Greek religion was individualistic and needed a doctrine of immortality for the soul, in which the individual was rewarded or punished, but Jewish religion posited a reconstituted nation as the arena of retribution.
The second point is somewhat more sophisticated. A rabbinic parable, however, makes it crystal clear (Sanh. 91a–b):
Antoninus said to Rabbi, "The body and soul could exonerate themselves from judgment. How is this so? The body says, 'The soul sinned, for from the day that it separated from me, lo, I am like a silent stone in the grave!' And the soul says, 'The body is the sinner, for from the day that I separated from it, lo, I fly in the air like a bird.'" He answered him, "I will tell you a parable. To what is the matter likened? To a king of flesh and blood who had a beautiful orchard and there were in it lovely ripe fruit, and he placed two guardians over it, one a cripple and the other blind. Said the cripple to the blind man, 'I see beautiful ripe fruit in the orchard. Come and carry me and we will bring and eat them.' The cripple rode on the back of the blind man and they brought and ate them. After a while the owner of the orchard came and said to them, 'Where is my lovely fruit?' The cripple answered, 'Do I have legs to go?' Answered the blind man, 'Do I have eyes to see?' What did he do? He placed the cripple on the back of the blind man and judged them as one – so also the Holy Blessed One brings the soul and throws it into the body and judges them as one."
Neither body nor soul alone can sin or be righteous, so only the two together can be judged and punished or rewarded. Again the comparison with the Greek idea, in which the soul is the whole personality and the body merely its house, is instructive.
The idea of resurrection, then, for the rabbis was clearly and literally corporeal. Among the questions concerning resurrection discussed in rabbinic literature are whether or not the resurrected will have the same imperfect bodies as in this life or perfect ones, how the bodies will travel to the Land of Israel from the Diaspora, whether they will be clothed or naked, and the like (tj, Kil. 9:4, 32c; tj, Ket. 12:3, 35b; Ket. 11a; Sanh. 90b; Eccl. R. 1:4). In the talmudic period and on into modern times this idea has been taken so seriously and literally that pious Jews are often concerned about the clothes they are buried in, the complete interment of all organs, and being buried in Israel.
However, there is a serious problem in rabbinic literature with regard to the historical, or rather meta-historical, position of the resurrection. Some sources seem to imply that it is the final goal and thus last step in the eschaton, identical with the world to come, while other sources seem to refer to a resurrection which precedes the final redemption, the world to come. There even seem to be some sources which place the world to come as a stage before the resurrection. Furthermore, there are contradictions with regard to the question of who is to be resurrected, some sources suggesting clearly that only the righteous will be revived, others, that resurrection is the lot of everyone.
Moore resolves these contradictions by suggesting a process of historical development from one set of ideas about the resurrection and world to come to another, although he warns that the periodization and use of terminology is not always exact and consistent (Moore, Judaism, 2 (1946), 378ff.). In an earlier stage the "days of the Messiah," "the world to come," and the "coming future" all refer to the same period – the final stage in the development of history. Thus, the righteous dead (at this stage probably only of Israel) are revived to enjoy the benefits of a golden age in the Land of Israel. He states that rabbinic homilies which assign to the world to come such wordly, albeit exquisite, pleasures as eating the flesh of Leviathan and Behemoth, and cultivating infinitely fertile land clearly belong to this earlier idea (which, indeed, persisted alongside the latter; see references there).
In the second, later, stage of the development of the idea it becomes only a preliminary moment in the eschaton.
Now the various terminologies are separated out and assigned to different periods. There are the "Days of the Messiah," the golden age for the Jewish people, but this is now only a preliminary stage. There follows a general resurrection of all souls, which are then brought before the heavenly court. Now comes the period of the world to come, in which the righteous are blessed and sinners in some fashion damned.
Moore further states that in rabbinic literature when the phrase, "the revivification of the dead," is used without any special qualification, it refers to the latter concept, to the resurrection before the "grand assize" (ibid., 380). The additional confusion, by which occasionally the phrase "world to come" refers to a state which completely precedes the resurrection (as in neither of the above systems) is explained by Moore by the fact that occasionally the transition period between death and redemption, which the souls of the righteous spend in heaven and the wicked in hell (cf. Gehinnom), is called the world to come. However, this, according to him, is merely a terminological and not an ideological difference (ibid., 391).
Louis Finkelstein (Mavo le-Massekhtot Avot ve-Avot de-Rabbi Natan) reconstructs the development of these ideas somewhat differently. In his view, the crucial distinction is precisely in this last point of the "intermediate stage" between death and resurrection. He maintains that from early times there were two schools of thought on this matter. According to one (ibid., xxxii), the soul upon dying goes into Sheol, "the Pit," i.e., grave, and there inactively awaits the resurrection. According to the other school, souls arise to be judged by God immediately after death. In the first view the world to come refers to the resurrection, and in the second it refers to the existence in between death and resurrection. Finkelstein further remarks that the term "world to come" is often used in rabbinic and later Jewish literature in a purposely ambiguous sense so as not to decide between these two opposing views (ibid., xxxv).
Finkelstein maintains that this is an ancient controversy that continued in the controversies between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel (ibid., 217). Bet Shammai held that the dead souls are either in the grave itself or in a special "treasury" until the redemption, when the righteous are rewarded with resurrection (Moore's "older attitude"), while Bet Hillel held that the souls are immediately punished or rewarded after death in heaven or hell, and at the end of time all are resurrected for a final judgment, a review of the verdict or parole hearing, as it were.
A clear example of the nature of this disagreement (not necessarily between Shammai and Hillel at this point) is shown by comparing two texts (ibid., 220). An early Sabbath prayer (Hertz, Prayer Book, p. 28) reads: "There is none of Your value, Lord, our God, in this world, and none beside You in the world to come. Nothing but You, our Redeemer in the days of the Messiah, and none like You for the resurrection of the dead." Clearly according to this text, the world to come is separate from the resurrection and precedes it. However, a passage in Sifrei Devarim (ed. by L. Finkelstein (19692), 62) reads: " 'In your going he will lead you' refers to this world, and 'in your lying down he will watch over you' refers to the hour of death, and 'in waking up' refers to the days of the Messiah, 'it will make you speak' refers to the world to come." Here clearly "world to come" is after the resurrection.
Medieval Jewish Philosophy
Among the medieval Jewish philosophers there were many differences of opinion with regard to the resurrection. These controversies depend for the most part on the fact that it was not clear, or certainly not explicit, that there had been controversy in the talmudic period. Consequently some thinkers accepted one of the talmudic opinions, and others contested their views, without realizing that they were simply following different sides of an old argument.
Saadiah Gaon (The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, 6:7) maintains that the dead souls remain in a treasury until the resurrection, when the righteous are resurrected. This constitutes the world to come. He follows, therefore, Finkelstein's "Shammaite" view or Moore's "earlier" view.
It was Maimonides, however, who made the most controversial statements in the Middle Ages regarding the resurrection. In his commentary on the first Mishnah of Sanhedrin 10, he makes the seemingly self-contradictory statement that:
The resurrection is one of the foundations of the religion of our teacher, Moses; there is no religion and no connection with the Jewish nation for whoever does not believe in it, but it is for the righteous… but know that man will definitely die and be separated into that of which he is composed.
Furthermore in the Mishneh Torah (Yad, Teshuvah, 8:2) he maintains that, "in the world to come there is no body, rather the souls of the righteous alone without a body like the ministering angels…" It is easy to see how readers of Maimonides became confused as to his true opinion, and indeed his main critic Abraham b. David of Posquières takes him severely to task: "The words of this man seem to us to be close to one who says that there is no resurrection for bodies, but only for souls, and by my life this was not the opinion of our sages on this for behold they said [Ket. 11b] in the future the righteous will arise in their clothes… and so they would command their sons, 'do not bury me in white clothes or not in black'…" (Yad, Teshuvah, 8:2). Maimonides, however, in a later work, Ma'amar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim, "The Essay on Resurrection" (ed. with an introduction by J. Finkel, in: paajr, 9 (1939), 61–105 and Heb. section), clarified his opinion further, stating that of course there will be a resurrection, but that the resurrection will not be permanent, that it follows upon a period in which the souls of the righteous are rewarded in the world to come, and is followed again by the death of the resurrected and the return of the righteous once more to the world to come, which is their true reward. One of the classic commentators on Maimonides, in the Leḥem Mishneh, remarks that Maimonides is consistent in his view in that he holds that the world to come and the resurrection are two distinct entities, and therefore he wrote that in the world to come there is no body, it being the fate of man immediately after death. He goes on to say, "The Ravad (Abraham ben David) his memory be blessed, believes that our teacher (Maimonides) holds that the world to come is identical with the resurrection and therefore attacked him… because he (ben David) holds that the world to come is the world of resurrection…." This perceptive remark makes it quite clear that once again, with some variations, the same controversy that was found in the talmudic period is operative. Modern interpreters of Maimonides (as some of their medieval predecessors) have raised a question concerning his true attitude. Did he, as his words imply, believe literally in the resurrection of the body, or did he, like some Muslim Aristotelians, consider this belief merely a concession to the understanding of the masses, while his true view is that the afterlife consists only of the incorporeal intelligences of those who have acquired theoretical knowledge in this life.
Naḥmanides in Torat ha-Adam (at the end of the chapter Sha'ar ha-Gemul), discusses Maimonides' view. He contends that, in the opinion of the rabbis, the resurrection is the world to come, but does not deny the existence of the souls of the dead in heaven before the resurrection. He merely maintains, in opposition to Maimonides, that this is not what is meant by "world to come." Moreover, Naḥmanides himself dismisses this difference as merely a matter of terminology and says that the important difference between his view and that of his predecessor is that while Maimonides "decrees death for the Messiah and his generation," Naḥmanides allows them to live forever. However, in answer to Maimonides' contention that there would be no purpose for the body in the world to come, its only functions being mundane, he states that there will be a mysteriously refined body, its functions being mystical and having to do with the fact that the body is a microcosm of the structure of the universe. Naḥmanides, it would seem, if Finkelstein's view is correct, has created a synthesis between the two rabbinic opinions.
Ḥasdai Crescas seems to have been the first medieval philosopher to realize clearly that there was a major difference of opinion among the rabbis of the Talmud. He states, with his characteristic clarity, that there are four questions with regard to the resurrection: "the first, will the resurrection be complete or partial, and if partial, which part? the second, the time of the resurrection? the third… if they will die after their rising or not? the fourth, if there will be in that time the day of judgment, which our sages believe in?" He states, particularly with regard to the second of these questions, that there is controversy among the rabbis themselves, pointing to the view of *Samuel that there is no difference between this world and the days of the Messiah except that Israel will be free. This, he says, necessitates the corollary that the resurrection will take place after the days of the Messiah. He does not hold (or rather does not realize, if Moore or Finkelstein is correct) that the other questions depend to a greater or lesser degree on the answer to this one, and therefore answers them definitely, holding that there will be a resurrection of all but the greatest sinners, that there will be then a court of judgment, and that the righteous will live forever in their refined bodies, in accord with the view of Naḥmanides.
The common denominator of all the views so far discussed, except, perhaps, that of Maimonides, is that they all stress the indivisibility of the body-soul unit for purposes of the accountability of the human personality for its actions, both good and bad. Whether it is understood that all people are resurrected for judgment, body and soul together, or whether only the bodies of the righteous are resurrected to enjoy the redemption, the central stress is the same. The human being is one essence, a unit, not merely a soul housed in a body which itself is of no worth. The parable above of the two guardians of the orchard is perhaps the best possible illustration of this idea.
In the modernistic versions of Judaism, the belief in resurrection was denied in favor of the seemingly more acceptable doctrine of immortality. In the Pittsburgh Platform it was expressly stated that the Reform movement rejects "as ideas not rooted in Judaism the beliefs both in bodily resurrection and Gehinnom." This idea was reflected in American Reform prayer books and in the prayer book of the Reconstructionist movement, where the statement affirming resurrection is removed. In the European reform movements, the tendency was to retain the traditional formula contained in the liturgy, but to formulate the translation in such a way that it would mean immortality and not resurrection (see J.J. Petuchowski, Prayerbook Reform in Europe (1968), 215ff.).
There has been some sentiment in more traditional circles to retain the belief in resurrection, but rather than taking it literally, to understand it as a symbol affirming that the ultimate salvation of the individual is dependent on God and that what is fulfilled is the entire person – both body and soul – not just the spiritual essence.
[Daniel Boyarin /
L. Jacobs, Principles of the Jewish Faith (1964), index; A. Marmorstein, Studies in Jewish Theology (1950), 145–61; L. Finkelstein, The Pharisees, 2 (1962), index; W. Herberg, Judaism and Modern Man (1951), 229.
"Resurrection." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 17, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/resurrection
"Resurrection." Encyclopaedia Judaica. . Retrieved August 17, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/resurrection