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Resurrection, Greco-Oriental


Resurrection is the act on the part of a being, human or divine, whereby he rises again from the dead, with or without the body, as the same individual. This doctrine of resurrection is therefore distinct from that of transmi gration of souls.

Greco-Roman paganism found resurrection difficult to accept. The two chief characteristics that distinguished Greek gods from men were happiness and immortality; man was regularly regarded as the union of two discrete entities, a soul and a body, of which the former, but not the latter, was often believed to survive death. The dissolution of the body was regarded, with resignation, as inevitable. This view of man is quite different from that found in the Old Testament, where man is regarded not as a duality, but as an animated body (a unity). This concept of man is more hospitable to belief in resurrection.

Accordingly, Greco-Roman ideas on resurrection were quite different from those of the Christian. The chief Greek god who was believed to die and live again was dionysus, and he was recognized to be of non-Greek origin. When he was introduced into the Orphic Mysteries (see mystery religions, greco-oriental), the result was belief in transmigration, not resurrection in the proper sense. In the later mystery religions, resurrection was often referred to, but only in a metaphorical sense. In the Mysteries of Isis, for example, the initiate experienced a symbolic death, followed by a moral rebirth in this world (quodam modo renatos, Apuleius, Met. 11.21). The new life began, not with physical death, but at the time of initiation, and so is analogous to Christian Baptism. Physical death thus ceased to be significant, compared to spiritual rebirth. Similar doctrines, symbolizing a complete break with the initiate's previous life, occur in the Mysteries of Attis and in the rite of taurobolium. The Mithraic doctrine of immortalization, 'απαθανατισμός, refers only to a temporary union with the divine during a rite [see A. Dieterich, Eine Mythrasliturgie (3d ed. Leipzig 1923) and M. P. Nilsson Geschichte der griechischen Religion (Munich 195561) 2: 658]. It is thus analogous to μοίωσις θε[symbol omitted], the effort to make oneself like the gods, first mentioned by Plato (Theaetus 176b) and elaborated in neopythagoreanism and the Hermetic documents. In later Greco-Roman antiquity, the corporeal aspect of death was pushed more and more into the background: punishments and purifications of the dead were no longer said to take place within the earth, but in the upper air.

Gods who were believed to have died and been reborn were more common in the Near East. In Babylon there was the vegetation god Tammuz, and possibly Bel-Marduk, but there was no belief in personal resurrection. In Egypt the soul was believed to leave the dead body for limited periods. This was clearly not the work of gods, but of men, who enabled the soul to continue its life by proper care of the body. There was no expectation of bodily resurrection in this world. Similarly, in the cult of the vegetation god Adonis, whose worship spread from Byblus to Cyprus and to the Greco-Roman world at large, there is no evidence of belief in personal resurrection.

In at least two striking aspects, these Oriental beliefs differ from biblical teachings. First, several dying gods were associated with the annual death and rebirth of vegetation. The hymns to Tammuz, for example, often associate his death with the withering of plants in summer; in fact, the month Tammuz was in midsummer. Second, most of these gods were associated with a goddess who mourned her favorite's death and assisted his resurrection: Tammuz with Ishtar, Osiris with Isis, Adonis with Astarte (Aphrodite), and Attis with Cybele. In these respects, and in its strong moral emphasis, the fully developed Christian doctrine is quite unlike the so-called Greco-Oriental parallels.

The closest real parallel occurs in later portions of the avesta. There the soul is judged for the first time three days after death and is then rewarded or punished. After thousands of years there will be a general resurrection of soul and body and a second judgment, after which the evil, now purified, and the good will live in a new world. This doctrine probably goes back to the time of the Achaemenids, and was certainly in existence when 2 Maccabees was written, with its explicit reference to resurrection of the body. However, the Jewish concept is not borrowed from Persian religion, but is to be regarded as a parallel phenomenon.

Bibliography: g. bertram and a. oepke, Reallexikon für Antike und Christentum (Stuttgart 1941) 1:919938. g. j. botterweck et al., Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 1:104252. w. von goden et al., Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (Tübingen 195765) 1:688698. m. p. nilsson, Geschichte der grieschishen Religion (Munich 195561) 2:610, 657664. f. nÖtscher, Altorientalischer und alttestamentlicher Auferstehungsglauben (Würzburg 1926). a.t. nikolainen, Die Auferstehungsglauben in der Bibel und ihrer Umwelt, 2 v. (Helsinki 194446). j. leipoldt, Sterbende und auferstehende Götter (Leipzig 1923).

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