A Journey to Heaven:
The Jewish Search for Life Beyond
By Leila Leah Bronner
The question of what happens after death is one that has perplexed humanity from the beginning of civilization. People throughout the ages have made great efforts to unravel the mystery of death and discover what lies beyond this life. Why this constant interest in the afterlife? We struggle to understand this altogether mysterious realm because death is a very real part of the human condition. No one can escape his or her own mortality, and such confrontation leads to speculation regarding postmortem existence. It should therefore be no surprise that beliefs concerning the afterlife exist in all stages of Jewish history. The ancient Hebrews as testified in the Bible most certainly held some form of belief in life after death. Their beliefs ranged from an awareness of a shadowy afterlife to a deep conviction in the reunification of body and soul in postmortem existence. When we search the earliest biblical literature, we find seeds of believe in the afterlife, seeds which blossom into a full-blown doctrine developed in later biblical tradition.
This work will first discuss the afterlife in general, briefly delineating topics related to the main theme, then launch into a full analysis of resurrection, as it occurs throughout the Hebrew Bible. My intent is to show how the topic of resurrection has been developed over the ages, thus my study is a diachronic one. My contention is that one finds precursors of belief in a bodily resurrection at an early point in biblical history, and these ideas go on to be further developed to a much greater degree within later biblical tradition. Although my main interest is in the theological development of the idea of resurrection, my study is not limited solely to the main topic, but will delve into related topics such as immortality, olam habah, "the world to come," and ëattid lavoíh, "coming future."
The Afterlife in the Hebrew Bible
Seeds of speculation on the afterlife are found in selected texts within the Hebrew Bible. The concept of an afterlife, broadly defined as human existence beyond the grave, is found in both the prose and poetry of ancient Israel. Post-mortem existence is referenced in the Torah, Early Prophets, Later Prophets, and in the Writings. Later beliefs in resurrection could not have emerged spontaneously without significant antecedents. Rather I believe that the concept of resurrection most probably and logically developed out of generations of speculation about what lies beyond death. Though foreign influence surely impacted Israelite thought, the concept of resurrection that emerges within Hebrew theology has distinct Israelite characteristics, as I will demonstrate below. My assertion of an early resurrection motif within the Hebrew Bible is buttressed with the study of technical terms that provide supporting evidence for occurrence of an early belief in resurrection.
Though some scholars agree that the Hebrew Bible contains (veiled or unveiled) references to an afterlife, many scholars do not believe that we find evidence of belief in resurrection until the book of Daniel, which is often dated quite late by critical scholars. In light of information flowing from archaeological, historical, linguistic, and philological research, some scholars now maintain that there is evidence of a belief in the afterlife in the pre-exilic books of the Hebrew Bible.
Our methodology is to analyze relevant biblical texts which predate Daniel, and to focus especially on the philological significance of five main verbs in their context which have been identified as possible signifiers of resurrection language: hyh, "to live," qwm, "to stand up," hqys, "to wake up," swb, "to come back," and sys, "to sprout forth."
The verbs qwm and hyh appear in several different contexts in the Hebrew Bible, but when qwm appears paired and parallel with hyh, the combination strongly suggests, from the semantic nuances and syntactical dimensions, that the resurrection motif is present. Thus, these verbs may not always refer directly to resurrection but acquire these meanings contextually. The rabbinic phrase for resurrection tehiyyat hametim does not appear in the Bible, but we will discuss the term later when we speak of rabbinic beliefs.
We will ascertain, from historical and sociological settings, whether the particular verbs may refer to actual death and resurrection. On another level, we will attempt to discover whether the references to resurrection should be understood as referring to a collective experience, or whether the resurrection motif could apply to an individual as well.
Resurrection is defined as the belief that ultimately the dead will rise from their graves bringing about a revival of the whole person, body and soul.
In contrast to immortality, which defined means the perpetuity of the soul, resurrection regards the body and the soul as inseparable, both rising together after death. The English term resurrection comes from the Latin resurrectus and means, "to rise again." From a theological standpoint, in the Hebrew Bible, resurrection stems from the belief that God has unlimited power, and thus represents the ultimate force behind history and natural phenomena. How did Israelite thinking differ from the beliefs of surrounding cultures? In contrast to the Canaanite Baal who was believed to die and be reborn, the God of Israel was described as ìthe living Godî (Joshua 3:10; Ps. 42:3; Ps. 84:3; Dan. 6:21, 27), representing a constant presence above the cycles of nature. As the psalmist proclaims, ìIf I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I descend to Sheol, you are there tooî (Psalms 139:8). God was omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent, that is, the all-powerful, all-knowing Israelite God was believed to be in all places at all times. Even death, according to the psalmist, could not separate one from Godís presence.
In Israelite thought, upon death one descended to the abyss in the depths of the earth, called Sheol, described as the underworld abode where the dead were ìgathered to their kin,î way-yeíasep ël ëmmayw, or were described as ìlying with oneís ancestors,î sakab ëm ëabotayw, in a shadowy afterlife. Although one cannot speak of a developed and complex conception of the afterlife as being present in Sheol, there is nevertheless found here a simple unsophisticated perception of existence continuing after the physical body is laid to rest in the family tomb.
Once someone died they would go on to join their forebearers in a type of post-mortem existence. This belief in a shadowy continuation of life beyond the grave demonstrates an evolving understanding of life after death. In some biblical thought, existence in Sheol is not depicted negatively, but rather in a positive, almost comforting manner, so that one gets the sense that he or she is merely going to a place of peaceful rest with bed family members. Just as a family was tightly knit in life, clan members were reunited after the grave in a postmortem ancestral realm. In later biblical literature, when the family had become a tribe, and the tribe a nation, the members of the nation who died would go join the members of the family and tribe who had died earlier. Thus, there was a sense of post-mortem reunification.
This relates to the topic at hand because it demonstrates how the belief in a shadowy afterlife gradually evolved and became more complex, eventually contributing to a full-fledged belief in bodily resurrection that we see in later biblical literature.
In studying Sheol, we should note the various images of this subterranean realm throughout biblical literature. Sheol is not uniformly presented, but rather we see bits and pieces of its description scattered throughout the Bible. First, there is great equity of existence in Sheol, where ìsmall and great alike are thereî (Job 3:19).
Other biblical passages refer to Sheol not as a resting site, but as the place where the ìshadesî dwell. It is the place where one ìgoes downî (yrd; Num 16:30; Job 7:9; Isa 57:9), and often refers to the lowest place imaginable (Deut 32:32; Ps 86:13). It is unclear whether Sheol and the grave are used as synonyms in the Hebrew Bible, but there is a definite link between the two ideas. In some passages, Sheol is the place where those who have lived despicable lives on earth spend their afterlife (Isa 14:12). It is impossible to survey all sixty-six places where the Bible speaks of Sheol, however our brief analysis has shown that Sheol has both positive and negative connotations in the Bible. The subject of Sheol relates to our topic in that we are suggesting that Godís power extends even to the depths of Sheol, and that he may, if he wills, cause one to ascend back into his presence. Here in the idea of Sheol we may see rudiments of a life after death, in that, as the Bible presents, people can live in a form of existence in the shadowy world of Sheol.
Now we direct our attention from our discussion of the numerous references of Sheol to a more hopeful image of life after death, the idea of resurrection. Where do we find motifs in the Hebrew Bible that offer symbols and images of resurrection? We now focus on several such examples, from the Song of Moses and the Song of Hannah, the narratives of Elijah and Elisha, the book of Psalms, Wisdom Literature, and the prophetic books of Hosea, Isaiah, and Ezekiel, all of which pre-date Daniel.
The Song of Moses and the Song of Hannah
The power of God over life and death is celebrated in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:39) and in the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:6). Are these songs which celebrate Godís power merely a metaphor of hope and healing or a promise of restoration to life? The word order in the Song of Moses (Deut. 32:39) and the Song of Hannah (1 Sam 2:6), both dated quite early, is striking.
The arrangement of the key words - with death first followed by life - in these passages suggests that they are dealing with a resurrection motif. Below we quote from the Song of Moses:
I cause death and make alive;
The theme of the all-powerful might of God is further embellished in the Song of Hannah, where the word order is in the same pattern, death first, then life:
I wound and I heal;
None can deliver from My hand (Deut. 32:39).
The Lord causes death and makes alive
Moses' song describes God's redress for injuries done to His people. The thrust of these verses, as we will demonstrate below, although disputed by some, points to the possibility of life after death. Moses, addressing the people just before his death, recalls the care that God has shown His people, and confidently expresses hope for a renewal of life. To ìcause deathî first and then ìmake alive,î rather than vice versa, points to a time after the earthly life of the body, and also confirms the power of God who can reverse the fortunes of the dead by infusing them with the vitality of life.
Casts down into the Sheol and raises up (1 Sam. 2:6).
This song alludes to the resurrection motif but does not elaborate in detail on the process.
The rabbis in Sanhedrin 91b also picked up on the unusual word order of Deut.32:39, which has death preceding life (ìI cause death and make aliveî), and they cited this passage to strengthen their argument that resurrection (tehiyyat hametim) is indeed intimated in the Torah. The language hints at the possibility of a resurrection motif, one of the many aspects of the afterlife which we will develop more fully later on.
Like the Song of Moses, the Song of Hannah also makes reference to revival from death to life. The Song of Hannah takes the analogy further by suggesting that even a person already in Sheol can be taken out and brought back into the land of the living:
The Lord deals death and gives life
The theme of the all-powerful might of God is further embellished in the Song of Hannah, a prayer of thanksgiving to God for the gift of her son. The verses joyfully portray a series of dramatic reversals, attributed to God as the arbiter of power and fortune. Death is not to be viewed as a permanent state any more than infertility, earthly power, or wealth. The context and triumphal tone describing specific instances in Hannahís life may lead one to infer that the following is a reference to individual, rather than national, rebirth.
Casts down into the Sheol and raises up (1 Sam. 2:6).
The key themes of both Songs are the omnipotence of God who punishes his opponents, and who rewards those devoted to Him. The passages in the Songs of Moses and Hannah allude to a hope for renewal of life. Both songs contain the verb hyh, and in Hannahís song one also finds a form of the verb qwm. We would strongly suggest that when the verbs hyh and qwm appear paired together as they do in Mosesí and Hannahís Songs, they point to the resurrection motif. We will continue to show where one finds the motif of resurrection throughout the Hebrew Bible, turning our attention now to the Elijah and Elisha narratives.
Elijah and Elisha
The Elijah and Elisha narratives in 1 and 2 Kings are set in the northern kingdom of Israel in the 9th century. While these prophetic narratives differ in linguistic structure and style from the previous songs, they too offer evidence of resurrection, but in a different form. What has been theoretical in biblical literature up to this point is now made concrete in the Elijah/Elisha narratives. In the passages we have examined thus far we have seen that God has the power in theory to bring people back to life after death. In the narratives we study now we see Godís theoretical power in action. In the Elijah/Elisha stories we are given concrete examples of people who are brought back to life, immediately upon death.
In these stories, the prophets bring people back to life in the here and nowóthere is no hint of a final resurrection of the body and soul together, as there is in other texts we will examine further on.
A unique aspect of these two prophets is their ability to perform miraculous acts, which include praying to God to revive children who have died. Why did these stories appear during the lifetimes of Elijah and Elisha and particularly in this time and place? In their historical setting, neighboring cultures attributed the power of giving life and death to the god Baal and the goddess Anat as described in the Ugaritic texts. Anat promises eternal life to Aqht, a fictional mortal in Ugaritic myth, who mockingly expresses doubt in her ability to do this. She responds angrily by killing him although it is suggested that she eventually revives him.
And the maiden Anat replied:
The stories of Elijah and Elisha reflect an acquaintance with the belief that prevailed in Ugarit that Baal who himself died and was resurrected could also resuscitate mortals in a like manner.
Ask for life O Aqht the youth,
Ask for life and I will give it to you,
For deathlessness and I will bestow it on you.
Iíll make you count years with Baal.
With sons of El shall you count months.
Even as Baal when he gives life,
Entertains the livingÖ
So also I will give life to Aqht the youth. ( 2Aqht VI, 25-33).
Likewise the children of King Krt exclaim:
In your life O our father we rejoice,
Your immortality ñ we are glad therein. (Krt, 125, 98,99).
It is very possible that these prophets felt pressure from their cultural environment to demonstrate that the God of Israel likewise had the power to control life and death. Their stories provide a polemic against the influence of Baal worship.
The first dramatic story presenting the physical revival of a child by the prophet Elijah is set in the context of strife and famine in the days of King Ahab [875 ñ 854 BCE]. Elijah, having antagonized the royal court with his moral chastisement, is forced to flee, and finds refuge at the home of the poor widow of Zarephath whose child falls sick until there is no longer any breath/soul (neshama) remaining in him (I Kings 17:17). After Elijah prays fervently to God, the soul of the child does return to him, and, as it is written, ìhe revivedî (vayehi) him. The prophet then says to the woman ìSee, your child livesî (hay) (I Kings 17:22).
Elijahís disciple Elisha is also the divine instrument of bringing a youth back from death. Elisha prophesies that a barren Shunammite woman who had given him hospitality would bear a child. The prophecy is fulfilled, and she does bear a son, who later dies. The distraught woman rushes to Elisha and beseeches him for help. He miraculously revives the child (also using the verb vayhi) (2 Kings 4:34-37).
Interestingly, these two prophets who had been used as agents of revival by God also themselves continue to be agents of resurrection in their deaths. The death scenes of both Elijah and his successor Elisha portray striking images of restoration to life. At the end of Elijahís earthly lifeís journey, the prophet ascends in a chariot of fire and is taken to heaven. The disciples of the prophet inform Elisha that his master Elijah will be ìtakenî away. The verb lqh is featured in this description, alluding to ascension to heaven. The mantle of prophecy along with the power of revival are thereafter transferred to Elijahís disciple Elisha. A somewhat unusual, but miraculous scene demonstrating Elishaís powers even after his death occurs when his body causes the revival of a dead man who is thrown into the prophetís sepulchre. When the corpse of the dead man touches the prophetís body, "the [dead] man revived and stood on his feet," vayehi, vayakomëal raglav (2 Kings 13:20). Simply coming into contact with the holy man's body empowered a dead man to come back to life.
The verb lqh ìto take,î appears together with the paired ìresurrection verbsî hyh and qwm in the Elijah cycle, where it takes on a unique mystical connotation. The Hebrew Bible knows of only one other ascension besides Elijah, that of Enoch (Gen. 5:23-24), who was said to have walked with and been taken (lqh) by God. We will not focus on Enoch here as our discussion revolves around Elijah and Elisha, but suffice to say, the same verb is used in these accounts. This same word, lqh, also appears in Psalms, where it resonates with overtones of resurrection.
There are a couple of Psalms in which the verb lqh is utilized to express the pious personís hope for the reward of eternal life in Godís presence. In Psalms 49 and 73, part of the genre known as ìWisdom Psalms,î the author reflects upon the timeless problem of why the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer, as well as the problem of the transitory nature of human life.
But God will redeem my life [soul] from the clutches of the Sheol, for He will take (lqh) me. (Psalm 49:16)
Psalm 73 likewise speaks of the pious being taken (lqh) to enjoy nearness to Godís presence.
The verb lqh, ìto take,î appears in both psalms, suggesting that, as in the case of Elijah and Enoch, God will take the pious to everlasting life in heaven. The message of these two psalms concludes that the just man who places his confidence in God rather than in material values of this world will be ìtakenî into the company of God and live forever.
Nevertheless I am constantly with You:
You hold my right hand.
You will guide me with your counsel
And afterward take me with glory. (lqh) (Psalm 73:23-24)
The psalms express a desire for unbroken enjoyment in the presence of God, an enjoyment that extends from this life into the next. Although the psalmist is primarily concerned with the presence of God in this life, there are numerous passages that suggest that the righteous continue to dwell in Godís presence even after life. Does this reference to Godís presence suggest the possibility of resurrection? Perhaps. One of these passages is found in Psalm 16:
For you will not abandon me to Sheol,
God rescues his people from the pit of Sheol and allows them to praise him in the presence of the living. Though some of the phrasing is enigmatic and perhaps metaphorical, the notion of immortality was not completely alien to ancient Israel and helped make the emergence of a more literal belief in bodily resurrection possible.
Another possible reference to resurrection occurs throughout the psalms in the phrases, ìrestore us!î and ìrevive us!î For example, Psalms 80 and 85 make use of a few particular phrases that may suggest resurrection.
Or let your faithful one see the Pit.
You will teach me the path of life.
In your presence is perfect joy;
Delights are ever in your right hand (Psalm 16:10-11).
Restore us, O God; (swb)
Show your favor that we may be delivered (Psalm 80:4).
This phrase is repeated later within a passage that seems to reference through poetic allusion physical death and consequent revival:
O God of hosts, turn again,
Although the psalmist may be beseeching God for help in the trials of this life, it is also possible (and even preferable) to believe that he has resurrection in mind here. Premature death was a very real fear in the ancient world and it seems plausible that the poetic reference to the vine burned with fire alludes to untimely human death, so that the request for help and revival is a request for resurrection from death. Notable in the psalm above are the verbs used to refer to death and revival. The psalmist uses the Hebrew root, swb, which means ìreturn,î but which in the Hiphil, the conjugation used in these verses, can mean ìbring back,î ìrescue,î or ìrestore.î
Look down from heaven and see;
Take note of that vine,
The stock planted by your right hand,
The stem you have taken as your own.
For it is burned by fire and cut down,
Perishing before your angry blast.
Grant your help to the man at your right hand,
The one you have taken as your own.
We will not turn away from you;
Preserve our life that we may invoke your name.
O Lord, God of hosts, restore us; (swb)
Show your favor that we may be delivered (Psalm 80:15-20).
When the passage speaks of the vine that met its demise by fire, the verb roots used suggest an allusion to human death. The vine is ìtakenî by God, ìburned by fire,î and ìcut down.î Immediately the psalmist asks God to ìpreserve life,î ìrestore,î and ìdeliverî the people of God. This indicates belief in divine intervention that allows life after death.
Psalm 85 also uses the above-mentioned suggestive verbs indicating hope for resurrection from the dead. The psalms asks God to ìreviveî his people:
Surely you will revive us again, (hyh)
Similar to Psalm 80, Psalm 85 speaks of a revival, possibly of a revival after death. Especially suggestive is the mention of the restoration of Jacobís fortune at the beginning of the psalm. Elsewhere the use of the verbal root, swb, as we have mentioned, alludes to the ìbringing backî of something from the dead. Here in the psalms, the use of the root demonstrates a belief in Godís power to resurrect, to bring back to life.
So that your people may rejoice in you.
Show us, O Lord, your faithfulness;
Grant us your deliverance (Psalm 85:7-8).
The book of Hosea demonstrates that the concept of the afterlife, and even the idea of resurrection, may have emerged at an early date in ancient Israel. Hosea prophesied in northern Israel around the mid-8th century BCE following the death of Jeroboam II in 746 BCE until the fall of Samaria in 721 BCE. The prophet may have known through Israelite tradition about the activities attributed to Elijah and Elisha in the 9th century. Hoseaís prophecies are set against a backdrop of social, moral, and religious decadence coupled with political instability. The north of Israel, Samaria, lay near a major trade route, which brought the inhabitants into much contact with the surrounding pagan cultures. Thus, the prophet Hosea felt the need to address the demise of core Yahwistic beliefs. The prophet castigates Israel for the syncretic practice of worshipping God together with Baal and his Canaanite fertility cults. Hosea may have been aware of the Ugaritic belief centered on the cycle of dying and rising gods. The prophet strikes out against Israelite idolatry and attachment to Baal-centered worship, and points out that God, like Baal, has the power to resurrect. Just as Baal was able to overcome the grave and rise again, Hosea seemed to want to show that God too could give life after death.
Hoseaís opposition to the Baal cult has prompted some scholars to posit Ugaritic influence as a source for Israelite belief in resurrection. Indeed scholars once maintained that foreign influences emanating in particular from Babylonian, Persian and Canaanite beliefs influenced Israelite belief in the afterlife.
Current research, however, tends to conclude that foreign practices might not have had a decisive impact on the Israelitesí specific understandings of resurrection, our topic under discussion. For example, the death and resurrection of the nature god Baal does not appear to explain the biblical concept of Godís awakening mortals to new life after death. As Andersen writes, ì...the death and resurrection of people has nothing in common with a myth in which a god dies and comes back to life.î
Furthermore, according to Gillman, ì...it is conceivable that there was no cultural borrowing here at all, but rather that the idea of resurrection evolved within Israel as a thoroughly natural development of ideas deeply planted in biblical religion from the outset.î
Though some have thought that the doctrine of death and resurrection in Israelite society is too advanced for this early stage, or unlikely in light of standard Israelite belief, recent research has suggested the contrary.
There are two possibilities for Hoseaís take on the afterlife. First, the text may have been polemical, reacting to the beliefs of neighboring cultures, and demonstrating Godís power over nature. Secondly, Hosea may not have been reacting to foreign ideas at all, but rather may have been referencing ideas that were already entrenched in Israelite society. His comment regarding the afterlife is distinctly different from the Baal cult in that he deals with individual and national resurrection, not a dying and rising deity. Thus initial stages of the concepts of the afterlife and in particular, of resurrection, seem to have appeared earlier rather than later in ancient Israel as hereto for thought.
Let us now study some of the passages that may refer to the afterlife, and show belief in resurrection. The following verses in Hosea feature several of the verbs previously indicated as signaling the resurrection motif.
Come, let us turn back to God: (swb)
The first verse describes the people begging to be healed by God from their ìwoundedî state. The request in the second verse intensifies with the paired verbs hyh and qwm, depicting the people asking not only to be healed but also to be revived to new life. The people apparently had been sick or wounded to the point of death, so they beseeched God to resurrect them again to life. But what about this business of the specific timeframe of two and three days?
He has stricken, and He can heal us;
He wounded, and He can bind us up.
After two days he will revive us (hyh)
On the third day He will raise us up, (qwm)
That we may live in his presence (hyh)
And He shall come to us as rain
As the latter rain that waters the earth (Hosea 6:1-3).
This passage is perplexing and difficult, since the context does not help explain the timetable. Some scholars had maintained that the significance of ìtwo daysî and ìthree daysî displays the influence of the Baal agriculture worship, relating to the god dying and rising from the underworld.
However, we can mention that the image of two or three days is a common one in the ancient near east.
Current scholarship also indicates that in the present context of Hosea the numbers may merely refer to raising up that will happen soon or in a very short time without much trouble. ìTwo or three daysî then might be an artistic, poetic device rather than a strict time schedule with cultic significance.
Scholars have differing opinions whether the verb roots hyh and qwm in Hosea 6:3 refer to relief from suffering or to actual physical resurrection after death. Stamm maintains that the Piel form of the verb hyh does not mean ìto live againî but ìto recover health,î and the Hiphil form of qwm means ìto rise from a bedî and not ìto be raised to life.î He thus concludes that Israel is awaiting physical healing, not resurrection from death.
However, the simple meaning of these roots clearly refers to bringing back to life. Why shouldnít we read them with this simple meaning, if the context does not require the reader to assume sickness? Other scholars concur. Mauchline also grapples with the problem of whether the language suggests healing or revival from death, but ends up concluding that the text suggests resurrection. He writes, ìThe words in verse 2 ëHe will revive usí seem to speak of a revival after death.î
Spronk believes that Hosea 6:1-3 is derived from the belief in real liberation from the world of the dead as part of a cyclical conception of beatific afterlife, and does not refer only to healing from sickness.
Andersen also opts for the resurrection motif: ìVerse 2 opens and closes with the statements ëHe will make us live and we shall live.í Explicit hope for resurrection of the body can hardly be denied in this passage but commentators have been reluctant to admit it.î Andersen refers to a later verse on a similar theme: ìI will ransom them from the power of the grave (Sheol) and I will redeem them from deathî (Hos. 13:14). He further states, ìthere lies a picture of death and resurrection [in Hosea] which is widely accepted though not a part of a major dogmatic tradition.î
All the above evidence suggests that Hoseaís imagery is not merely metaphorical. It could indeed refer not only to national revival but also to a personís individual, physical resurrection. The comments quoted above by recent scholars bear witness to a shift in attitude, and indicate that they too accept the possibility of resurrection in Hosea.
The Isaiah Apocalypse
Another significant section of the Bible that speaks of the resurrection of the dead is found in what is known as the ìIsaiah Apocalypse,î in chapters 24-27. Biblical scholars are divided on the dating, placing the prophecy as early as the 8th century BCE and as late as the 3rd century BCE. More recent scholarship, however, favors the 6th century BCE as the most likely date of composition.
The historical setting in the 6th century BCE found the people of Judah faced with national destruction and dispersion by the Babylonian conquest of Judah. The national trauma led many conquered Jews who were innocent of wrongdoing to question Godís justice. Resurrection would then promise them vindication for their suffering and would reaffirm Godís power in bringing the righteous back to life. If a 6th century date for the Isaiah Apocalypse is correct, as we believe, it would show that a belief in resurrection was already in evidence before Daniel, as our discussion of Hosea and Ezekiel suggested.
The Isaiah Apocalypse clearly proclaims the resurrection of the dead stating that those who lie in the dust of the earth will arise and shout with joy:
Oh, let Your dead revive! (hyh)
This verse is a difficult one, with its switching of pronouns (use of 2nd person, then 1st person, then 3rd person) and use of unusual phrases (ìlike the dew on fresh growthî). The verse seems to be describing new life that is given after death. Modern scholars have offered varying interpretations for the etymology of the word refaíim. The root of this word, rfh means ìto sinkî or ìto fall,î but the word may conversely be related to the root, rfí, meaning ìto heal.î We limit our etymological analysis of the word ìshadesî (refaíim) by interpreting that the shades in verse 26:14 refer to the wicked leaders who will not be revived after death, while the shades in verses 26:19 allude to the pious who will be healed, thrown out from the netherworld, and resurrected by the intervention of God.
Let corpses (neveilati) arise! (qwm)
Awake and shout for joy, (hqys)
You who dwell in the dust!
For Your dew is like the dew on fresh growth;
You make the land of the shades (refaíim) come to life (Isaiah 26:19).
Another striking motif of rebirth in this passage (26:19) draws from the imagery of nature. ìYou who dwell in the dust! Your dew is like the dew on fresh growth; You make the earth cast out the shades.î As dew brings life to the parched vegetation, so God will give new life through the dew, as it falls on the graves of Godís people. According to the consensus of exegetical opinion, Isaiah 26:19 expresses in most graphic language the hope for a literal resurrection, a revival of life for the faithful.
The nature imagery of the dew reviving the dead is reminiscent of the vocabulary and language of nature worship familiar from the surrounding cultures. However, in the Isaiah context, it is the image of the life-giving power of God that resurrects the dead, as the morning dew revives the flowers after a night of darkness. Verses in Hosea 6:3, quoted above, and in Hosea 14:5-6 also contain a similar theme of Godís control of the life-giving power of moisture to revive the dead.
The allusions to death and resurrection in the poetic writings of Hosea are less detailed than the graphic prose descriptions in Ezekiel. The destruction that had been foreseen had become a terrible reality. Ezekiel lived through the greatest crises in ancient Israelís history: the destruction of the first Temple, the ruin of Jerusalem, the loss of independence of Judah, and exile of the leading citizens to Babylon (597ñ586 BCE). Each of these losses had historical, political and theological ramifications. Not only were the peopleís physical lives disrupted but their faith was shaken as well. The suffering people cried out in their own defense and challenged the justness of the ancient belief that the iniquities of the fathers are visited upon the children (Jer. 31:29; Ezek. 18:2). The prophet Ezekiel comforted his fellow Judeans by agreeing that punishment for sin is meted out to an individual based on his or her conduct, not doled out to a whole people. He reassured his people of divine justice and affirmed that God would not punish the individual for the sins of the entire nation.
In his apocalyptic vision of the valley of the dry bones, the prophet responds to the peopleís despair and, in a hopeful prophecy involving the resurrection of dry lifeless bones, predicts national restoration. The prophet speaks directly to the bones, and delivers the powerful word of God:
O dry bones, hear the word of God.
This imagery of resurrection may portray more than a metaphor of revival of the collective body of the Israel but may also present a graphic image of bodily resurrection.
Thus says the Lord God to these bones,
ìBehold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.î (hyh) (Ezek.37:4-5)
And I will lay sinews upon you and will bring up flesh
The key word hyh, appearing five times in 37:1-14, alerts the reader to the theme of resurrection. Although we do not find the expected paired word qwm, ìto rise,î the synonym ëmad, ìto stand or rise,î does appear in verse 37:10. In the vision we find all the physical elements necessary for reconstructing the human body: bones, flesh, sinews, spirit, and the breath of life. It is not doubted that those scholars who interpret Ezekielís vision as providing hope for a national restoration are correct, but we believe that the vision also embodies an expanded dimension of physical revival for the individual at a time when the wish for personal vindication was developing.
upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you,
and you shall live; and you shall know that I am the Lord. (hyh)
One can derive from the prophecies of the 6th century prophet Jeremiah a veiled comment about the afterlife, albeit his prophecies deal with the fate of the wicked, rather than the righteous. In one of his oracles against Babylon Jeremiah condemns the wicked Babylonians to an ìendless sleep,î from which they will never awake:
Babylon shall become rubble,
This passage mentions as a punishment for the wicked an endless sleep (an afterlife without the hope of resurrection). The punishment only makes sense when put in juxtaposition with the implied fate of the righteous, who are not doomed to an endless sleep, but who will one day awake from their slumber. Another important motif here is the idea that the wicked will ìdrink from the cup of the Lord,î which shows that the punishment, like the reward of eternal life, originates with God.
A den for jackals,
An object of horror and hissing,
Like lions, they roar together,
They growl like lion cubs.
When they are heated, I will set out their drink
And get them drunk that they may become giddy,
And sleep an endless sleep, never to awake (qys)
Declares the Lord (Jeremiah 51:37-39).
The other passage in Jeremiah that makes reference to the afterlife is much like the above text. The Lord ìdeals retributionî to the officials of Babylon who are likewise condemned to eternal sleep:
I will make her officials and wise men drunk,
Her governors and prefects and warriors;
They shall sleep an endless sleep,
Never to awaken, declares the Lord. (qys) (Jeremiah 51:57)
Just as God can revive one after a time of slumber, he also can bring about an endless slumber to those he deems wicked and undeserving of life.
These passages in Jeremiah seem to reference an afterlife in that they create juxtaposition between the fate of the wicked and the righteous.
God causes endless sleep to some, and the implication is that he is also able to revive the righteous one after slumber (death) and offer eternal life. We mention these texts because of their possible significance to the topic at hand.
Whereas the prior texts we discussed hinted at an ancient Israelite belief in the resurrection, when one reaches Daniel one stands on terra firma, as the belief in the life hereafter has fully blossomed and is expressed quite clearly. The imagery of the Isaiah Apocalypse is expanded in the book of Daniel, and elaborated so that what we have is a vivid description of the awakening and judgment of the dead:
At that time your people who are inscribed in the book will be rescued. Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, (qys)
some to eternal life, others to shame, to everlasting abhorrence (Daniel 12:1b, 2).
There is virtually unanimous agreement among scholars that Daniel here is referring to the actual resurrection of individuals from the dead. The verbs hyh and qwm, as well as hqys, in Daniel now appear as significant evidence of a long tradition of conceptualizing resurrection. The resurrection mentioned in Daniel is clearly an individual one. While the books I discuss above refer to resurrection in more general terms, here in Daniel each person receives the reward or recompense he or she deserves.
The word rabbim, ìmany,î of 12:2 is interesting; does Daniel refer only to Jewish souls, or are gentiles included in the prophecy as well? There is almost the sense that Daniel is critiquing the behavior the Jews of the Greek age: those who were faithful to the tradition would awake to glory, those who left the faith and became overly Hellenistic would awake to eternal shame. But it is quite clear that bodily resurrection is meant here. Those who ìsleepî do so in the ìdust of the earth.î The ìdust of the earthî refers to the grave, or to Sheol, the shadowy underworld abode of the dead. The text then says that those who sleep will eventually ìawake,î from the Hebrew root qys, so that the picture we have is of sleeping persons being awakened after a long nap.
The following verse, 12:3, is related to our topic:
And the wise will be radiant like the bright expanse of sky, and those who lead the many to righteousness will be like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel is referring to a belief common during his time that the righteous would after death go on to become like stars of the heavens. Although the passage speaks of immortality more than it does resurrection, it is related to the topic at hand in that is refers to a life beyond the present life.
The belief in resurrection and in immortality that we see in Daniel is not a case of mere borrowing, but rather, reflects ideas that were emerging and already entrenched in Hebrew thought. These beliefs, as Collins notes, ìarose from a combination of factors, including familiarity with related ideas and new historical circumstancesÖ.formulated in language drawn predominantly from the Hebrew tradition.î
Although Collins does not accept an early date for Jewish belief in the resurrection, he notes that the idea could have been a legitimate innovation within Jewish society, and not taken in from foreign cultures. As I have maintained, I believe the idea of resurrection to be an early notion within Hebrew thought.
What seems like a sudden bursting into bloom of the idea of resurrection in Daniel is actually a flowering nourished from deeper roots buried in the soil of earlier biblical writings. Whereas Isaiah views resurrection as a reward for the righteous who arise and sing, Daniel proclaims that both the righteous and their persecutors will awake and arise, but the former for reward and eternal life; the latter for deraíon, shame and punishment.
The book of Daniel was intended to offer hope and consolation to Jews suffering from oppression by the ruling monarch, identified by those who give a 2nd century BCE dating for the book as the Syrian king, Antiochus Epiphanes, the ruthless ruler who persecuted the Jews of the 2nd century. It was a difficult conflict for the pious Jews who were punished even to martyrdom for faithfully observing Godís law. The unjust persecution may have led them to intensify their search for a belief that the martyrs who died fighting for their religion would be rewarded by God with resurrection while their oppressors would be punished with abiding perdition.
Daniel incorporates familiar themes of resurrection from earlier biblical texts, and goes significantly beyond them. It is important to point out that in post-biblical, rabbinic Judaism, and early Christianity, Daniel 12 would form the basis for much further elaboration of belief in resurrection. A detailed discussion of these later sources falls outside the scope of this paper.
While scholars have claimed that the first clear evidence of a belief in resurrection is only to be found in the book of Daniel, we demonstrated that the author of the book of Daniel may have drawn on antecedents from earlier biblical texts, ranging from hinted images to vivid descriptions. We noted that diverse expressions of the resurrection motif were already present as early as the 9th and 8th centuries, becoming increasingly explicit and more fully developed beginning in the exilic period of the 6th century BCE.
We studied contextual evidence in particular verses to discern whether a reference was being made to healing from a grave illness or to actual death and resurrection. We evaluated whether rebirth was meant in a metaphorical sense of the national restoration of Israel or as bodily revival of individuals. We have illustrated the possibility of the existence of a belief in resurrection in pre-exilic and exilic Israel prior to the appearance of Daniel, and propose that more attention should be paid to investigating motifs of resurrection in the Hebrew Bible so that more light will be shed on this eternally controversial subject.