Monday, February 9, 2015

brief Bible thought: is there resurrection from the dead in the Old Testament?



Is there resurrection from the dead in the Old Testament?

No. Not really. Well, sort of. O.K., yes, but it depends on how you look at it.

Resurrection is pretty central to the New Testament, in case you haven’t noticed. Yet searching for that kind of resurrection it in the Old Testament makes you come up basically empty-handed.
We do have one lengthy passage, Daniel 12, which is an important text for understanding the development of Jewish faith later in the Second Temple period (in the second century BCE) when “resurrection” of individuals was in the air generally within Judaism (more below).

2 Maccabees is another example of a text from roughly the same period and which mentions the future resurrection of the dead as if no one needs it explained to them (e.g., see 2 Maccabees 7:9)
Neither Isaiah 25:7 (the Lord will “swallow up death forever”) or 26:19 (“Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise”) seem to be “resurrection from the dead” texts.

The first seems to echo Canaanite mythology about Baal who hosts a victory banquet after his defeat of the sea god Yamm (representing chaos).

The second is a more likely candidate, but if both of these passages are read in the larger context of Isaiah, it’s hard to escape their metaphorical meaning: deliverance from the “sure death” of foreign oppression/threat. At any rate, even with these texts, the silence of the Old Testament on future resurrection is deafening.

But this brings me to where I think resurrection is very much part of the story of Israel, and it goes like this.

A perspective on the Adam story that I lay out in The Evolution of Adam and The Bible Tells Me So is that Adam represents Israel’s entire epic journey in the Old Testament–Adam is a “preview” of Israel, so to speak.

Just as Adam was created by God out of dust and placed into a Garden paradise, and remaining there was contingent upon obedience (don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge), so, too, Israel was created by God from Egyptian slavery, placed into the paradise-like Canaan, and remaining there was contingent upon obedience (to the covenant, the Law of Moses).

This reading of the Adam story is not mutually exclusive of others, but it has medieval rabbinic precedent (Genesis Rabbah), and you have to admit the parallels are at least worth thinking about. So even if you’re skeptical, work with me here.

Remember that Adam was warned that “on the day” he eats of the the forbidden fruit, he would die (Genesis 2:17). Now, the fact of the matter is that “on the day” Adam and Eve do not die so much as they are banished from the Garden (Genesis 3:22-24).

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