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Sectarian Life in New Testament Times

THE TWO DIFFERENT views of afterlife in Jewish society-resurrection of the body and immortality of the soul-begin to be blended together in various ways in the last centuries BCE and the first centuries CE. One great exception to this blending of doctrines of the afterlife is the nascent Christian movement, which at first eschews the notion of the immortality of the soul as hostile to its message. After a century, the church, as it spreads through the Hellenistic world, began to synthesize the resurrection of the body with the immortality of the soul in ways that made sense to its growing Hellenistic audience.

Tombstones and Epitaphs

DURING THE LATE Hellenistic period, we find a great many important epitaphs and graffiti. Not many mention resurrection or immortality explicitly but one should not conclude that views of the afterlife were equally rare. Even the few we have show that the idea was percolating through society. Especially by the third and fourth century CE and later, from whence most of them came, notions of afterlife were widespread within the Jewish and Christian communities.

The fact is that not everyone chooses to mention resurrection or immortality of the soul on a tombstone, where thoughts of mortality may be equally apposite. In New England cemeteries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, one finds thoughts of mortality regularly, mentions of resurrection rarely. One should not from that distribution of evidence conclude that the American colonists were not Christians.

The evidence from tombs has been well collected in a variety of archeological publications and gathered in the handy summary of Pieter W. van der Horst.1 The majority of tombstones from the Hellenistic period concentrated on the life and death of the occupant of the tomb; or else they cursed anyone who would desecrate the grave. For instance, this widely-quoted one:

Here under the shelter of this stone, stranger, lies …

Demas, deserting the old age of his very pitiable mother

and his pitable little children and his mourning wife.

He helped many men by his skill.

Weep for the man who has left the most honourable …

and his city, and the abodes and friendship of men.

Demas, about thirty years old, in the fifty-fourth year,

    the third of the month Hathyr.

You too, Alexander, friend of all and without reproach,

    excellent one, farewell.

        (Leontopolis, 117 BCE, van der Horst, 154)2

There is no mention of the afterlife.

On the other hand, notions of afterlife are more frequent in the later centuries than the early ones. Sometimes they make an unusual appearance:

I, Hesychios, lie here with my wife. May anyone who dares to open [the grave] above us not have a portion in the eternal life. (129)


Whoever would change this lady’s place [i.e. the woman buried in this grave], He who promised to resurrect the dead will Himself judge. (162)

This is certainly not the kind of appearance one would expect of a religious innovation as momentous as beatific afterlife. On the tombstone, it is the graverobber who is threatened with the lack of an afterlife rather than the pious dead who is lauded with its surety. It even leaves grounds for thinking that the writers were using the conception ironically, expecting that it would be effective in keeping the grave safe from the rabble. It, however, leaves no doubt that such a belief is to be found amongst the Jews by late Antique times.

Even more, the following short graffito is of uncertain tone: “Good Luck on your Resurrection!” (van der Horst, 194)3 It is hard to know exactly how to understand this sentiment. One wants to think it is a pious wish, but a nagging feeling of facetiousness accompanies any modern reaction to the line. Perhaps it would be better to translate it as “Good fortune on your resurrection!” One thing is clear: Resurrection was clearly a well understood notion in the community by the fourth century. Exactly what happened earlier can only be resolved by looking at texts.

Prelude: The Book of Jubilees

JUBILEES is centuries older than these epitaphs, though it is also hard to tell exactly what or how old the book of Jubilees is. It presents itself as a revelation given to Moses and rehearses all the history of Genesis down to the time of Moses, as a kind of Midrash. It has left its mark at Qumran and in many other documents like The Genesis Apocryphon and The Temple Scroll. It is a rehashing of the story, with new motifs added, including some apocalyptic ones like the division of all history into Jubilee periods of 49 years, but it is not an apocalyptic book in and of itself. The earliest copy of the text was found at Qumran in Hebrew but it is widely known elsewhere in Greek, Syriac, Latin, and Ethiopic. It is not known for sure whether the book was written at Qumran or just happened to be found in their library. In that book, right after the death of Abraham, there is an interesting report about the end of time:

And he lived three jubilees and four weeks of years, one hundred and seventy-five years. And he completed the days of his life, being old and full of days. For the days of the lives of the ancients were nineteen jubilees. And after the Flood they began to be less than nineteen jubilees and to grow old quickly and to shorten the days of their lives due to much suffering and through the evil of their ways-except Abraham. For Abraham was perfect in all of his actions with the LORD and was pleasing through righteousness all of the days of his life. And behold, he did not complete four jubilees in his life until he grew old in the presence of evil (and) his days were full.

And all of the generations which will arise henceforth and until the day of the great judgment will grow old quickly before they complete two jubilees, and their knowledge will forsake them because of their old age. And all of their knowledge will be removed. And in those days if a man will live a jubilee and a half, they will say about him. “He prolonged his life, but the majority of his days were suffering and anxiety and affliction. And there was no peace, because plague (came) upon plague, and wound upon wound, and affliction upon affliction, and evil report upon evil report, and sickness upon sickness, and every evil judgment of this sort one with another: sickness, and downfall, and sleet, and hail, and frost, and fever, and chills, and stupor, and famine, and death, and sword, and captivity, and all plagues, and suffering. (Jub. 23:8-15)

But after all that, things will begin to reverse themselves:

And in those days, children will begin to search the law,

and to search the commandments

and to return to the way of righteousness.

And the days will begin to increase and grow longer

among those sons of men, generation by generation,

and year by year, until

their days approach a thousand years,

and to a great number of years than days.

And there (will be) no old men and none who is full of days.

Because all of them will be infants and children.

And all of their days they will be complete

and live in peace and rejoicing

and there will be no Satan and no evil (one) who will destroy, because all of their days will be days of blessing and healing.

(Jub. 23:26-29)

In the end of time, they shall regain those fabulous ages of the primeval heroes. Jubilees 23:30-31 even speaks of the healing of God’s “servants” and “righteous ones.” They will “rise up” and drive out their enemies, obviously on this earth. They will see and give great praise and rejoice forever and ever with joy. This much is clearly a national restoration.

This is as Isaiah 65:20-22 predicts but carried to more extreme limits. It is almost as if they will return to the garden of Eden. But it does give history a certain kind of symmetry. It also does something very much more interesting with regard to the issue of afterlife. It says that the apocalyptic end will approximate the incredibly long lives of the ancient heroes, an eschatology fit for the Samaritans, as they base their entire religious future on the first five books of Moses. But it is not a Samaritan vision because it valorizes Jerusalem. Rather it is an exegetical exercise about how to read the beginning of the Bible as the key to the end of history, without relying on anything else. And the emphasis is on priests. It is based on the depiction of history in the five books of Moses and may just be an independent and native view of the future. But unlike the view of life in Daniel, it does not have an obvious evil end for the political overlords of the country. One supposes that they will merely lose their possessions and not gain the rewards of the faithful. The book of Jubilees illustrates a parallel that often exists between the original times and the end time, an Urzeit = Endzeit parallel (beginning of time = end of time), as German scholarship has aptly dubbed it.

It is, however, combined with the more traditional notion of resurrection as well:

And then the Lord will heal his servants,

and they will rise up and see great peace.

And they will drive out their enemies,

and the righteous ones will see and give praise,

and rejoice forever and ever with joy;

and they will see all of their judgments and all of their curses

    among their enemies.

And their bones will rest in the earth,

and their spirits will increase joy,

and they will know that the LORD is an executor of judgment,

but he will show mercy to hundreds and thousands,

to all who love him. (Jub. 23:30-31)

This passage in Jubilees is also found in Qumran MS 4Q176 21.4 This is a very unusual passage in that there will be resurrection, but the bones of the righteous will remain in the earth while their spirits will increase in joy, at least at first. Thus, a sort of resurrection is blended with a sort of immortality of the soul, though neither one of them is a typical example of that belief. The “spirit” and “bone” motif is very reminiscent of Ezekiel 37. Immortality of the soul is not spelled out in any philosophically meaningful way. Indeed, what will increase joy is called “spirit” not soul, in the same way that Paul seems to favor “spirit” over the Greek “soul.” Here, immortality is simply added into the narrative as another marvelous aspect of the coming redemption. Perhaps it suggests that the saints will be angels until the last days. In any event it shows a distinct predisposition to mix any of a range of afterlife possibilities and read them back into the five books of Moses. There is no particular reason why this passage could not illustrate the combination of the originally Greek notion of the immortality of the soul with the apocalyptic notion of the resurrection of the body; such a combination is found quite frequently in later literature. It is just unusual so early.5

The Parables of Enoch (1 En 37-71)

WE HAVE ALREADY studied the beginning of the book of 1 Enoch, material which is undoubtedly older than Christianity, probably by centuries. But in 1 Enoch 37-71 we are presented with a dating quandary. If the “manlike figure” was not necessarily an earthly figure whose identity was sought before Jesus, there may have been at least one other person who was assumed to fit the role and who clearly predates Jesus: Enoch, as portrayed in the Enochic literature, now known to be widespread in Judaism through the Dead Sea Scrolls.6 We have also already surveyed the Enoch material generally and seen its relationship to priesthood, secret knowledge, heavenly transformation, and the Dead Sea Scroll community. Now let us look at it in more detail. It is also crucial for understanding the thought-world of early Christianity. Unfortunately, we do not know how to date the parables. They appear to be early but they are missing from the Enoch material at Qumran, raising the prospect that they may themselves be a later, even a Christian composition, since they appear most prominently in the version of 1 Enoch found in the Ethiopian Christian canon.

First, let us see what is in them. In The Parables of Enoch (1 En 37-71) comes the climax of angelification in the earliest Enoch material, though exactly where this passage falls in the development of the Enoch tradition is ambiguous. Enoch performs various Messianic functions. He is righteous and knows divine secrets (46:3). He is victorious over the mighty of the earth, whereupon he judges the wicked (46:4-8; 62:9; 63:11; 69:27-29). He is probably the same figure as “The Chosen One” or “The Elect One” and the “messiah,” since virtually identical functions are attributed to all three figures (49:2-4; 51:3-5; 52:4-9, 55:4; 61:4-9; 62:2-16).7 He judges “in the name of the LORD of Spirits” (55:4), sitting on the throne (51:3; 55:4; 61:8; 62:2-6; 70:27) and at the end of his life, he reascends to his enthroned status.

The Parables of Enoch contain several references to angelic transformation. In chapter 39, Enoch ascends to heaven while reciting hymns and blessings, where he is overcome with the splendor of the throne rooms. His face changes on account of the vision, which evidently reflects the experience of the prophecy that “those who are wise shall shine as the stars” (Dan 11:2), because 1 Enoch 62:15 states that the elect shall shine as stars and be clothed with garments of glory.

The Parables of Enoch strongly emphasize the role of a Messianic figure called the “Son of Man” (46:1-4; 48:2-7; 49:2-4; 61:8-9; 62:1-7, 13-14; 69:26-29; 71:14-15). No doubt, these passages are meant to exegete and make clear who is the figure enthroned next to God in Daniel 7:13-14. For this literature, he is the messiah, an anointed ruler of Israel (42:4; 48:10). Daniel 7:13-14 concentrates not on the human attributes of this figure but his role in the final judgment. Any Messianic role is missing in the Daniel text. But for this part of the Enoch literature, the Son of Man was messiah, a heavenly ascender and heir to the divine realm. The Messianic expectation and the expectation that the evil oppressors will be punished are quite parallel.

This seems like a commonplace to us who are used to Christian claims for the role of the messiah. But it is an innovation here. No previous interpretation of Daniel 7 has specified that the second figure enthroned in heaven is the Messiah. Indeed, the heavenly location of the scene and the enormous stature of the figures argues strongly against any Messianic interpretation and for a divine or angelic interpretation. In other depictions of the end, it is sometimes a messiah who will punish the evil ones; but just as often there is no messiah in the plan. Sometimes the whole story of the end of the world is narrated with no mention of a Messianic figure, as is true of Daniel 7.

In 1 Enoch, we are also treated to a description of the process by which humans are transformed into stars (more exactly, angels), just as Daniel 12 prophesies. The Daniel prophecy is discussed in chapter 39, where Enoch views the dwelling places of the elect, the righteous and the angels together, all as luminous creatures. In chapter 62, the righteous are described as rising from the earth with that “Son of Man.” They will receive eternally new garments of glory, which will become garments of life for them, from the LORD of spirits. (This imagery often suggests a baptizing community since unclothing and reclothing are part of the baptismal ritual and are often exegeted in baptismal liturgies as a transformation of one’s very essence.)

More importantly, at the end of The Parables of Enoch in chapters 70-71, Enoch is mystically transformed into the figure of the “Son of Man” on the throne: “My whole body [was] mollified and my spirit transformed” (1 En 71:11). This is an extraordinarily important event, as it describes a mystic transformation of the heavenly journeyer Enoch into the angelic vice-regent of God, giving a plausible explanation of how the sectarians that produced the visions in Daniel expected to be transformed into stars. First Enoch 71 gives us not just the fulfillment of the prophecy in Daniel 12 but a first-person, confessional report of the very experience of undergoing the astral transformation, albeit in the name of a pseudepigraphical hero. No doubt this process is not just a unique event but the archetypical event for the transformation of the saints to come. That means that Jesus’ transformation into “the Son of Man” was not a single and unique event for the Ethiopian Christian church-rather the most important, if not the first, of a series of angelic transformations. Since it is a confessional report, it is likely to be the interpretation of someone’s mystical RASC experience.

Where this material actually fits in the development of Enoch tradition is not clear. The received text, Ethiopic Enoch, is canonized by the Ethiopian Christian church and has a regular part in their Bible. But that is not the only extant version of this book. At Qumran, 1 Enoch is present except chapters 37-71 are missing. In its place we find a “Book of the Giants” in Aramaic. Chapters 37-71, “The Parables,” are therefore known to us primarily in a Christian edition, where the “Son of Man” has already been identified as the Christ. How it is possible for Enoch to be absorbed into the figure who will later be identified as the Christ in Ethiopian Christianity has never been fully explained. But it may be that the Christian community, like Jewish communities before and after it, interpreted “the manlike figure in heaven” (“Son of Man”) not as a title but merely as “a human figure,” as the archetype for the angelification of all the saints at the end of time. The ge’ez (the ancient Ethiopic language) actually uses several closely related terms for the “Son of Man,” suggesting that it is not a title. “Son of Man” does not seem like a title in the Gospels either, since it only occurs in the mouth of Jesus. Likely, “Son of Man” was not originally a title in Judaism either, merely one more reference to the unnamed, human figure in Daniel 7:13 ff.8

Because the ecstatic ascent of the living parallels exactly the ascent of the dead after death, Enoch 70-71 may retell Enoch’s previous earthly ascent. More likely, it refers to Enoch’s ascent at the end of his short (only 365-year!) life. The number, of course, connects Enoch with the solar calendar, which the Qumran community used instead of the more usual lunar calendar of Semitic lands. The sun was also, as we have seen, an important symbol of regeneration and afterlife, since it visits the lands of the dead underground. And it was the basis of their 365-day solar calendar, which makes them “the children of light,” in opposition to the “children of darkness,” who are evidently everybody who observes the lunar calendar—or, essentially, everyone else.9

That would suggest even more that the path Enoch takes in mystical ascent is the path to secret knowledge and the same path that the righteous person takes at life’s end. It is a path upward through the workings of the zodiac and the heavens, which is known because Enoch’s journey there in primeval times was recorded in the secret literature of the group. The puzzling superscription to chapter 70, the composite nature of the text, and some possible imprecision in chronology prevent complete surety on this issue: “And it happened after this that his living name was raised up before that Son of Man and to the LORD from among those who dwell upon the earth” (1 En 70:1).

The journey was taken by Enoch’s “name,” not precisely his “soul,” again reflecting a level of mystical speculation that predates the full effects of the importation Platonic notion of immortality of the soul into Jewish culture. Enoch’s name is, in effect, an anomalous way to resolve the question of identity, another way to express the “self.” What is the continuity between the earthly Enoch and his heavenly twin? It is his “name.” Very likely, this is meant to be a unique expression of Enoch’s identity and may refer to the tradition that the names of the righteous and the messiah were stored under God’s throne at the beginning of time.

Ordinary folk have souls. There are “souls” in the holding pens; what exactly is implied by the term “souls” is not precisely explained. They could be equally pre-Platonic psychai or the more Biblical Hebrew nefashot. But they are not explicitly immortal in themselves, because not all of them will be resurrected in bodies at the end; nor are they explicitly the carriers and recipients of the consciousness of the person. They are not explicitly Platonic souls as there is no reference to consciousness or memory, which are defining issues for Platonic thinking. They merely mark the identity of the dead. On the other hand, they may show the beginning of the combination of the two conceptions in narrative (where it will be easier to accomplish than in philosophical literature).

The Apocalypses (1 En 72-90) and the Epistle of Enoch (91-107)

OTHER ASPECTS of the prophecy in Daniel, or perhaps of Daniel together with Jubilees 23:30-31, can be seen in later Enochian interpretations. In 1 Enoch 90:37-39, in the vision of the white bull (or cow),10 believers are mystically transformed into white cattle, which in turn, appear to symbolize the messiah:

And I [Enoch] saw that a snow-white cow was born, with huge horns; all the beasts of the field and all the birds of the sky feared him and made petition to him all the time. I went on seeing until all their kindred were transformed, and became snow-white cows; and the first among them became something, and that something became a great beast with huge horns on its head. The Lord of the Sheep rejoiced over it and over all the cows. I myself became satiated in their midst. Then I woke up and saw everything.

After the transformation of the messiah, the believers also are transformed into white cows. Thus symbolically, the believers come to share the being of the messiah. The messiah not only saves but serves as the model for transformation of believers. In 91:10 there is an explicit statement that the righteous one shall arise from sleep and that prophecy is repeated in a somewhat longer statement in 92:3-4. In both cases the reference to sleep is an indication that the text is relying on Isaiah 26 and Daniel 12.

Enoch 102-104 does not explicitly mention a general resurrection of the dead, only a reward for those who have died in righteousness. The destinies of the righteous and the sinners are adumbrated in chapter 103 and following:

For all good things, and joy and honor are prepared for and written down for the souls of those who died in righteousness. Many and good things shall be given to you-the offshoot of your labors. Your lot exceeds even that of the living ones. The spirits of those who died in righteousness shall live and rejoice; their spirits shall not perish, nor their memorial from before the face of the Great One unto all the generations of the world. Therefore, do not worry about their humiliation. “Woe to you sinners who are dead! When you are dead in the wealth of your sins, those who are like you will say of you, ’Happy are you sinners! (The sinners) have seen all their days. They have died now in prosperity and wealth. They have not experienced struggle and battle in their lifetime. They have died in glory, and there was no judgment in their lifetime. You yourselves know that they will bring your souls down to Sheol; and they shall experience evil and great tribulation-in darkness, nets, and burning flame. Your souls shall enter into the great judgment; it shall be a great judgment in all the generations of the world. Woe unto you, for there is no peace for you! (1 En 103:3-8)

The souls are again important as narrative details but are not described as the immortal souls of Greek philosophy because there is no interest in continuity of consciousness for philosophical development in these documents. But unlike many other depictions, these souls go down to Sheol for judgment. While they are damned, they are the lucky ones among the damned for they will not have to experience judgment in this life, the fate of the evil of the days of the apocalypse. Surely, this is the punch line of the apocalypse: The evil ones alive today are going to experience the worst possible tortures. But we notice one more thing-having been emptied of the righteous, Sheol has now been fully refurbished as Hell, the place of punishment for the sinners.

One might say that there is some unacknowledged Greek influence in this anomalous vision. But it is more likely to be a kind of natural variation on a Hebrew notion, a variant of the native Israelite notion of the nefesh, the personality of the believer. One needs to have a carrier of identity so that a sinner is sentenced to special punishments. There is no attention to philosophical adequacy in these stories; only the necessity of making a narrative link between people on earth and the dead who are judged. These Jewish notions overlap with popular Greek notions of the “soul” and they do not imply anything more than “shades” or “ghosts” or “spirits.”11

The righteous will find in the hereafter all the rewards that eluded them in this life. In chapter 104, the righteous are exhorted to remain faithful, even though they see the sinners benefitting from their evil actions in this unredeemed world:

But you shall shine like the lights of heaven, and you shall be seen; and the windows of heaven shall be opened for you. Your cry shall be heard. Cry for judgment, and it shall appear for you; for all your tribulations shall be (demanded) for investigation from the (responsible) authorities-from everyone who assisted those who plundered you. Be hopeful, and do not abandon your hope, because there shall be a fire for you. You are about to be making a great rejoicing like [or: as] the angels of heaven. You shall not have to hide on the day of the great judgment, and you shall not be found as the sinners; but the eternal judgment shall be (far) away from you for all the generations of the world. Now fear not, righteous ones, when you see the sinners waxing strong and flourishing; do not be partners with them, but keep far away from those who lean onto their own injustice; for you are to be partners with the good-hearted people of heaven. (1 En 104:2-7)

In the end, the reward will be theirs. They will appear as the stars in heaven and will shine “like the lights of the heavens,” clearly an interpretation of Daniel 12. For the Biblical “windows of heaven” the Ethiopic translated closely, while the Greek translated according its more familiar classical idiom: “the gates of heaven.” The Greek also clarified that the good hearted people in heaven are the angels.

The Epistle of Enoch and Resurrection

THERE IS ROOM to doubt whether the explicit raising of the dead is a teaching of the section of 1 Enoch known as “the Epistle of Enoch” (1 En 91-105). Resurrection may be assumed but not mentioned, though there is no indication that it is assumed. Both Nickelsburg and Cavallin point out that resurrection of the dead is not explicitly affirmed in this section.12 Yet chapters 102-4 speak of a retribution immediately after physical demise. Sinners scoff that righteousness has no reward since all die (1 En 102:7). But the writer affirms a mystery because he has been given a glimpse of heavenly books. Daniel promised resurrection to some, judgment to some, and transformation to some. While the text generally preseves the categories defined by Daniel 12, it does not describe them all in detail. The trip itself, the heavenly journey, offers first-person testimony that the scoffers are wrong.

Evident in Daniel and from the literature at Qumran, those people who believed in resurrection had little patience with the Greco-Roman overlords of the country. They may have been part of actively revolutionary sects, though determined, passive resistance was even more typical of Israelite sectarian life. The resurrection traditions encouraged martyrs against the dominant, imperialistic culture. Nor did they like the upper classes of Judaea, those who cooperated with the Romans and who gained their income from serving and aiding the foreign “occupiers.”

The newly published texts at Qumran show that they believed in resurrection, no doubt as angels and as stars, as Josephus implies with his descriptions of Essenic afterlife beliefs. Although these promises of resurrection, ascension, and heavenly immortality as angels came from a sectarian background, the ideas were attractive enough to the culture as a whole that they spread out far more broadly than the sectarian conventicles of first-century CE Judaism. The ideas appeared in less defined form among the Pharisees, who were hardly a millenarian sect, though they apparently did have a distinct group identity. But to fully understand how these ideas filtered through the society, we must look at another notion of life after death, immortality of the soul, and the wider context of sectarian life in Judaism, including Christianity.

The Septuagint

THE SEPTUAGINT is the ancient translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. The Letter of Aristeas propounds that the Septuagint was produced by the royal fiat of Ptolemy Philadelphus, the Greek Ruler of Egypt, but it appears also to reflect the scriptural understandings of several generations of Hellenistic Jews, who themselves were progressively less able to understand the Hebrew text. The legendary beginnings of the book are that it was produced by seventy (hence the abbreviation LXX; Septuaginta means “seventy” in Latin) scholars working at Ptolemy’s behest. Begun by the third century BCE and completed before 132 BCE, the Septuagint differs from the Hebrew Bible in both content and meaning. First it contains a number of interesting books that Rabbinic Judaism later excluded as noncanonical-for instance, the books of 1 and 2 Maccabees.

Even the order of the books of the Bible is different in the Septuagint; the Greek Bible has been reorganized in more complicated categories, including sections for historical books, wisdom, and prophecy, as well as the Torah (first five books of Moses). Although the translation sometimes is quite literal, in other places it is as much a commentary as a translation. Some scholars hold that the readings of the Septuagint reflect the actual meaning of the original Hebrew, while the received Jewish text, the so-called Masoretic Text (MT), is a departure from it. The Dead Sea Scrolls often present a Hebrew text closer to the LXX than the MT, giving some credence to its early witness of Bible readings, especially in Samuel and Jeremiah. Other passages, however, simply evidence Christian interpolations. However that problem may be resolved, the commentary on various passages gives us an inkling of how the Hellenistic Jewish community could understand its Bible. One of the most interesting things about the LXX is the way in which resurrection creeps into its pages. In this respect the LXX is clearly innovative over the MT.

Because the Hellenistic period does contain a notion of an immortal soul, as well as resurrection of the body, the translators of the Septuagint understood several Biblical passages in light of their own times. In some places, where the Hebrew is ambiguous in meaning, the later Greek translation resolves the ambiguity in the direction of the afterlife. Many of the passages in the Hebrew Bible that are used later to demonstrate life after death consequently meant considerably less in Hebrew than they are made to mean in Greek. Sometimes modern English translations side with the tendentious Greek translations instead of leaving the ambiguity intact. We have seen passages like this, which can imply resuscitation in the Hebrew Bible. For instance:

See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no God beside me; I kill and make alive. (Deut 32:39)

… the Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up ….(i Sam 2:6)

“Am I God to kill and make alive?” (2 Kgs 5:7)

The first two passages are found in poetic portions in Hebrew, “The Song of Moses” (Deut 32:1-43) and Hannah’s “Magnificat” at the birth of Samuel (1 Sam 2:1-10). Both “psalms” take as their most central theme praise for God’s power in saving and preserving His people. The order of the verbs may say that God first kills and then brings to life, as the Septuagint appears to want to translate. But the poetry may only be saying that God has the power of life and death. He may kill one person and then bring another to life, conventional powers of YHWH which were also said of Ba’al, for instance. In other words, the word meḥayyeh, a pi’el intensive or causative form of the verb “live,” perhaps ought more accurately to be translated as “preserve or keep alive,” rather than “make alive” or “resurrect,” as several translations prefer. It may also be hinting at something more, that God may kill and resuscitate the same person to finish out his normal life, though this interpretation seems a bit forced. The Greek, which reflects a much later time when such notions were more common, translates in a more tendentious fashion, in which resurrection is hinted at and which gives an excuse to tendentious Bible translators. Like several other additions, this passage may show Christian tampering, as Christianity used the Greek text widely in their liturgical life.

In Deuteronomy 32:39, the Hebrew verbs for “I kill and I preserve” are rendered into Greek literally as “I [shall] kill and I [shall] make alive.” All the verbs are placed in the future tense, which can easily translate the Hebrew imperfect, though the sense here would be better translated with a simple Greek present tense. Does the future suggest here that the Greek text is stressing judgment at the end of time or future life or resurrection? There really is no sure way to tell, though a great many grammatical arguments have forced this interpretation beyond credibility.

So too with Psalm 1:5 and Psalm 21 (22):30.13 Psalm 49 (LXX:48):16 was an interesting crux for us (see chap. 3): “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me [Selah].” The Hebrew for “for” is ki, which is rendered into Greek as hotan, meaning “when,” yielding a less ambiguous reading than the Hebrew: “God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol when he shall receive me.” Certainly, this interpretation makes immortality far more obvious in the Greek than in the Hebrew text. But the small change also results in the implication that a beatific afterlife comes directly after death.

Similarly Proverbs 12:28 is occasionally cited as an example of life after death. The verse in Hebrew reads, “In the path of righteousness is life, but the way of path (?) leads (’al mãvvet). The Hebrew text is corrupt. Netivah (“path” or possibly “her path”) is extremely hard to interpret and seems out of context. Consequently, there is no obvious translation of this phrase into English. The Septuagint (LXX), which was not slow to find immortality in the Hebrew Bible, translates the phrase as “In the roads of righteousness is life but the roads of those remembering evil is death.” “Remembering evil” appears to refer to those fools who hold grudges or who spread libel. LXX does not pick up on any connotations of immortality in the book, in spite of its otherwise well noted proclivities to expound immortality.

Furthermore, the verse has another problem, the phrase, ’al mavvet, which has traditionally been interpreted as “to death” can be interpreted as “immortality,” since ’el usually means “to,” but can mean “not” in a few contexts. The later is usually thought to be a farfetched and somewhat tendentious interpretation, as it is not an easily understandable translation grammatically at this spot in Hebrew. Mitchell Dahood, however, pointed out that there is a similar phrase in Ugaritic (blmt, perhaps to be vocalized b’al mawwet), which usually dos mean “immortality.” This parallel has brought the previous translation into question and given great encouragement to those who would like to push the interpretation of “immortality.” As a result, just five years later, R. B. Y. Scott, translated Proverbs 12:28, “On the road of righteousness there is life, and the treading of its path is deathlessness.”14 The translation is very well expressed in English, showing Scott to be a master translator. It is at the height of the scholarly enchantment with the texts from Ugarit. But several considerations argue against his rendering and suggest that we should allow the pendulum to swing back in the original direction. First, nowhere else in Hebrew do we find this phrase used in this way. Second, and more crucial, the stylistic context of this chapter of Proverbs is very easy to describe and is quite different from the “immortality” interpretation. This makes the whole translation dubious.

The stylistic context is this: Each couplet in this chapter and the next is made up of antithetical statements, expressing the familiar, two-path theme of righteousness and folly. Each couplet contrasts the wise person with the fool in an antithetic way. This translation would violate that almost invariable form; the more traditional translation leaves that antithetic scheme intact. Rather, it looks like this is a place where the Septuagint’s translation is correct because it had an earlier reading, which had become corrupted and undecipherable by the time of the Masoretes. Thus, this is a case where the exact Hebrew text has been lost but the Greek LXX has preserved the basic meaning, that fits the context of these chapters. ’Al mavvet means “to death” and not “to immortality.”

Psalm 65 (66): 1, 9 receives “of the resurrection” in the Septuagint without any Hebrew equivalent in the Masoretic Text. This seems to be an early Christian gloss, as the psalm was used liturgically by Christians in the feast of the resurrection. The Greek rendering of verse 9a likewise has “for my soul” in place of the Hebrew “our soul” and “to life” in place of the Hebrew “in life.” This suggest an innovative Greek interpretation of a deathless state for the individual soul, a personal immortality, whereas the Hebrew version speaks of deliverance for the whole person in this life. Like the previous example, it is likely a gloss inserted by Christians to make their own beliefs more obvious.

Job 14:14 has been rendered in such a way as to directly contradict the Hebrew text. Job asked whether a person shall live again. His answer was “No!” But the LXX answers “Yes.” The Greek translates the answer: “I will wait until I exist again. Then You shall call and I will listen to You.” All these clear departures from the Hebrew text add resurrection into the text. None unambiguously insert the immortality of the soul, though Psalm 49 may have hinted at it. If these interpretations were inserted by the Jewish community, one would expect a mixture of doctrines to occur because immortality of the soul was available and discussed frequently by Hellenistic Jews; but the early Christian community was only interested in the resurrection of the dead. Since the passages most likely imply resurrection of some sort; the nature of the change strongly suggests that they are Christian interpolations.15

The Immortality of the Soul in Israel

THE JEWISH community of the diaspora was familiar with Greek notions of immortality of the soul because some of them had studied Greek philosophy. In order to fill in the portrait of the afterlife in Second Temple Judaism, we have to leave the sectarian, religious revolutionary context of the doctrine of resurrection and visit with the aristocracy. The immortality of the soul was explicitly borrowed from Platonism. It tended to interest Jews who lived in quite different neighborhoods from those who cherished resurrection. The immortality of the soul was, at first, a very intellectual notion in Jewry; in this period, intellectuals mostly lived in the very best neighborhoods.

The vector for the innovation was a group of affluent Jews who had Greek educations and who valued Greek literacy, advancing far beyond use of serviceable Greek in pursuit of commerce and trade. Not even all the aristocracy adopted these notions and those who did, did so slowly over centuries. The classes of Judea and Jews in general who adopted the idea of the immortality of the soul, with its attendant assumptions about memory and consciousness, were not the same as those who adopted notions of resurrection.

Jews liked immortality of the soul for the same reason that Greeks did. Immortality of the soul appealed to the intellectual elite because it valorized their intellectual pursuits. It was mainly adopted by classes of people who were not only rich but beholden to Greek rule, deeply involved in Greek intellectual ideas, and who were attempting to combine Judaism with the Greek intellectual currents of their day. Immortality of the soul was the ideology of the rich.

One important group of aristocrats who lived in the land of Israel-the Sadducees-rejected all notions of life after death, even though they had Hellenized. This would include many of the Hasmonean dynasty, the descendants of the Maccabees. They had no need of Platonic afterlives to justify their social positions because the Torah gave them hereditary control of the Temple. In fact, as we have seen, they seem to have some considerable Greek education too but they were more interested in the Stoic and Epicurean schools because they best fit the attitude of the received books of the Hebrew Bible.

The intellectuals who adopted a Platonic afterlife from Greek culture were those who made a living in Greek society and needed Greek intellectual credibility for their support. They were part of the client class, those who worked for the upper class rulers, or even sometimes themselves part of the Greco-Roman elite. This would include the Alexandrian Philo Judaeus, Josephus, several other Jewish philosophical writers and the Pharisees, or more exactly, the rabbis, as they gave up their sectarian status and became the ruling body in Jewish life. In doing so, they eventually synthesized the notion of an immortal soul with the notion of bodily resurrection. Christianity also provided another meeting point for the two ideas but they did not blend so easily in Christianity, leaving us with centuries of interesting attempts to synthesize them.

Philo Judaeus (ca 20 BCE-ca 50 CE)

IT IS HARD to say that Philo was typical of anyone but himself. His enormous wealth and power would suggest that he represented the cynosure of Jewish Hellenism, rather than a typical example of it. We also have more of his work than any other Hellenistic Jewish philosopher and perhaps more than any other philosopher, with the exception of Plato and Aristotle. His enormous literary corpus was unique in the Hellenistic Jewish world. He was also unique in his attempt to synthesize Greek with Hebrew thought. His apologetic technique is very sophisticated. He repeatedly maintains that the Hebrew Bible not only illustrates Greek philosophical views through allegory (as do the Iliad and Odyssey, according to the Greek commentators) but morally surpasses them. For Philo, Greek philosophers and the Hebrew Bible told the same philosophical truth. The Bible is a better and more direct expression of the truth; the Greeks actually imitated the “oracles” of Moses!

Philo was mostly an exegete, writing commentaries on the Biblical works. He rarely indulged in systematic philosophical exposition. So it is difficult to find an epitome of his ideas on any subject. A synthesis of his work must be gleaned from reading many different treatises in concert rather than reading any one philosophical tractate. We have to be satisfied with a brief characterization of his writing on the afterlife rather than an extensive discussion of it.

Philo was born to a very wealthy Alexandrian family, a couple of decades before Jesus. He was a contemporary of both Jesus and Paul, outliving Jesus but probably predeceasing Paul by a few years. Unlike Jesus and like Paul, Philo was born in a major center of Hellenistic culture. But Alexandria was a far greater and more culturally privileged city than Tarsus and Philo’s family was likely far richer than Paul’s (about whom we know nothing other than Luke’s often debated bibliographical summary), as Philo came from one of the wealthiest families in the city.

Strangely, for all his writing, we know little about Philo’s personal life. We do not know how his family became rich, though they were well diversified by Philo’s birth. As a wealthy boy, Philo presumably received private tutoring, presumably also a gymnasioneducation, that taught him the arts and sciences as well as physical education. Likely, he participated in Greek athletics, which were played naked. His writings give us a window into the wealthiest level of the Jewish aristocracy and the intellectual elite. He saw nothing in these activities per se to detract from his perfect observance of Jewish law, though he did not practice the Jewish law in conformity with the Pharisees. Pharisaism had not much penetrated Alexandria in this period. Philo’s life and writing make clear that Jewish observance and Pharisaism were not equated in the first century, especially in the Diaspora. There were, in this period, many legitimate interpretations about how to carry out the commandments that God had given Israel.

Philo lived long enough to accompany the Jewish legation to Rome to intercede with Gaius Caligula (r. 37-41 CE) against various anti-Jewish actions in Alexandria. Philo described himself as an old man when he made this trip to Rome, which took place in the mid-first century CE. His interview with the emperor nearly cost the lives of the whole delegation. The Emperor’s decision would certainly have been tragic for the Jews. Providentially, it was the emperor who died. Caligula was assassinated before he could rule on the matter, convincing the Jews of divine intervention in their favor. Claudius, who succeeded Caligula, promulgated the famous rescript that guaranteed the Jews of Alexandria rights enjoyed by the Greek citizenry (isopoliteia) though it did not grant citizenship proper.

In his beliefs about life after death, Philo was perhaps representative of the new Jewish intellectual class, well attuned to Greek philosophical traditions, able to understand the Bible and Judaism in the highest Greek philosophical tradition. This is a crucial mark of an acculturated person. Being a good Platonist, Philo discussed the immortality of the soul without ever broaching the resurrection of the body. Since we have previously seen that the Septuagint evinces a distinct interest in resurrection but no obvious clear statement of immortality of the soul, many of the resurrection texts were likely inserted later than Philo, by Christian interpolators.

Philo was an expert at allegorization. He believed that the perfection of the intellectual and moral faculties is what leads to immortality of the soul. We know that Philo had a keen appreciation of Greek athletics. But when thinking of eternal felicity, continuity of consciousness rather than bodily preservation most appealed to Philo’s sensibilities.

Philo did not use the word anastasis or its derived verb forms which signify “resurrection” in the Septuagint and the New Testament. He did not use any forms derived from egeiro to signify postmortem existence, as Paul liked to do. He would not have liked the notion of flesh rising from the dead. Instead, he almost exclusively used the Greek term athanasia, immortality, to describe the afterlife. He scarcely mentioned any Messianic hopes about the Jews, hoping to defuse any political issue between pagans and Jews.

But he did valorize Jewish martyrdom, saying that Jews accepted death as if it were “immortality” (Legat. 117.2) and says that when threatened by death Jews were given “immortality” (Legat. 369.2). He said that Jewish youth sought liberty as eagerly as “immortality” (Prob. 117.4). Philo means to call our attention to martyrdom, which he admired, and rewarded with immortality, not resurrection. These are values which the intellectuals in the pagan world understood as well: It was admirable that a person might give his or her life to protect political freedom or to remain true to religious beliefs. Philo accessed his Jewish knowledge, explicitly explaining Jewish notions of martyrdom to his Hellenistic readership by dressing it in Platonic garb.

Philo also made central to his notion of the Bible’s message an ascent to see God. In fact, for Philo, the name Israel was itself the designation for ascent of the soul through philosophical contemplation. The allegory was based on a presumed Hebrew etymology. For Philo “Israel” meant “person who saw God,” ish shera’ah el (’îš šerā’ah ’ēl) in Hebrew. This refers both to Jacob’s wrestling with the angel (’El) and to the people’s quest for God in their religious contemplations. It is also applicable to any who pursue philosophy to its correct conclusion, a vision of God. It therefore refers to “anyone” (not just Jews) who employs philosophy to find God. The allegory functions in a universal way in Philo’s writing.16 To support this notion of philosophical ascent as the goal of human life, Philo outlined a clear mystic allegory that culminates in the intellectual and spiritual ascent to heaven to the presence of God, who is the author both of prophecy in this life and immortalization in the next life.

Philo did not so much demonstrate that the soul was immortal as assume it. It is implicit in his anthropology, which is quite consistent throughout. Man is made of flesh and spirit: the body is dust, though it is animated by divine spirit, which is not created but originates directly from the Lord, the Father and Ruler of the Universe. The body is created mutable and impermanent. The soul is immutable, immortal, and permanant. Our lives are created because God directed our souls to be placed within our bodies. This “spirit” or “soul,” He breathed into humanity, making him a composite, mutable, and dying creature who, because of his immortal soul, is also an immortal creature. So Philo called humanity the border between mortality and immortality.17

Philo would rather cede some of the LORD’S power as creator than cede any of His immutability. Anything that the LORD directly created would imply change (and therefore imperfection) in Him; hence the soul, like all the ideas, must be uncreated, while the material creation is the product of an artisan angel, the demiurge (artisan, literally: people’s worker). The mind is the soul of the soul (Opif. 66, Her. 55). In so doing, Philo indicated that the center of consciousness, the part that survives death, is the mind and thus valorized it as the transcendent part of humanity, a quite notable innovation on the biblical conception of the “soul.” Philo’s philosophical terms seem for the first time in Judaism to clearly designate the center of the personality, the personal and individual aspects of spiritual life. For Philo they must do so, as he believed strictly in individual reward and punishment for individual moral decisions. Thus, he tried to demonstrate that some of Plato’s notions were not the full truth.

Philo was also the first philosopher to describe the world of ideas, the sum total of all ideas in the universe, with the name kosmos noētos, the intelligible world. This conception allowed him to clarify an important aspect of God’s divinity (though its full nature is hidden from us). Philo identified this intelligible world with a hypostasis (separate manifestation) of God, which he called the logos, the rational pattern of the world. The Gospel of John 1:1 translates logos as “Word” but it never means “Word” in any lexical sense. It is this rational hypostasis of God which the Gospel of John proclaims as the creative agent in the world (1:3) and is incarnated in the person of Jesus (1:14). Philo would have agreed with the first statement but found the second illogical and impossible. This term already had a long history and a technical meaning in Stoicism but Philo found it advantageous for his own mixture of Stoicism and Platonism, so he developed new meanings and uses for it.

The stoic logos, which means rational principle or blueprint, not only functions like the platonic nous, reason or divine mind, it is also used by Philo to describe the way in which God acts in this world. Every place where an angel is mentioned in Scripture, Philo understood that the logos was present. He also used the word logos to refer to YHWH, the tetragrammaton (four-lettered) name of God. This is the name of God that is translated as “LORD” in English Bibles. In Greek, YHWH was already being pronounced ’Adonay translated as Kyrios (meaning “Lord”) in Philo’s own time. Philo understood logos and kyrios to denote a divine presence, God’s principal angel messenger to the world. Philo understood that God made the world through the logos, which in this context is probably best understood as a “blueprint,” and is thus to be identified with the Platonic artisan of the material world, known as the demiurge (the people’s worker). Philo saw Genesis 1 as the creation of the world of ideas, Genesis 2-3 as the creation of the material world. The world of ideas is eternal, even though the ideas were created by God. Philo was trying to synthesize the cosmogony of Plato, which featured an eternal and uncreated world of ideas, with the Biblical narrative of temporal creation. The logos, the same divine emanation which is called “Wisdom,” can almost be understood as eternal in Proverbs 8 (especially in Greek). It will become a very important aspect of Christian and Jewish mysticism. Philo’s identification of the logos with the intelligible world was also a crucial step towards the definition of the “self” in Neoplatonism.

For Plato, immortality must also be an attribute of the mind, which is part of the very nature of being human. Mortality, conversely, is directly related to our bodily nature. In direct opposition to Plato, Philo believed that the soul is immortalized by moral behavior so those who do not act morally are condemned to punishment or non-existence at death. Sin causes the soul to lose its immortality. This is the allegorical meaning of the story of the garden of Eden. For Philo the allegorical meaning of this tale was the only meaning; there was no literal, historical garden of Eden because it resorts to too many absurdly naive notions about God. So Genesis 2-3 has an allegorical, moral meaning but no literal truth. The Bible only yields its ultimate truths through allegory. For Philo, the Bible provided a critique of Plato: the immortality of the soul does not necessarily mean its indestructibility.

Although Philo adopted the notion of the immortal soul from Plato, he gave primacy to the kind of ethical behavior that is outlined by the Bible, instead of the kind of ethical behavior implicit in the practice of Greek philosophy. Philo would not have objected to the practice of philosophy-true philosophy is exactly equal to the life outlined by the Bible-but the reasoning of the philosophers is less perfect than the commands of Scripture. For Philo then, the most important and transcendent value was not consciousness itself but the moral deeds that perfect consciousness. Thus, Philo bent up the Platonic transcendent mind to the portrayal of the Jewish notion of a moral individual. Indeed, true philosophy would coincide perfectly with Biblical morality:

The souls of those who have given themselves to genuine philosophy … study to die to the life in the body, that a higher existence immortal and incorporeal in the presence of Him who is himself immortal and uncreated, may be their portion. (Gig. 14)

Some of this sounds just like Plato’s Socrates, who said that the truly philosophical person lives as though already dead. But for Philo it was the process of moral education itself that brings us into the presence of God and transforms us into immortal creatures. There may be a hint of our previously discussed resurrection and transformation motifs in these doctrines but, if so, they are highly refined. Instead, Philo made clear that the soul enters immortality with all its faculties, including its memory, intact. This was an issue for Platonists but it was hardly an issue at all for Philo. If the soul retained no memory after it left the body, there would be scarce sense in punishing it. It was Philo who crafted the notion of the immortal soul which is so familiar to us in the West; he carved it out of the raw material that Plato bequeathed to him.

There are a few places where Philo even hinted that he knew the more native Jewish interpretation of afterlife, seemingly backing into a notion of resurrection. In the allegory of grief over a rebellious child, Israel, Philo hinted at other kinds of immortality but he did not take the description to the point of contradiction:

Then like a fond mother she will pity the sons and daughters whom she has lost, who in death and still more when in life were a grief to their parents. Young once more, she will be fruitful and bear a blameless generation to redress the one that went before. (Migr. 35; see Cher. 27)18

Philo, in characteristic fashion, understood Isaiah 54 allegorically. Probably, Philo was not actually thinking of bodily resurrection per se, but the perfection of God’s kingdom on earth, which suited his philosophical principles more exactly.

Because Philo thought of the soul as a perfected body, he sometimes described it as made out of the same stuff as stars. He was able to identify the righteous dead with the stars themselves, hence as angels, as we have seen in the apocalyptic literature:

When Abraham left this mortal life, “he is added to the people of God” (Gen 25:8), in that he inherited incorruption and became equal to the angels, for angels-those unbodied and blessed souls-are the host and people of God. (Sacr. 5)

Some would suggest that “equal to angels” means only “like angels.” But Philo explained exactly what he meant-they are the unbodied and blessed souls, who are “the people of God.” “Equal to” in Greek means “equated with,” not “something like angels.”19 Philo was giving us his own interpretation of by-now familiar apocalyptic traditions. But he styled them not in terms of resurrection (they are unincarnate souls) but in terms of incorporeal intelligences. We learn that the stars and the angels are both incorporeal and intelligences:

The men of God are priests and prophets who have refused to accept membership in the commonwealth of the world and to become citizens therein, but have risen wholly above the sphere of sense-perception and have been translated into the world of the intelligible and dwell there registered as freemen of the commonwealth of ideas, which are imperishable and incorporeal. (Gig. 61)

Notice that Philo did not use the standard vocabulary for resurrection in these passages, rather made up his own vocabulary to distinguish his thinking from other Jewish writers. In most passages, however, Philo explicitly regarded death as the soul’s liberation from the prison of the body. Here he seems to have tried to accommodate post-Biblical interpretations to his brand of Platonism.

Philo also coded his philosophy according to gender. Matter is feminine and passive to the masculine logos and nous. Unbridled sexuality is both a distraction and a detraction for both men and women. Unfortunately, it is the influence of women on men with which Philo seemed obsessed. Since women distract men, the influence of women must be limited by human rules and regulation for the good of both sexes. Women, though theoretically the equal of men and equally responsible for their actions, are simply not described as being as responsible as men, because they are prejudicially viewed as weaker in reason. Certainly their will is viewed as weaker; their sexuality must therefore be disciplined by reason. This was a typical judgment of Platonism but Philo seemed more zealous than most in his judgment. Philo highlighted the sexual abstinence and even celibacy of the Therapeutai, who he admired and who were so similar to the Qumran group.20

Philo noted that philosophical meditation is transformative in itself. It does not need to end in a right vision of the Existent One:

Therefore we sympathize in joy with those who love God and seek to understand the nature of the living, even if they fail to discover it; for the vague investigation of what is good is sufficient by itself to cheer the heart, even if it fail to attain the end that it desires. But we participate in indignation against that lover of himself, Cain; because he has left his soul without any conception whatever of the living God, having of deliberate purpose mutilated himself of that faculty by which alone he might have been able to see him. (Post. 21)

Philo thus was able to harmonize Judaism with Greek philosophy. For him, both said the same, when each is seen in its finest light.

Josephus as Sociologist of the Sects and Parties of Judea

PHILO’S ATTEMPT to correct Platonism by means of Biblical truth is paralleled in a converse way by Josephus’ description of the sectarian life of Judea in the first century. Josephus was saved from death by Vespacian and so became his client. All his writings were meant to explain Judaism to the educated Roman audience. As apologetic as Philo, Josephus used philosophical terminology in a more popular way to make Jewish notions of the afterlife understandable to his educated pagan Roman audience. In the process he also confirmed that notions of immortality of the soul emanate from the client classes of Judea while resurrection was featured among those opposed to Roman rule.

Josephus described the social classes of first-century CE Judea by mentioning the three most important sects and a “fourth philosophy.” He called them “heresies” (haireseis) by which he meant only “sects.” The Greek had no implication of unacceptable religious views. But neither did he mean “sects” in a technical sociological sense: the groups may have been anything from a technical religious sect to a denomination, even an occupation or voluntary society.

He tells us whom the sects were: There were Sadducees, Pharisees, and Essenes (J.W. 2.119; Ant. 18.11-12). The Sadducees were closer to an occupational group or a social class; the Pharisees were something like a voluntary association; and the Essenes were a sect in the technical sense. The “fourth philosophy” were the Zealots or political revolutionaries. Josephus considered them “bandits” or perhaps in our idiom, “terrorists.”

The Sadducees appeared to be the traditional aristocracy, priestly in nature. On the other hand, their philosophy, which denied life after death, did not appeal to many, according to Josephus (J.W. 2.164-65). One doubts whether one could enter this group merely by adopting its philosophy because they were wealthy and priestly. For Josephus, the Sadducees were not merely a social and political grouping; they had clear religious views as well. Or, as we have been noticing throughout the ancient Near East and the classical world, their social position inclined them to a certain disposition toward life after death. “The Sadducees hold that the soul perishes along with body” (Ant. 18.16). The Sadducees did not believe in fate, feeling that God is distant from human beings and that we must take responsibility for what we will: “All things lie within our own power so that we ourselves are responsible for our well-being, while we suffer misfortune through our own thoughtlessness” (Ant. 13.173). Josephus clearly saw that such a doctrine favored the wealthy. The Sadducees suggested that their wealth was deserved and was just payment for their superior morality. Josephus likely was born into the group, as he was himself descended from a priestly family. But he called them “boorish.” In Josephus’ organization of the issues, belief in life after death and the issue of justice in this world are intimately connected.21 Furthermore, Josephus’ portrayal of Sadducees is paralleled in the Gospels, where Jesus and Sadducees argue over resurrection (Matt 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27; Luke 20:27-40).

It was the Sadducees who raised the issue of afterlife because they did not accept it. Jesus demonstrated the concept of resurrection by quoting two different Scriptures and assuming that there can be no contradiction between them. Since Scripture says that YHWH is God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and he is also called “the living God,” (actually “God of the living” in Greek), then the patriarchs must still be alive. This was not only an effective argument in the first century CE, the Gospels are especially impressed with it.

The Sadducean Bible would not have contained the visions in Daniel that indubitably propound the notion of resurrection. Although we have no identifiably Sadducean text—that is, no writing that we can identify as specifically Sadducean in a sectarian sense—many Biblical and intertestamental books actually reflect their perspective. Ecclesiastes and Job would be favorite texts of the Sadducees. The Wisdom of Jesus Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus as it it is called in Greek), which does not contain any concept of beatific immortality, would have been highly prized among them. It would not be too hard to claim it as a Sadducean text. They were an unusual combination of traditional Israelite culture and Hellenistic culture.

Access to Paradise in This Life and the Next

THERE IS A clear parallel between the explicit theology of the Sadducees and their social class. As lords of the land, they had a relatively privileged life. They appeared to need no other rewards than those they took in this world. One might have easily imagined exactly the opposite: the aristocrats took for themselves the rewards of the next world just as they took the rewards of this life. Such was the case in Egypt of the Pharaohs, for instance. Indeed as we have just seen, the great aristocratic Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, Philo Judaeus, adopted a very Platonic notion of the immortality of the soul, which gave primacy to those with the leisure to study.

No universal logic makes any particular correlation between social class and theology inevitable. All that one can claim is that social class remains an important variable in the way religious beliefs are apprehended in any society. What explains this particular correlation between stoic indifference to the afterlife and the traditional aristocracy is Biblical tradition itself. Although the Sadducees were Hellenists, they knew and understood what the Biblical tradition is and they honored it in their own priestly way. The Pharisees characterized the Sadducees as heretics but they were not. Instead of evincing a willful heresy to the tradition of the fathers, the Sadducean position actually reflected the converse. The Sadducees knew that when the Bible is interpreted literally there is scant evidence for any afterlife worth having.

An important architectural feature in the villas of the wealthy only emphasizes the logic of Sadducean religious belief. A number of very interesting studies have been completed on the usage of the word “paradise.”22 It is a loan word into Hebrew from Persian and Greek equally. The term is well known with the meaning of pleasure garden rather than orchard. The late Hellenistic period saw different gardening styles in Persia and in the Hellenistic world. The Greeks preferred to take their leisure in walled gardens with water features but the Persians liked to hunt in enclosed gardens, which the Romans thought unmanly. The Romans also thought that wearing baggy pants like the Persians was effeminate; real men wore dresses, or togas, as they called them.

But a crucial religious corollary to ancient gardening practices has been missed by most scholars: The wealthy called their pleasure garden, with their ordered bowers and with pools and walks, a paradise (sing. paradeisos, pl. paradeisoi), as Ecclesiastes had called his gardens pardesim (sing. pardes, paradise): “I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees” (Eccles 2:5). The wealthy had a paradise on earth in the back gardens of their estates. Access to a paradise was strictly confined to the wealthy and their guests. This lends an important social connotation to the use of the term “paradise” to designate the afterlife. For instance, the palaces of King Herod contain large architecturally designed gardens, complete with pools for refreshment and beauty.23 This large architectural feature was called a “paradise” (paradeisos in Greek), a pleasure garden, even by the rulers of the Hellenistic world. So, in some sense, the Herodians and Sadducees needed no paradise in the afterlife because they enjoyed paradise daily while on earth. The lower classes envisioned their lives after death in the form that the wealthiest enjoyed in this life and, to complete God’s justice, usually denied the aristocrats (whom they thought sinful) access to it.24

The Sadducees are not the faulty Bible interpreters that the rabbis wish to make of them. They needed no paradise after death because they found paradise in their backyards. They believed that is exactly what they deserved, as stated in the Bible. Indeed, they stayed closer to the text of the Bible than the rabbis. Their sin was that they were literalists. But Sadducean denial of life after death put them in an understandable and respectable Greek position as well. They were seen as closely related intellectually to the Epicureans of the early Hellenistic period. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see that Stoicism and Epicureanism, with their lack of a beatific afterlife, would have appealed to them. Indeed, Josephus compared them to the Epicureans. Because of this easy and natural connection with Epicureanism, the aristocrats of the land of Israel were able to assume that Greek and Hebrew thought were easily synthesized. Like the aristocratic Epicureans of Greek culture, the traditional “old money” aristocracy of Hellenistic Israel felt that life should be faced in the most steadfast and brave terms, without reference to any beatific afterlife. It was a heroic and noble tradition that came down directly from the Biblical Sheol and from the Greek Hades, which was so well described in the epics. There was no reason to believe that these two places were not synonymous.

The Paradox of the Pharisees and Josephus’s Hermeneutics

IT IS THE Pharisees who present us with a paradox. The Sadducees needed no notion of the afterlife. The millennialists need a strong notion of resurrection, which gives justice to those who suffer and heavenly transformation to some of those who fall as martyrs. The Pharisees had religious beliefs which are harder to understand if set parallel to their social position. Indeed, we will not entirely be able to understand Pharisaic beliefs until we study Paul the ex-Pharisee and then the rabbis. The rabbis are the heirs to the Pharisees and many of their ideas are to be found in their writings.

We know that the Sadducees had to share power with the Pharisees, who were apprently a skilled class of scribes and craftsmen who studied the laws in detail. Not only did Josephus describe them as the most accurate interpreters of the law, he did so in language that suggests that they already possessed the “oral law,” which is characteristic of the rabbis. Josephus described their product as nomima, “legal enactments” (Vita 191), and said in several places that they handed down (paredosan) regulations not recorded in the Torah of Moses (Ant. 13.297; 17.41). The Greek terminology suggests oral transmission, as does the sentence structure, which contrasts the Pharisaic enterprise with the written law. Josephus described the Pharisees as more abstemious in their personal habits than the patrician Sadducees: “They simplify their standard of living” (Ant. 18.12). He said that they were not impressed by luxury nor sought it in this world. Rather they were respectful and deferential to elders and kept their word (Ant. 18.12). “The Pharisees are affectionate to each other and cultivate harmonious relationships within the community” (J.W. 2.166).

This is a standard description of the solace of philosophical communities in the Greco-Roman world. True philosophers not only read and meditate on the truths of the universe, they also translate their beliefs into communal life, living with their fellows in an ideal community. Josephus styles the Sadducees as an arrogant and powerful class (they had indeed fomented the war with Rome before political leadership was usurped by the Zealots), while he styled the Pharisees (with whom he had his differenees) as a circumspect scribal client class of the Romans, sharing in the government and attempting to negotiate a peace with the Romans. The Pharisees seemed less impressed with Judaean military might, less interested in rebellion, and more willing to put up with the Romans, because they saw Roman power as overwhelming, though they can hardly be said to have liked them. In fact, Josephus was quite often annoyed with the Pharisees when he was military commander of the Galilee during the early days of the revolt because they constantly attempted to negotiate a cessation of hostilities and undermine his more militant position.

After Josephus was captured by the Romans, and indeed was accepted into the retinue of Vespasian and Titus, he began to change his opinion about the Pharisees. This makes a great deal of sense as he must have realized the futility of any hostility against the Romans. The Pharisees became his favorite candidates to take over the reins of government after the revolt in his later work the Antiquities for they are most in favor of peaceful co-existence with the Roman Empire.25 It was the Pharisees who take over the role as mediators of the Roman rule and representative leaders of the native community.

Why then did they believe in resurrection, which is the mark of a revolutionary group? The Pharisees, who were expert at understanding the law, believed that there are rewards and punishments, as well as life after death. They were educated men, helpful in running the state. Though Josephus was from a priestly family himself and so heir to the Sadducee position, should he have desired it, he stated that he learned to govern his life according to the rules of the Pharisees, since he wanted a career in public life (Vita 10-12).

This is not to be interpreted as Josephus’ conversion to Pharisaism.26 In the Jewish Wars, Josephus often appears not to like Pharisees much, especially in his public career as a general during the war, when they were constantly trying to have him removed from office. His background made him suspicious of them and his attempt to style himself as a Pharisee was less than entirely convincing. In his later writing, Jewish Antiquities, Josephus suggested that the Pharisees were the class of people who Rome trusted best to govern Judea after the destruction of the Temple. That was decades after the war but that was Josephus’ final position, after a great many twists and turns.

Yet, more religious persons than Josephus found the Pharisees’ piety impressive. Jesus said that unless one’s “righteousness surpasses even that of the Pharisees,” one will not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:20). Jesus’ admiration had limits, because, according to Mark, the Pharisees could be criticized for setting aside the commands of God in order to observe their own traditions (Mark 7:9). We do not have to accept these statements as the actual words of Jesus to understand the kind of praise and criticism that was being offered by ordinary Jews. In this respect, Christianity gave us invaluable evidence about the opinions of ordinary Jews. The Pharisees, like all the sects of first century Judaea, were a controversial group.

Josephus was like Philo in his almost complete avoidance of the term anastasis (literally, raising up, the Judaeo-Greek technical term for “resurrection”) and related words for resurrection proper. He does not seem at all interested in the notion of resurrection of the body. “Immortality” is the term he used to describe life after death, and he quite often, like Philo, larded the description of life eternal with notions of heavenly journeys to the deathless stars.

Josephus said of the Pharisees: “Every soul, they maintain, is imperishable but the soul of the good alone passes into another body, while the souls of the wicked suffer eternal punishment” (J.W. 2.163). This has often been taken to mean that the Pharisees believed in fleshly resurrection in the same way as Christians do; but this is a very broad generalization. The Pharisees, we will see, had a less specific and more interesting view.

Nor does this mean that Josephus attributed to Pharisees the Platonic notion of metempsychosis, or reincarnation, though he certainly used exactly that language to describe Pharisaic beliefs. Rather, Josephus described the Pharisees as envisioning another, different kind of body for imperishable souls. Because Josephus was involved in a very tricky hermeneutical process in explaining Jewish beliefs for a sophisticated, philosophical pagan audience, whose notions of the afterlife were deeply affected by Greek philosophy, exactly what the Pharisees believed is not recoverable from him.

When Josephus said that “the soul of the good alone passes into another body,” he meant that the earthly body is corruptible. Josephus probably meant that the Pharisees believed that righteous persons will receive a new, incorruptible body. This is exactly what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15. Since Paul was an ex-Pharisee (as well as a Christian), Josephus may have been accurate in his own way, though it would hardly appear to us as the simplest way to describe their beliefs.27

The Pharisees’ belief in life after death was entirely congruent with their Roman client status. The rabbis, the Pharisees’ intellectual descendants, believed in an afterlife that could be figured flexibly in either Greek or more native apocalyptic terms, or even others terms, depending on the circumstances (see ch. 14).

This hypothesis preserves the symmetry between the Pharisees’ middle social position and their afterlife beliefs. Judaea evinced a party system that expresses social, political, and religious differences. The afterlife, whether based on resurrection or immortality of the soul, was one of the crucial subjects that distinguished between them. This is not so surprising as it sounds since beliefs about the afterlife are also highly correlated with class and politics in the United States.

Martyrdom and the Fate of the Essenes

THE ESSENES are not mentioned in Rabbinic literature but were fully described by Josephus. They seem to be closely related to the group that secreted the texts we find in the caves around Qumran, though not all the texts found there need be Essenic, and the Dead Sea Scroll sectarians may not be the only kind of Essene that existed. Josephus had no doubt that these people believed in life after death, though he figured it as immortality of the soul. Resurrection of the body is more likely to have been their true belief, as their own texts tell us. Josephus again characterized Essene beliefs in a way that Romans would understand. Dead Sea Scroll texts tell us that it was resurrection of the body that preserved Essene faith, a faith that was tested by martyrdom28 According to Josephus, the Romans tortured the Essenes for refusing to renounce their Jewish practices, especially the dietary laws:

They were racked and twisted, burnt and broken, and made to pass through every instrument of torture in order to induce them to blaspheme their lawgiver and to eat some forbidden thing; yet they refused to yield to either demand, nor even once did they cringe to their persecutors or shed a tear. Smiling in their agonies, mildly deriding their tormentors, they cheerfully resigned their souls, confident that they would receive them back again. (J.W. 2.152-53)

Josephus explained the martyrdom of Essenes who, he said, believe in fate and the immortality of the souls and also believed that souls can ascend to be immortalized. He figured them in exactly the same terms as 2 Maccabees figured the woman and her seven children. Josephus also described the Essenes in terms that the Romans would understand. They respected the brave endurance of those tormented among the Jews just as they respected the same qualities of Christian martyrs afterwards. They expected to receive their souls back again. This seems very much like resurrection; it is hard to know what a Roman would have made out of that statement. Now that we know that the Dead Sea Scrolls do evince resurrection of the body, it makes special sense. The Essenes believed in fate only in the sense that they were apocalypticists who believed that God has already foreordained who will live and die when the end of days comes. As seems implicit here, Josephus used the term “soul” when he meant resurrection of the body, the doctrine most closely associated with martyrdom in Jewish culture. The phenomenon is quite widespread in Hellenistic Jewish literature but the connection with resurrection of the body comes clear only when Josephus discussed the suicide of the defenders of Masada.

Josephus’s Account of the Martyrs at Masada

WHEN JOSEPHUS discussed the act of martyrdom that ended the First Jewish Revolt against Rome, he is at his most articulate. A good historian was expected to fill in stirring speeches where no words were left to us. The speech of Eleazar ben Yair, one of the leaders of the defenders of Masada against the Roman siege, is the work of Josephus himself. He described the hopeless situation of the defenders of Masada and then wrote the appropriately heroic speech for the leader of the defense.

Josephus’ Eleazar first appealed to heroism. God determined that they should all die since the Romans were close to vanquishing them, although they enjoyed the best strategic position possible and an enormous cache of supplies and weapons. On the other hand, God graced them with information that many of their compatriots in revolt had not possessed-the knowledge of their imminent capture. He therefore urged “a noble death in liberty” (J.W. 7.326) rather than a life in slavery and dishonor.

Though some were convinced by this appeal, others were more compassionate for their wives and children. For this reason, Eleazar continued on to a discussion of the immortality of the soul (J.W. 7.341). Josephus reports that “Death truly gives liberty to the soul and permits it to depart to its own pure abode, there to be free of all calamity” (J.W. 7.344). Josephus continued by positing that the soul is the principle of life in the world: whatever it inhabits is alive and whatever it abandons immediately dies. He then tried to demonstrate that the soul is independent of the body in sleep and will be all the more independent after death.

We recognize immediately that this is Plato’s proof of the immortality of the soul, if somewhat popularized. As an actual historical occurrence, this proof is unlikely to have occurred to Eleazar, leader of the Zealot defenders, at this momentous occasion. But it is sure to have impressed Josephus’s readers deeply, especially his Greco-Roman audience, who would better understand the motivations of the Jews when phrased in this particular way; when possible, the Romans emphasized that they had vanquished worthy enemies, not overrun some group of ill-prepared peasants.

Thus, Josephus figured the zealot defenders of Masada as if they were Greek philosophers. But it is unlikely that the events or conceptions Josephus described were anything like the ideas of afterlife that the desperate defenders of Masada would have embraced. They, like all other Jewish sectarian groups of the day, would have been more attracted by the notion of bodily resurrection to enjoy the rest of the life which had been denied them by faith. We have noticed that all the nativist groups of the first century-all the groups that faced martyrdom, Christianity included-affirmed bodily resurrection, not the immortality of the soul.

Some More Information about Life after Death from Acts

JOSEPHUS’S DESCRIPTION of the afterlife beliefs of the sects of Judea is most dramatically confirmed by a story Luke tells us about Paul. Acts 23 illustrates that the issue of life after death was still being fiercely fought in first-century Judea:

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.” When he said this, a dissension began between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. (The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, or angel, or spirit; but the Pharisees acknowledge all three.) Then a great clamor arose, and certain scribes of the Pharisees’ group stood up and contended, “We find nothing wrong with this man. What if a spirit or an angel has spoken to him?” (Acts 23:6-9)29

This passage tells us that the Sadducees denied any resurrection, either as a soul (obviously as an immortal soul) or as an angel (angelomorphic resurrection). So far as Luke is concerned, there were two ways in which our immortal lives could be figured: as an immortal soul or as an angel. From everything we have seen, the latter description is another way to figure the resurrection of the body. This narrative also tells us that afterlife was a matter of great dispute in Jewish society and not tacitly assumed by all.

Immortality of the Soul Used to Justify Suffering and Martyrdom in Other Jewish Literatures

THE DEAD SEA SCROLLS, Enoch, and the Daniel tradition can be contrasted with Wisdom of Solomon, which uses a Greek notion of immortality, but also combines it with a more traditionally Jewish notion of resurrection:

But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God,

    and no torment will ever touch them.

In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died,

    and their departure was thought to be an affliction,

and their going from us to be their destruction;

    but they are at peace.

For though in the sight of men they were punished,

    their hope is full of immortality. (Wis 3:1-4)

The occasion of the discussion is the death of the righteous. These may be the martyrs but the description is so general as to include any righteous person who dies early or childless. As with the apocalyptic sensibility, the writer of Wisdom claims that the righteous dead are immortal, with God. The wicked will be punished, both on earth, and by not sharing the immortality of the righteous. God will overturn the plans of the evil, and disasters will follow them. Yet, unlike in the apocalyptic works, there is no obvious resurrection at the end of time. In fact, the issue in Wisdom 1:15-2:24 is strictly one of theodicy. If there is a restoration on earth, it is accomplished in the subtlest ways: “They will govern nations and rule over peoples, / and the Lord will reign over them forever” (3:8). It is not clear that this means resurrection or restoration of the martyrs at all.30

The theme is developed through contrast. When reading through the passage, at first, we think we will see the theme of Ecclesiastes return, with its marvelous critique of Persian Jewish and Greek Jewish affluence with incipient stoicism. Since there is no earthly justice, Epicureanism is the rational choice: Carpe diem! Yet this passage shows by rational progression that such beliefs lead not only to disregard of God, they finally lead to the persecution of the righteous.

The stoicism and epicureanism of the beginning is overturned by a more traditional Jewish view of God’s providence. This is an important, intellectual, and logical analysis of the eventual end of those who disregard God. In the end, it is the righteous who will triumph. The passage even ends with a reference to supernatural evil, created by the devil. Yet, how different is this from the analysis of the justification of the righteous in the Daniel and 2 Maccabees passage! It is much more like Philo’s or Josephus’ figuration of apocalypticism in terms of Platonism. There is no explicit discussion of the end of time and the world disruption which will reward the righteous with apocalyptic vengeance. Rather instead the work tries to show how divine Wisdom (as a separate hypostasis of God) has aided the righteous throughout Biblical history.

The Greek influence is a natural extension of explaining native Jewish notions of righteousness and the rewards of martyrdom to Greek audiences. The Greek influence is a hermeneutical processs, not just a translation of terms from one language to another but an attempt to translate notions of afterlife from one culture to another, where “resurrection” is better understood as “immortality.” Even more important is the social context of these ideas, which place it squarely in the higher classes of Jewish life, who have seen fit to articulate the inchoate notion of afterlife in the Bible with the help of Greek philosophy. The people who wrote these passages are concerned with God’s justice but they are not revolutionaries. They tell a story of those who deny life after death and wind up denying God. They stay as close as possible to the original Hebrew notions in the Psalms.

Similarly, we cannot tell from this passage whether the afterlife is immediately after death or at the end of time, whether it is experienced bodily in any way or is equivalent to immortality of the soul. The text seems deliberately to downplay any apocalyptic notion and concentrate on the immortal reward which God gives to martyrs. After the tradition ramifies in various ways, many more complicated combinations will be possible, but this beginning seems to preserve different origins for the different notions of life after death in Jewish thought.

Similarly, the trend which was foremost in the Maccabean literature was an interest in immortality. By the time of 4 Maccabees, the fashion in which immortality was expressed was as a synthesis of Greek and First Temple Israelite thought:

Although the ligaments joining his bones were already severed, the courageous youth, worthy of Abraham, did not groan, but as though transformed by fire into immortality he nobly endured the rackings. (4 Mac 9:21-22)

but all of them, as though running the course toward immortality, hastened to death by torture. (14:5)

but, as though having a mind like adamant and giving rebirth for immortality to the whole number of her sons, she implored them and urged them on to death for the sake of religion. (16:13)

for on that day virtue gave the awards and tested them for their endurance. The prize was immortality in endless life. (17:12)

As opposed to the corresponding passages in 2 Maccabees, there is no elaborate discussion of resurrection here, no corresponding cosmological argument that God made everything, no promise that He will recreate from nothing those whose bodies have been destroyed by the tyrant. There is no need to discuss the body at all. There is still a clear relationship between martyrdom and immortality, but the immortality is not resurrection. It is astral immortality (4 Mac 9:21-22), even with the torturers’ fire serving to cleanse mortality from the martyrs.

By the first century, it is not enough to say that resurrection is a native Jewish notion while immortality of the soul is a Greek notion; they have both made their appearance in Jewish culture. What is particular to these passages is the notion that God will reward the righteous after their suffering by benefitting them with immortality (4 Mac 17:1). The particular kind of immortality depends entirely on the taste, or more exactly on the social position and predisposition of the writer. These ideas entered Jewish society in different ways; they also underscored the social fragmentation that accompanied the Greek conquest in the fourth century BCE. By the first centuries BCE and CE we have clearly differentiated social circumstances, which also showed up in the various understandings of life after death.31

The Jesus Movement and the Criterion of Dissimilarity

NO SUBJECT in history has received more attention than the person of Jesus and the character of the movement he headed.32 The Jesus movement is best understood as a millenarian movement. No theory is without detractors in this much discussed topic, but the apocalyptic hypothesis is the dominant approach of the twentieth century to the study of the movement that Jesus began. It was the perspective championed most successfully by one of the most outstanding men of the twentieth century, Albert Schweitzer, who was an accomplished scholar of the New Testament, as well as a world renowned physician and a great humanitarian.33 He pointed out that no one would have made up the stories of Jesus’ forecasting the end of time on the basis of what happened in Christianity afterwards (e.g. Matt 4:17; Mark 1:15; Matt 16:28; Luke 4:19, as we shall see). Jesus was an apocalypticist, at least in some of his teaching, and that fact must be faced squarely.

There are some strong logical reasons why Jesus must have headed an apocalyptic movement. To see them one needs quickly to review the history of the New Testament scholarship on the subject. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the historicity of the Gospel stories was brought into doubt by the philosophers of the Enlightenment. They asked: “What makes the stories of the Old or New Testament any more historically probable than Aesop’s fables or Grimm’s fairy tales?” The historical truth of the New Testament depends entirely on one historical source, entirely written by people who previously accepted Jesus as their personal savior.34

As a way of combating this cultured critique of religion, a number of scholars throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries developed criteria that would apply to any historical source, such as the New Testament, which was written by people who had already accepted the truth of its major propositions. A number of important criteria were adduced-like Jewish background, multiple and early attestation, easy translation into Aramaic-but they can all be expressed as “the Criterion of Dissimilarity,” especially if it is understood to include criteria of embarrassment and multiple attestation.35 For a fact about Jesus to be accepted as unassailable, it must not be in the interest of the church to tell us.36

The historical question is more limited. How does Jesus fit into the Jewish world’s notions of the afterlife? One must come at the problem indirectly. One must begin with several assured or virtually assured conclusions, many deduced by pure logic from the Gospel stories: Jesus lived as a Jew and died for his Judaism. His politics were seen as subversive to the Romans. He must have been an apocalypticist himself, otherwise there would have been no adequate reason for his movement to have expected his return immediately. He was the leading figure in a small movement of apocalyptic Jews who saw his death as a martyrdom, like many previous Jewish martyrdoms. Whether he was actually a political danger is quite another question. Some apocalypticists have political ambitions; others do not. Some movements have political objectives and others remain inchoate. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. Whatever Jesus’ Jewish and Roman politics were, they were not considered primary to his church, once the church understood his message as the salvation of the world.

Then we come to the mystery of the Resurrection, which we pass over for a moment. Jesus’ earliest disciples saw a moral and apocalyptic victory in “the Easter event.” They interpreted it not just as a sign that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead but had ascended to heaven to sit next to God, inaugurating the final consummation of history. The earliest Christians experienced the continued presence of Jesus in their lives, not in some attenuated form but exactly in the form of resurrected Messiah, angel of the Lord, the Son of Man (all at once) who was enthroned next to God.37 This must be true though it does not pass the criterion of dissimilarity because it is simply what all the canonical New Testament documents say about the Christ of faith. Paul identified Jesus as risen savior and Messiah because he had visions that clarified that relationship for him.

The Gospels show that the identification of Jesus with the “Son of Man” in Daniel is early and important but it is a postresurrection doctrine. The evangelists preached that the man Jesus, crucified and resurrected, became the figure prophesied in Daniel 7:13-14, a figure the church calls “the Son of Man” but who is probably better understood as “a manlike figure in heaven” not a title at all (e.g. Matt 24:29-31; 25:31-46 and parallels). We know how they made this identification, that it was part of the kerygma (the core proclamation of the Early Church), and that it was consistent with Paul’s ecstatic and visionary Christianity.

The Gospels make this identification on the basis of two other Hebrew Bible passages—Psalm 110 and Psalm 8, taken in conjunction with Daniel 7:13-14. The three passages together can almost be read as a narrative of the resurrection and ascension of Jesus as the figure enthroned next to God (cf. Mark 13:24-27; Luke 21:25-28). We do not know why the Gospels make this identification except that the figure was part of a very famous apocalyptic document-the visions of Daniel 7-12, the first place where resurrection is mentioned unambiguously in the Hebrew Bible and is part of the vision in which resurrection and the ascension and the angelic status of the saints is first described.

Whether or not we can take this known fact back a few years and posit that Daniel figured prominently in Jesus’ own personal teachings is more speculative, just as it is difficult to tell even today, when a known figure is quoted by a newspaper, much less a well-meaning friend, what exactly the figure said. Jesus wrote nothing down so everything we know about him was reported by his hearers. We know that the identification of the Christ with Daniel 7:13 is an early and strong tradition and it is impossible to explain without an apocalyptic-not just eschatological-content in Jesus’ preaching, a fact that also passes the criterion of dissimilarity. Jesus must have preached repentance for the coming end of the world and recommended a radical change of behavior as the only way to cope with these events. He was, in the words of my colleagues Markus Barth and John Dominic Crossan, an eschatological Jesus-but I think, given these beliefs he must have been even more, an apocalypticist.38

Relying on the method of the criterion of dissimilarity, the discoverable core of Jesus’ message must have been apocalyptic and millennialist. The reasons for this are strong: First, some of Jesus’ statements were predictions that imply that the end of time was coming soon. Second, they talked about an event that did not happen. None of those who heard Jesus’ message actually witnessed the Son of Man coming in power:

“For the Son of Man is to come with his angels in the glory of his Father, and then he will repay everyone for what has been done. Truly I tell you, there are some standing here who will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom.” (Matt 16:27-28; see also 10:23)

The passage seems to meet the criterion of dissimilarity. There is only one convenient way to explain why such sayings remain part of the corpus of Jesus’ work: Jesus actually predicted the end fairly quickly. This prediction has a very clear context within Judaism and was understandable in the social world that Jesus inhabited.

But it is another thing to say that apocalypticism was the only content of Jesus’ teaching. That is not necessarily so; indeed, what was core and secondary might depend entirely on the ancient or modern listener. Apocalypticism is only the central fact in our understanding of Jesus’ historicity because of the scholarly filter that we have had to use to demonstrate the historicity of Jesus. No one who only teaches about the end would have garnered Jesus’ following. Apocalyptic prophets are the stuff of comedy and New Yorker cartoons. Jesus must also have had a teaching and example which won converts. Jesus must have been a charismatic figure. From this apocalyptic core, we may suspect that resurrection of the faithful and their transformation could not be far behind.

Jesus spoke of the Son of Man and the resurrection of the dead, both apocalyptic prophecies found in the book of Daniel. Before the fateful events of Jesus’ Passover pilgrimage to Jerusalem, these notions could hardly have been fully distinguished from more political expectations of the coming of God’s kingdom, with the possible help of the Messiah. That is to say, although early Christianity was a religious revolution, its political aims were yet inchoate. Some of Jesus’ followers seem to have had revolutionary expectations, though passive revolution (maintaining ethical and cultic purity so that God and His angels could bring about political change) was the stronger tradition in Judaism, as the Qumran community showed us.

We also know, by the criterion of dissimilarity, that Jesus was an apocalypticist who had strong feelings of scorn for the putative rulers of his country. The overturning of the moneylenders’ tables at the Temple is an important datum for his feelings. The message of Jesus that, with repentance, all are equal before God was typical of most sectarian apocalypticism of the time. Christian practices of public repentance, baptism, and chaste communal living were likewise typical of other contemporary apocalyptic groups.

Yet the similarity only emphasizes the striking difference between the earliest Christians and the Qumran covenanters (the Dead Sea Scrolls), for example. The Jesus movement equated the purity laws with moral laws, just as the Qumran movement did. But the Jesus movement was not priestly in orientation; rather, it gave special attention to redeeming sinners who had violated the purity rules. Like the Dead Sea Scroll community, groups that eschew sexuality virtually equated purity laws with sin, as a great many of the purity laws dealt with sexuality. Through John the Baptist, baptism became the Christian rite uniquely demonstrating repentance from sin, though there is no good evidence that Jesus performed it (e.g., John 4:2). Its corresponding emphasis on converting the distressed or sinful began in the teaching of John the Baptist, became characteristically Christian, and probably reflected Jesus’ strong charismatic influence.

But, contrary to what many New Testament scholars think, Jesus was not totally uninterested in purity either, as the rite of baptism itself shows. It is not, as many have supposed, that Jesus was opposed to purity rules while the Pharisees fostered them. It is rather that Jesus, something like the Qumran sectarians, interpreted purity obligations in the moral realm, therefore preached the ones that furthered avoidance of sin (not necessarily egalitarianism). The Pharisees and the rabbis after them, separated the two spheres; sin was sin for the Pharisees. But purity was an almost totally separate system that operated without any necessary sin in most cases.39

Although Jesus accepted the Jewish law, he occasionally indulged in symbolic actions designed to provoke questions about the purpose of the Torah, such as healing the chronically ill or picking grain on the Sabbath. These actions could have been directed at the Pharisees or other sectarian interpreters of the Torah without implying that the Torah itself was invalid.40

As the Christian movement developed, some Christians showed signs of a primitive communalism, implicit in their pooling of resources. Christianity did not adhere to the social code of the Essenes, yet it did contain the seeds of a radical criticism of private property and believed strongly in sharing all economic resources (Acts 2). “No man can serve two masters…. You cannot serve God and mammon (money)” (Luke 16:13). Jesus was suspicious of people of means: “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24). This statement does not prevent a rich man from becoming part of the movement but it suggested that the rich would not be much in evidence at Jesus’ table. Jesus certainly established a higher price for the rich than the poor. Early Christianity thus exhibited a deep suspicion of property. Given the command to share all things with the poor, few confident and successful people would have entered the movement at first. At best, those whose wealth had brought with it no feelings of achievement or worth would have been better targets for evangelism-for instance, tax-collectors and prostitutes.

Of special interest is the frequency with which reports of religiously altered states of consciousness appear in early Christianity. Was Jesus a mystic? Not in the modern sense of the term as a person who studiously seeks out visions by disciplined contemplation. But, there is a possibility that he sought these experiences in the frequency with which reports of that type occured in early Christian texts. And it was very hard if not impossible to be an apocalypticist without being a visionary in Jesus’ Jewish culture. If Jesus was a visionary, that means he experienced religiously altered states of consciousness. Three scholars have attempted recently to place Jesus within the mystical tradition and altered states of consciousness.41 It is hard to imagine Jesus being an apocalypticist without also positing RISC and visions. Religious visions were also characteristic of Paul. Jesus, however, did not leave us with elaborate visions, like the literary apocalypses. He used his apocalyptic insight into life for prophetic aims, to critique the social order he saw. And this made him and his mission virtually unique in Jewish life.

This Jesus and his apocalypticism are still mostly mysterious and mostly distant from us. His apocalypticism is what most challenges us. Otherwise, he would have been just another preacher of return to Jewish piety. This portrait of Jesus is not very different from the one which the New Testament gives us of John the Baptist, who lived and died as an apocalyptic Jew in everyone’s opinion. What changes the portrait is not Jesus’ marytrdom alone, as John was also martyred. It is Jesus’ followers’ interpretation of the Easter event. After the Easter events and Jesus’ presumed resurrection, the Jesus movement began experiencing his presence in their midst. Apparently, people anticipated that John the Baptist might come back, but no one actually experienced it. But Jesus’ disciples experienced his resurrection. Consequently they began to work out a Christology of a crucified Messiah raised to angelic and divine status. The event of Jesus’ resurrection also initiated the end of time, which they expected to come to conclusion very quickly. The fact that the end did not come as soon as it was expected has necessitated many changes in their thought structure, which evolved over centuries.

Jesus as Messiah

IN THE GOSPEL of Mark, Jesus denied himself the title “Messiah” whenever it was applied to him (Mark 8:27-31, for instance), except at his trial. But someone must have had Messianic expectations of him because that was recorded as the Roman charge against him on the cross: “King of the Jews.”42 This cannot be a Jewish charge because it was insulting and humiliating to Jews. The crucifixion extinguished any political Messianic expectation of some of Jesus’ followers. But it was the very title “King of the Jews” that his followers felt had been vindicated by the resurrection. Though the Gospels are clear that no one actually saw the resurrection event, his followers became convinced of the reality of the resurrection because of his postresurrection appearances. Resurrection is exactly the reward that apocalypticism promises for martyrs, but resurrection does not come until the end is nigh.

Since the resurrection had already happened, the disciples of Jesus became convinced that the end of time must already be upon them. From this point onward, Christians have believed that they are living in the end of days which will soon see fulfilled with the coming of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ resurrected body of Glory appeared several times to Paul, showing him that those who believe in the risen Christ will soon follow him into the Kingdom and into Christ (en christo) in a transformed, even angelic state. All of these beliefs are understandable as Jewish apocalyptic beliefs transformed by the events of the fateful Passover in which Jesus journeyed to Jerusalem to worship his God properly and warn those who did not that the kingdom would shortly arrive.

Immortality of the Soul Versus Resurrection of the Body with Regard to the Jesus Movement

THE EARLY BIBLE writings so effectively guarded against the danger of Canaanite cults of the dead that when the “high” religion needed a notion of life after death it naturally turned to the two great dominant cultures of the Second Temple period: Persia and Greece. The Jewish writers borrowed resurrection of the body from Persia and immortality of the soul from Greece. They did not simply borrow but adapted notions to their own situation so that it became just as much a native Israelite discussion held with native Israelite terms and traditions. Persian ideas were more helpful to the masses because they were subversive to the Hellenistic and Roman order.

Cultures as a whole do not borrow. They do not adopt customs or ideas uniformly. Nor do they borrow without radically changing and refitting the ideas. Resurrection of the body appealed to the activist groups. It evolved out of religious martyrdom because it gave martyrdom a transcendent justification; but behind it was often a political and religious struggle for Jewish independence. It is the same struggle that produced the independent kingdom of the Maccabees. The Maccabees themselves did not write the book of Daniel; they were too astute politically. It was written by a sectarian group, possibly the shadowy “Hasidean” sectarians, possibly the group who evolved into the Qumran sectarians. Resurrection of the body provided a way to balance the equation of divine retribution. Foreign invaders had killed the faithful saints of Israel. Resurrection of the body gave transcendent worth to the death of the martyrs by stating that God would make good on his covenantal promises to reward the righteous and punish the iniquitous. It also shows us what the young martyrs wanted and needed most: They deserved to get their bodies back and to live again on the earth. And they deserved to be transformed into immortal and unchangeable stars, to become God’s avenging army of angels who would scourge the earth of persecutors and evildoers.

The immortality of the soul came from different circles and reflected entirely different social concerns. It was adopted by a very well educated, very acculturated Jewish elite, completely at home or nearly at home in Greco-Roman culture. This elite understood the intellectual heritage of Platonism but also wanted to express it in Jewish form. The rewards of immortality of the soul were precisely what an educated elite wanted most. Older scholars and intellectuals do not need or even want their old bodies back. What they want is a continuation of their well-schooled and well-studied consciousness, the knowledge and the wisdom that they have accumulated through a lifetime of meditation. It is an “intellectual’s immortality,” one in which the result of continuous study would never be lost. The Jewish version of immortality of the soul, with its sure sense of personal, conscious survival of death, was even better for an intellectual elite in Israel than the Platonic form of the proof once reincarnation was removed. The once-and-for-all nature of Philonic notions of the immortality of the soul could then more fully serve Jewish ethical interests. Philosophical meditation on the immortal soul also provided a way to allow that at least some of us could find immortality in the stars, just as resurrection of the body did. Both had individual traditions that provided for ascent and transformation to astral bodies in the heavens. This was also in keeping with Greek notions of the apotheosis of heroes and Egyptian notions of the proper destination of the righteous. Indeed, the notion that the soul ascended to the stars was the dominant religious notion of the Hellenistic world. It crossed many different religions and was the closest thing to a universal religious doctrine that the Roman world produced.

Expectations of resurrection and ascension can be assumed to be high in the events surrounding Jesus’ death. Jesus died as a martyr, trying to protect and fulfill teachings of the Jewish law, especially as he had preached repentance and understanding for sinners. In the eyes of his followers, his martyrdom was seen as a symbol of the beginning of the promised recompense for the righteous’ suffering, the apocalyptic consummation. Specifically, the events of Easter were seen by the first Christians as the beginning of the fulfillment of the events in Daniel. Daniel 7:9-14, Daniel 12:3, together with Psalm 110 (most often used to express Jesus’ ascension and often his divine status), and Psalm 8 are the most commonly quoted Old Testament passages in the New Testament. (When the New Testament was being written, the Jewish Scriptures were the only Scriptures.)

The Christians were not the first group to speculate on the traditions in Daniel. Although it is doubtful that the “Son of Man” was a specific title before Christianity, the verses in Daniel assured that the identity of the “manlike figure” in Daniel was a secret that would be unraveled at the end of time. For the group that had formed around the charismatic wonder-worker and apocalyptic prophet named Jesus, the secret was now revealed and the end of time was now starting to come true: Jesus was the crucified and resurrected Messiah, the very Son of God (both a royal and an angelic title) who would shortly return to bring punishment to sinners and eternal life to his saints.

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