Monday, May 9, 2011

Wrestling with the Resurrection

Over the course of the next month I'd like to write a number of posts on the topic of the resurrection of Jesus. The posts will vary in content but I hope that it provides some food for thought about this difficult topic. The endeavor will no doubt provide helpful study for me as I wrestle with this strange and significant matter.

To begin, I have copied some of Craig Keener's research on Ancient Views on the Resurrection from his commentary on 1-2 Corinthians:

"Educated, elite Corinthians probably followed views held by many philosophers, such as immortality of the soul after the body's death [e.g. Plato Phaed. 64CE, 67C; Cicero De Re Publica 6.24.26; Seneca Dial. 11.9.3]. Many viewed the body as earthly, the soul as heavenly (Heraclitus Ep. 9; Seneca Dial. 12.11.6), including some Jews (Wis. 9:15-16; Sipre Deut. 306.28.2). Many philosophers viewed the immortal soul as the divine part of the person [Seneca Nat.Q.1.pref.14; Epictetus Diatr. 1.3.3]; some Hellenistic Jewish thinkers concurred (Philo Creation 135).

Contrary to the erroneous guesses of many NT scholars, most Jews in this period accepted the distinction between soul and body, and that the soul remained immortal after death. But most Judeans, and at least some Diaspora Jews, also accepted the doctrine of future bodily resurrection alongside the soul's immortality after death.

Some Greeks (like Epicureans and popular doubts on tombstones) denied even an afterlife. Yet even Greeks who expected an afterlife for the soul could not conceive of bodily resurrection (which they would view as the reanimation of the corpses) or glorified bodies. The closest analogies were old myths about deceased souls brought back from Hades; annually returning underworld deities; and (most common in novels) recovery from merely apparent death.

Most Palestinian Judaism, however, emphasized bodily resurrection, as the canonical status of Dan. 12:2 almost required [e.g. 2 Macc. 7:9, 14, 23, 29; 14:46; Pss. Sol. 3:12; 1 En. 22:13]. Later rabbis felt that the Sadducees' denial of the resurrection deprived them of sharing the afterlife (m. Sanh. 10:1; 'Abot R. Nat. 5A; 10). Some Diaspora Jews in this period also embraced the concept (e.g. Sib. Or. 4.179-82), although often accommodating it to Hellenistic understanding of immortality, as Josephus does.

It is thus possible that Paul's Judean conceptions created friction not only with Gentile but even with Jewish elements in the congregation. Paul seems to move as far in their direction as possible here ("spiritual," heavenly bodies of glory; even further in 2 Cor. 4:16-5:10) without compromising his insistence on the bodily character of future hope; rooted in the goodness of God's physical creation."

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