Resurrection draws a red line from the earliest response to death in the Hebrew Bible, to the promise of resurrection in the flesh in the 2nd century BC Book of Daniel and in Christian doctrine. Madigan and Levenson show how basic to Jewish and Christian belief is the promise that a loving God will redeem his faithful from death, in the full unity of body and soul. This is the promise of redemption that has sustained Jews and Christians through the centuries, and given them a perception that their life in this world participates in eternal life. Thus they are alive even in death.
But what of those who feel abandoned to death? By the same token, they are dead even in life. From this existential experience of life and death, the authors show how deeply the hope of resurrection in the flesh is embedded in the Hebrew Bible. Their object is to show continuity between the religion of ancient Israel the Christianity and Judaism that have come down to us from late antiquity, contrary to a scholarly consensus that views resurrection as a later innovation. ....
Why Christianity and Judaism stood their ground on the issue of resurrection in the flesh against internal and external skeptics requires a second thought. Neither religion, observe the authors, can claim a "radical uniqueness" with respect to the other. The priestly elite of Second Temple Judaism, the Sadducees, denied resurrection, as did the Gnostics against whom the Church fathers fought so bitterly during the first three centuries of Christian life. "In rabbinic theology God was not thought to have fulfilled his promises until the whole person returned, body included ... the person is not 'the ghost in the machine' (that is, the body) but rather a unity of body and soul."
For Christians the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ is the revelation on which the faith is founded. Resurrection in Christian doctrine is the reward of the individuals who leave their Gentile nations to take part in the new people of God and become part of Christ's resurrection. Christian identity is as just as social as Jewish identity, for Christians believed they are saved through adoption into a new people. Madigan and Levenson show that the sacrament of baptism for early Christians was inextricably tied to rebirth and resurrection. Thus Christians rescued themselves from the maelstrom of death that took hold of the late Roman Empire.
It is a conceit of modern materialism that identity no longer is social, but rather individual; we choose our pleasures, and, if the mood strikes us, shop for a religion the way we might choose a neighborhood. We fancy ourselves rational beings. If we are not quite beyond good and evil, for law and custom still discourage rapine and murder, we certainly are beyond sin and redemption, which we have replaced by stress and therapy.
Modern materialism has weaned the industrial world off spiritual food, like the thrifty farmer who trained his donkey to eat less by reducing its rations each day. "Just when I got I had him trained to live on nothing," the farmer complained, "the donkey had to die!" Like the donkey, the modern world has died when its spiritual rations were cut to nothing. We refuse to acknowledge that our deepest needs are no different from those of Biblical man. We fail to nourish them and we die. ....
The hope of traditional society for life on this Earth - for men cannot tolerate life on this earth without the promise of eternal life - is precisely the same as it was in late antiquity. Four hundred million Christian converts in Africa and perhaps a hundred million in China are evidence enough that much of the world will abandon broken traditions and embrace the promise of life. Man is still Biblical man, and the Bible yet again may prove a guidebook to life as it did two millennia ago. [
Tuesday, May 27, 2008
Christianity makes sense only if this life is lived in the context of eternity. Spengler, at Asia Times, reviews Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews: