future resurrection of the dead in early judaism: social dynamics, contested evidence

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  • http://cbi.sagepub.com/Currents in Biblical Research

    http://cbi.sagepub.com/content/9/3/394The online version of this article can be found at:

    DOI: 10.1177/1476993X11400180 2011 9: 394Currents in Biblical Research

    C.D. ElledgeContested Evidence

    Future Resurrection of the Dead in Early Judaism: Social Dynamics,

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  • Currents in Biblical Research9(3) 394421

    The Author(s) 2011Reprints and permission: sagepub.

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    Corresponding author:C.D. Elledge, Gustavus Adolphus College, 800 West College Avenue, Saint Peter, MN 56082 USA. Email: celledge@gustavus.edu

    Article

    Future Resurrection of the Dead in Early Judaism: Social Dynamics, Contested Evidence

    C.D. ElledgeGustavus Adolphus College

    AbstractIn its significance to both Jewish and Christian studies, resurrection of the dead remains a vital subject of biblical research; and it is now widely recognized that the religious culture of early Judaism (ca. 200 bcece 200) played a crucial role in both its origination and early reception. In the present landscape of study, perhaps the most recent methodological advances arise from sociological studies, which attempt to contextualize resurrection within the social dynamics of the religious movements that advanced this hope. Moreover, at the exegetical level, many vexing pieces of evidence have produced conflicting readings of precisely what individual traditions may say about resurrection. The present article treats these topics, including (1) the application of social-scientific methods to the study of resurrection, and (2) readings of contested literary and epigraphic evidence that remains crucial to the scholarly study of the resurrection hope in early Jewish culture.

    Keywords1 Enoch, afterlife, Dead Sea Scrolls, Essenes, Hazon Gabriel, immortality, Josephus, Pharisees, resurrection

    As a classic feature of western religions, the hope of a future resurrection of the dead rightly remains a vital topic of biblical research, one that integrally relates to other interdisciplinary fields in Jewish, early Christian, Classical, Near Eastern, and archaeological studies. Virtually every generation in the modern criticism of the Bible has intermittently attended to this topic; and yet the challenges posed by the complex, interrelated data that pertain to resurrection have bequeathed many unresolved problems to present scholarship. Such problems have ranged from how one understands the origins of the resurrection hope to how one

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  • Elledge: Future Resurrection of the Dead in Early Judaism 395

    addresses unresolved exegetical problems among crucial pieces of the literary evidence. In the present critical landscape, newer methodological approaches, more recently available literary evidence from Qumran, and specialized studies of particular pieces of the literary evidence have significantly advanced scholar-ship in this area. In particular, the newest methodological developments include the application of sociological theory to the study of resurrection; specialized studies of Apocrypha, Pseudepigrapha, Dead Sea Scrolls, Gospels, Pauline litera-ture, Josephus, rabbinic, and inscriptional evidence have further illustrated both the expanding popularity and increasing diversity of conceptual expression in which the resurrection hope flourished during the Hellenistic and Roman eras.

    While many studies have advanced this agenda through specialized treat-ments of particular pieces of the evidence (e.g., Puech 2003, 2004, 2005, 2008; Elledge 2006; Hengel 2001; Nickelsburg 2001a; Dimant 2000, 2001; Meier 2000; Kraemer 2000; Park 2000), more general treatments have explored a broader array of evidence through the use of particular methods of research. Among the latter, one may call special attention to more recently published stud-ies in the last decade by Levenson (2006) (with Madigan [2008]), Setzer (2004), Segal (2004), Wright (2003), and Nickelsburgs revised and expanded edition (2006) of his classic study of Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life (1972). Published articles of symposia and specialized volumes dedicated to the topic have also flourished (Charlesworth et al. 2011; Peters, Russell and Welker 2002; Avemarie and Lichtenberger 2001; Avery-Peck, Neusner and Chilton 2001; Davis, Kendall and OCollins 1997).

    The Social Dynamics of Resurrection Hope

    In keeping with the larger contributions of sociological methods to biblical research, a number of studies have attempted to locate relationships between resurrection hope and the political behaviors, social dynamics, and identity- formation of those movements within early Judaism and Christianity that cher-ished resurrection. Among these, Wrights approach highlights the anti-imperialist political context for resurrection hope, Segal examines the social context of reli-giously altered states of consciousness among other social factors that shaped ancient beliefs about the resurrection, and Setzer has concentrated on the sociol-ogy of identity-formation as applied to ancient beliefs about resurrection. These studies continue to build upon earlier sociological approaches to Judaism and Christianity (Elliott 1994; Cameron 1991; Horsley 1976, 1978).

    N.T. Wright

    Certainly, when a work is written that is as fast-paced, voluminous, and magiste-rial as Wrights Resurrection of the Son of God (2003), it inevitably advances both

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  • 396 Currents in Biblical Research 9(3)

    virtues and shortcomings that will require that subsequent scholarship carry out a more prolonged course of critical review to appreciate fully. Pursuant to that goal, it is important here to call attention to several interrelated features that character-ize the socio-political dynamics of early Jewish and Christian discourse about the resurrection in Wrights book. Central to his treatment of the Jewish social setting of resurrection hope in the two centuries prior to the Common Era is its political orientation. While this is not always explicitly declared from the start, a political and counter-imperialist orientation to the resurrection hope runs with surprising continuity from Wrights description of the Second Temple setting to the early churchs proclamation that Jesus was raised by God. When addressing, for example, why Sadducees denied resurrection, Wright insists that in some measure it must have threatened their aristocratic social position and temple authority:

    The real problem was that resurrection was from the beginning a revolutionary doctrine. For Daniel 12, resurrection belief went with dogged resistance and martyrdom. For Isaiah and Ezekiel, it was about YHWH restoring the fortunes of his people It was the sort of belief that encouraged young hotheads to attack Roman symbols placed on the Temple, and that, indeed, led the first-century Jews into the most disastrous war they had experienced. It was not simply, even, that they thought such beliefs might lead the nation into a clash with Rome, though that will certainly have been the case. It was that they realized that such beliefs threatened their own position. People who believe that their god is about to make a new world, and that those who die in loyalty to him in the meantime will rise again to share gloriously in it, are far more likely to lose respect for a wealthy aristocracy than people who think that this life, this world and this age are the only ones there will ever be (Wright 2003: 138; cf. 139).

    One even observes here the insinuation that resurrection was among the religious beliefs that contributed to the Great Jewish Revolt. In this portrait, Wright is clearly front-loading into his treatment of the more general early Jewish context a political dimension to the resurrection hope that will emerge with prominence in his treatment of New Testament literature.

    Wright, for example, reads the churchs stories of Jesus resurrection as narra-tives that overturn the prevailing imperial ideology of Roman rule:

    But if Jesus had been raised from the dead, if the new creation had begun, if they were themselves the citizens of the creator gods new kingdom, then the claims of Jesus to Lordship on earth as well as heaven would ultimately come into conflict with those of Caesar Jesus resurrection vindicated or validated his Messiahship; and if he was Messiah, he was the worlds true lord. Resurrection was every bit as radical a belief for the early Christians as it had been for the Pharisees, in fact more so (Wright 2003: 538).

    Implicit within his treatment of earlier Judaism, then, is also a particular, politi-cally-oriented reading of resurrection that sets the stage for Wrights

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  • Elledge: Future Resurrection of the Dead in Early Judaism 397

    counter-imperial treatment of Jesus resurrection in the early church. Ultimately, this polit

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