Sunday, July 20, 2008

Resurrection, body and soul

Four months ago I mentioned a pre-publication review of Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews by Kevin J. Madigan and Jon D. Levenson. Since then our rabbi gave Mr Neff a copy of the book, which I've now read. It's a fine study of the resurrection of the body, particularly in the Hebrew Bible and subsequent rabbinic teachings.

Here are a couple of gems about the unity of the person, as taught in the early centuries of the common era:

Whatever notions of the soul circulated in ancient Judaism, in rabbinic theology God was not thought to have fulfilled his promises until the whole person returned, body included. Like death, a disembodied existence was deemed to be other than the last word, for the person is not 'the ghost in the machine' (that is, the body) but rather a unity of body and soul. (204)

Both Tertullian and Irenaeus go to some pains to argue against a view of salvation that is understood strictly in terms of the survival or salvation of the soul.... As the orthodox saw it, the texture of humanity was a seamless, indivisible work of art, composed of flesh and soul--very much like the view of the rabbis we examined in the previous chapter. God will reward the blessed, body and soul. . . . Only if the whole person, both elements of which were created by God, were raised could humanity be redeemed and justice achieved. (233)
And here's a thought-provoking observation about why so many contemporary people do not believe in a literal resurrection of the body:

The major change has been widespread skepticism about the one who performs the expected resurrection--the personal, supernatural God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who intervenes in the course of human and natural events and brings about results that are otherwise impossible. The tendency among many modern people ... has been either to doubt all claims of the existence of God or to redefine God so that the word refers to human ideals and feelings alone and not to the source of miraculous acts and providential guidance. In short, in the modern world, the idea of a God who does things has become highly problematic. And whatever else one may say about a God who does not do anything, one thing is sure: he does not resurrect the dead. (215)

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