Reviewing the Afterlife

I want to return now to the main thread that I left off a couple of months ago about developing views of the afterlife in ancient Judaism and then in early Christianity.

I didn’t actually leave that thread – I simply moved deeper into a specific aspect of it.  If you’ll recall, the broader thread is simply about where the modern notions of heaven and hell came from; the specific aspect I’ve been covering involved the “otherworldly journeys” that you find ...

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Could Moses Write Hebrew?

As you may have noticed, on a number of occasions I get asked questions that I simply can’t answer.   I received one such question this week, about the history of the Hebrew language.  Here is how the questioner phrased it:

What is our earliest evidence for Hebrew as a written language? I’ve been to apologetic seminars where they say it’s long been said by atheists that the Hebrew Bible can’t be trusted because the Hebrews didn’t have ...

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A Resurrection for Tortured Jews (2 Maccabees)

I have pointed out that the notion of “resurrection” first appears in Jewish writings in the book of Daniel, and I am arguing that this notion is intrinsically connected with the apocalyptic view of the world that developed at the time.  In this view of the world, as I’ve laid it out on the blog before (e.g.: https://ehrmanblog.org/the-rise-of-apocalypticism/) the people of God suffer *not* necessarily because God is punishing them for their sins but because there are forces of ...

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Was Resurrection a Zoroastrian Idea?

I have been arguing that at some point before the middle of the second century BCE, Jewish thinkers developed the idea that death was not the end of the story, that people did not simply end up in the netherworld of Sheol for all eternity, a place of no pleasure, pain, excitement, or even worship of Yahweh.  Instead, at the end of the age, God would raise people from the dead, and the faithful would be rewarded with eternal bliss.

There ...

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Daniel and a New Doctrine of Resurrection from the Dead

Biblical scholars have long held that the first relatively clear and certain reference to a doctrine of “the resurrection of the dead” occurs in Daniel 12.   This is striking, since Daniel was almost certainly the final book of the Hebrew Bible to be written.  Because of the barely disguised allusions to Antiochus Epiphanes in the second half of the book, it is almost always dated to roughly the Maccabean period, in the 160s BCE.

As I have indicated, in the prophets ...

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A Resurrection of the Dead in the Prophet Ezekiel?

In this thread I have started to argue that a new view of the afterlife began to emerge within ancient Israel around the time of the Maccabean revolt.  For some Jewish thinkers it was no longer satisfying to imagine that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked in this life.  That clearly was not happening.

The oppressive policies of the Syrian monarch Antiochus Epiphanes showed that the people of God suffer precisely when they followed the law of God, not ...

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Charges and Anti-Supernatural Biases! Readers Mailbag August 6, 2017

I will be dealing with two interesting questions in this weeks’ Readers Mailbag, one involving a criticism of my work by the well-known New Testament scholar N. T. Wright, who apparently challenges me (publicly) for taking a position that, in fact, I have never taken, and the other about whether it is pure anti-supernatural bias to think that prophets like Daniel did not predict the future.

 

QUESTION:

I saw a Youtube clip with Dr N T Wright giving a short talk on ...

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The Origins of Heaven and Hell

Where did the idea of a “differentiated” afterlife come from?  I’m not overly fond of the word “differentiated,” since it’s not one we normally use.  But for the moment I can’t think of a better one for the phenomenon I’m thinking of.

An “undifferentiated” afterlife is one in which everyone has the same experience: there is no difference between one person and the next.  It doesn’t matter if the person lived a good life, was kind to strangers, was meek, humble, ...

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The First Apocalypse: The Book of Daniel

I have been arguing that to understand the radically new view of the afterlife that emerged in ancient Judea in the horrible years leading up to the Maccabean revolt, it is important to know something about a new genre or literature that began to be produced at the time, the apocalypse.  The first surviving writing of this kind is in the book of Daniel.  Here is what I say about Daniel as an apocalypse in my book The Bible: A ...

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A New Genre in Jewish Antiquity: The Apocalypse

I am in midst of starting to explain how a new view of the afterlife came into existence in Jewish circles right around the time of the Maccabean revolt, and to that end I have devoted one post to a brief narrative of what happened leading up to the revolt and a second post to two of our principal sources of information about it, 1 and 2 Maccabees.

Now, I need to provide yet more background: it was at this time, ...

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