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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 there were earlier references to some kind of national “resurrection” – as in Ezekiel 37 (and probably, for example, Isaiah 26:19) – in which the nation that had been metaphorically wasted away, killed, destroyed, would revive and once again come to life.   But the prophets – from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, to the twelve so-called “minor” prophets – all shared the older Israelite view about what happens to a person who dies.  She or he goes to Sheol, along with everyone else, to exist forever in a shadowy netherworld where nothing much happens – not even the worship of Yahweh.

Things have changed by the time we get to the Maccabean period.  I am not saying that everyone now has adopted a new point of view.  Possibly only a few people did so.  But more and more accepted this view over time, so that two hundred years later, in the days of Jesus’ public ministry, this new view had taken hold and came to be one of the dominant views – if not the single most dominant view – throughout Judaism

In this view, Sheol was not …

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Was Resurrection a Zoroastrian Idea?
A Resurrection of the Dead in the Prophet Ezekiel?



  1. Avatar
    John Uzoigwe  August 9, 2017

    Dr Bart, a careful analysis of the resurrection/ afterlife doctrine reveal that it developed during the period in which the isrealites were held in captivity, there kingdom destroyed with many innocent jews maimed. Isn’t it possible that such incidents actually led to the development of afterlife. Since most jews could no longer understand why God would allow the death of the innocents. Since they would find this new view more comforting.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      I don’t think there is any evidence of belief in a good (personal) afterlife in the period of captivity is there?

      • Avatar
        JoeBTex  August 10, 2017

        I think Mary Boyce believes that there is ..

  2. Avatar
    JoeBTex  August 9, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, why do you continue to ignore the Persian Zoroastrian influence of duality and apocalyptic thought in Daniel’s book? Also, wasn’t the Book of Enoch, which includes a very detailed “end times” vision and references to the Son of Man, written before the Book of Daniel?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      See today’s post. As to Enoch: the Similitudes (the part that you are thinkin of that deal with the Son of Man) were not written before Daniel.

  3. Avatar
    godspell  August 9, 2017

    Did ancient Jews see their unitary God, whose name they could not even speak aloud, whose face they said could not be gazed upon by any mortal, whose likeness they were forbidden to depict in sculpture, as a physical being, fixed in space and time?

    There is evidence in scriptures that many did, but it seems unlikely they all held to the precise same opinion, on this or anything else.

  4. Avatar
    Adam0685  August 9, 2017

    Very interesting!

    There has been alot of media coverage lately about Bethsaida and the possible discovery of the hometown of some of Jesus’s disciples. I know there is debate over the location of Bethsaida. This story seems to have really caught the medias attention.


    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      Thanks. I hadn’t seen this.

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  August 10, 2017

        1) I had the impression from Mk. 1&2 that Peter & Andrew’s home was in Capernaum. If other sources say Bethsaida, is it plausible that people in the fishing profession would maintain multiple households or would they have moved to different towns throughout life? I had the notion that ancient peoples tended to stay where they were born throughout their lives.
        2) The map in the article linked shows Capernaum’s modern name as Kefar Nahum. Does it mean Nahum’s Rock? Could that be a clue to the origin of Peter’s Aramaic name, Cephas?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 11, 2017

          They are thinkinng of John 1:44. I don’t think CEPHAS and CAPHARNAOUM are etymologically related.

  5. Avatar
    stokerslodge  August 9, 2017

    Bart, is the book of Job referring to a resurrection of the dead in 19.25 and wouldn’t that be earlier than Daniel?

    Oh that my words were written!
    Oh that they were inscribed in a book!
    Oh that with an iron pen and lead
    They were engraved in the rock forever!
    For I know that my Redeemer lives,
    And at the last he will stand upon the earth.
    And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
    Yet in my flesh I shall see God,
    Whom I shall see for myself,
    And my eyes shall behold, and not another.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      The Hebrew of this passage is notoriously difficult, and it is usually thought that the older English translations get it wrong, making it sound very Christian indeed (the translators of the English Bible from Tyndale, through the King James translators, and so on, of course, were Christian). But how it should actually be translated is a vexed question and there seems to be no real consensus on it (let alone on what it might actually *mean*). Elsewhere Job indicates that there will be no blessed afterlife, so it seems unlikely he is saying there will be here.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  August 10, 2017

      I can second Dr. Ehrman’s sentiments. As a native Hebrew speaker myself I can attest that the Book of Job is probably one of the most difficult books I’ve ever read in Hebrew. One way to describe it is like a modern English speaker trying to read The Canterbury Tales. You see a lot of familiar words and phrases, and you can get a general gyst of what’s being said and what’s going on, but just as often there are strange spellings and strange, archaic words that make it feel like you’re reading another language entirely.

      One verse in particular, I think most translations miss the mark: וְאַחַר עוֹרִי, נִקְּפוּ-זֹאת; וּמִבְּשָׂרִי, אֶחֱזֶה אֱלוֹהַּ
      Most translations appear to say something like: “And after this my skin is destroyed, and away from my skin I will see God.”
      Unfortunately, the first part is just as ambiguous in the Hebrew as it is in the English. Does the “this” refer “my skin” or to some other antecedent? Well, in Hebrew, “this” (in this case z’ot) is usually added for two reasons: for emphasis (cf. Latin ipsa) or as a pronoun referencing an antecedent. In most translations you’ll see “this” translated as the former (“this my skin is destroyed”), but I think it actually reads like the latter (“after my skin is destroyed, this other thing that I was previous talking about will also be destroyed”). So the question is, that is the author of Job refering to that will be destroyed after the skin is destroyed? Well, the first part of the chapter is a litany of Job’s many miseries. And then Job goes on to say how his miseries are “inscribed” in stone. Moreover, his friends seem to find pleasure in throwing Job’s misery in his face. So Job is basically saying that once he is dead, once his flesh and skin are gone, so will his miseries and his persecution end as well. And after Job is dead God will come to clear Job’s name and bring justice upon those who persecuted Job. This, I think, is what this passage is trying to say.

  6. Avatar
    TheologyMaven  August 9, 2017

    Bart- Do historians think that the ideas of judging and reincarnation of the Greeks post Hellenization, and/or those kinds of ideas from India may have influenced the development of these ideas among the Hebrews?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      I’ll be getting to that! See, for operners, today’s post. But there’s little to suggest Indian influence on ancient Jews.

  7. talmoore
    talmoore  August 9, 2017

    It’s probably not a coincidence that the Pharisees notably held to this view of the Mass Resurrection and Judgment Day, in contrast to the Sadducees. The Pharisees were themselves perennially subjected to presecution under the Hasmoneans, particularly under John Hyrcanus and, especially, under Alexander Jannaeus, who purportedly had hundreds of Pharisees crucified during his civil war with them. Jannaeus supposedly held the Sadducees’ eschatological views. It was probably during the reign of Jannaeus and his civil war with the Pharisees that the resurrection eschatology that we find later in Jesus’ time came to full fruition.

    If that’s the case, the view of the afterlife as it is portrayed in the NT is a product of events that occurred little more than 100 years prior to Jesus. These ideas were further crystallized during the civil war between Jannaeus’ sons, after which the Romans came in and took control of Judea. At that point, this resurrection eschatology became, essentially, the mainstream belief amongst not just Pharisees, but all those Jews who were influenced by the Pharisees — likely a majority belief. We know that this belief had already taken root in Galilee by the start of the 1st century, when Jewish rebels such as Judas the Galilean and Zadok the Pharisee used them as the ideological underpinning of their rebellion against Roman rule. Conveniently, Jesus and his disciples grew up in the milieu of rebellion catalyzed by these beliefs.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      Yes, it would be interesting to consider the possibility that the elite aristocracy was not particularly drawn to an apocalyptic view.

  8. tompicard
    tompicard  August 9, 2017

    These two verses sure seem like the author is predicting re-animation of the physically dead.
    But can a whole new theology emerge from two verses, if all previous scripture implies something different? seems like a stretch. I have read this before and it is pretty easy to skip over, unless someone with point to make scours the scriptures looking for something to confirm a preconceived notion.

    Is there any evidence that the Pharisees or anyone else used these verses in their debates with the Sadducees.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      Sorry — I’m not expressing myself very well. I’m not saying the theology was derived from these two verses. I’m saying these two verses embody the new emerging theology.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  August 10, 2017

        well ok then i will patiently wait and see how you explain
        {{ This is the view held by Jesus and his disciples . . .
        {{ At the end of the current evil age, God would raise
        {{ those who had died . . This would be an actual, bodily,
        {{ resurrection of dead individuals – not . . metaphorical …
        {{ but a physical return to life by each person.

        Seems to me that apocalyptic preachers like Jesus, and Daniel, and author of Book of Revelation used much more symbolic/figurative language than did Ezekiel, but maybe you can convince me.

  9. Avatar
    fishician  August 9, 2017

    Did belief in Satan arise along with the belief in an afterlife? Or are the two concepts separate and independent? Possibly both concepts taken from another culture?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      Yes, about the same time, both as part of the emerging point of view.

  10. Avatar
    JSTMaria  August 9, 2017

    Hi Dr. Ehrman,
    I was under the impression that doctrine revolving around differentiation in the afterlife arose out of the Babylonian captivity with those who returned to Jerusalem. That they had been influenced by Persian Zoroastrianism and brought it back with them giving a new flavor to Judaism. Is this consistent with the timing of Daniel at all? Or does it make any sense?

  11. DestinationReign
    DestinationReign  August 9, 2017

    As you allude to above, Revelation 20 holds many keys in understanding this better. The first necessary point to establish (to which much of Christianity is oblivious) is that there are to be TWO resurrection/judgment administrations, that will serve as “bookends” to the age of the Millennial Kingdom. The “first resurrection” is reserved only for those who will reign during the Millennium (Rev. 20:5-6). Then, AFTER the Kingdome will come the resurrection of the “rest of the dead” (Rev. 20:7-15). It is at that point that those coming forth from sheol/hades/the sea of death will be judged by their works, and either brought to glory or cast into the (second) lake of fire judgment. (This is the resurrection event referenced by Christ in John 5:28-29.) The timeline is thus:

    First resurrection to reign > Kingdom Age > Resurrection to be judged by works

    The first resurrection is reserved for those who were more than merely “good people.” It is the reward for the steadfast spiritual warriors who sought Truth beyond mundane religiosity. Those who were merely “good people” will receive their reward at the POST-MILLENNIAL resurrection, but will not take part in the Millennial reign. They will remain in the “sea of death” throughout that dispensation.

    So, whatever the realm of sheol/hades entails, it is evident that many will remain there during the Kingdom Age. But at the coming of the Kingdom at the end of this current age, many will be transformed alive into imperishability (1 Cor. 15:51-52), and there will be some sort of “reappearing” of previously deceased souls – the FIRST resurrection of those who will reign. (Again, it is doubtful this will take place similar to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video; it more likely will be through a natural re-birthing into human, or “super human,” form.)

    The passage from Daniel 12, then, is somewhat ambiguous as to whether it is referring to pre-Millennium judgment or post-Millennium judgment. Perhaps it amalgamates both. As we see from Rev. 20:7-8, there will be more battles and distresses AFTER the Millennial reign, before the final judgment. Perhaps this is what is being referenced in Daniel 11:40-45. These things are not fully clear – YET, as the scroll is still being unfurled here at the end of the age.

    • Avatar
      brmeam68  August 10, 2017

      I grew up as a born again Christian and listened to my father as he dissected the book of revelation and Daniel. Years later when I realized I no longer believed in any of this the one thing that always stuck out to me was if Jesus actually thought we needed to know all this 2000 years later, don’t you think he would have written all this down. Proves to me he couldn’t write and did not know he was going to die when he went to Jerusalem.

      • DestinationReign
        DestinationReign  August 11, 2017

        Interesting points, but why Jesus may or may not have “written” anything is not a matter of importance; in fact, whether or not a man named “Jesus” literally and physically walked the earth 2,000 years ago is not nearly as significant as Christians would have us believe. “Jesus,” the man in the Bible who only taught in parables, is Himself a PARABLE. The Biblical Jesus is not a God-man to be worshipped, but an archetype, or representation of the closest one can get to Divinity while inhabiting a human vessel of flesh; something to be strived for.

        This is why the Bible purposefully does not feature any specifics of His life experiences between His early childhood and His ministry at 30 years old. In spite of the many studies and speculations about that time period, the Bible’s quietness on the matter is a divine riddle that will never be solved with “historical evidence.” Its answer is that “Jesus” is a SYMBOL of the full spiritual potentiality of every man; and every man must walk HIS OWN quest to self-realization. This is why the “missing years of Jesus” are just that. Every man has the Christ-potentiality within, and must seek out His own experiences to find it.

        These are truths that the religious establishment will fight to the death to suppress or reject. There are too many positions of power in its hierarchies that would quickly become obsolete if people would begin to awaken to this en masse. The last thing those who make their living in the pulpit want to see is empty pews.

  12. Avatar
    dankoh  August 9, 2017

    I don’t think we can definitively say that belief in resurrection was the dominant view in the Judaism of Jesus’s time. Yes, the Pharisees held to it, but it’s not clear how numerous they were (Josephus gives conflicting estimates), and while they may have commanded the respect of the people, it’s not clear how closely they hewed to Pharisaic beliefs. Certainly the Sadducees did not believe in life after death.

    Of course, the Pharisaic position did eventually become the belief of mainstream Judaism, but that was a couple of hundred years after Jesus.

    I also have to wonder the degree to which Daniel 12 encouraged or stimulated the growing belief in life after death, or better, reflected such a belief (perhaps acquired from the Hellenists? I recall that we don’t have enough solid details about Persian influence), or if Daniel was one of a growing number of authors in Second Temple days writing on this topic.

    Porphyry (as quoted by Jerome) thinks Daniel 12 was a metaphor for the rise of the Jewish people after Antiochus and not meant to suggest individual resurrection at all.

  13. Avatar
    Seeker1952  August 9, 2017

    Where would a belief like Sheol come from? It doesn’t seem to serve any purpose or function and does not appear plausible on its face. Is it perhaps a way of expressing that its a thousand times better to be alive, regardless of suffering, than to be dead–perhaps similar to the conversation between Odysseus an Achilles when the former visits Hades?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      It was the view most ancient peoples appear to have had (at least those around the Mediterranean that we know about). They didn’t call it Sheol, but it was the same basic idea.

  14. Avatar
    Seeker1952  August 9, 2017

    How would something like Daniel Chapters 7 – 12 works its way into the general discussion of what scripture says? If people had only been discussing Chapters 1 – 6 for maybe centuries and then all of sudden 7 – 12 appear, wouldn’t that at least seem odd to people if not actually raise suspicions about authenticity? I suppose all these things must make their way into the general conversation very gradually and at different times in different places. Maybe by the time Christians got around to using Chapters 7 – 12 they had already been around for a while and looked just as old as Chapter 1-6.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      It’s hard for us to imagine what a world is like where there are almost no books and very few people could read. In that world, it was very easy indeed to combine books, add to books, take away from books. Almost no one would notice. So it happened a lot. And yes, soon after the stories of Daniel were combined with the apocalypse sections, they were all taken to be equally old.

  15. Avatar
    hasankhan  August 9, 2017

    How can we claim what view did earlier prophets have? Are we relying on accuracy or completeness of bible? Does it record view of earlier prophets? Is there any record of people expressing shock at new view of afterlife? Weren’t people surprised that God’s plan has changed? Looks like we’re relying on bible to know what happened in history and formulating theory about what actually happened.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      Yes, I’m referring to the writings of the prophets, from the 8th c BCE to the 4th c. BCE. We don’t have any records of what any ancient Jews thought of the views of others about the afterlife.

  16. Avatar
    Seeker1952  August 9, 2017

    I wonder whether belief in individual resurrection could have arisen absent a prior belief in Sheol. If the dead just completely disappeared rather than continued to exist in a shadowy way in Sheol, there would be nothing for God to resurrect.

    For that matter was it believed that just a person’s soul goes to Sheol or also their body. (Though maybe ancient Jews didn’t believe in souls in the first place.)

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      It’s a hard question to answer. The body was in the grave, but sometimes Sheol is thought to *be* the grave. We don’t have any record of an Israelite or Jew visiting Sheol to describe it, so we have a hard time knowing how it was conceptualized….

      • Avatar
        SidDhartha1953  August 10, 2017

        Some of our colloqualisms preserve similar notions of a residual awareness in dead bodies, such as “turning over in one’s grave.” When I was a hospital worker, we were advised not to say unkind things about patients who had just died because it was thought that hearing was the last sense to go. Even though they seemed completely dead, they might hear and feel distress over being talked about that way, the thinking went.

  17. Avatar
    leo.b@cox.net  August 9, 2017

    Is the ‘Old Testament’ also copies of copies of copies like the ‘New Testament’?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      Even more so. The first complete copy comes to us from 1000 CE.

  18. Avatar
    Tempo1936  August 9, 2017

    Daniel 9 is where the Dispensationalist find the mind bending explaination of the seven year tribulation period.
    Did you ever study and teach the 7 70’s ?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 10, 2017

      Yes, I was a dispensationalist when I was a fundamentalist back in my early adulthood.

  19. Avatar
    SidDhartha1953  August 10, 2017

    Psalm 49 seems adamant that humans are like all animals when they die — just plain dead — except v.15 which, to me, screams that some scribe was not happy with that psalm. It almost reads like a comment: “You might think you’ll be dead….” Yet the annotations in my Bible don’t mention that possibility. What do you think?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2017

      I think “rescue from Sheol” means “he’s not going to let me die yet”

    • talmoore
      talmoore  August 14, 2017

      Many psalms were written and recited before battle, which is why the psalmist is often asking God to kill his enemies and save himself.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 17, 2017

      I haven’t read that article, but no, we have contemporary records of very harsh persecutions in the Eastern part of the empire under Domitian (not so much in the West).

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