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Resurrection and Resuscitation

The following is just a small chunk that I’ve written up for my Bible Introduction on the idea of “resurrection” — in relationship to other views of afterlife in the Bible. It’s short, but it’s the last sentence that is very much worth thinking about (most people haven’t thought about it; I know I never did, until fairly recently).


Many readers of the Bible are surprised to learn that the ideas of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible are not closely related to what most people think today.   The idea that after you die, your soul goes either to heaven or hell (or even purgatory) is not rooted in the Jewish Scriptures.  The few passages that refer to an afterlife in the Hebrew Bible assume that after death, a person goes to “Sheol.”  That is not the Hebrew equivalent of “hell” – a place of punishment for the wicked.  It is the place that everyone goes, good or evil.  It is sometimes spoken of as a place of rest (remember how Samuel was not pleased at having his rest disturbed in 1 Samuel 28); but as a rule it is not thought of as a pleasant place (think of all the horrors associated with going to Sheol in the book of Psalms).  It is a shadowy kind of netherworld that everyone goes to when they die, like it or not.

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So Much For THAT Idea….
Reflections on Books



  1. Avatar
    RyanBrown  July 25, 2012

    Bart, did the author of Matthew, then, have in mind resurrection or resuscitation in 27:52-53?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 26, 2012

      I think resuscitation. For the NT authors, only one person has so far been raised.

  2. Avatar
    maxhirez  July 25, 2012

    You mention in your TTC lectures that the idea of “Heaven” being a place that the spirit goes when it splits off from the body at death isn’t of Gospel origin, that it developed later. When did that idea come about? Also, does the word “Heaven” as a spiritual afterlife relate to the idea of “the heavens above” in the Greek, Aramaic or Hebrew in the way that it does in English or is that another example of the Bible/church being such a fundamental part of our culture that it defined the language?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 26, 2012

      It’s a good question — but too long for a blog reply. I may take it on as a longer post down the line. (In the meantime, I deal with where the ideas of heaven and hell come from in my book Jesus Interrupted, if you want the fuller response).

  3. Avatar
    Adam  July 25, 2012

    Some widely read scholars (Borg, Crossan, etc.) argue that when applied to Jesus resurrection was understood by the first Christians as something entirely non-bodily..that Jesus’ body was neither resuscitated or transformed into an immortal body. Would this view also be consistent with, or a deviation from, the apocalyptic perspective?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 26, 2012

      Yeah, I don’t buy that. Neither of these scholars thinks Jesus was an apocalypticist, and so naturally his followers wouldn’t be either. But I think that’s flat wrong…..

  4. Avatar
    B.E. Lewis  July 25, 2012

    Hope this is not too much off your point.

    It is interesting that in 1 Co. 15 we find (in my opinion) the use of “inclusio.” Isaiah 25:8, Hosea 6:2, and Hosea 13:14 are all directly quoted or alluded to in 1 Co. 15. Would you agree that these references are not to a single individual, but to the people of Israel? My point: Theologians will argue that Paul changed the meaning of these O.T. passages from the corporate restoration of Israel into physical/individual resurrection-that is a hard pill for me to swallow.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 28, 2012

      Interesting point — I’d have to look into it!

  5. Avatar
    Xeronimo74  July 26, 2012

    “When the early Christians said that Jesus was raised from the dead, they did not mean he had been resuscitated. They meant he had been resurrected – given an immortal body, never more to die.”

    But what is the evidence that this ‘immortal body’ was indeed supposed to a. be a physical one like our current bodies and b. one that needed the old body (the one that just died) as a sort of starting point? What is the evidence that the earliest followers of Jesus really understood ‘resurrection’ as ‘physical resurrection resulting in an empty tomb’ etc? Doesn’t that rather sound like the description of a resuscitation?

    And what about Paul’s desire to get rid of the ‘earthly tent’ ( = his natural body) in 2 Cor 5? As he writes: ‘as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord’. This seems to imply that one has to leave the natural body if one wants to be with the Lord. Paul also writes: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due to us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” > this ‘while in the body’ indicates that on Judgment Day people are NOT ‘in that body’ anymore (I assume Paul meant the previous, human, natural body). At the ‘resurrection’ that which survives the death of the body (= the spirit) would be recalled from the ‘realm of the dead’ (and the spirit of the deceased has to survive somehow, right?) and finally get that new, improved, glorious, imperishable body, enabling the person to ‘be at home with the Lord’!

    Also, unlike the Gospel authors, Paul does not describe the ‘resurrected Christ’ as a humanoid. Instead he describes his own conversion as the result of ‘God revealing his son to/in me’. That does not sound like a physically resurrected Jesus simply walking up to Paul and talking to him, does it? It rather sounds like a vision, a subjective, internal revelation.

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 28, 2012

      The evidence is 1 Corinthians 15. This is Paul’s major point in the chapter. The resurrection is *physical* (both that of Jesus and of believers). That’s why the Corinthians should realize that they are not yet experiencingn the full benefits of salvation: it ain’t happened yet!

      • Avatar
        Xeronimo74  July 29, 2012

        But Paul contrasts the ‘natural (physical?) body’ to the ‘spiritual (non-physical) body’ in 1 Cor 15:44. And in 1 Cor 15:47 he seems to describe the different qualities of these two bodies: “The first man was of the dust of the earth; the second man is of heaven.” > ‘of the dust of the earth’ seems to refer to something physical/tangible, while ‘of the heaven’ to something more intangible. Furthermore in 1 Cor 15:50 he explicitly claims that ‘flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom’, while in 2 Cor he speaks of ‘shedding the earthly tent’ while referring to the human body. And let’s not forget that Paul did not, unlike the authors of the NT, describe ‘the risen Christ’ as a humanoid figure but only as a kind of bright light nor did he mention an empty tomb!
        So although Paul expects ‘the dead’ to be ‘raised’ into these new, ‘spiritual’ bodies these spiritual bodies cannot really be compared to our actual, physical bodies right now nor do the latter seem to be required for the former (or how would people who died in a fire be ‘raised’ without a corpse or bones?), given Paul’s comments.
        Therefore I think that it’s still possible, and Prof. Tabor is making that case, that the earliest followers of Jesus (Paul included) believed in a different KIND of resurrection than the Christians later on (the authors of the Gospels included).

        • Bart Ehrman
          Bart Ehrman  July 29, 2012

          No, the “spiritual” body is not “non-physical” in the way you’re imagining it. It is physical but in a different *sense* from our physical bodies. It is non-fleshly. That’s why he uses the analogy of the seed: it goes in a seed, it grows into something else. But it is still a physcial entity. Ancient people did not think of non-physical STUFF. Stuff was always material — even your soul is made of material stuff. It’s just so highly refined that you can’t see it or perceive it with your senses. If you want to read up on that, the best place is Dale Martin, The Corinthian Body.

          And yes, later Christians did completely transform Paul’s teaching, away from the resurrection of the BODY (his emphasis) to the resurrection of the FLESH (a view he would have found repugnant).

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  July 30, 2012

            Ok but what does ‘non-fleshly’ mean then? Physical but made out of a different matter? So the ‘resurrected, spiritual body’ could be a body made out of, let’s say, plastic and thus fit the definition?
            As for non-physical stuff, that’s something we can’t actually grasp anyway. It’s an empty concept in a sense. Just like ‘outside of space and time’. We understand each word but the whole does not make any real sense and cannot really be imagined.
            My point overall was though that it seems like the earliest Christians did not believe that the corpse of Jesus was physically raised and thus did not believe that a corpse needed to be revived in order for someone to actually be resurrected. Later believers misunderstood this and combined the concept of resuscitation with the concept of immortality. Hence the need for an actually empty tomb, Jesus walking out of it, Jesus eating, etc. But that’s totally different from Paul’s account who mentions neither and seems to be referring to a totally different kind of existence (and ‘body’).

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 30, 2012

            Yes, I think I understand your point. In my view, the earliest Christians did indeed believe that Jesus’ corpse was reanimated and transformed into an immortal, but still physical, body — as their own would be at the resurrection of the dead. They were apocalyticists, and this is what apocalypticists believed.

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  July 31, 2012

            Thanks for answering, Bart, and I don’t want to turn this into an endless discussion but I need to comment on this:

            “In my view, the earliest Christians did indeed believe that Jesus’ corpse was reanimated and transformed into an immortal, but still physical, body — as their own would be at the resurrection of the dead. They were apocalyticists, and this is what apocalypticists believed.”

            But the reanimation of Jesus’ corpse is akin to a ‘classical’ resuscitation, no? It’s only in the NEXT phase that this resuscitated body gets ‘transformed’ into that new, spiritual, immortal, in some-sort-physical body. It’s THIS step that turns the whole event into a ‘resurrection’ in the Christian sense.
            So why assume then that the earliest believers believed indeed that the CORPSE needed to be resuscitated first in order to then be transformed? Why couldn’t the ‘soul’ be resurrected right into this NEW body? Especially since the corpses of most people that have ever lived had long been turned to dust. If a corpse was required for a successful resurrection then most dead people wouldn’t stand a chance of getting resurrected …
            And wasn’t that what the apocalypticists believed: that the SOULS or SPIRITS of the deceased would soon be ‘called back’ from the ‘realm of the dead’ (whatever and wherever that is) and clothed with these NEW, spiritual, immortal bodies? The point being that, unlike in a resuscitation!, the corpse is NOT needed for a resurrection therefore people could have believed that Jesus had resurrected even with his corpse still being in the grave or at a cross or wherever. Later believers misunderstood this hence the stories about an empty grave etc (sth which Paul, for example, did not mention).
            But maybe I’m expressing myself badly, English is not my mother tongue … :/

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  July 31, 2012

            Yes, it would be possible to believe in a resurrected spirit unconnected with the corpse. But that’s not what apocalypticists believed. Look at Dan 12:3 or John 5:28-29 and 1 Corinthians 15 etc. etc. I’m not saying I agree with this view. But it was the view of Jewish apocalypticists. The new bodies that would be given would be transformations of the current body, just as the new world would come to this world.

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  August 2, 2012

            Bart, thank you but I have to come back once again on this …

            “But it was the view of Jewish apocalypticists. The new bodies that would be given would be transformations of the current body, just as the new world would come to this world.”

            But what if the ‘current body’ had already turned to dust or had been burned in a fire? There would be no ‘current’ body to be transformed/raised, right? If a physical body/corpse was indeed NEEDED for this transformation/resurrection then a huge percentage of dead people would miss out, according to the apocalypticists!

            To me Prof Tabor’s reflections on resuscitation vs resurrection, and people’s confusion regarding the differences, seem more plausible and I still think that the earliest followers of Jesus did not think that his corpse literally ‘woke up again’ (in order to then, in a second step be transformed) but ok. I won’t pursue this further in here then.

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  August 2, 2012

            Yes, your question is the one that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 15, “in what kind of bodies…?, asked by Corinthians who, like you!, couldn’t imagine that the current body would be the one that would e transformed (what about those eaten by animals! and burned? etc….)

          • Avatar
            Xeronimo74  August 3, 2012

            Argh …. have to comment again: But in 1 Cor 15 Paul is not indicating that an actual corpse is needed in order to be ‘resurrected’, is he? Only that the dead will be ‘resurrected’. But where are the dead right now? They (or rather their spirits) are supposed to be in the ‘realm of the dead’, waiting to receive this NEW, ‘spiritual’, non-human, imperishable body. Meaning that the ‘spirits of the dead’, having shed their ‘earthly tent’ will receive a ‘heavenly tent’ instead. Nowhere is it implied that the old, decaying or even decayed body, is needed in order to perform this transformation. Also, I do not see where Paul addresses those eaten by animals or burned in fire there? Maybe some other chapter?

            And as you know the word ‘spirit’ has the same (Greek) root as ‘wind’, it’s something +- intangible, ethereal, quite different from physical. Although these spiritual bodies would still be visible in some sense but that does not imply Paul expected them to be physical. Does he say that one can touch these bodies? Did he describe the ‘risen Christ’ as physically interacting with the world?

  6. Avatar
    Ross Paul  July 29, 2012

    The concept of a much needed and evolving afterlife, resurrection etc never really came to full focus for me until I watched a movie called “Flight from death, the quest for immortality”. Bart, it’s one you should get and watch. It portrays much of what you are suggesting in a very powerful and convincing manner.

  7. Avatar
    hwl  July 29, 2012

    “Other authors of the Hebrew Bible deny that there is any afterlife at all, and indicate instead that death is the end of the story (see Job 14:11-12; Eccles. 9:3-6). This appears to have been the majority view of people in antiquity.”

    I find the views of the afterlife and of resurrection, as advocated by Tom Wright in “Resurrection of the son of God” and others, are quite compelling elucidation of the state of beliefs in 1st century Judaism. However, I had always thought the 1st century Jewish position was in fact at odds with the beliefs of all other civilizations in antiquity: the Egyptians had the Book of the Dead & elaborate rituals for their royalties reflecting beliefs in afterlife; the Greeks had belief in the Elysian Fields and Hades, Plato believed in the immaterial and immortal soul; of course in the East and Far East, beliefs in afterlife was pervasive before the Common Era.

    Maurice Casey pointed out (“How did Christianity begin”, SPCK, 2008, page 192) the importance of Jewish belief in survival after death without the resurrection of the body. He argues, “Josephus describes the Pharisees’ belief in souls which survive death, and he does not mention resurrection of the body…Jesus portrayed Lazarus going to join Abraham straight after death: neither of them left their tomb empty.”

    Do you disagree with Casey’s take on Jewish afterlife beliefs?

    • Bart Ehrman
      Bart Ehrman  July 30, 2012

      I think there was an enormously wide range of views among Jews — just as there are among Christians today. I also think that it is very difficult to know what *most* people actually thought based on the literary remains of the cultural elite (same today)….

      • Robertus
        Robertus  August 4, 2012

        Likewise, I don’t think the views of Jewish apocalypticists regarding the resurrection of the body need be seen as monolithic. I agree that some the earliest Christians probably thought of Jesus’ resurrection as first entailing something akin to resuscitation but much, much more in terms of an apocalyptic framework, but I still find it difficult to parse exactly what Paul means in 1 Cor 15. Even Paul himself may have found himself on on the horns of dilemma that he could not answer very well. If there is any kind of afterlife, I will have a lot of questions for Saul.

        • Avatar
          GokuEn  November 5, 2013

          I am sorry if I am ressurecting (pardon the pun) an already dead post, but I don’t know where else to ask this question. What are we to do with some of the scattered remarks in the Gospels that seem to imply a non-bodily existence after death? Im specifically thinking of 2 examples in Luke: the “good robber” crucified next to Jesus who is said to go to “paradise” that very same day (obviously without a body) and the saying that have a rich man go to hell while a beggard goes to heaven immediately after their deaths (before any apocalyptic ressurection of the dead).

          • Bart Ehrman
            Bart Ehrman  November 6, 2013

            There does seem to be a strand of thought that before the resurrection of the dead people will be given something like temporary bodies in heaven (notice that in Lazarus and the rich man the very problem is that the rich man is bodily suffering — he wants water to cool his tongue). This seems to be the view in 2 Cor. 5:1 as well….

  8. Avatar
    ftbond  July 18, 2018

    The Pharisaic view might be boiled down to this: A body without a spirit is a rotting corpse, and a spirit without a body is a phantom unable to experience sensually anything of what we experience as “life”. Both body and spirit were equally created good, and the two “elements” together formed “nephesh” – usually translated “a living soul”.

    Thus, the *need* for resurrection. Without resurrection, there was no “*life* after death experience”. A spirit which has gone to Sheol, or even to the presence of God Himself, will be able to experience *that*, but, not the fullness of life that is supposed to incorporate both that and sensual experience.

    A corpse is not at all necessary for resurrection. It was long known that bodies decay, and that some bodies are burned, or lost at sea and consumed by sharks. These kinds of things were hardly lost on the rabbinical forerunners. A resurrected body is not *necessarily* comprised of the same “matter” that it was comprised of before death (although it might be to some degree). One might think of it as having been “reconstructed” from a blueprint which has (perhaps) been stored in the spirit, which is seen (in some writings) as a repository for all life’s experience.

    But, a resurrected body must be a body that is fit for an eternal existence; it cannot be one that has an “expiration date”. This, in itself, would mean a resurrected body must be of a very different nature than a “regular” body.

    I believe it is entirely safe to say that Judaism is perfectly unclear as to what happens to us when we die. In fact, so is Christianity. Maimonedes made the resurrection one of the tenets of the Jewish faith, but, it is hardly held as a dogma among Jews. Among Christians, resurrection is the expectation. But, what happens between death and the resurrection is terribly unclear in both Judaism and Christianity. My own belief (as a Christian) is that it’s very likely nothing at all happens until resurrection. But, that’s just my view. Your mileage may differ.

    (lengthy post, and no “question”… but, hey, this is an OLD blog entry)

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