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Resurrection from the Dead: Were Jews Influenced by Zoroastrianism?

I often get asked if ancient Judaism was influenced by Zoroastrianism or other kinds of Persian thought – especially when it comes to the specific doctrine of the “resurrection of the dead” and, more generally, the whole category of “apocalyptic thought.”  I used to think so!  Now I’m not so sure.  At all.

I’ve talked about apocalypticism and resurrection on the blog before.  Here I’ll discuss where these ideas came from, before, explaining more fully what they ended up looking like.  This discussion is taken from an early draft of my forthcoming book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.


After the period of the classical prophets, Jewish thinkers came to imagine that in fact there would be life for the individual who had died.  For them, there was a possibility of life beyond the grave – real, full, and abundant life.  But in the original Jewish conception, unlike widespread Christian views today, the afterlife was not a glorious eternity lived in the soul in heaven or a tormented existence in hell, attained immediately at the point of death.  It was something else altogether.  It was the idea that at the end of time God would vindicate himself and his people.  When history and all its evil and suffering had run its course, God would reassert his sovereignty over this world and destroy everything and everyone who was opposed to him, bringing in the perfect, utopian world he had originally planned.   Inhabiting this world would be the righteous who had lived and suffered throughout all of history.  God would miraculously bring them back into their bodies, and they would live, bodily, without any pain, misery, or suffering, for all time, in his most glorious kingdom.

Those who were wicked would also …

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An Alternative View of Suffering and the Idea of Resurrection
How Views of the Afterlife Changed



  1. Avatar
    mkahn1977  August 27, 2019

    Speaking of Greek influences, I’m interested in reading The Iliad since I understand that it’s a great source of Greek mythology/theology… would you know or can you recommend a reliable version to read that also provides study notes, etc.?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 28, 2019

      I don’t know about one with study notes — maybe someone else can help. But there are excellent translatoins available. My favorite is by Fagels. Terrific.

      • Avatar
        mkahn1977  August 28, 2019

        Funny you just replied on that regarding Fagels as I was just looking at that version on Amazon- seems to also have the best reviews too. Thanks! I also ordered that Judaism and Hellenism book.

  2. Avatar
    Rita Gomes  September 1, 2019

    Professor Bart

    Yesterday I watched Bohemian Rhapsody, and something caught my attention in the movie.
    Freddy Mercury’s father was Zoroastrianism.
    This surprised me, because I thought religion was extinct, with the growth of Islam
    Does Zoroastrianism still exist? In which countries or places can we find remnants of this religion.

  3. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you agree with this comment from M. Eugene Boring?

    “[According to Paul] Christian hope involves the redemption OF our bodies along with the whole creation (Rom. 8:23), NOT redemption FROM them. The life of the world to come will manifest both continuity and discontinuity with the present world.”

  4. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you agree with this?:

    In 1 Cor. 15 Paul opposes “spiritualists” who thought that all that stood between them and heaven was sloughing off their current bodies and entering fully into the realm of the Spirit.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2019

      Pretty much. It’s a very disputed area; I have an extended discussion of 1 Cor 15 (and it’s many misinterpretations) in the new book.

  5. Avatar
    Brand3000  September 27, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Is this a true statement?

    “Spiritual body” does NOT mean a body made of “spirit,” as though it were composed of ethereal vapor, but rather that the resurrected body shares the power of God’s realm, just as the earthly body shares the weakness of this world.”

    – Prof. Boring in The People’s New Testament Commentary

    • Bart
      Bart  September 27, 2019

      Yes, though I think most readers would have trouble understanding exactly what he means here.

  6. Avatar
    Brand3000  October 9, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Do you think Paul was converted in the full 180 sense, OR do you think that with his encounter with the risen Jesus, Paul still remained fundamentally Jewish, but now just accepted that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah?

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