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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 is a lot to say about the idea of resurrection as it developed in Judaism and then, especially, in Christianity.  But first I have to address the question of origins.  Where did the idea come from?

I was always taught what I imagine every critical biblical scholar for the past century was taught, that the idea of resurrection came into Judaism from the Persian religion known as Zoroastrianism.  In fact, several readers of the blog have asked me just this question (or made just this assertion), about Zoroastrianism as the source of the idea.  The logic is as follows:

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(a) There was nothing in the Jewish tradition that would lead someone to think that resurrection of the body was a possibility, since Israelites had always held to the idea of an eternal Sheol;

(b) Resurrection was, however, part and parcel of ancient Zoroastrian thought, which was avidly dualistic in its thinking, with the forces of good and evil waging massive cosmic battles that would come to a climax at the end of time and all who had sided with good would be rewarded by being given new life at a resurrection of the dead;

(c) Israel had been for a time subject to the Persian Empire, for about two centuries, from 538 – 323BCE, that is, from the time Persia defeated the Babylonians and took over their territory up to the time of the conquests of Alexander the Great in the fourth century.

(d) Therefore it makes best sense, by this logic, to think that Jews got the idea of a future resurrection from the Persians.  Hey, they had to get it from somewhere, right?

That, as I have said, is what we were all taught and it’s what I thought (and taught) until about, well, six months ago.   As a preliminary to a couple of more detailed comments, let me make two general points.

The first involves a problem I’ve thought about for a long time: Our tendency to think that every idea has an external “source” just can’t be right (in bald terms), as if every idea has to start somewhere else other than where we find it.  That is to say, suppose we argue that resurrection came to the Jews from the Persians.  OK, then, where did the Persians get it?  Suppose they got it from the X’s.  Then where did the X’s get it?  From the Y’s?  Where did the Y’s get it? From the Z’s?  Where did….   As you can see, it’s an eternal regress.  Someone, at some time, in some place, comes up with a new idea.  And so it’s actually not necessarily the case that Jews got the idea from anywhere.  In theory, some Jewish someone could have made it up!

My second comment is the realization that I had six months ago, when thinking about such things in reference to Jews getting the idea of resurrection from Perians.  The dates don’t work.   Israel was subject to Persia from the late 6th to the late 4th century BCE.  Do we see any evidence of a belief in resurrection in Jewish texts from that period?  Well, actually, no we don’t.  When do we see such a belief?  Starting in the Maccabean period a full century and a half after Israel was controlled by the Persians.   If the Jews had been having extensive contacts with Persians (and presumably their religion) in the 160s, it would make sense that they borrowed their idea of resurrection.  But in fact the influence at the time, and for a long time before, was entirely Greek.  And Greeks did not have any notion of a future resurrection of the dead.  Quite the contrary, when (later) Greeks heard of such an idea they consistently and roundly mocked it as a piece of hilarious nonsense.

So the idea that the idea came into Israel from somewhere else is certainly possible.  But there doesn’t seem to be much evidence of it.

And there are even bigger problems.  It turns out we don’t actually know much about Zoroastrianism during the period we are interested in (say, 200 BCE to 200 CE).  That’s because we have lousy sources of information.  I first discovered this by reading one of the most learned discussions of the afterlife in Jewish and Christian traditions, by Dutch historian Jan Bremmer (his book:  The Rise and Fall of the Afterlife [New York: Routledge, 2002]).

Bremmer points out that our oldest manuscript of the Zoroastrian texts in question, the Avestas, dates from 1288 CE, and all the surviving manuscripts appear to go back to a copy that had been produced in the 9th or 10th century CE.  Since the Zoroastrian tradition was living and constantly changing over time, there is no assurance that the teachings of the later Avestan manuscripts were ancient.  Moreover, there is only one reference in all the oldest forms of the Avestan writings to the glories of a later life, and this reference doesn’t say anything about a future day of judgment (as in Jewish apocalyptic thought).

After some detailed comments, Bremmer concludes:  “There … is little reason to derive Jewish ideas about resurrection from Persian sources.  Their origin(s) may well lie in intra-Jewish developments” (p. 59).

In other words, the Jews who first pronounced the idea, during the Maccabean period, may have come up with it themselves.   This appears to be the newer consensus on the matter, as seen in a more recent work on the afterlife by a New Testament scholar Outi Lehtipuu who in her book, The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Brill: Leiden, 2007; p. 124), makes the same basic point.

I will need to do more work on the matter before coming to a final conclusion.  My next step, when I have the time to do so (I’m reading other things just now), will be to read the following two articles, which I cite in case any of you is inclined to pursue the matter:

James Barr, “The Question of Religious Influence: The Case of Zoroastrianism, Judaism, and        Christianity” JAAR 53 (1985).

G.  Widengren, “Leitende Ideen und Quellen der iranischen Apocalypyptik.” In Hellmholm, ed.,      Apocalypticism in the Mediterranean World and the Near East (Tübingen, 1983) 77-162.

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  1. Avatar
    jbhowell  August 10, 2017

    *Virgin born savior…the Saoshyant
    *Sons of light vs sons of darkness
    *Ahriman – a devil like figure
    *Final judgment and resurrection
    *The Diaspora lived in areas like Babylon and Persia and thus imbibed these ideas over generations

    These are all idea I have read in various sources.

    If I remember correctly, Barr argues that there is no existing textual link between Zoroastrianism and Judaism, but he does see some Persian influence.

    I think Lester Grabbe’s work points out Persian influence as well.

    You and other scholars make it abundantly clear that ancient Israel was influenced by the Sumerian/Babylonian view in regards to a murky afterlife. To me it makes sense that the exile and the influence of Persia had to have affected later Jewish views.

  2. Avatar
    godspell  August 10, 2017

    Why does it seem from our perspective like the Persians were so bad at preserving records of their ideas and beliefs and history? Our entire knowledge of the Greco-Persian conflict seems to come from the Greeks (the Persians would have told a very different story). The Persians could write, had an extensive bureaucracy, certainly had scholars, scribes. What went wrong there? Such a lasting and influential civilization, but at the same time oddly insular.

    One might argue that’s still the case, but one shouldn’t stretch analogies too far.

    • Avatar
      BrianUlrich  August 11, 2017

      Bureaucratic records would be less likely to survive the centuries than narrative accounts, and the Persians didn’t develop the tradition of writing the latter.

      • Avatar
        godspell  August 14, 2017

        It’s hard to accept the notion that we didn’t always have the concept of history, or at least chronicles. That the stories of what happened to us in the recent past were not considered important enough to write down.

        Herodotus was more of a chronicler, simply recording information he gathered, without offering much in the way of critical analysis. Thucydides was the one who began the tradition of actually studying history, offering opinions, trying to make a coherent narrative out of the past. To understand and explain what had happened, and of course no one can ever do that with perfect accuracy or objectivity. Thucydides aspires to objectivity, but frequently fails to attain it.

        In the Judaeo/Christian tradition, no such aspiration exists. They are frequently writing about real events, and they do want to better understand them, but they would not consider objectivity a virtue even to be aspired to.

  3. Avatar
    SelfAwarePatterns  August 10, 2017

    I have to admit you weren’t convincing me until the point about the earliest attested Avestas being over a thousand years after the supposed cultural transmission. Given those dates, it seems equally possible that the transmission might have gone the other way.

  4. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  August 10, 2017

    1. Wow! How interesting and, of course, I did not know any of this stuff? I imagine very few of us do.

    2. One of the really good things about you is that your views continue to evolve as you learn and study more. That is just the way it should be. Keep going!

    3. My views also keep evolving as I learn more, but at a much slower rate than you learn. Over the past two years, I have been struggling, really struggling, with the question of why so many people remain dogmatically certain about political and religious stuff even in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary which they tend to just ignore or rationalize or, yes, “spin” in some way. During this time, I have learned a lot about confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance reduction, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, the “backfire” effect, and the “illusion of truth” effect and I recently came across a really good book about the evolution of belief written by biologist Lewis Wolpert in 2006. It is entitled “Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast.” Readers of this blog might find this book of interest.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2017

      Does Wolpert deal with evolutionary psychology at all? Sounds like something I need to read. Ordered!

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 12, 2017

        Dr. Ehrman, speaking of evolutionary psychology, you might find this conversation interesting.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 13, 2017

          Thanks. If you have any favorite books on it for a smart layperson, let me know.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  August 13, 2017

            Dr. Ehrman, probably the best gateway book into the subject is Steven Pinker’s The Blank Slate. Pinker gives what I think is the best outline of the current debate on nature vs nurture. (I have yet to read Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature, but I hear in it he further develops the ideas he discusses in The Blank Slate). One book that’s a good overview of the current state of the field is Michael Shermer’s The Science of Good and Evil. From there you might want to read Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind. From there you can probably dive into the esoteric literature on the subject.

            I have to confess that I don’t completely agree with the conclusions reached by these authors (my own research is leading me down a different path), but I do think that they present a good overview of where the subject stands currently.

          • Bart
            Bart  August 14, 2017


    • talmoore
      talmoore  August 11, 2017

      I don’t find Wolpert’s argument totally convincing. I think he focuses too much on the evolution of the cognitive aspect of belief to the neglect of the affective aspect of belief.

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  August 11, 2017

      I just read some reviews of this book. Does Wolpert cite scientific studies to back up his ideas or are they just speculation?

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 13, 2017

        Wolpert’s a scientist and researcher.

    • Avatar
      RevRobSt  October 16, 2017

      re: #3: I have a hunch this concept of “voting against your own self-interest” (or BELIEVING against it) is a psychological issue, at least in part. It has to do with us honoring and giving our authority over to others, whom we trust. And then dealing with how we feel when that trust is shaken (upon finding out that they lied while boasting or they didn’t actually know and just made up something or they are crazed or they have succeeded in ruling over and controlling them). There are at least too responses to learning that “their emperor has no clothes”: 1) adapt and change what once thought and believed, or 2) freak out because ” OMG, I made a mistake and am embarrassed for having foolishly trusted a doofus!” They feel deeply the shame of being wrong. And rather than admit to your SIN, it is more comfortable to put your hands over your ears and say “LALALALALALALALALALAL” thus overriding the error (and their deep underlining fear / shame) with 1) denial, 2) obfuscation, 3) “look over there: a squirrel” diversion! Making such a foundational error is more than many (insecure) people can bare. Hence for those wishing dialog or conversation with a “fundamentalist” (sociopathic) person, no well-reasoned argument will be heard as long as their brains are short-circuited by emotions of guilt and shame. If we want to have any influence at all, I suspect, we must deal with their emotional state with pastoral care. [Thanks for bringing this up and helping me to verbalize this dilemma.]

  5. Avatar
    Wilusa  August 10, 2017

    So if one culture did get the idea from another, was there enough communication (via travel) in those days that the Zoroastrians may have gotten some aspects of it from the Jews, rather than the other way around? (I myself still think reincarnation is the most likely explanation of similar ideas turning up in different places. It certainly should be considered as a possibility.)

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2017

      What I’m arguing is that one of them didn’t have to get it from the other.

      • Avatar
        Wilusa  August 11, 2017

        Yes, I understand that. I was just wondering whether *if* one culture got it from the other, it could have been the reverse of what most people have believed.

      • Avatar
        llamensdor  August 11, 2017

        The infamous Reza Aslan asserts that the Jews didn’t invent monotheism, Zoroaster did. Have you any thoughts on that?

        • Bart
          Bart  August 13, 2017

          I wish we had better historical information about Zoroaster. But I”d like to see what Aslan’s evidence is. Monotheism is pretty well ensconced in teh writings of 2 Isaiah (mid 6th c BCE)

          • Avatar
            llamensdor  August 13, 2017

            I heard Aslan make this claim on a PBS show over a year ago, relating to his book, “Zealot.”. He did not offer authentication, he merely asserted this claim without explanation. The interview was rather long, and while I despise Aslan, I must admit that he gave a brilliant performance, speaking in complete, grammatically correct sentences and paragraphs on every issue, without hemming or hawing.

          • Avatar
            godspell  August 17, 2017

            Having so little information, it’s pretty hard to make any kind of case for who invented what. Monotheism is such a simple idea, it unquestionably arose independently in many cultures, and it doesn’t seem likely to me that we know of all incidences, let alone the earliest ones. The first monotheists were probably killed before anybody outside their immediate group ever heard of them.

            Aslan is descended from the same people as Zoroaster–Iranians are justly proud of their contributions to world civilization, and I’d call this an expression of that. Along the same lines as Irish people saying that St. Brendan discovered America. Which he did, you know. 😉

  6. Avatar
    Todd  August 10, 2017

    It seems as though the general idea within evangelical and fundamentalist circles nowadays is that the afterlife life involves immediately going to heaven or hell at the moment of death. I find this idea nowhere in the New Testament.

    Will your book deal with how this idea developed?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2017

      The only possible exception is probably the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16. But yes, that’s what my book is about.

  7. Avatar
    Stylites  August 10, 2017

    I am among the many who were taught the “Zoroastrian connection.” You have convinced me it probably is not correct. Thank you.

  8. talmoore
    talmoore  August 10, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, as you’re probably aware of at this point, I am quite eclectic in my religious studies. I’m just as inclined to read an Upanishad or a Confucian classic as I am to read a Psalm or an Epistle of Paul. With such eclecticism comes a very broad understanding of the cultural, political and religious diversity and diffusion of that time and place — the so-called Axial Age, from roughly the Achaemenid Empire to the rise of the Roman Empire, ca. 400 to 1 BCE. At this time there was an unprecedented marketplace of not just goods but ideas, that stretched from roughly the eastern Mediterranean to the Ganges river — the extent of Alexander’s Empire and the Mauryan Empire combined. Along this geographic extend ideas about life and death were diffused, absorbed, developed and further diffused. For instance, one such idea was the Transmigration of Souls (what we would call Re-incarnation), an idea that worked its way from northeast India across to Plato in classical Athens. It’s clear that this was a time when the peoples who inhabited this long stretch of civilization — linked together via conquest on boths sides (Alexander in the West, Chandragupta in the East) — began to seriously think about and form entire philosophies and religions around what happens to us after death. The Jews and Judaism, existing somewhere in the middle of this massive cultural exchange, appear to have borrowed various ideas (e.g. the immortal soul, cosmic war between the forces Good and Evil, etc.) from this flow of cultural diffusion, while at the same time developing their own ideas unique to their own body of scripture (e.g. monotheism, bodily resurrection, the messianic Age-to-come, etc.) This, I believe, is where one need look to uncover the origins of the apocalyptic Judaism of Jesus’ time and place.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2017

      My sense is that it’s hard to know where Plato’s idea of transmigration came from; usually it’s traced to Pythagoras. But yes, I think rather than imagining simple sources (*this* is where *that* person got *this particular* idea from) it’s better to think of broad Weltanschauung.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  August 11, 2017

        Yes, but Pythagoras’ ideas themselves were probably developed from ideas he got from disparate cultures like Egypt, Persia and, yes, even India. It’s probably not a coincidence that older texts, such as the Torah, The Vedas and Homer don’t mention the notion of the Transmigration of Souls (indeed, they all seem to suggest the soul never returns to a body after death), and then, suddenly (at least within the historical context), there are entire philosophies and religions centered around the concept popping up within this long politico-cultural entity stretching from Greece to the Ganges. I can’t see it as a coincidence. There must be a connection. In all likelihood, the idea originated in northern India in the middle of the first millenium BCE, and with the rise of the Persian and then Alexandrian empires, the idea made its way into the mideast and Greece.

        • Bart
          Bart  August 13, 2017

          I wish we knew more about Pythagoras’s biography! As you know, it’s a very difficult area of research.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  August 13, 2017

            Alas, all we have to put the puzzle pieces together is circumstantial evidence and speculation.

      • Avatar
        godspell  August 12, 2017

        My oriental philosophy teacher used to tell us there was a ‘damonism’ at work–the reason for so many similarities between world religions that in many cases had no meaningful contact with each other.

        Which begs a question–if these were just ideas that humans were going to have at a certain stage in their evolutionary and cultural development–expressed in many different ways, but still ultimately the same underneath–how much difference did individual philosophical/religious thinkers have?

        Some, definitely. A lot, let’s say. But if Jesus had never been born, had died as a child, or had just worked in the same trade as his father (the earthly one), would something similar to Christianity have come into being anyway? Would some other cult, perhaps that of John the Baptist, have taken hold instead? The talented people, like Paul, like the gospel authors, who were clearly not satisfied with the religion(s) they were born into, would have simply gravitated elsewhere, coalesced around somebody else.

        Are these paths we just stumbled down, for good or ill, or are they unavoidable phases in our development? Never been much of a Hegelian, let alone a Marxist, I believe in contingency, that individuals can, through sheer force of personality, change the course of history. But as Marx admitted, we make our own history, but we don’t make it just as we please.

      • Avatar
        TheologyMaven  August 14, 2017

        Bart- I thought that I knew what you meant until I looked up Weltanschauung (http://www.encyclopedia.com/philosophy-and-religion/philosophy/philosophy-terms-and-concepts/worldview-philosophy) I was thinking more like Jung’s collective unconscious.. what exactly did you mean? Thanks!

        • Bart
          Bart  August 15, 2017

          It simply means something like: a view of the world (worldview) that is widely held by people at a given time.

    • Avatar
      llamensdor  August 15, 2017

      Didn’t Jaspers say that the Axial age ran from the 8th to the 3rd centuries BCE?

  9. Avatar
    Stephen  August 10, 2017

    So what does this mean for the mutation of the figure of “The Satan” in the Divine Council of Yahweh in the Hebrew Bible to the Apocalyptic Satan of the NT? I was taught this mutation showed the influence of Persian thought as well.

    Fascinating stuff. !


    • Bart
      Bart  August 11, 2017

      Yes the transformation of Satan was also tied up with the emerging apocalyptic eschatology.

  10. Avatar
    Seeker1952  August 10, 2017

    Going back a post or two, I wonder if the belief in Sheol–and similar beliefs about the afterlife in other Mediterranean religions–corresponded to people’s memories of the dead. Memories about the dead, in contrast to people’s experience of the living, were shadowy and vague so people may have thought that was the nature of the dead’s experience too.

  11. Avatar
    Hume  August 10, 2017

    I’m reading How Jesus Became God while vacationing in Oslo and it’s very good. I take back all the arguments I threw at you on this blog! 😉

  12. Avatar
    JoeBTex  August 10, 2017

    Thank you. Sir

    I have read the same books. If the apocalyptic thought was original to Daniel then duality certainly was Persian. The Greeks found much of their inspiration in the Magi of western Anatolia. The connection that traces from the Magi story in Matthew (why would they be looking for a savior?), even the subtle conflicts with Simon Magnus and Jesus as a magician, and the Mithra based Jewish savior, coupled with the “end times” stories, that Paul so easily sold the old Persian empire cannot be ignored. Tarsus was after all, at one time, a Zoroastrian city. ….

  13. Avatar
    TheologyMaven  August 10, 2017

    Maybe resurrection was not so much a new idea, but a response to others’ ideas. Say the soul lives on with cycles as per the Indus Valley folks who traded with the Persians, and that went along in the general direction of the Greeks. The idea that you will be judged post death and not wait around in Sheol, and be reincarnated may have seemed attractive to the Jews.

    Bodily resurrection means that we only get one body (if you believe in reincarnation, then you can’t believe in bodily resurrection because which body would you pick?) So perhaps the resurrection of the body came up as an answer to include judgment but preclude reincarnation.

    Kind of syncretic but with a unique Jewish twist.

  14. cheito
    cheito  August 10, 2017

    Your Comment:

    Do we see any evidence of a belief in resurrection in Jewish texts from that period? Well, actually, no we don’t.

    There was nothing in the Jewish tradition that would lead someone to think that resurrection of the body was a possibility, since Israelites had always held to the idea of an eternal Sheol;


    My Comment:

    I respectfully differ with your view that, “There was nothing in the Jewish tradition that would lead someone to think that [the] resurrection of the body was a possibility”…

    In Genesis 17:8, I could easily infer, (as I’m sure some Jews also did) that the only possible way for God to fulfill His promise to Abraham, that He, God, would Give Abraham and His descendants after him, ALL the land in which he sojourned for an everlasting possession, is for God to resurrect from the dead, in the future, Abraham and all his descendants who would die before receiving the promise.

    My point:

    God’s promise was not only to Abraham’s descendants who were not born yet, nor had they died yet; God’s promise of the land was also to ABRAHAM HIMSELF, for God says, “I will give to you”, (i.e. Abraham”); I therefore, by inference, deduce, that God intended to resurrect Abraham and all his descendants from the dead, (for obviously Abraham died without receiving the promise and also his descendants died.) Therefore, when God promised Abraham and His descendants the land of his sojourning, and all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; God was thinking of a future day in which Abraham and all his offspring would live again and possess the land forever.

    For God’s promise to be fulfilled to Abraham and His descendants to posses the land of his sojourning and all the land of Canaan, there has to be a resurrection from the dead because they have all died. How could Abraham possess the Land, forever, and live in it, if he’s dead?


    Genesis 17: 8

    8-“I will give to you and to your descendants after you, the land of your sojourning, all the land of Canaan, for an everlasting possession; and I will be their God.”


  15. cheito
    cheito  August 10, 2017

    DR Ehrman:

    Your Comment:

    … since Israelites had always held to the idea of an eternal Sheol;

    My Comment:

    I, again, respectfully differ with your opinion that “Israelites had always held to the idea of an eternal Sheol”.

    I think it would be better to say some Israelites held to the idea of an eternal Sheol.

    The following two references from the book of Psalm will show that some Israelites did in fact believe that God would save them from Sheol, and that there would be a “Holy one”, whose form, (i.e. body) would not be consumed by Sheol, because God would not allow it.

    In Psalm 16:9,10

    In V:9, this Israelite, (most likely King David), rejoices in his heart because he believes that his body (flesh) will be secured, and in V:10, He expresses this because he believes that his soul will NOT be abandoned in Sheol FOREVER.

    This Israelite also believes that God’s “Holy one” would not undergo decay. (i.e., be consumed by Sheol). This idea of one’s body being consumed by Sheol is reiterated clearer yet, in Psalm 49:12-15.

    In Psalm 49:12-15, the idea is that a person who is pompous, foolish and unrighteous, will be like the beasts that perish, and will be appointed, presumably by God, to Sheol. Their form, (i.e., body) will be consumed by Sheol. However the Israelite writing this Psalm, also believes that He PERSONALLY will not go to Sheol, because God will save Him from Sheol and will receive Him.

    My point:

    Your assertion that, “Israelites had always held to the idea of an eternal Sheol”, is not accurate. There were some Israelites, like David, who believed that God could and WOULD raise someone’s body from the dead, (i.e., the Holy One, whose form would not be consumed by Sheol) and that Sheol would not hold the souls of those who practice righteousness FOREVER, because God would deliver them.


    Psalm 16:9,10,-

    9Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices;
    My flesh also will dwell securely.
    10-For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol;
    Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.


    Psalm 49:12-15

    12-But man in his pomp will not endure;
    He is like the beasts that perish.

    13-This is the way of those who are foolish,
    And of those after them who approve their words.

    14-As sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
    Death shall be their shepherd;
    And the upright shall rule over them in the morning,
    And their form shall be for Sheol to consume
    So that they have no habitation.

    15-But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,
    For He will receive me.


    • Avatar
      godspell  August 12, 2017

      It should be assumed that there are divisions of belief in any religion. It does seem that non-resurrection was the consensus belief in Judaism. Though Paul was clearly able to exploit differences between Pharisees and Saducees on this subject, in order to avoid being convicted by the Sanhedrin. Pharisees were something of an elite, not the majority of Jews, if I understand correctly.

      • cheito
        cheito  August 13, 2017

        The Pharisees and Sadducees weren’t around when psalm 16 and 49 were written.

        My point is that the persons who wrote psalm16 and 49, (most likely King David, and the son Kor), didn’t believe that the power of Sheol was eternal, as DR Eherman asserts.

        The person who wrote psalm 16, believed that God wouldn’t abandon his soul to Sheol and also believed that God would not allow the body of His “Holy One” to ‘undergo decay.’ (most likely referring to himself)

        In Psalm 49, the son of Kor, (most likely a contemporary of David), also has similar views to the author of Psalm 16. The son of Kor sheds new light, in that he does believe that Sheol will consume the bodies of the unrighteous and hold their souls indefinitely. (i.e., ‘death shall be their sheherd’) However the son of Kor, also believes, like the author of Psalm 16, that He PERSONALLY will not go to Sheol, because God will save Him from Sheol and will receive Him.

      • Avatar
        Reptile  May 21, 2020

        I think it was the other way around, with the Saducees generally being socially more prominent and “priestly”. I assume there were many exceptions, however,

    • Avatar
      Aage  August 12, 2017

      Cheito, I can see the followers of Jesus scouring the scriptures to make sense of their Messiah’s death and latching on to these texts. (I agree with Crossan when he argues that the conflicting accounts of what happened to Jesus after his arrest have been reconstructed from bits and pieces of especially the Psalms that were thought to refer to him.) As for the original reading of these texts, all I can see is “David” hoping that he won’t be killed.

      • cheito
        cheito  August 13, 2017


        I don’t call myself a Christian. I just believe Jesus spoke the truth: He is the son of God. He did come down from heaven, and, yes, I do believe that God raised Him, Jesus, from the dead, literally, with the body and the spirit. Period.

        The synoptic gospels are not the source I rely on for my convictions. The synoptic gospels are historically unreliable. I don’t accept the stories written in them as truth. The synoptic gospels, in my estimation, are a mixture of distorted facts, myths, politically and religiously construed according to the agenda of it’s authors. We don’t really know who wrote Mark, Matthew and Luke, and we don’t really know, who they were nor why they wrote their gospels. I also believe Jesus’ words are distorted in the synoptic gospels.

        I rely on the writings of Paul, and I believe in the gospel of John, (among other books), both in the OT. and in the NT.

        As for psalm 16, the person who wrote it believed that God wouldn’t abandon his soul to Sheol and also believed that God would not allow the body of His “Holy One” to ‘undergo decay.’ (I think you may be right that the “Holy One” he refers to is probably himself.)

        My point is that during the time psalm 16 and 49 was written, (most likely during the time of King David and the son of Korah), the notion that Sheol was a temporary place for the righteous, and that God could and would, not allow Sheol to consume the body of his ‘holy One”, (i.e., his servants) was alive and well, contrary to DR Ehrman’s statement, that ‘Israelites had always held to the idea of an eternal Sheol.

        According to Psalm 49, Sheol was eternal for the wicked.


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      TheologyMaven  August 12, 2017

      Cheito – do you read these psalms as pointing to a “bodily” resurrection? because I think you could read them as a continuing of the soul or spirit.

      • cheito
        cheito  August 13, 2017


        I think in Psalm 16:9,10- the author, (most likely King David), is thinking about, both his body and/or his spirit and soul.

        I’m not clear if this author is referring to a resurrection from the dead as we know it.

        I think he believes that God could, and will not allow his ‘Holy One’, (most likely referring to himself) to undergo decay. That’s why, his heart is glad and he rejoices, because he has this conviction: as stated in V:10. “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”

        This author also seems to believe, that God will save his body: V: 9-“Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely.


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    nbraith1975  August 11, 2017

    Isn’t taking on other religious ideas, rituals and doctrines the exact thing Yahweh warned the Hebrews about over and over again in the OT? And isn’t taking on those religious ideas, rituals and doctrines exactly why Yahweh punished the Hebrews time and again over the span of hundreds of years?

    Knowing their history as recorded in the OT, it’s not a stretch to believe the Hebrews were influenced by outside religions. Just as the early Christian “church” was influenced by Greek culture, philosophies, paganism and other religions of that time. The trinity doctrine is a great example of this in the Christian church.

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    Ophiuchus  August 11, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,

    You told me in 2015 that it would be your guess that Zoroastrian dualism influenced the battle between the Sons of Light and the Sons of Darkness in the War Scroll. Has your thinking about this changed?

    • Bart
      Bart  August 13, 2017

      I’m rethinking the issue, but haven’t decided yet!

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    hasankhan  August 12, 2017

    The idea of resurrection, heaven and hell has been around since the first man on earth i.e. Adam

    Qur’an (2:38-39) We said, “Go down from it, all of you. And when guidance comes to you from Me, whoever follows My guidance – there will be no fear concerning them, nor will they grieve. And those who disbelieve and deny Our signs – those will be companions of the Fire; they will abide therein eternally.”

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    dankoh  August 13, 2017

    I agree that we don’t have any good evidence that the Zoroastrians were the source, and also thank you for pointing out what should be obvious: that every idea has to start somewhere. But I do have to point out that we have very little information about the period between Ezra/Nehemiah (c.450-430 BCE) and Daniel (c. 165 BCE), so it is going to he hard to say how the idea developed among the Jews, even if that is where it started.

    Also, I don’t hold that Daniel’s vision is full-fledged resurrection either. As I recall, Prophyry challenged that idea, saying that Daniel might have meant it as a metaphor in much the same way Ezekiel did with his dry bones.

    All that said, I can see a case being made (and I may end up trying to make it) that the idea of resurrection developed, at least in part, out of the shift from First Temple national responsibility for sin to the Second Temple individual responsibility for sin, coupled with the realization that sinners are clearly not always being punished (nor the righteous rewarded) in this world, hence the need for reward/punishment in the afterlife. And I can see some trace of Hellenistic influence here, as some mortals were rewarded or punished after death in Greek mythology.

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    Machaon  August 14, 2017

    I’m not sure that resurrection is entirely missing from the Greek tradition.
    There are many parallels between Jesus’ ministry and Platonic, specifically Cynic, thought.
    Plato’s Republic, one of his most famous works, includes the Myth of Er, which essentially ends with the resurrection (i.e. bodily reanimation) of Er to report all he has seen of the afterlife, including souls choosing their subsequent lives for reincarnation (as opposed to Er’s resurrection).
    Surely there is a rich vein of potential scholarship here, exploring the influence of Platonic traditions on the Greek reception of the early Christian message and, more tentatively, the beliefs of the earliest Christians themselves.

    • Bart
      Bart  August 15, 2017

      Yes, indeed ,there, is a very rich vein of scholarship that has been produced on this question. It is unified in saying that the Jewish doctrine of resurrection was not found in Greek and Roman circles outside of Judaism and Christianity. Er was not resurrected; he was resuscitated (i.e. he was to die again later). And reincarnation is very different from resurrection! (It involves a different body, not the same one.)

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