BR 16:04, Aug 2000
The Resurrection of Resurrection
Christianity was born into a world where one of its central tenets, the resurrection of the dead, was widely recognized as falseexcept, of course, by Judaism.
Jews believed in resurrection, Greeks believed in immortality. So I was taught many years ago. But like so many generalizations, this one isnt even half true. There was a spectrum of beliefs about the afterlife in first-century Judaism, just as there was in the Greco-Roman world. The differences between these two sets of views and those that developed among the early Christians are startling.
Lets begin with the Greeks. Some Greeks (and Romans) thought death the complete end; most, however, envisaged a continuing, shadowy existence in Hades. Homer, for example, tells of a murky world full of witless, gibbering shadows that must drink sacrificial blood before they can think straight, let alone talk. For Homer, Hades was no fun.1 The soul in Homer, though, was not the real person, the immortal element hidden inside a body, but rather the evanescent breath that escaped. The true self remained lifeless on the ground.