• Q and A

    Questions and Answers from the Risale-i Nur Collection
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Is There Belief in the Resurrection in Judaism?


As for the Judaic and Christian traditions, without going into details, it will be sufficient to mention the basic features of Old Testament eschatology:

Old Testament eschatology, even in its earliest form, shares in the distinctive character of Old Testament religion generally. First, there are none of the erroneous ideas and tendencies that have a large place in ethnic religions. There is no pantheism, dualism, metempsychosis, or trace of Egyptian religious ideas or practices. It also stands apart from ethnic religions in its doctrine of God and of humanity in relation to God. Its doctrine of God is pure and uncompromising monotheism. The universe is ruled by the Wisdom, Justice, and Omnipotence of the one, true God. And humanity is created by God in His own image and likeness, and destined for relations of friendship and fellowship with Him.

The Old Testament contains a national eschatology centered on the hope of establishing a theocratic and Messianic kingdom on Earth. However spiritually this idea may be expressed in the prophecies, the Jews mostly clung to a material and political interpretation of the kingdom, coupling their own domination with the triumph of God and the worldwide establishment of His rule. There is much, indeed, to account for this in the obscurity of the prophecies themselves. However, the Messiah as a distinct person is not always mentioned in connection with the kingdom’s inauguration. This leaves room for the expectation of a theophany of Yahweh (Jehovah) in the character of judge and ruler. Even when the Messiah’s person and place are distinctly foreshadowed, the fusion together in prophecy of what we have learned to distinguish as his first and his second coming tends to give an eschatological character to the whole picture of the Messianic kingdom, when in reality it belongs only to its final stage. It is in such a way that the resurrection of the dead is introduced in Isaiah 26:19: “But your dead will live; their bodies will rise. You who dwell in the dust, wake up and shout for joy. Your dew is the like of the dew of the morning; the earth will give birth to her dead,” and Daniel 12:2: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.”

In the Psalms and the Book of Job, we find a clear expression of hope or assurance that just people will attain a life of blessedness after death. Here is voiced, under Divine inspiration, the innate craving of the righteous soul for everlasting fellowship with God, the protest of a strong and vivid faith against the popular conception of Sheol. Omitting doubtful passages, it is enough to refer to Psalms 16, 17, 49, 50, and 73, which are clear enough to see that the good and pious will be eternally rewarded in another life, while the wicked and unjust be punished.

The same faith emerges in the Book of Job, first as a somewhat questionably expressed hope, and then as an assured conviction: “If only You would hide me in the grave and conceal me till Your anger has passed! If only You would set me a time and then remember me! If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come. You will call and I will answer You; You will long for the creature Your hands have made” (14:13-14). The hope gradually becomes more absolute and, in 19:23-27, it takes the form of a definite certainty that he will see God, his Redeemer: “I know that my Redeemer lives and that in the end He will stand upon the earth [dust]. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see Him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!” As can be explicitly seen from all these quoted verses, the doctrine of Resurrection finds definite expression in subsequent revelations. It is clearly a personal resurrection that is taught.

Jewish apocryphal literature of the second and first centuries BC contains new eschatological developments, mainly concerned with a more definite doctrine of retribution after death. The word Sheol is still most commonly understood as the general abode of the departed awaiting the resurrection, an abode having different divisions for the reward of the righteous and the punishment of the wicked. In reference to the latter, Sheol is sometimes simply equivalent to Hell. The word Gehenna is usually applied to the final place of punishment of the wicked after the last judgment, or even immediately after death; paradise is often used to designate the intermediate abode of the souls of the just, and heaven their home of final blessedness. Christ’s use of these terms shows that the Jews of his day were sufficiently familiar with their New Testament meanings.