Review of T. Nicklas, F. V. Reiterer, and J. Verheyden (eds.), The Human Body in Death and Resurrection

Journal of Hebrew Scriptures - Volume 11 (2011) - Review

Nicklas, Tobias, Friedrich V. Reiterer, and Joseph Verheyden (eds.), The Human Body in Death and Resurrection (Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature, Yearbook 2009; Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 2009). Pp. x + 457. Hardcover. €98.00 $147.00. ISBN 978-3-11-020880-1.

The present volume contains papers from the meeting of the “International Society for Deuterocanonical and Cognate Literature” held at the University of Regensburg, Germany, December 3–6, 2008. The papers focus on the following questions: “What role does the human body, or rather the (sic) human corporeality play in dealing with death, but also the perception of death and resurrection? Also, which anthropologies are tied together with the respective practices and ideas?” (v).

The papers discuss the central topic within the context of texts of classical antiquity, ancient Christianity, and early Judaism. Because of the scope of this journal I will only discuss the ten papers that are embedded in the latter context.

The first essay of the volume by Claudia Setzer (“Resurrection of the Body in Early Judaism and Christianity,” 1–12) provides a handy introduction to the historical setting of the belief in bodily resurrection. In its conclusion the essay poses some questions for using these ideas in contemporary theology. The paper consists of three parts. In the first part (2–6), Setzer makes nine general remarks about the historical development of the belief in resurrection of the body. For a complete survey of the idea she refers to the monographs of George Nickelsburg and Alan Segal.[1] Setzer begins her overview with the Hebrew Bible and ends with Tertullian's apologetic works on the topic dating to the turn of the 3rd century c.e. The references to belief in resurrection in the Hebrew Bible do not display a chronological development nor are they described as a well-defined concept. Setzer opposes the idea that the growth of resurrection belief was a response to martyrdom: “Looking at the whole sweep of belief, martyrdom can be a stimulus to resurrection belief, but is neither its single nor primary cause” (4).

The remarks of Setzer's general historical overview function as an introduction to the second part of her article (6–9). This section explores the function of resurrection belief and its importance for Jewish and Christian communities that hold to it. It appears that the belief in resurrection of the body was an identity marker for divergent communities. The profession of the belief also became associated with various other ideas, such as the belief in God's providence, divine retribution, and the notion that bodily resurrection is proven by Scripture so only people who hold firmly to the idea interpret Scripture properly.

In the third and final part of her paper, Setzer addresses how the ideas outlined in the preceding sections might be used in contemporary theology and humanistic philosophy (9–12). However, our modern way of thinking addresses questions that did not seem to occupy ancient thinkers to the same extent: “[I]n retaining the importance of the body in resurrection, we cannot help but wonder ‘What kind of body?’, ‘Is it male?’, ‘Is it female?’, ‘Of which race is it?’, ‘Do former infirmities continue to exist?’”(9–10).

Despite the many differences between contemporary and ancient theology, Setzer thinks it is possible to retain and transform the earlier discussed aspects of resurrection belief “(…) in constructing a contemporary creation theology, retaining some of the fundamental principles of the ancient belief” (11).

Thomas Hieke 's paper (“Die Unreinheit der Leiche nach der Tora,” 43–65) is a fine analysis of the Torah regulations concerning ritual impurity generated through contact with a corpse. The paper introduces the topic with the observation that nowhere in the story of Abraham burying Sarah is it said that Abraham became ritually unclean. This is an interesting fact since it is known that Abraham lived as if he already knew and kept the Torah, in which it is clearly stated that contact with a corpse leads to ritual impurity. In the pages that follow Hieke explains how the ideas about ritual impurity of a dead body are addressed in the Torah. It is a bit disappointing, however, that the question about Abraham raised at the beginning remains unaddressed in the rest of the paper.

The paper contains three sections. The first section provides an overview of the textual evidence relating to the topic, which can be subdivided into three parts. The first part discusses the topic of ritual impurity of a dead body in relation to the priests and the high priest in Leviticus. The second part considers the ritual impurity of a dead body in Numbers. Hieke notes a) the purity of the camp in Num 5, 31 and 19; b) the case of the Nazirite in Num 6; c) the possibility of postponing the celebration of Passover in Num 9; d) the principle law about corpse contamination in Num 19; and 5) the case of war. The book of Deuteronomy is briefly discussed in the third part of the first section. From Deut 21:22–23 he concludes that the land may become defiled because of a dead body.

Hieke investigates the structure and interpretation of Num 19 in the second section of his paper. As stated earlier, Num 19 contains the principle law dealing with the question of proper conduct after contact with a dead person (the actual regulation is contained in Num 19:11–22). This text has a three-fold structure that appears first as a general statement and then in more detail. It contains three elements: a) impurity through touching a corpse (Num 19:11 // 19:14–16), b) purification ritual (Num 19:12 // 19:17–19), and c) sanctions for neglect of the purification rite (Num 19:13 // 19:20). After investigating the structure of Num 19, Hieke turns to the interpretation of the regulations in this text. He states that every culture developed various rites to deal with the uncertainty caused by the confrontation with a dead person. According to Hieke it is quite likely that Num 19 incorporates magical practices known from Israel and beyond. These magical practices were probably partly rationalized and integrated into the Priestly system of purity and holiness. Evidence for this statement is found in the offering of the red heifer in Num 19:1–10 and the fabrication of the mē niddā out of its ashes.

At the end of his paper, Hieke draws three systematic conclusions. The first two conclusions are related to the world of ideas behind the text. In discussing the need for a ritual to restore the normal life order after contact with a corpse, Hieke rightly pays attention to the question of whether the ritual was practiced everywhere and whether it was even possible to perform it. Connected with this question is the interesting observation that this ritual is especially important when the ideas of an afterlife or of God's power over death do not exist. From the elaborate description of rituals in Num 19 may also be drawn that the ritual intends to avoid any kind of superstition, most likely the kind associated with the cult of the dead. The last conclusion attempts to draw attention to the application of the biblical ideas about the impurity of a corpse to contemporary culture, arguing that respect be maintained for the mortal remains of human beings.

In her article “The Revivification of the Dry Bones: Ezekiel 37:1–14” (67–85) Karin Schöpflin provides new insights into the literary-historical development of Ezek 37:1–14 and its interpretation. The text describes the revivification of the dry bones, which could be interpreted either as a metaphorical reference to a return to the land of Israel for the people in exile, or literally to an eschatological expectation of the rising of the dead. Schöpflin suggests that the first interpretation belongs to the original historical-political context of the text. Nonetheless, the second interpretation became important in the process of Forstschreibung in the postexilic period.

After a short introduction, the paper focuses on the interpretation of Ezek 37:1–14 with special attention to various Hebrew terms relating to the human body and its animation (68–76). In relation to the first, Ezek 37:6–8 contains four nouns referring to the human body: עצם ,בשר ,גיד, and עור. Schöpflin notes that “[i]t is striking that all four nouns designating elements of the human body are only combined in Ezek 37 and Job 10:11” (72), although she does not state whether she thinks that there is a dependency of one text on the other. With respect to the animation of the human body, רוח is the key term. Without a רוח the material body is not thought to be alive.

Schöpflin observes that the two-stage restoration process is in analogy with the non-Priestly creation narrative of Gen 2:7, where the created human body becomes animated by the breath of life. Because in Ezek 37:1–10 the word of the prophet also plays an essential role (the bones are only restored to life after Ezekiel has conveyed God's message), an analogy with the Priestly narrative of Gen 1 also exists. Furthermore, “[t]he immediate fulfilment of the prophet's words reflects a rather late stage in the development of Old Testament concepts of prophecy; it would be dated after the late deuteronomist passage Jer 28:15–17” (75).

In the investigation of the compositional history of Ezek 37:1–14 Schöpflin discusses the inconsistency of the mention of unburied bones on the one hand and the opening of the graves on the other. According to Schöpflin Ezek 37:7–9 is an expansion and Ezek 37:10 is “an integral part of the original vision report (Ezek 37:1–5, 6b), or at least of the combination of vision and oracle (Ezek 37:11–13a)” (78). The earliest layer of Ezek 37:1–10 is 37:1–5, 6b, 10, 11–13a and was composed in the early postexilic period. This material has two sources of inspiration: the motif of lament found in Psalms and the oracle of doom in Jer 8:1–2. The earliest text was interpreted metaphorically as referring to the salvation of Israel. The Fortschreibung (which Schöpflin dates to the 3rd or first half of the 2nd century b.c.e.) perceived the revivification of the dry bones as a story about the eschatological resurrection of the dead.

The last part of the article discusses the vision attested by the Qumran fragments of Pseudo-Ezekiel (4Q385; 4Q386 1 I; 4Q388 7), in which the collective perspective of Ezek 37:1–14 is transformed into an individual one. This text was composed in the 2nd or 1st century b.c.e. and is discussed by Mladen Popović later on in the volume (221–42).

Beate Ego 's paper “Death and Burial in the Tobit Narration in the Context of the Old Testament Tradition” (87–103) is not an easy read, although this is not due to the topic Ego discusses. The paper was originally written in German, and it is likely that much of what Ego explained very clearly in her mother tongue was not transmitted comprehensibly in the English translation. Her argument is further complicated by various (mis)spellings of the names of the protagonist Tobit and his son Tobias at the end of the paper (cf. 94, 95, 97).

Throughout her paper, Ego points to corresponding ideas about death and burial in Tobit and parallels with earlier Old Testament literature. It is somewhat unsatisfactory that Ego pays little attention to the Greek context of the Tobit story. She briefly mentions the Antigone myth (89), but it is unclear what she intends with this reference. With respect to the prayer of Sarah in Tob 3:10 (93) the text speaks about Hades, but Ego does not explain this term in general, nor its connection with the Hebrew Sheol.

The main conclusion that can be drawn from this paper is that the topic of “death and burial” in the Tobit narrative functions as a Leitmotif that intends to illustrate the validity of the act-consequence-relation. Tobit gets himself into trouble by adhering to the Law and burying his fellow Israelites. In the end, however, he is rewarded for his deeds as he is healed from his blindness and his sons promise him a dignified burial.

In addition Ego formulates three other conclusions (99–101) after investigating six individual passages dealing with the topic of death and burial in the book of Tobit. Firstly, the importance of a dignified burial not only pervades the Tobit narration, but is an anthropological constant. In the case of Tobit, the burials also function to “(…) counterbalance the chaos of the Diaspora and symbolically restore the incorporation of Sennacherib's victims into the people of Israel” (99). Secondly, Ego notes specific burial customs: the form of the grave, purification rituals, and supplying the dead with food. Thirdly, the paper raises some possibilities on the idea of afterlife and resurrection of the dead. Ego concludes that the book displays a collective eschatology in the hymn to Jerusalem at the end of the book. The idea of individual resurrection of the dead or an immortal soul “(…) do not yet seem to be an issue in the Tobit narration” (100).

Barbara Schmitz (“Auferstehung und Epiphanie: Jenseits- und Körperkonzepte im Zweiten Makkabäerbuch,” 105–42) analyses the concepts of resurrection and epiphany that play an important role in 2 Maccabees. The paper consists of four sections. The first section (105–12) discusses the resurrection narrative in 2 Macc 7 and three shorter references to resurrection in 2 Macc 12:43–45, 14:46, and 15:12–16. From this analysis two conceptions of resurrection can be drawn. The first conception can be found in 2 Macc 7:9, 14 and 2 Macc 12:43–45 and is an eschatological heavenly exaltation of the dead. The second picture (2 Macc 7:11, 22–23, 27–29, and 2 Macc 14:46) is that of recreation and restitution of the body after death. “Beide Vorstellungen finden sich im letzten Kapitel vereinigt: Beim Traum des Judas erscheinen Onias und Jeremia sowohl als post mortem Erhöhte, als auch als körperlich Restituierte (2Makk 15,12-16)” (111). Schmitz argues that the idea of life after death was generated through the political circumstances as a way out of powerlessness. “Weil die Macht staatlicher Organe an der Grenze des Todes endet, eröffnet die Vorstellung von einem Leben nach dem Tod eine Freiheit, die zu neuen Handlungsspielräumen im Diesseits führt” (112).

The second section is devoted to the six descriptions of epiphany in 2 Macc 3:24–26, 33–34; 5:2–4; 10:29–30; 11:8; 12:22; and 15:11–16, 25–36 (112–32). Both resurrection and epiphany deal with crossing the boundary between life and death, although the two concepts operate in opposite directions. Resurrection texts focus on life after death, whereas the heavenly realm enters the present world in the case of epiphanies. Second Maccabees 2:21–22 formulates four categories of epiphany: provenance, addressees, goal, and theological motivation or outcomes of the events. In what follows, Schmitz considers the epiphanies in the light of these four categories. A chart on pp. 128–29 summarizes the results of Schmitz's analysis.

The third section (132–36) draws attention to the forms of human bodies in the context of resurrection and epiphany. Life after death is conceived of as corporal, and the actors in the epiphanies also have carefully constructed bodies. With respect to the latter it is interesting to note that all the individuals appearing in the epiphanies are male, and they are described as strong and beautiful soldiers. The only elderly male persons are Onias and Jeremiah. According to Schmitz this military ideal of strength and beauty is misleading and can only be correctly understood in light of the book's present-world protagonists: Eleazer, the mother of the seven sons, Razis, Onias, and Judas. Second Maccabees attempts to stress that “(…) die eigentliche Kraft Israels im Halten der Tora und im Festhalten am Tempel liegt—auch und gerade dann, wenn es bis zum Äußersten geht. Die Helden des Zweiten Makkabäerbuches sind die Standhaften, die Schwachen und die zu Tode Gefolterten” (136).

With this last statement Schmitz provides a great example of the way the concepts of resurrection and epiphany are connected. Although at first sight the two concepts may appear as two distinct categories, Schmitz clearly shows that they are actually complementary ways of thinking about the after- or other-world and that they should be understood in relation to one another. The interrelatedness is also expressed at the end of her paper. In the fourth and final section Schmitz investigates how the characteristics of epiphanies, postulated by the text itself, might also account for the resurrection texts in Maccabees and concludes that “(…) die von der Erzählung selbst etablierten Kategorien für die Epiphanien gerade auch von dem anderen Jenseitskonzept, der Auferstehung, erfüllt werden” (137).

In the first part of his paper “Erkenntnis und Tod in der antik-jüdischen Weisheit” (143–66) Stefan Beyerle discusses the anthropological problem of mythic versus rational understanding (“Erkenntnis”). He mentions the theses of Emma Brunner-Traut and Julian Jaynes as examples of two approaches to the differentiation between understanding and myth in antiquity. Brunner-Traut uses the term “aspective apperception” to describe the ancient Egyptian mindset. Julian Jaynes argues that before human perception changed to consciousness, human beings had a bicameral soul. “Das impliziert, dass der Mensch einmal unbewusst dem Göttlichen folgte, das ihm halluzinatorisch, visuell-visionär und im Hören gegenwärtig war” (147). Beyerle then investigates the thesis postulated by Jaynes—that the Old Testament bears witness to the change from bicamerality to consciousness—in the context of Qoheleth and the Wisdom of Solomon.

In the second part of his paper Beyerle uses the book of Qoheleth as an example to illustrate the problem of understanding. Because the book differentiates between human beings on one side and God on the other it is clear that the idea of human consciousness is dawning. The overview demonstrates that Qoheleth occupies an intermediate position between the divine experience of the older wisdom tradition and the hope of revelation found in later apocalypticism. All through Qohelet the notion of understanding is based upon experiences from the human perception of the world, but the boundaries of this understanding are related to God. This idea becomes apparent in the discussion of Qoh 7:23–29 in the last part of this section.

The Wisdom of Solomon, the book which Beyerle discusses in the third part of his paper, witnesses a new perspective in wisdom literature with respect to the idea of understanding. Beyerle speaks of an “Eschatologisierung” or “Apokalyptisierung” of the later wisdom tradition (159), in which the empirical-inductive approach is no longer applicable. A new path to understanding is divine revelation. However, the Wisdom of Solomon shows that wisdom is more than revelation alone since it is related to the resurrection of the just. “Das Streben nach weisheitlicher Erkenntnis ist vergeblich, weil doch am Ende ‘Frevler’ wie ‘Gerechte’ sterben. Doch sind in Wirklichkeit die ‘Gerechten’ nur scheinbar tot” (161).

Friedrich Reiterer begins his paper “Die Vorstellung vom Tod und den Toten nach Ben Sira” (167–204) with some basic methodological statements, namely that his investigation is based on the Greek version of Ben Sira, which implies that it is actually the work of Ben Sira's grandson. The author not only translated the Hebrew version, but also revised the text so as to adjust it to his Hellenistic audience. Reiterer further attempts to stress that Ben Sira is deliberately polyphonic and that its particular formulations make identifying a clear subdivisions of the material a difficult undertaking. What seems impossible for Ben Sira, however, is not true for the present paper. It consists of seven units (1. Terminological Material; 2. Death; 3. Hades; 4. Dying, 5. The Utmost End; 6. The Deceased; 7. Summary), some of which are subdivided into smaller sections, which sometimes are split up again. Unfortunately, Reiterer's overly systematized presentation does not result in a convenient survey. In the context of the present volume, the most important conclusions seem to be that Ben Sira—influenced by his Alexandrine-Hellenistic environment—deals with death in a very distant manner. Death is inevitable; it just happens to a person, whether one expects it or not. However, death is probably not conceived of as the absolute end for human beings, although Ben Sira is not very explicit about the events after death.

In his paper “Afterlife in Jubilees: Through a Covenantal Prism” (205–19) Richard J. Bautch offers an interesting new perspective on the conception of life after death in a this-worldly setting.

The scholarly consensus has been that Jub. 23:29–32 is not a reference to bodily resurrection or physical immortality but to a more general salvation based upon the Deuteronomistic pattern of history. Already at the very beginning of his paper Bautch states that “(…) there are no sure grounds for overturning the consensus view” (206). Yet, at the same time he proposes that Jub. 23:29–32 may contain an underlying notion of life after death through the “covenantal dimension” of the passage (206–7).

The focus of the paper is on explaining how the conception of a this-worldly afterlife can be connected to the notion of life after death. Firstly, the passage's context within Jub. 23:9-31 in relation to the Deuteronomistic pattern of history is explored (209–11). Then Bautch focuses on the text of Jub. 23:20–31 and Jubilees' conception of covenant (211–18).

For Jubilees there is only one covenant. This covenant already existed before creation and will continue to exist beyond the end of time. With respect to the latter, Bautch states that it is “(…) the eschaton, which is coterminous with the afterlife of the blessed and righteous who appear in the closing verses of Jubilees 23” (207).

This statement is a little confusing because what Bautch means is that afterlife in Jubilees is this-worldly: there is no actual rising of deceased human beings. At the end of his paper this idea is summarized as: “To live on in the memories of family constitutes the this-worldly eschaton that Jubilees celebrates”(218).

Mladen Popović (“Bones, Bodies and Resurrection in the Dead Sea Scrolls,” 221–42) discusses the theme of resurrection of the human body in four Qumran texts “(…) that say, may say, or could be expected to say something about the human body in death, afterlife and resurrection” (221). After discussing the textual witnesses on the topic (the War Scroll, the Hodayot, the Messianic Apocalypse [4Q521] and three Pseudo-Ezekiel manuscripts [4Q385, 4Q386, and 4Q388]) Popović briefly notes the material evidence of the cemetery and the tombs of the Qumran settlement.

The Dead Sea Scrolls contain little information about the resurrection of the dead. This does not mean that they were originally silent about it, but unfortunately texts have not been preserved in their entirety.

With respect to the War Scroll, Popović discusses what happened to the bodies of those slain in battle. It can be drawn from various passages of the War Scroll that dead enemies were sometimes left unburied, stripped for spoil, and of course regarded as sources of impurity (223). Although it is said that the sons of darkness are damned, the War Scroll does not mention the form of slain bodies in “(…) the dark places of Abbadon and in the places of destruction of Sheol (1QM 14:17; 4Q491 8–10 14–17)” (224).

Because being left unburied was regarded as a terrible fate, Popović rightly concludes that the slain sons of light would probably have been buried. It remains, however, highly remarkable that the War Scroll is not specific about the fate of the slain sons of light. Popović does not clearly elaborate on the fate of righteous warriors killed in the battle. Yet, at the end of the War Scroll section he tentatively suggests that the scroll contained some kind of belief in the revivification of dead warriors (225–26). Perhaps his proposals were already too uncertain to warrant taking a further step and concluding that if slain righteous warriors were only temporarily dead, then they might not need to be buried in the first place.

With respect to the Hodayot Popović notes that the few references to resurrection of the dead can be interpreted in two ways. Firstly, it is possible to interpret the resurrection of the dead as a metaphorical description of a person's new life after joining the Qumran community. Secondly, it can also be a literal reference to a future eschatological event. Popović agrees with Brooke that these two approaches need not exclude one another (229). On the whole, the Hodayot offer little information on the topic of bodily resurrection. “The Hodayot do not describe what happens to the human body when a person actually dies. They also do not speak in concrete terms about life after death of the body or the transformed state of the body” (228).

The Messianic Apocalypse (4Q521) and three Pseudo-Ezekiel manuscripts (4Q385, 4Q386, and 4Q388) contain a little additional information on the topic. The first text clearly refers to the revivification of dead bodies. The form of these bodies after they have been resurrected remains unclear. This kind of information is contained in the three Pseudo-Ezekiel fragments, which are a reworking of Ezekiel's vision of the dry bones. Popović argues against Johannes Tromp, who is of the opinion that the idea of carnal resurrection is a second century c.e. Christian invention.[2]

It is interesting to compare Popović's discussion on pp. 234–36 about Pseudo-Ezekiel's transformation of the vision of the revivification of the dry bones in Ezek 37:1–14 with Karin Schöpflin's essay on this matter earlier in this volume (67–85). Although Popović does not pay attention to the multi-layered character of the text pointed out so clearly by Schöpflin, Popović's interpretation of the Pseudo-Ezekiel fragments is very adequate. He concludes that “(…) the bones, joints, sinews and skin in Pseudo-Ezekiel may be taken as concrete references to the bodies of righteous ones who are buried and await resurrection in the near future” (236).

At the end of his paper, Popović briefly mentions the archaeological remains of the cemetery in Qumran as a material source of information about the idea of bodily resurrection. He concludes—against Milik and Puech—that the Qumran cemetery does not offer any reliable information that might contribute to our understanding of the role played by resurrection in the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Alan J. Avery-Peck (“Resurrection of the Body in Early Rabbinic Judaism,” 243–66) clearly outlines that early rabbinic Judaism had no systematic doctrine or well-developed ideas about life after death, resurrection, or the world to come. This seems contradictory since the rabbis at the same time leave no doubt that the belief in resurrection and post-mortem existence is an essential aspect of Judaism. The article does not provide any answers to bridge the gap between these contradictory elements, but it does an excellent job of bringing these inconsistencies into the spotlight.

With respect to the theme of the world to come and resurrection, Avery-Peck cites m. Sanh. 10:1 and m. ’Abot 4:16–17. These texts share the idea that the life in this world is more important than the life to come. Therefore, pious Jews should always live according to the laws of the Torah. “The greatest way to experience life is through commitment to the norms and practice set out in the law: penitence and good deeds. What we do in this world is in this way overwhelmingly better than the coming one” (250).

This concern is also found in texts dealing with life after death. Avery-Peck points at the contradictory ideas found in the Babylonian Talmud about post-mortem existence of the body and of the soul (b. Ber. 18 a–b; b. Šabb. 152b–153a;, and b. Yebam. 96b–97a). He explains the absence of a systematic treatment of this topic by stating that the rabbis were “(…) more concerned with the lessons death can teach about how we are to lead our lives than with the mechanics of an afterlife” (259).

Although profound theological reflections on resurrection belief are lacking in early rabbinic Judaism, it seems that it was quite important to prove how resurrection can be possible. Examples of these theories can be found in b. Sanh. 90b–91a, Pesiq. Rab. 1:6 and Lev. Rab. IV:V.

But these theories, again, are subjugated to the one central concern of the rabbis articulated over and over again by Avery-Peck: that what really counts is how one lives one's life in the present world.

Anke Dorman, University of Zurich

[1] G. E. W. Nickelsburg, Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism (HTS, 26; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1972), and A. Segal, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion (New York: Doubleday, 2004). reference

[2] J. Tromp, “Can These Bones Live? Ezekiel 37:1–14 and Eschatological Resurection,” H. de Jonge and J. Tromp (eds.), The Book of Ezekiel and its Influence (Aldershot, Ashgate: 2007), 61–78. reference