Sunday, July 20, 2008

RESURRECTION: THE POWER OF GOD FOR CHRISTIANS AND JEWS by Kevin J. Madigan and Jon D. Levenson

Our rabbi gave Mr Neff a copy of Resurrection: The Power of God for Christians and Jews by Kevin J. Madigan and Jon D. Levenson. It's a fine study of the resurrection of the body, particularly in the Hebrew Bible and subsequent rabbinic teachings.

Here are a couple of gems about the unity of the person as taught by Jews and Christians alike during the early centuries of the common era:

Whatever notions of the soul circulated in ancient Judaism, in rabbinic theology God was not thought to have fulfilled his promises until the whole person returned, body included. Like death, a disembodied existence was deemed to be other than the last word, for the person is not 'the ghost in the machine' (that is, the body) but rather a unity of body and soul. (204)


Both Tertullian and Irenaeus go to some pains to argue against a view of salvation that is understood strictly in terms of the survival or salvation of the soul.... As the orthodox saw it, the texture of humanity was a seamless, indivisible work of art, composed of flesh and soul--very much like the view of the rabbis we examined in the previous chapter. God will reward the blessed, body and soul. . . . Only if the whole person, both elements of which were created by God, were raised could humanity be redeemed and justice achieved. (233)
And here's a thought-provoking observation about why so many contemporary people do not believe in a literal resurrection of the body:

The major change has been widespread skepticism about the one who performs the expected resurrection--the personal, supernatural God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who intervenes in the course of human and natural events and brings about results that are otherwise impossible. The tendency among many modern people ... has been either to doubt all claims of the existence of God or to redefine God so that the word refers to human ideals and feelings alone and not to the source of miraculous acts and providential guidance. In short, in the modern world, the idea of a God who does things has become highly problematic. And whatever else one may say about a God who does not do anything, one thing is sure: he does not resurrect the dead. (215)
The idea of a physical resurrection is itself being resurrected, however. Writing in the Washington Post last Easter weekend (March 22), Rachel Zoll quotes Levenson and Madigan as well as Bishop N.T. Wright, author of The Resurrection of the Son of God (2003) as well as the recently published Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church.

What do these three theologians--an American Jew, an Irish-American Catholic, and a bishop of the Church of England--have in common? All three, according to Zoll, "have been challenging the idea, part of Greek philosophy and popular now, that resurrection for Jews and the followers of Jesus is simply the survival of an individual's soul in the hereafter. The scholars say resurrection occurs for the whole person--body and soul."

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