Hellenistic Jewish Eschatology

  January 26, 2022   Read time 1 min
Hellenistic Jewish Eschatology
The term "olam ha-ba" (“the world to come”), in contrast to Eolam ha-zeh (“this world”), first appears in the Hebrew Apocalypse of Enoch (71:15), a work composed between 164 and 105 BCE, and throughout the Hellenistic period notions of an eschatological judgment and resurrection in the apocalyptic tradition begun with the Book of Daniel continued.

To be distinguished from this eschatological tradition is the conception of the immortality of the soul that was introduced into Diaspora Judaism under the influence of Greco-Roman culture. George Foot Moore succinctly characterized the difference between the two ideas of the afterlife: on the one side [i.e., immortality] the dualism of body and soul, on the other [i.e., resurrection] the unity of man, soul and body. To the one the final liberation of the soul from the body, its prison-house or sepulchre, was the very meaning and worth of immortality; to the other the reunion of soul and body to live again in the completeness of man’s nature.

The idea of immortality initially appears in Hellenistic Jewish literature in the Wisdom of Solomon (3:1–10, 5:15–16) and is more extensively developed in the writings of Philo Judaeus (d. 45–50 CE), who describes how the souls of the righteous return after death to their native home in heaven— or, in the case of rare individuals like the patriarchs, to the intelligible world of the ideas (Allegorical Interpretation 1.105–108; On Sacrifice 2.5). Although Philo’s views were immensely influential in early Christian philosophy, they had no impact upon rabbinic Jewish thought as it developed in the subsequent centuries.

Belief in the resurrection of the dead is the cornerstone of rabbinic eschatology. Josephus Flavius (Jewish Antiquities 18.13–18; The Jewish War 2.154–165) and the Acts of the Apostles (23:6–9) both attribute such belief to the Pharisees, the rabbis’ predecessors before 70 CE, and in one of the few dogmatic statements about the afterlife that exist in all rabbinic literature, the Mishnah explicitly states: “All Israel has a portion in the world-to-come” except “one who says, ‘There is no resurrection of the dead’” (San. 10.1).

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