Your point about the Sadducees is correct, but it is part of the evidence I mentioned.  They were, by and large, doctrinally conservative, and rejected "new-fangled' ideas like life after death.  The ideological mavericks, the Pharisees, promoted the idea.  But for the Sadducees it was precisely because of the virtual absence of the idea in the canonical scriptures that it was rejected.  The remark you mention, that the "Sadducees reject the resurrection," is, remember, from the NT.  In other words, even as late as the time of the NT, the idea of life after death was still not officially accepted in Judaism (the Sadducees were the priestly class, serving in the Temple; the Pharisees were, by and large, pious laity.)

The only clear appearance of life after death in the Hebrew Bible is in Daniel (generally dated around 180-170 BCE).  Clearer indications of it can be found in later writings, but they are part of the "deuterocanon" (works considered canonical by Roman Catholics and Orthodox, but not by Jews and the churches of the Reformation), specifically 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees (late second century), and Wisdom (late first century BCE).  The idea of an afterlife seems to have developed in Judaism in response to an irresolvable theological conundrum.  Antiochus IV Epiphanes (early second century) martyred Jews precisely for their fidelity to the Law.  That had never happened before.  Earlier "persecutions" (by Assyrians, Babylonians, etc.) were essentially political; theology could cope with them because people who suffered may have been suffering for hidden sin, or for inherited sin.  But when one is killed precisely for obedience to divine Law, then this life is demonstrably not just.  Life after death (in various forms) was a way of resolving the dilemma:  the exceptionally righteous would be rewarded after death; or, the exceptionally righteous and the exceptionally wicked would be rewarded/punished after death; or, all the righteous would be rewarded after death; or, all the righteous and all the wicked would be rewarded/punished after death.  (All those forms of "life after death" seem to have been held by somebody or other in those times.)

None of this involves "resurrection."  All it involves is some form of continued personal existence after death.  The idea of "resurrection" (which by definition includes a body, since something has to "rise"!) as a particular form of belief in life after death gets into other questions as well--ones that I don't consider myself well enough versed in to elaborate on (my expertise gets thin around 537 BCE...).  But note that ideas of inferno, purgatory, and the now vacated limbo are all part of a Christian attempt to conceptualize life after death, and that that attempt already assumes bodily resurrection, since Christian belief is rooted in a more fundamental belief in Christ's "resurrection," which the texts base on two phenomena: the discovery of the empty tomb, and the subsequent encounters disciples claimed to have had with a living, physically tangible Lord.  Other traditions, including Judaism from the turn of the era, have quite different conceptualizations.  (And even the NT idea of "resurrection" is quite different from our western, Hellenized dichotomy of "body" and "soul.")

None of this, of course, is intended as an argument about what Eliot thought or should have thought.  It is based on biblical and theological scholarship from throughout the twentieth century, especially the later decades.  My only point, as I said before, is to suggest a more accurate nuancing of some theological assertions.


On Wednesday, October 23, 2013 6:03 PM, P <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Well, there is significant scholarship, reinforced by a pretty clear statement by Eliot himself, that the notes are something of a put on, in answer to the publisher's need to make it bigger for publication. Not that much of it isn't correct. So either way, your comment is applicable.

I accept all of your analysis, basically because my knowledge is pretty primary. I am certainly accepting of many different forms of after life, eg. inferno, purgatorio, and even limbo (although I believe that one is itself in limbo, if you get my drift).

If the idea of resurrection is primarily Christian but includes a few centuries BC, then how does one indicate that those centuries are included. Saying Christian or New Testament would I suspect make a lot of people think the old or Hebrew Testament is deliberately excluded, when in fact its sources are to some extent pre-Christian. Cf the Sadduces' overt denial of the resurrection. What prompted their denial?

Being an amateur in this area I am more than happy to be corrected.
Eliot was a serious student of Christian scholarship, so a highly knowledgeable participant's contributions are really appreciated here.

Peter M.

Jerome Walsh <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I hope I did not imply that Eliot's notes should not be taken seriously!  They are certainly an important witness to what he thought.  What they are not, is a witness to the best of current biblical scholarship.  My comment was intended only to nuance the words "in their Biblical context."  In the popular understanding of their Biblical context (which, in Eliot's time, would probably have been the common understanding even among biblical scholars, except at the cutting edge of biblical scholarship), the statement is true.  In the current scholarly understanding of their biblical context, it is not.

Could the passage be later than the sixth-century prophet?  Yes, of course.  We have no written copies of the book called "Ezekiel" from before the first or second century BC, so we cannot rule out the theoretical possibility of a gloss.  However, there is no evidence at all to support such a conjecture, and much evidence against it.  (I think I'm supposed to say here, "consult the commentaries for further information"!)

It is true that a belief in life after death was not unknown in the ancient world (the pyramids are a pretty imposing demonstration of that).  There is no evidence I'm aware of, however, to suggest that Israel had a shred of such a belief before the second century.  And, just to inject a theological technicality, "resurrection" is not a synonym for "life after death."  It is one form that belief in personal existence beyond death takes, but not the only form.  Ancient Egypt certainly did not believe in "resurrection."  It did believe, in differing ways and at differing epochs, in "life after death" for one, or some, or many, or (perhaps sometimes) all, of its people.

What term would be more accurate than "biblical"?  Perhaps "Christian," or "New Testament," since a belief in "resurrection" is generally thought to be essential to Christian belief as formulated in the New Testament.  (Though there are no few Christian theologians who would prefer metaphors other than "resurrection" for afterlife.) 

Jerry Walsh

On Wednesday, October 23, 2013 2:22 PM, P <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
Perhaps your implication is that the passage involved is too recent to have been Ezeckiel's. Fine.

If the word "Biblical" is too broad, what would be a more precise word?
P. M.

P <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Perhaps more evidence that Eliot's notes are not to be taken too seriously. In fact the Ez. passage explains itself as being analogical.
Still the image of bones coming back to life does suggest that the possibility of resurrection was not unheard of in Ez.'s time.

Jerome Walsh <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

That is the common, but unhistorical, reading of the "dry bones," and may well have been Eliot's take on the "dry bones" passage (Ezek 37:1-14).  Christian exegesis, starting from the Christian belief in life after death, almost inevitably reads the whole Old Testament as if that idea were present throughout.  Historically, however, it is not; it seems to make its first appearance in Israelite/Jewish thought in the second century BC (Ezekiel lived four centuries earlier).  Ezekiel's "dry bones" is a reference to the Israelites exiled in Babylon, and their "resurrection" is his anticipation of the eventual restoration of an Israelite polity after the "death" of the Babylonian Exile.

Jerry Walsh

On Wednesday, October 23, 2013 11:21 AM, P <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
In their Biblical context they are connected with resurrection. See Eliot's notes.

P. M.

Chokh Raj <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I wonder if the image of 'dry bones' in Eliot's poetry has been explicated enough. It seems like a state of sublimation reached after the dross of 'personality' has been shed and a state is reached which is, to use a phrase from the Bhagavad Gita, 'beyond the gunas', i.e. beyond the qualities we associate with the earthly self. It is an arrival at a state of impersonality, if you like. The process of sublimation and the accruing state are described at some length in section II of  'Ash-Wednesday'. Here's a link to the poem: