Thursday, April 19, 2012

B.T. Sanhedrin 90b and the Resurrection

I finished Brad Young's Paul the Jewish Theologian.

On page 125, Young quotes Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 90b. What's in the brackets is from Young:

"The Sadducees [minim; literally, heretics] asked Rabban Gamaliel, 'How do you prove that the Holy One, blessed be He, will resurrect the dead?' He answered, 'From the Torah, from the Prophets, and from the Writings. From the Torah: it is written, 'And the LORD said to Moses, 'Behold you are about to sleep with your fathers; but then [you] will rise [again]'' (Deut. 31:16, according to the Pharisaic interpretation!).' 'But perhaps,' they argued, 'the text reads, 'and they shall rise up'.' [But Rabban Gamaliel countered], 'Also from the Prophets: as it is written, 'Thy dead shall live, their bodies shall rise. O dwellers of the dust, awake and sing for joy! For thy dew is a dew of light, and on the land of the shades thou wilt let it fall'' (Isa. 26:19). [The Sadducees retorted,] 'Perhaps this is referring to the dead who were resurrected in Ezekiel?' [Rabban Gamaliel, however, argued, 'The resurrection is] also taught in the Writings, as it is written: 'and your palate like the best wine that goes down smoothly, making the lips of sleepers to speak [or, in Pharisaic interpretation, 'the sleepers' may be understood as 'the deceased']' (Song of Songs 7:9)."

I have a variety of reactions:

1. The quotation of Deuteronomy 31:16 puzzles me because, in both the MT and also the LXX, it reads (in my translation), "Behold, you're sleeping with your fathers, and this people will rise up and will act as a harlot after the foreign gods", etc. How the Pharisees concluded that this passage is about Moses rising from the dead, I have no idea.

2. Rabban Gamaliel maintains that Moses will rise from the dead. A while back, I read in the IVP Bible Background Commentary for the New Testament that there was a Jewish belief (whether it was Second Temple or rabbinic, I do not remember) that the sinful generation of the wilderness during the time of Moses would not enter the World to Come. After all, it was told that it would not see the Promised Land and God's rest, right (Numbers 14:30; Psalm 95:11)? That curse carries over into the afterlife, right? Well, Moses, too, was told that he wouldn't enter the Promised Land (Numbers 20), so why will he be resurrected?

I don't remember what the IVP Bible Background Commentary's source was, if it even referred to one. The justification that I just made for the position that the wilderness generation would not enter the World to Come was something that I came up with, and it may not be the rabbis' justification. In Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:3, it is argued that the spies will not enter the World to Come on account of a redundancy in the text (Numbers 14:37). Regarding the wilderness generation, Rabbi Akiba argues on the basis of Numbers 14:35 ("In this wilderness they shall be consumed and there they shall die") that the wilderness generation will not even rise from the dead and experience post-mortem judgment. Rabbi Eliezer, however, refers to Psalm 50:5: "Gather my saints together unto me, those that made a covenant with me by sacrifice." Is Rabbi Eliezer arguing here that the wilderness generation will enter the World to Come?

As I look at Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:10-11, I see more detail. Numbers 14:35 is said to exclude the wilderness generation from the World to Come due to its apparent redundancy: "they shall be consumed" refers to this world, and "there they shall die" applies to the World to Come. Akiba also quotes Psalm 95:11, which says that the wilderness generation will not enter God's rest, so I was not off my rocker to speculate that Psalm 95:11 played some role in the rabbinic position that the wilderness generation would not enter the World to Come. Regarding Eliezer's use of Psalm 50:5, he is indeed appealing to it to argue that the wilderness generation will have a place in the World to Come. Moreover, in Tosefta Sanhedrin 13:11, we read the idea that God can retract what God swore in his wrath. Perhaps that's how some could conclude that the wilderness generation and also Moses would enter the Promised Land after their resurrection: God changed his mind.

3. Young is concluding that the minim are the Sadducees, perhaps because the minim in this passage are disputing the resurrection, as the Sadducees did. If they are the Sadducees, what is interesting is that the Sadducees in this passage appear to accept the authority of books outside of the Torah, something that many scholars in the past have said that the Sadducees did not do. After all, Rabban Gamaliel quotes Isaiah 26:19, and, rather than dismissing the authority of that passage, the Sadducee offers an alternative interpretation of it, by referring to Ezekiel.

4. I'm curious as to what the Sadducees (assuming they are the minim in question) meant when they appealed to the dead who were resurrected in Ezekiel to counteract Rabban Gamaliel's argument from Isaiah 26:19. Were the Sadducees like many modern biblical scholars, who see the resurrection in Ezekiel and Isaiah 26:19 as a resurrection of a nation (Israel) rather than a resurrection of individuals? Or are they saying that only a particular generation of Israelites will rise from the dead, not all people?

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