Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Second Chance for Korah, Persian Dualism

1. Jacob Neusner, Invitation to Midrash: The Workings of Rabbinic Bible Interpretation (Atlanta: Scholars, 1998) 241-243.

Neusner quotes Talmud Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 10:4. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud) dates to around 400 C.E.

The discussion in Sanhedrin 10:4 concerns whether or not the generation of the wilderness will enter the World to Come.

The arguments for the "no" side:

Numbers 14:35 states, "In this wilderness they shall be consumed and there they shall die." Because many rabbis didn't believe God was redundant, they argued that "they shall be consumed" and "there they shall die" had to refer to two separate things. According to one of the rabbis, "they shall be consumed" refers to the fate of the wilderness generation in this world, whereas "there they shall die" is talking about their fate in the World to Come. The same goes for Numbers 16:33, which states that "the earth closed over [the party of Korah], and they perished from the midst of assembly." Again, many rabbis didn't believe God would be redundant, so they maintained that "the earth closed over them" refers to what happened to the sons of Korah in this world, whereas "and they perished from the midst of the assembly" concerns their fate in the World to Come. Add to that Psalm 95:11's solemn declaration that the wilderness generation will not enter God's rest, and you have a case that it won't inherit a place in the World to Come.

The arguments for the "yes" side:

Isaiah 27:13 prophesies: "And in that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out of the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem." For Rabbi, those "lost in the land of Assyria" refer to the lost ten tribes, while "those who were driven out of the land of Egypt" are the wilderness generation, who left Egypt at the Exodus.

Psalm 119:176 is also cited: "I have gone away like a lost sheep; seek thy servant and do not forget thy commandments." A rabbi applies this to God searching for the wilderness generation, on the basis of a common word between Numbers 16:33 and Psalm 119:176: avad. Numbers 16:33 uses that word to say that Korah and his party "perished," whereas Psalm 119:176 uses it to mean "lost." Because the same word appears in both verses, a rabbi connects them, concluding that God will seek and save lost Korah and his party.

The question is then asked: Who will pray for Korah and his men so that they'll enter the World to Come? Rabbi Samuel bar Nahman answers "Moses" because Moses in Deuteronomy 33:6 asks God to preserve and bless Reuben, the tribe of some prominent people in Korah's revolt (Numbers 16:1). Rabbi Joshua b. Levi answers "Hannah": "Thus did the party of Korach sink ever downward, until Hannah went and prayed for them and said, The Lord kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up (1 Sam 2:6)." Hannah prays that God might resurrect the sinful party of Korah whom God killed, allowing them to enter the World to Come.

This reminds me of certain features of Armstrongite doctrine: a chance to be saved in the afterlife, applying prophecies about Israel's restoration to that concept, and annihilation of the wicked. Note to self: Tosefta Sanhedrin 13 is an extensive discussion of who will be barred from the World to Come.

2. Alan F. Segal, Two Powers in Heaven: Early Rabbinic Reports About Christianity and Gnosticism (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1977) 19.

...dualism cannot be ruled out completely as a characteristic of early Persian religion. A fragment of Aristotle's peri philosophias cited by Diogenes Laertius reports that the Magi believed in two opposing moral principles.

The most I could find was the following quote of Diogenes Laertius Proem I:8 (6), according to D. Ross' translation:

Aristotle in the first book of his work On Philosophy says that the Magi are more ancient even than the Egyptians, and that according to them there are two first principles, a good spirit and an evil spirit, one called Zeus and Oromasdes, the other Hades and Areimanius.

According to Segal, Isaiah 45:7 may very well be a polemic against Persian dualism: "I form light and create darkness, make weal and create woe, I, YHWH, do all these things." Segal states that Second Isaiah's statement here departs from Genesis 1, which affirms that God created light, but not darkness.

What's at stake for Second Isaiah was probably the power of God: He wanted to portray God as totally in control, meaning God didn't have to fight evil forces to accomplish his purposes. Israel suffered because she sinned and God was punishing her, not because an evil force happened to be winning at the moment.

I'm not sure if the Persians believed that good and evil would always strive, with neither emerging as a clear winner. C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity appeared to criticize dualism on these grounds, assuming that it held this view. Mary Boyce's History of Zoroastrianism (p. 281) says, however, that Zoroastrianism thought the good God Ahura Mazda would one day purge the world of imperfection. Zoroastrian dualism overlaps with Christianity, which maintains that good battles evil but that good will eventually triumph. Of course, Armstrongites and other Christians think God doesn't really fight Satan right now but lets him get away with a lot, as God waits for the day when God will intervene in human history and defeat evil once and for all. This view preserves God's opposition to evil as well as his omnipotence and sovereignty.

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