Official Blog of the Bishop of Durham

Archive for the ‘Death’ Category

Jewish and Greek Afterlife – No Great Difference

Posted by NT Wrong on December 10, 2008

Is immortality exclusively a Greek concept and bodily resurrection exclusively a Jewish concept? No. There’s not such a great separation between Jewish and Greek conceptions of the afterlife according to an article by Stephen J. Bedard in the latest issue of the Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism.

“Traditionally Greek thought has been put in the category of the immortal soul and Jewish thought in the category of a bodily resurrection. However, this oversimplification disguises the true picture. In reality, both Greek and Jewish writings express both an immortal soul and some kind of transformation of the body or at least a second stage of afterlife.”
– Stephen J. Bedard, ‘Hellenistic Influence on the Idea of Resurrection in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 174-189, 188.

Bedard discusses Greek ideas of a two-stage afterlife in the Platonic Myth of Er, or what N. T. Wright refers to as “life after life after death”. He then discusses the Egyptian myth of the bodily resurrection of Osiris, opposing those who would reject its description as bodily resurrection. Bedard then discusses Greek concept of apotheosis, relating them to angelic transformation in Daniel. Lastly, he provides a couple of examples where Greek concepts influenced Jewish literature.

The article thus contains some good counterexamples to the oversimplification of the concept of Jewish/Christian “resurrection” that appears in many apologetic works of New Testament scholarship. So why has there been such a concerted effort to pretend that the early Christian conceptions of resurrection were unique? Bedard provided his own answer towards the end of his article:

“Despite the best effort of scholars such as N. T. Wright, foreign influence on Jewish theological development cannot be denied… The only reason to deny Greek influence, as Wright attempts to do, is the mistaken notion that Jewish equals truth and Greek equals falsehood.”
– Stephen J. Bedard, ‘Hellenistic Influence on the Idea of Resurrection in Jewish Apocalyptic Literature.’ Journal of Greco-Roman Christianity and Judaism 5 (2008): 174-189, 189.

Spotted on Ekaterini’s informative blog.

Posted in Death, Early Jewish literature, Greek texts, Resurrection | 4 Comments »

The Kuttamuwa Inscription

Posted by NT Wrong on November 24, 2008

At SBL yesterday, Dennis Pardee delivered a paper on the 8th-century stone slab found recently during the new dig at Zincirli.

Jim Getz provides a copy of Pardee’s initial transcription of the mortuary slab — although note the difficulty in distinguishing dalet (/d/) and resh (/r/) in the words on the slab, particularly because there’s only a small amount of local vocabulary known. Here’s a Zincirli dalet and resh from one of Frank Cross’s tables, to illustrate the difficulty in distinguishing the two letters, even at the best of times:

dalet_zincirli resh_zincirli

The phrase bsyr/d.ʿlmy was being translated as “eternal chamber”. But on the basis of KAI 214, also from Zincirli, perhaps ‘lmy is spatial rather than temporal. In KAI 214, ‘lm means “tomb, grave” (“I erected this statue for Hadad in my tomb”; l. 1): so, “chamber of my grave”? Another comparison is Deir ‘alla ii 7: mškby ˁmlyk (“your eternal bedding”? or “the bed of your grave”?). I’m just wondering out loud.

The death/sleep extended metaphor is relevant for interpreting Og’s “bed”/”sarcophagus” (Deut 3.11).

Posted in Archaeology, Death, Neo-Hittite | Comments Off on The Kuttamuwa Inscription

Kispum Funerary Rites from Neo-Hittite Sam’al to Boston

Posted by NT Wrong on November 20, 2008

This 8th-century-BC stone slab was recently discovered on the Anatolian-Syrian border by archaeologists, at Zincirli, the site of the ancient city of Sam’al. Written on the slab, in a Northwest Semitic language and Phoenician script, is a declaration ‘by the deceased’ that his soul resides in the slab, and that he should be fed in a ‘feast’ (ḥgg), along with Hadad and Shamash.

“The inscription reads in part: “I, Kuttamuwa, servant of Panamuwa, am the one who oversaw the production of this stele for myself while still living. I placed it in an eternal chamber(?) and established a feast at this chamber(?): a bull for [the storm-god] Hadad, … a ram for [the sun-god] Shamash, … and a ram for my soul that is in this stele. …” It was written in a script derived from the Phoenician alphabet and in a local West Semitic dialect similar to Aramaic and Hebrew. It is of keen interest to linguists as well as biblical scholars and religious historians because it comes from a kingdom contemporary with ancient Israel that shared a similar language and cultural features.”

This is fascinating — an institution of a kispum-like funerary ritual involving those two Levantine deities most associated with caring for the dead, Baal (Hadad) and Shamash/Shapash. Provision is made for both the deceased and the gods to be ritually fed together! Sam’al is a little further to the north of Ugarit, from which we get similar kispum-like funerary rituals such as those narrated in texts such as KTU 1.20-22, 1.161. For a biblical marzeaḥ, see Jer 16.5-8. The eighth-century dating establishes temporal continuity with the Cisjordan area, and some degree of continuity in funerary rites from Ugarit (1200 BC).

It is reported that Kuttamuwa is not himself a royal figure, but seems instead to be a royal official. Yet, he is pictured with seat and footstool and with a king’s hat. Is this Kulamuwa, the successor of Panamuwa? Or was he a separate figure, perhaps a priest? A similar kispum-like ritual is described in KAI 214 (‘The Hadad Inscription’), where the descendant of Panamuwa is instructed to provide food and drink for Panamuwa, along with El, Hadad, Shamash and Rakib-El.

But for those of us in Boston, there’s more, care of Dennis Pardee:

“Schloen will present the Kuttamuwa stele to a scholarly audience at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research on Nov. 22 in Boston, the major annual conference for Middle Eastern archaeology. Dennis Pardee, Professor of Near Eastern Languages and Civilization at the University of Chicago, will present his translation of the stele’s 13-line inscription the following day at the annual meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, also in Boston, in a session on “Paleographical Studies in the Near East.”

I don’t think there is anything remarkable in the description of feeding Kuttamuwa’s “soul” — which is the focus of the News reports. It doesn’t even mean that Kuttamuwa is ‘disembodied’ — he may come for the food in another form from the underworld (perhaps as a bird).

Posted in Archaeology, Death, Neo-Hittite, Prophets, Ugaritic | 1 Comment »

I Have Risen!

Posted by NT Wrong on October 23, 2008

Yes, after three days and three nights* fighting Evil in the depths of Hades, I have arisen. I am pleased to announce that I have defeated Sin and Death and killed the Devil outright (I mean to say, why piss around with holding him captive for thousands of years, when I have the power to kill him now and end all the Evil and Suffering in the world?).

Now things will be much better here on Earth. Anybody who believes My Word (that there will be no more Evil and no more Death on Earth) gets eternal life! Just believe that all Evil and Death has ended. That’s all you have to do. Just believe it!! Do you have faith in what might otherwise appear to be a patently ridiculous proposition? Of course you do!

In order to confirm your faith (and salvation), please complete this quick poll:

* the three days and three nights were calculated using Hades Time, which — as every chthonic descender knows — is much quicker than Earth Time. You see, everything in My Word may be completely harmonized if you have enough faith and ingenuity.

Posted in Death, Divine Intermediaries, Evil, Faith | 1 Comment »

Theologizing Original Sin after Evolution

Posted by NT Wrong on October 4, 2008

I’ve had some very interesting discussion and argument with Stephen Cook at Biblische Ausbildung on the topic of Original Sin. In particular, we’re discussing how Original Sin can be thought, if at all, after the discovery of evolution — once it is no longer possible to think of death coming into the world because of humankind, but only of humankind coming into the world because of death.

What got me started was Stephen Cook’s discussion of a recent proposal by Joseph Wimmer and Daryl Domning. The discussion after that goes as follows:

My initial reply
– Stephen Cook’s initial response, ‘Response to N T Wrong’
My second response, Stephen Cook’s second response, My third response.
– Stephen Cook’s Third response, ‘N T Wrong Still Remains Wrong!’
My fourth response, Stephen Cook’s fourth response, and my brief reply.

At this stage we are both hoping for other opinions (although some have already been offered).

What interests me are questions such as these:

    – Is the modernist interpretation of ‘Original Sin’ as only or mainly a continuing condition, which ignores or minimises its originating aspect in Adam and Eve, a departure from past orthodoxy?

    – If it is a departure, or a redefinition of some kind, to what extent has the fact of evolution caused theologians of the twentieth century and beyond to search for new ways to rescue the doctrine of Original Sin? I attempt to articulate the problem most fully in my fourth response, e.g.:

    “What do you do with a concept that explains how death came into the world (in time-history), after the fact of evolution has demonstrated that humanity was created by death — by trillions of earlier deaths? Answer: reduce the concept of Original Sin to an “originated” status or condition of ongoing humanity, eliminating its “originating” status at any one point in time. What do you do with a concept of an initial period of Paradise in the Garden of Eden (which as the ‘contemporary bible scholar’ James Barr has so eloquently argued on many occasions is both history and theology for its authors), when there never was any such Golden Age? Answer: reduce the story to an ‘archetype’ or ‘myth’, which has ‘mythic meaning’ but no historical meaning. (Ah, Barr would be turning in his grave!) What do you do with the doctrine of ‘the Fall’ once evolution has shown we are not ‘fallen angels’ but ‘rising beasts’ (to employ Arthur Peacocke’s cute phrasing)? Answer: reduce the story to a ‘mythic meaning’ about the prevalence of evil carried on by humanity from generation to generation.

    – Should we limit the interpretation of passages such as Gen 1-3 to theological/mythic interpretations, or was it understood in its earliest reception as both history and theology (in emic definitions), as I have previously argued here, here, and here (in disturbance of the dominant harmonizing and modernistic theologizing trend of Christian biblical scholars)?

    – Is there any qualitative difference between Homo sapiens and other species of animals (past and present, e.g. apes, dogs, and Neanderthals) that justifies distinguishing our exercise of freewill from theirs?

    – If God is responsible for messiness (evil, suffering, etc) in some way that logically or chronologically precedes human responsibility, is this a more radical and fundamental problem of evil than one in which God simply allows human freewill, from which evil begins?

    – Does the pervasiveness of what we consider to be ‘evil’ provide any proof of a ‘fall of humankind’ without already assuming the past or future reality of such a difference between humanity’s actual and idealized states?

    – Does the fact that many of us dream of a better world prove that such a world exists?

    – Is there any better summary of theology than Albert Schweitzer’s “Es gibt keine Lage so verzweifelt, dass die Theologie keine Ausweg wüsste”?

Now, if you don’t find something out of all that to comment on, there must be something fundamentally wrong with you!

Posted in Death, Evil, Historiography, Justice, Paul, Pentateuch | 3 Comments »

Cult of the Dead connected to Kaddish?

Posted by NT Wrong on September 30, 2008

“cultic customs associated with the dead, including some idea of resurrection, continued from Ugarit through the rabbinic period; these motifs seem to hibernate from our perspective, because the religious texts from the Bible and early rabbinic sources rarely mention them and certainly give them no sanction.”
– Mark S. Smith, “Mythology and Myth-making in Ugaritic and Israelite Literatures.” Pages 295-341 in George J. Brooke, Adrian H. W. Curtis and John F. Healey, eds. Ugarit and the Bible: Proceedings of the International Symposium on Ugarit and the Bible; Manchester, September 1992. Ugaritisch-Biblische Literatur (UBL), 11. Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 1994: 303.

There seems to be an obvious historical connection between Jewish cult of the dead (broadly understood), celebrated by the first-born son for his deceased parents, and mourning Kaddish, also celebrated by the first-born son (preferably) for his deceased parents. It has apparently been ‘Yahwehized’ in the process, operating as a sanctification of the name of Yahweh rather than the name and posterity of the deceased parents. The very name suggests some connection with the cult of the dead (קדש).

And then there’s this:

“Absolve your nation Israel which you redeemed (Deut 1.28). The Rabbis expounded in the Pesikta, “…this refers to the dead who can receive atonement through the charity of the living.” From this we learn that the dead derive benefit from charity which the living sanctify in their behalf… This also applies to one who recites Kaddish or any blessing publicly in the synagogue, as… in the story of R’ Akiva (R’ Bachya, Deut 21.6).

I don’t know much about the origins of Kaddish, though. Has anybody written on this connection? Does anyone have a comment or suggestion? If there is a link or continuity between Kaddish and the earlier cult of the dead, it could shed light on both.

Posted in Death, Ugaritic | 3 Comments »