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.