Friday, December 14, 2012

Life After Life


From the September 2009 E-Block.

**

 The focus of this report is Harry Sysling's Tehiyyat Ha-Metim, a book I ordered hoping to find material useful for Tekton's next book, Defending the Resurrection. I did not find anything useful for that, but I did find a little material that may prove useful for future study and report on Tekton's next book after that, which will be concerned with basic Christian doctrine. 

As readers may be aware, I hold to certain views concerning the nature of hell that do not accord with the popular "guys in red suits with horns and pitchforks" stereotypes. Rather, my view comes of an application of both the principles of Biblical language and the honor/shame dichotomy. Reading Sysling's work, which describes Jewish views of the afterlife in the Talmudic (post-NT) era, I found some interesting confirmations of this view which will be shared here, and summed up in three points. [2] 

Sysling offers the description of Rosenblatt that describes the experience of the afterlife up until the general resurrection, derived from the descriptions of the rabbinic commentator Gaon (882-942): Just after death, the immaterial portion of the person experiences "much misery, occasioned by its knowledge of the worms and the vermin and the like that pass through the body, just as a person would be pained by the knowledge that a house in which he used to live is in ruins and that thorns and thistles grow in it."

This has obvious bearing on places where Jesus uses the figure of undying worms to illustrate the fate of the wicked. The torment here relates to the shame of what is happening to the body. Thus the imagery of worms would not relate to the experience of the wicked literally having worms eating them in their punishment. Rather, this is simply a metaphorical association with shame and/or death (the latter, metaphorically used to speak of separation from God). 

For the wicked, that the "worm does not die" would mean that unlike the righteous, resurrection will not remove their shame. Of course, the source here is rather late, but it does accord with the honor-paradigm that would have held true hundreds of years before.

[195] The apocryphal 4 Ezra teaches that the fate of the wicked upon death will be as follows:
Now, concerning death, the teaching is: When the decisive decree has gone forth from the Most High that a man shall die, as the spirit leaves the body to return again to him who gave it, first of all it adores the glory of the Most High. And if it is one of those who have shown scorn and have not kept the way of the Most High, and who have despised his law, and who have hated those who fear God -- such spirits shall not enter into habitations, but shall immediately wander about in torments, ever grieving and sad, in seven ways.

The first way, because they have scorned the law of the Most High.
The second way, because they cannot now make a good repentance that they may live.
The third way, they shall see the reward laid up for those who have trusted the covenants of the Most High.
The fourth way, they shall consider the torment laid up for themselves in the last days.
The fifth way, they shall see how the habitations of the others are guarded by angels in profound quiet.
The sixth way, they shall see how some of them will pass over into torments.
The seventh way, which is worse than all the ways that have been mentioned, because they shall utterly waste away in confusion and be consumed with shame, and shall wither with fear at seeing the glory of the Most High before whom they sinned while they were alive, and before whom they are to be judged in the last times.
The emphasis on shame in this last portion is notable. There is no mention here of physical tortures, and the wandering and grieving corresponds with our own model in which the holiness of God is such that the unforgiven sinner cannot enter into the presence of God.

[210f] Revelation refers to the "second death," and there is some discussion over what this entails. If these rabbinic sources are of any relevance, it has to do with a distinction between two categorizations of death: One type experienced by the righteous, the other experienced by the wicked. In other words, "second" is not a chronological marker, indicating that the persons have died before and will die again, but a numeric marker, indicating the type of death the person will have (over and against the "first death," which is the experience of the righteous).

Interpreters have tried various ways to understand this passage, such as the "first death" being seen as everyone's physical death while the "second death" is eternal damnation. But this chronological understanding is not found in the rabbinic sources, in which we find a contrast between "the death by which the righteous die" and the "second death" associated with the wicked.

In close, these three points from Sysling may provide some interesting insights into how to interpret passages in the New Testament with respect to the nature of the fate of the wicked. We will see how that works out in further research.

No comments:

Post a Comment