Saturday, October 10, 2020

Early Resurrection Texts

Alice C. Linsley

When did belief in the resurrection of the body arise? In the Psalms and in the book of Job there is reference to bodily resurrection, and in Jesus' time the Pharisees held to the belief, but the Sadducees rejected the belief.

The earliest textual evidence of belief in bodily resurrection is found in ancient Nilotic texts dating to 2400-2000 BC. These texts are royal funeral prayers and rituals performed by royal priests on behalf of the deceased kings. 

In his resurrection body the ruler is to "traverse the Mound of Horus of the Southerners" and "traverse the Mound of Horus of the Northerners" (Pyramid Texts, Utterances 536 and 553).

The risen king restores his settlements and cities, and opens doors to the Westerners, Easterners, Northerners and Southerners (Pyramid Texts, Utterance 587). He is to "betake himself to the Mansion of Horus which is in the firmament" (Pyramid Texts, Utterance 539).

The risen king unites the peoples, restores the former state of blessedness, and joins heaven and earth. When seen from this perspective, the Horite Hebrew religion appears to be the foundation of the Messianic hope that is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth.

In the ancient world, the ruler-priest was regarded as the mediator between God and the people and he served as the principal spiritual adviser of the high king. If God turned His face away from the king, the people suffered from want and war. If the king found favor with God, the people experienced abundance and peace.

The king was to intercede for his people before God in life and in death. The king's resurrection meant that he could lead his people beyond the grave to new life. Great pains were taken to ensure that the ruler’s body was preserved in death. The royal priests were experts in the process of mummification. The king's burial was attended by prayers, sacrifices, and a grand procession to the royal tomb.

Heavenly recognition for the ancient Hebrew was never an individual prospect. Heavenly recognition came to the people through the righteousness of their King and ruler-priests. There was hope that the King would rise on the third day and lead his people to immortality. This processional language appears in reference to the Messiah, who has the power to deliver captives from the grave to the throne of heaven (Ps. 68:18; Ps. 7:7; Eph. 4:8). Paul speaks of Christ leading captives in his royal train.

The Sadducees rejected belief in life after death because that is how they interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). They settled on this position because, as N.T. Wright points out, “resurrection from the beginning was a revolutionary doctrine" (The Resurrection of the Son of God, p. 138). The idea of an eternal kingdom of immortals under the rule of God rather than the Sadducees would have been extremely troubling to the ruling elites in Jerusalem.

Related reading: Righteous Rulers and the Resurrection; Gathered to His People; Burial Practices of the Rulers of Old; Heart Scarabs

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