Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Maimonides and the Resurrection of the Dead

I mentioned in a post back on May 7th that I've been reading Jon Levenson's new book on Resurrection. I'm writing a review of it for RBL, and I'll post a note when it becomes available (probably later this summer). One of the strong points that Levenson makes early on is that, contrary to commonplace belief, the doctrine of resurrection is central and deep in classical Judaism. One interesting example concerns how Maimonides was compelled to reverse himself on his statements on resurrection in the 12th century c.e.



Originally Maimonides had promulgated the idea that the resurrection was not something material and corporeal, but a matter of the intellect alone. It really will occur, he argued, but will entail disembodied existence with God. Great controversy erupted in response to the idea, based on Talmudic Judaism's clear presentation of a bodily resurrection, and Maimonides was forced to write a response to his critics in which he admitted there would be a bodily resurrection. He did not give in all the way, however. He wrote that the physical resurrection would be a transient thing, after which people will again die and then be able to enjoy an ethereal existence in the World to Come! Levenson's evaluation of all this is extremely well stated: "This is not only a drastic departure from the traditional rabbinic doctrine, as Maimonides' critics incessantly noted. It is also a contrived and uneconomical scenario that gives the appearance of being devised simply to free its inventor of the suspicion of heresy" (pp. 19-20).

4 Comments:

Blogger John said...

I look forward to your review.

Levenson's book is important, to be read alongside Alan Segal's Life After Death.

I dare say, however, that I anticipated some of Levenson's theses in my article on "Resurrection in the Daniel Tradition and Other Writings at Qumran" in The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception (ed. John J. Collins and Peter W. Flint = VTSupp 83/2 (2001) 395-420.

John Hobbins
www.ancienthebrewpoetry.typepad.com

Wed May 23, 02:25:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Thanks, John. We'll definitely have to take a look at your article!
---SLC

Thu May 24, 09:44:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Robin said...

I have been reading Levenson alongside Neil Gillman's The Death of Death which covers most of the same material but seems more accessible. Once having read Gillman, I understand Levenson better.

Tue May 29, 02:06:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Thanks, Robin. I had also heard from Elizabeth Farquhar about Rabbi Gillman's book. I knew him in New York city when I taught across the street from JTS at Union Seminary! ---SLC

Tue May 29, 08:00:00 PM GMT-5  

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