Res­ur­rec­tion: The Pow­er of God for Chris­tians and Jews

Kevin J. Madi­gan and Jon D. Levenson
  • Review
By – January 30, 2012

Madi­gan and Lev­en­son have woven three pur­pos­es in to this explo­ration of the ear­li­est expres­sions of the idea of bod­i­ly res­ur­rec­tion in Jew­ish and Chris­t­ian reli­gion. At the core of the book is the his­to­ry of how the res­ur­rec­tion doc­trine evolved from bib­li­cal ideas through the Sec­ond Tem­ple and Talmudic/​ear­ly Chris­t­ian eras. Linked to this is an argu­ment that bod­i­ly res­ur­rec­tion is in fact a core belief of rab­binic Judaism. Final­ly, as a Chris­t­ian and a Jew­ish schol­ar writ­ing togeth­er, Madi­gan and Lev­en­son present res­ur­rec­tion as a doc­trine com­mon to the clas­si­cal form” of both reli­gions, even though the mean­ing of res­ur­rec­tion is entire­ly dif­fer­ent for Jews and Christians. 

The his­to­ry is the bulk of the book, and its most care­ful­ly exe­cut­ed dimen­sion. The authors note that for most of the Hebrew Bible, life and death rep­re­sent more than bio­log­i­cal real­i­ties. Life is a social con­cept, encom­pass­ing fam­i­ly well-being, pros­per­i­ty, and secu­ri­ty as a nation on God’s promised land. With­out these, an indi­vid­ual or the nation of Israel as a whole could expe­ri­ence itself as dead.” When the prophets spoke of God restor­ing the dead” to life,” they spoke lit­er­al­ly. When lat­er on this log­ic was extend­ed to indi­vid­u­als, res­ur­rec­tion still retained its col­lec­tive and spir­i­tu­al char­ac­ter — the indi­vid­ual brought to life with oth­ers in spir­i­tu­al per­fec­tion, through Christ or Am Yis­rael.

At times the book seems to be try­ing to jar mod­ern read­ers into accept­ing the impor­tance of res­ur­rec­tion as a core doc­trine, par­tic­u­lar­ly for Jews. The authors implic­it­ly den­i­grate the alter­na­tive idea of the time­less­ness of the soul. This part of their argu­ment crops up in sev­er­al places and is hur­ried. While the authors state that res­ur­rec­tion means very dif­fer­ent things to Jews and Chris­tians, they do not explore how the con­nec­tions and dif­fer­ences might fac­tor into inter­faith dia­logue. Still, the core of the book pro­vides sub­tle read­ings of impor­tant bib­li­cal pas­sages relat­ing to life and death, and is extreme­ly help­ful to any­one look­ing to under­stand res­ur­rec­tion and immor­tal­i­ty in Judaism. Gen­er­al index, index of pri­ma­ry sources, notes.

Jonathan Spi­ra-Savett is a rab­bi and teen edu­ca­tor. He is the rab­bi at Tem­ple Beth Abra­ham in Nashua, NH. His work focus­es on civic edu­ca­tion and youth phil­an­thropy, and he has taught his­to­ry, lit­er­a­ture, and envi­ron­men­tal stud­ies in addi­tion to tra­di­tion­al Jew­ish texts.

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