It is written:
“Now the temple was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, which was in the sixth year of the reign of King Darius.” (Ezra 6:15)
The first Temple which had been built by Solomon was destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 B.C. The second Temple, which was built by the Jews who returned from Captivity, was completed around 520 B.C.
The Jews who rebuilt the Second Temple wrote extensively until the time of Jesus. This period of history (from the rebuilding of the Second Temple till the time of Christ) is often referred to as the Intertestamental Period. The last Old Testament Prophet, Malachi, completed his work around 408 B.C. Until the time of Malachi till the time of Christ, there were no inspired Prophets in the land of Israel. Jewish history is conclusive on this fact.
“The Jewish teachers acknowledged that their prophetic line ended in the fourth century B.C. Yet, as even Catholics acknowledge, all apocryphal books were written after this time. Josephus wrote: “From Artaxerxes until our time everything has been recorded, but has not been deemed worthy of like credit with what preceded, because the exact succession of the prophets ceased” (Josephus). Additional rabbinical statements on the cessation of prophecy support this (see Beckwith, 370). Seder Olam Rabbah 30 declares “Until then [the coming of Alexander the Great] the prophets prophesied through the Holy Spirit. From then on, ‘Incline thine ear and hear the words of the wise.’” Baba Bathra 12b declares: “Since the day when the Temple was destroyed, prophecy has been taken from the prophets and given to the wise.” Rabbi Samuel bar Inia said, “The Second Temple lacked five things which the First Temple possessed, namely, the fire, the ark, the Urim and Thummin, the oil of anointing and the Holy Spirit [of prophecy].” Thus, the Jewish fathers (rabbis) acknowledged that the time period during which their Apocrypha was written was not a time when God was giving inspired writings.” (Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia Of Christian Apologetics, 33 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Books)
During this time, the Jews carefully studied the writings of the Old Testament and discussed on various topics.
In this article, we will spend some time discussing their studies on the resurrection of the dead.
Connection To Hell
The Jewish discussion on the resurrection was influenced by their studies on the doctrine of Hell. Contrary to much popular belief, the Old Testament Scriptures do teach about the subject of Hell.
The word “Hell” is a translation of the Greek word Gehenna, which was a translation of the Hebrew phrase “valley of Hinnom.” This was an actual valley outside the city of Jerusalem which was the site of some terrible atrocities and events. God used this place, which was rich in significant events (both horrible and hopeful) to describe to His people what the nature of Hell would be like.
The Prophet Jeremiah described how Gehenna would be like unto a place of future punishment for the wicked (Jeremiah 7:31-32; 19:6; 31:38-40). This began the discussion among the Jews especially during the Second Temple period regarding the nature of Hell.
“The Rabbis did not all agree on the nature or duration of Gehenna, their thoughts developing and regressing over centuries. But from what they taught, we can distill four general themes. 40 1. Gehenna is a metaphor for hell, a real location of suffering in actual flames in the afterlife. 41 That said: Gehenna’s creation, 42 size, 43 location, 44 gates 45 and vivid descriptions were much debated….2. Gehenna can have a time limit, most often seen as one year, corresponding to the Jewish bereavement time (praying the Kaddish), after which the suffering would end in either restoration or annihilation. 49 Others foresaw the truly wicked suffering for generations, or in some cases “ages of ages.” 50 Even the wicked in Gehenna lasted no longer than twelve months. 51 Hezekiah saith the judgment in Gehenna is six months heat and six months cold. 52 Rabbi Akiva used to say, “Of five judgments, some have lasted twelve months, others will do so;—those of the deluge, of Job, of the Egyptians, of Gog and Magog, and of the wicked in Gehenna.” 53 3. Gehenna can have an exit, at least for some. For example, you can be granted a release for good deeds done, whether acts of justice on behalf of the poor performed by the one who has died or by a loved one who offers service in the synagogue on behalf of the bereaved….4. Gehenna can be purgative, that is, it was designed not just for punishment but also for purification in preparation for Paradise. “God hath also set the one over against the other” (Eccl 7:14), i.e. The righteous and the wicked, in order that the one should atone for each other. God created the poor and the rich, in order that the one should be maintained by the other. He created Paradise and Gehenna, in order that those in the one should deliver those in the other. And what is the distance between them? Rabbi Chanina saith the width of the wall (between Paradise and Gehenna) is a handbreadth. 58 These rabbis did not claim their teachings as divine revelation. Rather, the Talmud consists of discussions on Jewish law, theology, customs, and traditions. Their speculations aside, rabbis like Akiva sometimes help us to see the OT passages with first century Jewish eyes.” i.e. The righteous and the wicked, in order that the one should atone for each other. God created the poor and the rich, in order that the one should be maintained by the other. He created Paradise and Gehenna, in order that those in the one should deliver those in the other. And what is the distance between them? Rabbi Chanina saith the width of the wall (between Paradise and Gehenna) is a handbreadth. 58 These rabbis did not claim their teachings as divine revelation. Rather, the Talmud consists of discussions on Jewish law, theology, customs, and traditions. Their speculations aside, rabbis like Akiva sometimes help us to see the OT passages with first century Jewish eyes).” (Bradley Jersak, Her Gates Will Never Be Shut: Hell, Hope, And The New Jerusalem, 47-50 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Wipf and Stock Publishers)
The Divine purpose (s) of Hell could only be fully accomplished if the bodies of the dead were resurrected. As such, the rabbis during this period discussed extensively about the Prophetic Writings of the Old Testament which clearly taught the resurrection of the dead; and we are able to find several references to this subject in the writings of that period.
The Discussion Of The Resurrection
What exactly did the Jewish writings of this time indicate regarding the resurrection of the dead?
“In later Jewish literature, gehenna appears not only as a place of punishment but also as a type of purgatory where the sins of the righteous would be cleansed during a period of twelve months before they would be permitted to enter paradise (Gan Eden) or during a period of twelve months before being annihilated and consequently relieved from all suffering (Pesaim 94a; Eduyyot 10). The belief that the soul survived death and that the body would one day be resurrected and reunited with the soul became the traditional Jewish view during this period and for many subsequent centuries. The following examples reveal that the notion of a resurrection was well established in Jewish literature: 40 • “In those days, Sheol will return all the deposits which she had received and hell will give back all that which it owes” (1 Enoch 51.1). • “God himself will again fashion the bones and ashes of men and he will raise up mortals again as they were before” (Sibylline Oracles 4.181–82). • “We hope that the remains of the departed will soon come to light again out of the earth. And afterward, they will become gods” (Pseudo-Phocylides 103–4). • “And the earth shall give up those who are asleep in it; and the chambers shall give up the souls which have been committed to them. And the Most High shall be revealed upon the seat of judgment, and compassion shall pass away and patience shall be withdrawn” (4 Ezra 7.32–33). • “For the earth will surely give back the dead at that time; it receives them now in order to keep them, not changing anything in their form” (2 Baruch 50.2).” (Craig Blomberg & Sung Wook Chung, A Case for Historic Premillennialism: An Alternative to “Left Behind” Eschatology, 1327-1345 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Baker Academic)
While there were some who denied the bodily resurrection of the dead during the Intertestamental Period (such as the then forming party of the Sadducees-see Matthew 22:23; Mark 12:18; Acts 23:18), other sources from this era demonstrate clearly that the resurrection of the dead was a generally accepted concept, rooted in the specific teaching of the inspired Old Testament Scriptures.
In our next study on eschatological passages of the Bible, we will notice some of the elements of the New Testament regarding the resurrection of the dead.