Jewish Resurrection Gets New Life

By the second century at the latest, belief in resurrection had entered Jewish liturgy and legal writing.

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Reprinted with permission of The Continuum International Publishing Group from The Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner, Alan Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green.

By some time in the early Talmudic period, the doctrine of an afterlife for the individual had become quasi‑canonical. This is established by two texts. 

The Mishnah Canonized Belief in Resurrection

Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1, first, stipulates that only three sorts of Israelites do not have a share in the age to come: "the one who says that the resurrection of the dead is a teaching that does not derive from the Torah, [the one who says that] the Torah is not from heaven; and the Epicurean [Hebrew: apikores]."

sky with sun beams

Some (probably earlier) versions of this text read the first category to be simply one who denies the resurrection of the dead. The Talmudic phrase for the eschaton (last things, or afterlife), olam haba, is typically translated as either "world to come" or "age to come," with olam having either a spatial or temporal reference. This author prefers the temporal designation: the eschaton can sometimes signify a new "world," but it always signifies a new "age."

The Amidah Already Proclaims Belief

The second text is the Gevurot (God's "mighty acts" from Heb. gibbor, "mighty") benediction of the Eighteen Benedictions, the second of the introductory three benedictions that are used in every single version of the Amidah, that, to this day is recited at least thrice daily by the worshipping Jew.

The benediction celebrates God's mighty acts. In its current form, it reads:

       You are eternally mighty, O Lord.

       You revive the dead: great is your power to

         save.

       (You make the wind to blow and the rain to

         fall.)

       You sustain the living with compassion: you

         revive the dead with abundant mercy.

       You support the falling, heal the ailing, free

         the captive: and maintain the faith with those

         who sleep in the dust.

       Whose power can compare with yours, who

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Dr. Neil Gillman

Dr. Neil Gillman is Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Jewish Philosophy at the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.