Tuesday, November 6, 2012
More on Resurrection versus Soul Survival
( Originally written and posted on MySpace.com on June 2, 2008 )
The following two paragraphs quoted from Samuel H. Hooke's book The Siege Perilous: Essays in Biblical Anthropology and Kindred Subjects (1956) neatly sum up the difference between Semitic and Ancient Greek concepts of human survival:
"The form in which the Church received and has continued to hold the belief in resurrection was, and has remained, Jewish. The late Professor H. Wheeler Robinson has well remarked in this connexion: 'It is a life on earth, however new its conditions, and it is a resurrection-life, involving the restoration of the dead body. This form of belief is seen to have been inevitable, once we have grasped the Hebrew idea of personality; a resurrection of the body was the only form of triumph over death which Hebrew psychology could conceive for those actually dead. Even St. Paul shrinks from the thought of 'bodiless existence.' (Inspiration and Revelation in the Old Testament, p. 101-2.)
"The Greek doctrine of immortality, which finds its first Jewish expression in the Wisdom of Solomon, and which conceives of an immortality of the soul apart from the body, does not occur in the New Testament, nor in the Creeds. Even the Alexandrian Fathers appear to assume the identity of the 'spiritual body' spoken of by St. Paul with the earthly body, without, however, explaining the nature of the identity. The permanent value of this element of the Jewish heritage is, to say the least, open to question, and the Fourth Gospel seems to represent an attempt to reinterpret early Christian eschatology, and especially the Parousia expectation, in such a way as to remove some of its less desirable aspects" (pp.201-2).
The difference is striking. In the case of the monotheistic or Abrahamic faiths, originating among the Semitic peoples, the human individual survives only when he is resurrected by the one god, Jehovah or Allah. The Greeks, however, as well as all the other ancient Indo-Europeans (Celts, Teutons, Romans, etc.), believed that the soul survives death because it is detached from the body at death. This is what Socrates teaches according to Plato's account in the dialogue "Phaedo."
There is a vast difference between the individual surviving only at the behest of a god and the individual surviving death because his soul, immortal and imperishable, survives the death of his body. This also explains why the Semites favored burial of the body while the Indo-Europeans favored cremation. Carroll Quigley notes this difference in his book The Evolution of Civilizations (1961). We suspect that this difference has a political significance. The belief of the Semites reflects Asiatic despotism, but the belief of the Indo-Europeans, the belief in soul survival without the intervention of a higher power, is the belief of a fundamentally free people.