is a covenant relationship - which is both a
contractual agreement and a "marriage"
of love - between Yahweh and his chosen people.
Because Judaism is built around a relationship
involving agreements and promises in this life,
the afterlife is less essential for Judaism
than for other world religions. It would, in
fact, be relatively easy to imagine Judaism
without any afterlife beliefs whatsoever. Because
of the non-centrality of the afterlife for Judaism,
this tradition has been able to entertain a
wide variety of different
throughout its history, more so than perhaps
any other religion.
Hebrews emphasized the importance of the present
life over the afterlife. As with both the ancient
Greeks and Mesopotamians, the afterlife, if
it was considered at all, was conceived of as
a pale shadow of earthly life, much like the
Greek Hades. Also similar to the Greek Hades,
in the Hebrew afterlife no distinction was made
between the treatment of the just and the unjust
after death. Instead, rewards and punishments
were meted out in the present life, and in the
covenant "contract" Yahweh promised
to do just that.
Reflection on the
inequalities of this life and on the apparent
failure of Yahweh to make good on his covenant
promises led serious religious thinkers to consider
the option of resurrection. The resurrection
of ordinary human beings seems to have originated
in the Persian religion of
As a result of several centuries of Persian
control of the Middle East region, Jews were
brought into contact with Zoroastrian religious
ideas and the notion of resurrection. Zoroaster
combined resurrection with the idea of a final
judgment, in which the entire human race is
resurrected and individuals rewarded or punished.
This concept clearly appealed to Jewish religious
thinkers of the time as an adequate way of coming
to grips with the injustices that were so apparent
in this life.
in the Book of Daniel, the Jewish notion of
resurrection in the Maccabeean period was tied
to a notion of judgment, and even to separate
realms for the judged. In rabbinical thought,
the model for heaven was Eden. The rabbinic
word for hell, "Gehenna", is taken from the
name of a valley of fire where children were
said to be sacrificed as burnt offerings to
Baal and Moloch (Semitic deities). Gehenna is
a place of intense punishment and cleansing.
This place is also known as "She'ol" and other
names. This line of Jewish thought argues that
after death the soul has to be purified before
it can go on the rest of its journey. The amount
of time needed for purification depends on how
the soul dealt with life. One Jewish tradition
states that a soul needs a maximum of 11 months
for purification, which is why, when a parent
dies, the kaddish (memorial prayer) is recited
for 11 months. The concept of Gehenna as a place
for temporary purification was the source for
the orthodox Christian doctrine of "purgatory."
Flavius Josephus stated that the
Pharisees, the Jewish sect that founded
rabbinic Judaism to which Paul once belonged,
believed in reincarnation. He writes that the
Pharisees believed the souls of evil men are
punished after death. The souls of good men
into other bodies" and they will "have
power to revive and live again."
From time to time
in Jewish history, there had been an insistent
belief that their prophets were reborn. Reincarnation
was part of the Jewish dogmas, being taught
under the name of "resurrection".
who believed that everything ended with death,
did not accept the idea of reincarnation. Jewish
ideas included the concept that people could
live again without knowing exactly the manners
by which this could happen.
Josephus records that
Dead Sea Scrolls
lived "the same kind of life" as the followers
the Greek philosopher who taught reincarnation.
According to Josephus, the Essenes believed
that the soul is both immortal and preexistent,
necessary for tenets for belief in reincarnation.
The Dead Sea Scrolls
prove that the Jewish mystical tradition of
divine union went back to the first, perhaps
even the third century B.C.E. Jewish mysticism
has its origins in Greek mysticism, a system
of belief which included reincarnation. Among
the Dead Sea Scrolls, some of the hymns found
are similar to the
hymns of the Jewish mystics. One text of hymns
gives us clear evidence of Jewish mysticism.
The text is called "Songs
of the Sabbath Sacrifice."
which is considered the oldest text of Jewish
mysticism, were also found with the Scrolls.
Since evidence shows Jewish mysticism existed
in the third century B.C.E., as Enoch indicates,
then it would certainly have existed in first-century
been a belief for thousands of years for orthodox
is a book of great authority among
It states the following:
"All souls are subject to revolutions.
Men do not know the way they have
been judged in all time." (Zohar
That is, in their
"revolutions" they lose all memory of the actions
that led to their being judged.
"If she, the soul, be pure, then
she shall obtain favor... but if
she has been defiled, then she shall
wander for a time in pain and despair...
until the days of her purification."
How can the soul be
defiled before birth? Where does the soul wander
if not on this or some other world until the
days of her purification? The rabbis explained
this verse to mean that the defiled soul wanders
down from paradise through many births until
the soul regained its purity.
In the Talmud, "gilgul
(i.e., reincarnation) is constantly mentioned.
The term literally means "the judgment of the
revolutions of the souls." In this view, people
who had committed extraordinary sins were given
an opportunity to return to life in order to
set things right. More particularly, they were
reincarnated in circumstances similar to those
of their previous incarnation. Thus, Moses and
Jethro, for example, were supposed to be the
gilgulim of Cain and Abel.
Rabbi Manasseh ben
(1604-1657), one of the most revered Rabbis
in Israel, states in his book entitled
"The belief or the doctrine of the
transmigration of souls is a firm
and infallible dogma accepted by
the whole assemblage of our church
with one accord, so that there is
none to be found who would dare
to deny it ... Indeed, there is
a great number of sages in Israel
who hold firm to this doctrine so
that they made it a dogma, a fundamental
point of our religion. We are therefore
in duty bound to obey and to accept
this dogma with acclamation ...
as the truth of it has been incontestably
demonstrated by the Zohar, and all
books of the Kabalists." (Nishmat
In contemporary Judaism,
the traditional, mainstream view of resurrection
is maintained by the orthodox, but generally
not by the non-orthodox. Outside the orthodox
fold, ordinary believers often accept the notion
of an immortal soul, not unlike the notion held
by most Christians. Many also accepted
reincarnation. And many secular and
continue to view themselves as part of the tradition
of Judaism, without adhering to any sort of