Eternal Hope – Part 35

Eternal Hope – Part 35

September 2009

Dear Co-Laborer,

Eternal Hope
Part 35


We ended Part 27 exploring the thought of Saadia Ben Joseph, a ninth century rabbinic scholar, on the subject of the resurrection and the reign of Messiah. We will continue looking at his thinking, and then move on to look at Maimonides.

Saadia Ben Joseph

“Let me say here, then, that I have inquired and investigated and verified the belief of the masses of the Jewish nation that the resurrection of the dead would take place at the time of the redemption… He apprised His prophet Ezekiel thereof in advance saying to him: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut of (Ezek. 37:11). Then He order him to bring us the good tidings of our resurrection from our graves and of the resuscitation of all our dead, by saying to him immediately thereafter: Therefore prophesy, and say unto them: Behold, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people (Ezek. 37:12). Lest, however, we think that this promise was made only for the world to come, He added at the end of the statement the words And I will bring you into the land of Israel in order to assure us that it was meant to take place in this world. The object to be attained thereby is that each one of us will, when God has brought him back to life, make mention of the fact that it is he that was alive and died and was then resurrected. That is the import of His statement: And ye shall know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves (Ezek. 37:13). The mention of the resurrection in the land of Palestine is then repeated by Him a second time in order to confirm for us the thought that it is to take place in this world, as He says: And I will put My spirit in you, and ye shall live, and I will place you in your own land; and ye shall know that I the Lord have spoken, and performed it, saith the Lord (Ezek. 37:14)…Next let me state that I find that Daniel was informed by our Lord about what was to come to pass at the end of the time in forty-seven verses. Among these there is one verse that speaks of what was to transpire at the end of the rule of the Persians; that is to say, the [very] first. Thirteen of these verses again deal with the history of the kingdom of the Greeks, i.e., beginning with [the words]: And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will (Dan. 11:3), and extending up to But he that cometh against him shall do according to his own will (Dan. 11:16). Twenty other verses dwell on the history of the empire of the Romans, i.e., beginning with [the words]: But he that cometh against him shall do according to his own will, and extending up to And the king shall do according to his will (Dan. 11:36). Ten further verses constitute the history of the dominion of the Arabs, i.e., beginning with [the words]: And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself up to And at that time shall Michael stand up, the great prince (Dan. 12:1). The last three verses, finally, deal with the subject of the redemption. Now one of these last three verses declares: And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches (Dan. 12:2). Note that it says specifically: And many of them that sleep, not All of them that sleep in the dust of the earth, because All of them that sleep in the dust of the earth would have implied that all the sons of Adam were included, whereas this promise was valid for the children of Israel only. That is why it says many. Furthermore the statement: Some to everlasting life, and some… does not mean that some of those that are resurrected are destined for reward and some for punishment, since no one will be resurrected at the time of the redemption who is subject to punishment. It means rather, by division of the statement, that those that will awake will do so to everlasting life, whereas those that will not awake are destined for reproaches and everlasting abhorrence. For all the virtuous and penitent persons will be alive and there will remain only the godless and whoever died impenitent, and all that at the time of the redemption.”[1]

“Anyone that does not profess the belief in the resurrection of the dead in this world will not be resurrected together with the totality of the Jewish nation at the time of the redemption. That is the import of the dictum of our sages: Since he does not believe in the resurrection of the dead, therefore he shall have no portion in it, because in all His dealings the Holy one, Blessed Be He, metes out measure for measure. For it has been said: ‘Then the captain on whose hand the king leaned answered the man of God and said: Behold, thou shalt see it with thine eyes, but shalt not eat thereof. (II Kings 7:2)’ (Sanh. Qoa).”[2]

“If someone were to ask now and say, ‘Whom will those who are destined to be resurrected include?’ our answer would be that it will embrace the entire Jewish nation, the virtuous thereof as well as whoever died repentant. This may be inferred from the statement of Scripture: And I will cause you to come up out of your graves, O My people (Ezek. 37:12). Anyone, therefore, to whom the designation of My people could be applied would be included in this promise. Now I do actually find that the virtuous are called My people. Thus Scripture says: And to say unto Zion: ’Thou are My people’ (Isa. 51:16). Of the sinful, again, the impenitent are not called My people. This is borne out by the statement of Scripture: For ye are not My people (Hos. 1:9). The penitent among them, on the other hand, are called My people, as Scripture says: And I will say to them that were not My people: ‘Thou art my people’ (Hos 2:25).”[3]

“Should someone ask, again, whether the members of their families and their kinsmen would recognize the resurrected and whether they would recognize each other… the rank and file will have to be distinguishable so that the difference between the former and the latter may become evident. Besides, Scripture has definitely stated that every man will be attached to his tribe, as is explained in the chapter of the book of Ezekiel beginning with the words Now these are the names of the tribes (Ezek 48:1)… Should the question be asked now as to whether persons afflicted with a blemish will be resurrected with their blemish still attaching to them or whether they will be cured thereof, we would reply that they will be cured. This is borne out by the statement of our forebears to the effect that They will rise from their graves with their blemish attached to them and then be cured (Sanh. 91b)… Our reply, again, to the question that might be asked as to whether those to be resurrected will receive any reward for the services they will render to God at the time of the redemption is: ‘Yes,’ just as reason demand that those who are destined to live in the world of retribution receive reward for the services they will perform in the world to come.”[4]

“Our Master… has informed us… that He would deliver us from our present state, and gather our scattered fragments from the east and the west of the earth, and bring us to His holy place and cause us to dwell therein, so that we might be His choice and peculiar possession. Thus it is stated in Scripture: Thus said the Lord of hosts: Behold, I will save My people from the east country, and from the west country; and I will bring them, and they shall dwell in the midst of Jerusalem, etc. (Zech. 8:7-8).”[5]

“Concerning the necessary assumption of the perpetuity of the reward in the hereafter of the righteous and of the punishment of the sinful… let it be assumed that the duration of the reward of the righteous was set at one thousand years. It could possibly be said [in that event] that certain people would have no desire for the reward on account of it diminutive measure. A similar pretext might be offered in the case of two thousand or three thousand years. In fact, for whatever is limited in extent, reason could find another measurement exceeding it. If, however, their reward were to be made unlimited and unending and their well-being would never cease, there would be no excuse left that anyone could give… just as it is necessary for God to use the strongest stimulant to arouse in men the desire to do good, so must He employ the strongest deterrent to keep them from doing evil. For if the deterrent used by Him were to consist of the threat of torments lasting a hundred or two hundred years, and men would not be distrained thereby from sinning, it might be said by someone that, if God had made it last a thousand years, they would have been frightened by it. Similarly, if the punishment were to be fixed for a period of two thousand years, one might say that if God had made it last a myriad, men would have been terrified thereby. That is why God made the torment of the hereafter limitless, employing the strongest possible deterrent, that leaves no loophole for anyone… the nature of a person’s reward will be dependent upon whether he presents one or ten or one hundred or one thousand good deed, except that it will be eternal in duration… Likewise will the extent of a person’s punishment vary according to whether he presents one or ten or a hundred or a thousand evil deeds, except that, whatever the intensity of the punishment may be, it will be everlasting… So far as the nonbelievers and the polytheists are concerned, their fate has been clearly described in the declaration of Scripture: And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have rebelled against Me; for their worm shall not die (Isa. 66:24). As far as the unregenerate perpetrators of grave sins, they are the group for whom extirpation or death at the hand of the court has been prescribed. The consequence of their being cut off from this world is to be cut off also from among the righteous in the world to come by reason of their failure to repent… Should someone ask, however, on what ground they are pardoned, seeing that no repentance of them has taken place, we would answer: ‘It is not our basic assumption that these individuals are charged solely with lesser transgressions? That in itself is proof that they have guarded against sins of grave character.’”[6]

By way of summary, ben Joseph clearly adheres to the doctrine of the resurrection and eternal accountability for temporal behavior. His belief in the resurrection rests heavily on Isaiah 26, Ezekiel 37 and Daniel 12 – all excellent references. Many other references, however, seems forced, smacking of “text management.” He seems to dispute the claim of Charles that Judaism abandoned her eschatology in reaction to the church. I have the impression that ben Joseph borrowed heavily from the Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, without acknowledging it. His argument for eternal accountability from the Old Testament seems less convincing than his arguments for the resurrection. The “righteous” go to heaven and the “ungodly” suffer eternal damnation, but he does not distinguish between actual righteousness and imputed righteousness. I can find no reference to his discussing imputation or the basis by which God can allow the sinner access to heaven without violating His justice. He seems to argue for a works-righteousness.

Maimonides, one of the more famous Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages, wrote a controversial work, Maqala, in 1190-91 A.D. Commenting on the resurrection, he said, “And so it appears to me from these verses that the individuals, whose souls will return to their bodies, will eat, drink, marry and procreate, and then die after enjoying that very long span of life characteristic of the Messianic era.”[7] After the Messianic era, and after these people have died once again, their souls return to God. Regarding retribution, Maimonides says, “Sometimes, He punishes only in this world, and sometimes only in the world to come, sometimes in both… God is righteous in all His ways, He punishes the sinner according to his sin, and rewards the pious according to his righteousness.”[8]


Beginning with the next issue we will look at the New Testament teaching on the subject of eternal hope.

Eager for the day of the resurrection,


[1] Ibid, pp. 267-271
[2] Ibid, p 276
[3] Ibid, pp. 283-284
[4] Ibid, pp. 286-288
[5] Ibid, p. 290
[6] Ibid, pp. 344-345, 347-348, 353-354
[7] Maimonides, Maqala, quoted from: Baron, Salo Wittmayer, Editor, Essays on Maimonides, AMS Press, NY, 1966, Finkel, Joshua, “Maimonides’ Treatise on Resurrection: A Comparative Study,” chapter 4
[8] Gorfinkle, Joseph I., translator, The Eight Chapters of Maimonides on Ethics, AMS Press, NYC, 1966, pp. 95-96