Some Ideas Of Resurrection In The New Testament Period -- By: J. W. Drane

Journal: Tyndale Bulletin
Volume: TYNBUL 24:1 (NA 1973)
Article: Some Ideas Of Resurrection In The New Testament Period
Author: J. W. Drane


Some Ideas Of Resurrection In The New Testament Period

J. W. Drane

* This paper was read at a meeting of the New Testament Study Group of the Tyndale Fellowship at Tyndale House, Cambridge, in July 1972.

The idea that Christianity should be considered in any sense as a natural product of the world in which the first Christians lived and worked has never been especially popular among British scholars, and not without good reason: in the case of the vast majority of the supposed parallels and derivations to which attention has often been drawn by more radical scholars, the evidence is not sufficient to bear the burden of proof. But in the case of the idea of resurrection, the claims of the first Christians, that their Master had risen from the dead, can legitimately be described as the climax and consummation of a long history of religious and philosophical thought in the ancient near east.*

From the time when religious minds in ancient Babylon had first observed the cycle of the seasons and had formulated the mythical person of Tammuz, who was allegedly slain and then brought back to life by his sister/wife Ishtar, the idea of resurrection in some form or other had been indelibly imprinted on the minds of men and women throughout the whole area from Mesopotamia to Egypt, and even beyond. The partnership of Tammuz and Ishtar was paralleled in Egypt by Osiris, who was slain by Set and restored by Isis and Nephthys, in Canaan by Baal and Anat, and even in Greece in the person of Persephone. According to some, the idea had also passed into the religion of Israel and, even if this is an exaggerated claim, it is at least obvious that Israel must have been familiar with such cult rituals, including the idea of resurrection. Though the ancient Babylonians and Egyptians could transfer the idea of resurrection from gods to ordinary mortals

only with great difficulty, at least the first hurdle had been successfully jumped, for the average agriculturalist in the Fertile Crescent had no intellectual difficulties in accepting the idea of resurrection per se.1 Nor, contrary to popular belief; did the average worshipper in ancient Israel have too much difficulty in accepting that men could rise from the dead. There are at least three resurrection stories in the Old Testament, admittedly of a miraculous nature, but in each case the story is recorded without any expression on the part of the author(s) either of surprise or disgust at what had reputedly happened. These are the raising of the widow’s son by Elijah (1 Kings 17:17ff.), the raising of the Shunammite’s son by Elisha (

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