Sunday, July 5, 2015

Sin and Resurrection in Second Maccabees

Occasionally it is suggested that Christianity's concern with the resurrection is an idiosyncratic phenomenon. Although many Jews of the Second Temple period did not believe in the resurrection, some did. Some even argued for it. Here is an example of it:

After a fierce battle, Judas and his army gathered the dead for burial:
εὗρον δὲ ἑκάστου τῶν τεθνηκότων ὑπὸ τοὺς χιτῶνας ἱερώματα τῶν ἀπὸ ιαμνείας εἰδώλων ἀφ' ὧν ὁ νόμος ἀπείργει τοὺς ιουδαίους

They found under the tunics of each of the dead things sacred to the idols of the Iamnites, which are forbidden to the Jews by the Law. (2 Maccabees 12:40)
This, of course was both something of a scandal and an obvious cause for their ill fate in battle.
ποιησάμενός τε κατ' ἀνδρολογίαν εἰς ἀργυρίου δραχμὰς δισχιλίας ἀπέστειλεν εἰς ιεροσόλυμα προσαγαγεῖν περὶ ἁμαρτίας θυσίαν πάνυ καλῶς καὶ ἀστείως πράττων ὑπὲρ ἀναστάσεως διαλογιζόμενος

εἰ μὴ γὰρ τοὺς προπεπτωκότας ἀναστῆναι προσεδόκα περισσὸν καὶ ληρῶδες ὑπὲρ νεκρῶν εὔχεσθαι

εἶτε' ἐμβλέπων τοῖς μετ' εὐσεβείας κοιμωμένοις κάλλιστον ἀποκείμενον χαριστήριον ὁσία καὶ εὐσεβὴς ἡ ἐπίνοια ὅθεν περὶ τῶν τεθνηκότων τὸν ἐξιλασμὸν ἐποιήσατο τῆς ἁμαρτίας ἀπολυθῆναι

After he made a collection of two thousand drachmas, he set it to Jerusalem to offer an offering for sin doing well and honestly because he considered the resurrection, for if he had not expected that those who had fallen to rise again it would have been superfluous and vain to pray for the dead. Also since he saw that those who died piously had great favor laid up--the thought was holy and pious--so he made an atonement to do away with the sins of the dead. (2 Maccabees 12:43–45)
There is a clear thought that action in mortality can have some effect on those who have left mortality (and one can trace such ideas in Egypt back at least as far as the Middle Kingdom). The expression in 2 Maccabees where one can pray on behalf of the dead (ὑπὲρ νεκρῶν) is echoed in Paul where he notes that one could be baptized on behalf of the dead (ὑπὲρ τῶν νεκρῶν, 1 Corinthians 15:29). Both cases reflect the desire of the living to do something on behalf of those who have died that they can no longer do for themselves.