Thursday 8 May 2014


Resurrection from the Latin resurgo (‘I rise’), refers to the belief that the dead will ultimately be raised and have their bodies restored to them. While this belief is found in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, Christian belief in the resurrection and saving of the dead is shaped specifically by the resurrection of Christ who, according to the New Testament, on the third day after his death and burial rose again and appeared to his followers.

Several scriptural accounts of the resurrected Jesus stress the materiality of Jesus' body. For example, in Luke's gospel Jesus told his disciples to touch him, asking whether a ghost has hands and feet, as he has, and then proceeded to eat a fish in front of them. In John's gospel ‘doubting’ Thomas was invited by Jesus to put his finger on Jesus' hand where the nails had been, and put his hand in Jesus' side which had been pierced. In Matthew, Jesus met his disciples and they touched his feet. And yet, despite this stress on the material body of Jesus as ‘proof’ of his resurrected identity, on several occasions — on the beach at daybreak and on the Emmaus Road, for example — the men and women disciples did not recognize him; and in the account of the resurrected Jesus' appearance to Mary Magdalene, in John's Gospel, Jesus instructed Mary not to hold onto him because he had not yet ascended to the Father. This represents a tension, in the New Testament accounts, between the materiality and ‘spiritual’ nature of the resurrected Jesus.

From early on, Jesus' resurrection was an important part of Christian teaching as indicated in Acts and Paul's epistles. In 1 Corinthians, Paul wrote of Jesus being raised from the dead and appearing to Cephas, the twelve, some five hundred brothers and sisters, James and the rest of the Apostles, and finally to Paul himself. Thus Paul concluded that if Christ was resurrected, as his evidence attests, then the resurrection of the dead could not be denied. Paul expressed a variety of views about what that resurrection meant. Later in 1 Corinthians, Paul held that the resurrected body would be ‘new’ and spiritual, of a new order and raised above the limitations of the earthly body. In 2 Corinthians he suggested that the body will be discarded when we come to reside in heaven. But in Romans he expressed the notion that resurrection begins with baptism, suggesting, perhaps, that resurrection is the rebirth of the embodied person.

The Christian idea of the resurrection of the dead is found in the notion that at the Parousia or Second Coming of Christ, the dead will have their bodies restored to them and the saved will enter into heaven in this bodily form. Despite Paul's primary emphasis on the resurrected, ‘spiritual’ body, early Christian writers increasingly came to understand the resurrection of the dead as meaning the full reassemblage of bodily parts (and thus material continuity), as indicated by patristic debates about resurrection, from the second to fifth centuries. The apologist Justin Martyr defended the material continuity of the fleshly body at the resurrection against the criticism of pagan critics, such as Celsus, who asked why anyone would want to recover the body, given that corpses were revolting. Tertullian believed in the reassamblage of bodily bits, seeing all reality as corporeal and arguing that the whole person would be rewarded or punished, because the whole person — soul and body — had sinned or behaved virtuously. Such ideas were developed in the context of 
Gnosticism (which saw the resurrection as spiritual and an escape from the body) and Docetism (which saw Christ's body not as real but as metaphorical), and as Christians asked questions about what happened to the bodies of martyrs. Literal, physical resurrection was seen as victory over death after martyrdom, for those Christians who had died voluntarily and sacrificially.

This idea of the resurrection of the literal body was continued into the Middle Ages, for example in the formulation of doctrines and creeds, in sermons, and in popular stories of miracles. Eschatology was seen in material terms, and there existed a strong sense of a self whose physical nature was linked to emotions, intellect, sensations, and reason, and thus to notions of salvation. Aquinas challenged these ideas, asserting that the soul accounts for a person's identity and therefore maintaining that the continuity of the fleshly stuff of the body was unnecessary. He encountered considerable opposition to his ideas, especially between the 1270s and 1300, but the condemnations of his views were removed in 1325. This might be seen as a benchmark moment — when the idea that the soul was primary in the resurrection of the dead began to take precedence. Modern debate about bodily resurrection has tended to focus on the scientific plausibility of such a notion, although Stanley Spencer's painting, 
The Resurrection, Cookham(1927) is a modern rendering of the idea of bodily resurrection, as the fully embodied inhabitants of Cookham climb out of their tombs to enjoy eternal life.

In Judaism, belief in the resurrection of the body is found in some passages of the later Hebrew scriptures, and gradually became a central, if debated, tenet of Judaism, as found in parts of the Mishnah. It is the idea that body and soul are indivisible and will be resurrected together which is important in Judaism. In Islam, it is on the day of resurrection, 
Yaum al-Oyama, that all will die on the first blast of the trumpet, and, after an interval, and on the second blast of the trumpet, will be bodily resurrected to stand before Allah for judgment and division between heaven and hell. Hinduism has many notions of the return, reassemblage, and revival of the body — especially after it has been eaten or digested — if not any specific doctrine of resurrection.
— Jane Shaw
·                         Bynum, C. W. (1995). The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christendom. Columbia University Press, New York

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