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The Person in Jewish Thought

Beginning around the second century BCE, there were two independent developments in Jewish thought concerning the afterlife. Prior to that point, the Jewish tradition had taken death to be the final end of human life. One development was the expectation of bodily resurrection at the end of time. The other was the adoption of a dualist account of the person, according to which the soul survives the death of the body. Neil Gillman says:

In their original form, the two doctrines of the resurrection of the body and the immortality of the soul appear independent of each other. One knows nothing of bodies, the other knows nothing of souls. One ascribes personal identity to the body; the other, to the soul. One teaches that at the end of time, the body will be revived. The other insists that the soul is immortal and needs no revival.Gillman, The Death of Death, 238.

However, Rabbinic Judaism (from around 200 CE) conflated these traditions, teaching that the soul leaves the body at death but receives a resurrected body at some later time.

Neil Gillman points out that while many Jews since the Enlightenment have given up all concepts of life after death, there is a current movement within Judaism to recapture the doctrine of bodily resurrection (rather than immortality of the soul). Gillman asks:

[W]hy stress bodily resurrection rather than immortality of the soul? For many reasons: Because the notion of immortality tends to deny the reality of death, of God's power to take my life and to restore it; because the doctrine of immortality implies that my body is less precious, important, even "pure," while resurrection affirms that my body is not less God's creation and is both necessary and good; because the notion of a bodiless soul runs counter to my experience of myself and of others; because immortality implies the absorption of my soul into an All-Soul thus denying my individuality; and because resurrection affirms the significance of society.Craig Kinsely, quoted by Lee Hotz, in "An Inner Connection to God? Team Studies How Brain Processes the Spiritual," Washington Post, Nov. 8, 1997.

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The Person in Jewish Thought

Neuroscience & the Soul: Topic Index
The Person in Greek Thought
The Person in Medieval Thought
The Person in Modern Thought
Neuroscience and Thomas Aquinas
Thomas Aquinas, Moral Behavior and Phineas Gage
The Person in Hebrew Scriptures
The Person in The New Testament
The Person in Christian Theology
Is Behavior Determined, or are we Free?
Implications Of A Nonreductive Physicalist View


Dr. Nancey Murphy


See also:

The Cognitive and Neurosciences
What Makes us Human?
Are we Free?
Saint Augustine
Rene Descartes
Sir Isaac Newton
Books on Neuroscience and Theology