Friday, November 21, 2008

Resurrection in the Talmud: The seed as analogy for death and resurrection

When considering whether Judaism views resurrection as a physical event, we may ask whether the Talmud ever uses the analogy of a seed for resurrection, as is used in the writings of Paul in the New Testament. Here we see an exchange recorded in the Talmud in which a seed is used as an analogy for resurrection:
Queen Cleopatra asked R. Meir, ‘I know that the dead will revive, for it is written, And they [sc. the righteous] shall [in the distant future] blossom forth out of the city [Jerusalem] like the grass of the earth. (Psalm 72:16) But when they arise, shall they arise nude or in their garments?’ — He replied, ‘Thou mayest deduce by an a fortiori argument [the answer] from a wheat grain: if a grain of wheat, which is buried naked, sprouteth forth in many robes, how much more so the righteous, who are buried in their raiment!’ (Sanhedrin 90b)
The study notes to the Soncino Talmud advise that this is not the "Cleopatra" of "Anthony and Cleopatra", but rather a ruler of Samaria. R. Meir's life was slightly later than that of Paul. He was one of the principle authors of the Mishnah portions of the Talmud, so that any anonymous portions of the Mishnah were by default considered to have been written by him (Sanhedrin 86a). He was ordained during the persecutions following the Bar Kochba rebellion (Sanhedrin 14a), helping us date the start of his rabbinic career to the first half of the 100's A.D. Dating the origins of sayings in the Gemara in the Talmud is trickier, but regardless of the dating, we find that the analogy of a seed for resurrection had at some point become part of the tradition of Pharisaic Judaism.


Tony said...

Thanks for sharing these!

Do you happen to know if the Sadducees, who denied the resurrection, had an opinion regarding Psalm 72:16? They probably would have asked the same question Cleopatra asked.

Weekend Fisher said...

Good question, but I have no idea of the answer. Documentation on the Sadducees is kind of scanty compared to that for Pharisees. By the time the Talmud was completed the Sadducees don't seem to have been around anymore, & so much of what we know about them comes from their opponents.