This spring I (Jason) wrote two short pieces on resurrection. The first is on the Sadducees’ question about marriage and resurrection in Mark 12.18-27 (par. Matt 22.23-33; Luke 20.27-38). The second surveys Jewish views during the second temple period. The issue that stood out to me while working on these projects is the lack of clear evidence for a widespread belief in resurrection during this time. I think most people work with the impression that the vast majority of Jews believed in resurrection, and the Sadducees were the odd ones. Reading a work like N.T. Wright’s Resurrection of the Son of God certainly gives the impression that most Jews believed in resurrection. The literature, however, does not clearly support this view.

Sirach has no notion of a continued bodily existence after death. One lives on only in the memories of others. This work was hugely popular in the second temple period and even into the Rabbinic era. Of course, later scribes added resurrection statements, which indicates that they were bothered by the lack of a resurrection belief. These edits, however, come at later stages and cannot be dated clearly to the second temple period.

Jubilees 23.31 describes the death of the physical body and the continuing existence of one’s spirit. Wisdom of Solomon appears to describe a similar view. In order to get either text to refer to resurrection, one must assume that eschatological texts that speak of a continued existence after death assume resurrection even if not clearly stated.

Perhaps the most surprising evidence is the Dead Sea Scrolls. Experts in this literature have, for some time, been challenging the reading that finds here a strong belief in resurrection. George Nickelsburg made the case in his early study Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life (1972), which was updated in 2006. Important texts like 1QS, CD and 1QM have no clear evidence for a belief in resurrection. The strongest evidence comes in the Hodayot, but this is far from clear. I suspect that the author(s) did have leanings toward a bodily afterlife, something like resurrection, but this is far from obvious. Even then, the evidence from the scrolls is strikingly thin.

To be sure, there were Jews who believed in bodily resurrection. Josephus indicates that he believes in resurrection (Ap. 2.217-18), and he attributes the same to the Pharisees, despite describing their position in Greek philosophical language (J.W. 2.163; Ant.18.14). Texts like 2 Macc 7 also give the impression that resurrection was a popular position. 2 Baruch also advocates for resurrection, although it is not clear exactly what the author envisions the afterlife to be like (chapters 49-52). And, of course, the New Testament texts testify to the belief in resurrection among the early Christians.

In the end, though, the Jewish literature does not provide strong evidence for the view that many Jews believed in a bodily resurrection after death.