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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Spirituality: Ancient Views on the Resurrection

A friend recently scanned sources to get a better sense of the way the Christ event fits into the thinking of the ancient world. The Resurrection is unique in terms of the precedents of the ancient world. With the notable exception of the foreshadowing of Christ's sacrifice and resurrection in the Old Testament, there almost no conceptualization of the idea of death and resurrection in the ancient world (including Eastern thinking).


Iliad 23:19 
There came to him the hapless spirit of Patroclus, in all things like his very self, in stature, in fair eyes and in voice, and in raiment was he clad withal; and he stood above Achillesʼ head and spoke to him, saying: “Thou sleepest, and hast forgotten me, Achilles. Not in my life was thou unmindful of me, but now in my death! Bury me with all speed that I pass within the gates of Hades. Afar do the spirits keep me aloof, the phantoms of men that have done with the toils, neither suffer they me to join myself to them beyond the River, but vainly do I wander the wide-gated house of Hades. And give me thy hand, I pitifully entreat thee, for never more again shall I come back from out of the land of Hades.” . . . Achilles held out his arms to clasp the spirit, but in vain. It vanished like a wisp of smoke and went gibbering underground. . . . [He said] “Ah, then it is true that something of us does survive, even in the halls of Hades, but with no intellect at all, only the ghost and semblance of a man.”

Odysseus speaks with Achilles and tries to console him by reminding him of his godlike status among mortals, and that he rules now in Hades. Achilles responds: 

ʻNever try to reconcile me to death, glorious Odysseus. I should choose, so I might live on earth, to serve as the hireling of another, some landless man with hardly enough to live on, rather than to be lord over all the dead that have perished.ʼ


"How will we ever get people to be good citizens, he asks, to serve in the army, to do their duty to their friends, if their view of the future life is conditioned by the epic pictures of gibbering ghosts in a
gloomy underworld? Instead the young must be taught the true philosophical view: death is not
something to regret, but something to be welcomed. It is the moment when, and the means by which,
the immortal soul is set free from the prison-house of the physical body."

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