Purity Laws and the Doctrine of Resurrection, Part 1

Recently we considered the fact that there will be sacrifices and purity laws in the Age to Come. Now I would like to consider how the purity laws of the Torah point to the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead.

In Part 1, I will explain the tradition of proving the doctrine of the resurrection from the Torah in rabbinic literature. In Part 2, I will summarize the purity laws briefly, show what they have in common, and from there demonstrate that resurrection was always on God’s mind.

It is a mitzvah to demonstrate the doctrine of the resurrection from the Torah. This goes back to the disputes between the Sadducees and the Pharisees about the resurrection and life after death. The Pharisees believed in the hereafter and the coming resurrection. The Sadducees did not which is why they were so sad, you see. You can read in the New Testament about these disputes (Matthew 22:23-33 and Acts 23:6-10).

It was likely because the doctrine of the hereafter and the resurrection is not taught directly in the Torah of Moses that the Sadducees rejected the doctrine. So it became a sort of badge of honor for leading rabbis to have their special proof of the resurrection from the Torah. Here are some examples, as found in Everyman’s Talmud, by Abraham Cohen:

Whence is the doctrine of the resurrection derived from the Torah? As it is said, “Ye shall give the Lord’s heave-offering to Aaron the priest” (Num. 28:28). But did Aaron live forever to receive the offering? . . . Consequently the text teaches that he is to be restored to life in the Hereafter and will receive the heave offering (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 90b) . . . The Sadducees asked R. Gamaliel, “Whence is it known that the Holy One, blessed be He, revives the dead?” He answered, “From the Pentateuch, the Prophets, and the Writings”; but they did not accept his proofs. “From the Pentateuch, for it is written, ‘Behold, thou shalt sleep with thy fathers and rise up’” (Deut. 31:16). They replied, “The meaning is rather, ‘This people will rise up and go whoring after the strange gods.’” . . .

When they did not accept Rabban Gamaliel’s arguments, he added another:

Finally he quoted them, “The land which the Lord sware unto your fathers to give unto them” (Deut. 11:9). It is not stated :unto you,” but “unto them”; hence the doctrine of the Resurrection is deducible from the Torah.

There are other proofs by other sages. Generally they all bend various rules of normal interpretation to try and find the doctrine of resurrection in the Torah. Giving the heave-offering to Aaron the priest no doubt means also to the priests who succeed him after he dies. The Sadducees were doubtless right that R. Gamaliel was twisting the meaning of Deuteronomy 31:16. The “them” in Deuteronomy 11:9 refers no doubt to God promising the land to Israel, not a direct teaching that the fathers would one day be raised and inherit the land. Other proofs use similar tricks, playing of the tense of a verb and so forth.

Rabbi Yeshua had the best of all the proofs, in my mind, and you can read it for yourself in Matthew 22:23-33. He proved resurrection from the common saying in Torah, “I am the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” The text does not say, “I was the God of Abraham,” but “I am.” The present tense is clear and it would have been easy enough to use the perfect if “I was” was intended. In other words, though Abraham is dead, the God of Israel is still the God of Abraham. Therefore Abraham must be alive. He is the God of the living, not the dead, Yeshua told his Sadducean mockers.

So, how will the purity laws of the Torah give is a strong hint of the doctrine of the resurrection? What do these two things have to do with each other? Next time, we will have a crash course on the purity laws, the vital theory of Jacob Milgrom (the prince of Leviticus commentators), and a theology of life after death foreshadowed by these regulations often despised by modern interpreters.


About Derek Leman

IT guy working in the associations industry. Formerly a congregational rabbi. Dad of 8. Nerd.
This entry was posted in Life to Come, Messianic Jewish, Resurrection, Sacrifices and Purity, Theology, Torah. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Purity Laws and the Doctrine of Resurrection, Part 1

  1. “The Sadducees did not which is why they were so sad, you see.”.

    BOOO! Bad joke alert!

    Man, that takes me back to when my folks and I attended a mega-church when I was a kid.

    Oy gevault.

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