Dating the Afterlife

If you somehow thought I typed the title wrong and meant “dating IN the afterlife,” you came to the wrong place.

These thoughts sprang from a little reading in Simcha Paull Raphael’s Jewish Views of the Afterlife. It’s an interesting book, marred in my opinion by questionable assumptions, but useful because of the nice summaries and citations from literature all the way from Bible to modern Judaism.

What I have below is really not some final product or well thought out paper, but some notes I decided to make about dates for various key texts in the development of the Jewish view of the afterlife in Second Temple Judaism (516 B.C.E. to 70 C.E. plus or minus).

The impetus for doing this was my sense that Raphael was not being careful in putting references in 1 Enoch in their likely chronological order.

What might interest you, the reader, is to think about approximate dates for the emergence of certain ideas. Just how old are various ideas about the afterlife (inasmuch as we can tell from the writings that have survived to date).

The Origins of Resurrection
First, how soon did the idea emerge in the Biblical era that life goes on after death? Aside from a few possible hints, such as in Ecclesiastes 12:7 (”the spirit returns to God who made it,” but the date of Ecclesiastes is debated) and perhaps certain ideas about Sheol or being “gathered to his fathers,” the first clear mention of the afterlife is in Isaiah:

Isaiah 26:19 (c. 740 B.C.E.) “Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise. O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy. For your dew is a radiant dew, and the earth will give birth to those long dead.”

Arguably, since many scholars think Daniel was written in or after the time of the Maccabees (I don’t), the next mention is in Daniel:

Daniel 12:1-2 (c. 535 B.C.E) “Many of those who sleep in the dusty ground will awake–some to everlasting life, and others to shame and everlasting abhorrence.”

Resurrection, which means a bodily afterlife, is a unique idea to the Jewish people. The Greeks developed non-material views of the afterlife, disembodied souls in a kind of spiritual paradise. Only Israel believed the physical is good (see Genesis 1) and that afterlife is physical existence on a renewed earth.

A Word about 1 Enoch
The book we call 1 Enoch survives primarily in fairly modern manuscripts in Ethiopic. The earliest complete copies are from the 1400’s or so. Some Greek fragments go back to about the 700’s. Most importantly, some Aramaic fragments have been found at Qumran among the Dead Sea Scrolls (before 70 C.E. to be sure).

Yet 1 Enoch is not one book written during one period of time. Evidence is rather good that Enoch is a collection of writings from different periods. No one can say for sure what was written when, so dating Enoch is not a lot better than a shot in the dark. The dates I will give for various parts of Enoch are from the Charlesworth edition of The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, and the article on it by E. Isaac:
–1 Enoch 1-5, Late Pre-Christian (say 100 or later B.C.E.).
–1 Enoch 6-11, Late Pre-Maccabean (say 200 B.C.E.).
–1 Enoch 12-16, Early Pre-Maccabean (say 400-200 B.C.E.)
–1 Enoch 18-19, 104-105 B.C.E.
–1 Enoch 37-71, 104-63 B.C.E. with some earlier texts incorporated within
–1 Enoch 72-82, 110 B.C.E.
–1 Enoch 83-90, 165-161 B.C.E.
–1 Enoch 91-107, 104-105 B.C.E. with some earlier texts incorporated within

Paradise: The Garden
The word paradise comes from a Persian word (pardes) meaning a garden. The idea of a garden of God, either a return to Eden or a new and better Eden, goes back to 1 Enoch:

1 Enoch 61:12 (c. 104-63 B.C.E.), “All the holy ones who are in heaven will bless him, and all the elect who dwell in the Garden of life.”
1 Enoch 77:3 (c. 110 B.C.E.), “…garden of righteousness…”
1 Enoch 90:23 (c. 165-161 B.C.E.) “…the garden of the righteous…”

Resurrection in 1 Enoch
1 Enoch really doesn’t make new ground here, but it affirms resurrection, as in Isaiah and Daniel, and even the separate destinies of the righteous and wicked at the resurrection, as in Daniel:

1 Enoch 51:1-3 (c.104-63 B.C.E.), “In those days, Sheol will return all the deposits which she had and Hades will give back all that it owes. And he shall choose the righteous and holy ones from among the risen dead, for the day when they shall be selected and saved has arrived.”

Denial of Resurrection in 1 Enoch?
Raphael gets it wrong here. He writes as if Enoch also contains a denial of the resurrection. However, the following quote is what sinners will taunt the righteous with at death. Therefore Enoch is affirming resurrection here also. Nonetheless, it is likely that different opinions existed, just as later with the Sadducees (no resurrection) and Pharisees (definitely resurrection):

1 Enoch 102:6-8 (c.104-105 B.C.E.), “As we die, so do the righteous die. What then have they gained by their deeds? Behold, like us they have died in grief and darkness, and what have they more than we? From now on we have become equal . . . from now on they shall never see light forever.”


About Derek Leman

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

3 Responses to Dating the Afterlife

  1. judahgabriel says:


    What are your views on “hell”? When I read the Enoch 1 quote about Hades, it made me think about what the real text says. (Given that Hades is the Greek god of the dead, god of the underworld, I cannot imagine this is the original text.)

    I was talking with some folks this last shabbat about the concept, as the Torah reading this week was describing how Sh’ol ate up the members of Korah’s rebellion, and this sparked a discussion. We looked up some of the Hebrew words which are often translated as “hell”, and now I must question whether the common Christian view of hell is actually Scriptural.

    At the same time, I cannot imagine how God could be a just God without rewarding the righteous and punishing evil.

    Still, Scriptures like Matthew 16… “and the gates of Hades shall not overcome it.” make me scratch my head.

    Any thoughts?

  2. Judah:

    The text I have does say “hell,” but I don’t know Ethiopic and cannot check on the origin of the word. Is it related to “Gehenna” or “Hades”? I don’t know.

    Hades is the same idea as Sheol. It is the underworld, the place of shades (ghosts of men and women) in a gloomy, but not punitive existence. Hades also, in some contexts, means “grave” just like Sheol.

    In this passage from Enoch I doubt a place of eternal punishment was in mind. I took the line as synonymous parallelism (“Sheol gives up the dead and Hades gives up the dead”). I suppose it could be antithetical parallelism (“Paradise gives up the dead and Gehinnom gives up the dead also”).

    I believe the New Testament gives evidence of a place of punishment in the afterlife. I am open to other ideas, but I think the evidence favors eternal conscious punishment. I am open to the idea that fire is merely a figure (it says darkness in other places) and I am open to the possibility that tradition has misread the texts (though evidence is in favor of something like the traditional Christian view as far as New Testament texts are concerned).

    I have a chapter in my new book, The World to Come, where I cover this more thoroughly.

    I suppose at some point I could post excerpts and sponsor a little friendly debate here about it.


  3. judahgabriel says:

    Very interesting.

    “I think the evidence favors eternal conscious punishment.”

    I tend to agree, although I’m not convinced.

    Thanks for your thoughts on the issue. I’ll have to check our that new book! Currently enjoying your Feasts book.


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