Is the Resurrection of the Dead From the Torah? – Sanhedrin 90a-92b – Eight Theologically Provocative Talmud Sugyot
Lesson 4 - Is the Resurrection of the Dead From the Torah? – Sanhedrin 90a-92b
Alright, I admit it. I went a little bit crazy in this lesson and gathered nearly all of the material found in the last chapter of Sanhedrin which has to do with the said topic. However, as Talmud goes it is relatively clear sailing.
This topic is a fascinating one since it deals with a topic which was clearly very important to the sages a concept which charged them up so much that they would legislative restrict those who did not believe in it. This leads me to a number of conclusions: 1. It’s underpinning in established tradition were not substantial; 2. There were strong forces which opposed this idea; 3. This concept carried a religiously significant message.
Before we start discussing the Talmudic material, I want to offer two books for further reading: Neil Gillman’s “The Death of Death” and Jon Levenson’s “Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel”. I recommend these books because people tend to think that the very idea of resurrection is absurd sort of like a bad Spielberg flick. Levenson argues convincingly that the Bible does in fact contain ideas which make this concept Jewishly plausible. Gillman discusses this idea and why it is religiously significant.
Now to the text!
View the English text for Sanhedrin 90a-92b
View the Hebrew text for Sanhedrin 90a-92b
Guide Questions and Issues
I have brought here only the segment of the Mishnah which is relevant to our discussion. The Mishnah opens with a general statement noting that all Jews have a share in the world to come. It then brings a proof verse from Isaiah.
- How does this verse prove this point?
The Mishnah then lists the exceptions to this rule, one of which is our topic of discussion.
- What information do we learn from this statement?
- What questions do you want answered that the Mishnah leaves unanswered?
Talmud – Section 1
- First do a quick scan of this section. What question does it come to answer?
- The Talmud brings a baraita to answer this question.
What is the crux of its answer?
What are your thoughts on this answer? Do we have a name for this concept in English?
- Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani asserts that “midha k’neged mida measure for measure” describes God’s concept of justice in the world. What makes this idea attractive? What is the downside of this idea?
– Check out his proof text. How is it proof of the concept of midah k’neged mida?
4-5. In these two steps, the Talmud tests whether his proof text is legitimate. What is the objection? Are you satisfied with the answer?
We now begin our search for biblical proofs for the resurrection of the dead. These proofs are not what we would call proofs today. If you want that take a look at Levenson’s book. These proofs look for linguistic idiosyncrasies in various verses which with a little twist can be rendered into proofs. Levenson argues that the sages were subtly led to the idea by biblical stories. The sages, however, look for more direct legitimatization.
This section calls for looking up the verses and attempting to follow tha manner in which the verse is used to illustrate the argument.
1-3. The manner of proof follows a “playful” pattern: offer a verse which would seem to suggest that in order to fulfill the meaning of the verse, the biblical character would need to be resurrected from the dead and then refute it with a more “plain sense” reading.
What do you make of this game? What is its point?
Steps 4-7 is a parenthetical discussion of the sin of giving a tithe to a kohen (priest) who does not know how to care for it properly.
8. Here we return to our discussion at hand. How does Rabbi Simai attempt to prove that resurrection is from the Torah? Notice here that there are no objections to his proof? DO you find his proof legitimate? How would you describe his manner of proof?
9. This section contains a discussion between Rabban Gamliel and some heretics where he attempts to prove to them the legitimacy of the concept of the “resurrection of the dead” from biblical sources. Along the way, the heretics (who are well versed in Bible) capably reject his proofs except for the last one, of course.
9a-b. Look up this verse. How is Rabban Gamliel reading this verse? Is his reading the “pshat” or plain meaning of this verse? Who is reading the verse according to “pshat”?
This interaction raises issues besides “resurrection”. How do the heretics read the text? How does Rabban Gamliel read the text?
9c-d. How does the verse from Isaiah allude to resurrection? How do the heretics reject it?
9e-f. How does the verse from the Song of Songs allude to this idea? How do the heretics reject it?
9g. The Talmud interjects the opinion of a Talmudic sage, Rabbi Johanan to reinforce the opinion of the heretics. Hmmm. What is going on here?
9h-k The Talmud returns to the baraita. It brings more textual proofs to legitimate the concept. This time, however, it does bring accompanying refutations.
10. In this step, we have another anecdote where some Romans (who they are we do not know) ask a sage two questions: The first about resurrection and the second about God’s omniscience. He answers them by quoting a verse, one that we have seen previously and rejected for the purpose of proving resurrection. Here, however the sage uses it to answer only their second question. The conversation ends here. We are not privy to know whether the answer satisfied them or not.
11. The Talmud brings a return volley in which it brings a baraita which uses this verse to answer both questions.
12. A certain sages claims that he has the perfect ammunition aga
inst heretics on the question of resurrection. He brings a verse and offers it as a proof. Look up the verse. How has Rabbi Eliezer b’rabbi Yossi learned out from this verse resurrection? It is also interesting that he talks about resurrection, but his midrash talks about “the world to come”. It would be interesting to know whether this him speaking or a “redactor”.
13. An Amora questions Rabbi Eliezer’s method of learning from this verse and offers another possibility.
14. The Talmud explains why Rabbi Eliezer rejected this method.
The principle used here is the “anthem” of Rabbi Ishmael’s way of reading Torah.
What are its strengths and what are its drawbacks?
15. Here we see the two different ways of reading Torah in full debate. Describe the differences as applied to the interpretation of this given verse.
16-17 Explain the interchange in these two steps.
Our next conversation is with one of our favorite world leaders, Cleopatra, who is as interested as anyone in the question at hand. (We cannot attest to the historical veracity of this conversation but that is not so relevant to our conversation. We are content and idea oriented.) She sure does have great textual recall.
1. Check out her textual proof. What is the “pshat” (plain meaning) of this verse? How is she reading it? What prompts her question?
We will see here an interesting phenomenon: Non-Jews, with tremendous textual capabilities, who can quote and interpret texts and raise ticklish problems with which to confront the rabbis.
- Describe Rabbi Meir’s way of answering her? Why do you think he chose to answer her this way?
This time around Rabban Gamliel’s conversation is with a governor. The governor confronts him with a reasonable question one which might even be voiced by a modern congregant. This time, however the conversation takes an interesting turn because the governor’s daughter chooses to answer the question in place of Rabban Gamliel.
- What form does the governor’s question take?
- How does his daughter answer him? Is her answer an appropriate response?
- Does she best her father?
- What is the point of this conversation?
An individual baraita
How is this baraita associated with the previous conversation? What is its role in it?
Notice the previous conversation took place in Aramaic while this baraita is in Hebrew. It is possible that the above story is a construct and that this baraita was the inspiration for the above conversation.
This time we have a conversation between a heretic and Rabbi Ami, an Eretz Yisrael Amora, using the same Aramaic as the previous stories. This story also deals with a similar theme as that of the governor.
Describe Rabbi Ami’s response. What do you notice about the responses to heretics and non-Jews? How does the retort to them differ from the proofs we have used up until now? Why do you think these responses are different?
- Rava presents here a “stira a discrepancy” between two verses which he claims contradict each other over the question of what will be the physical state of the resurrected
- Rava resolves the discrepancy. How does he do it? What is the bottom line of his answer?
- This baraita contends with the same verse discussed by Rava. What is the question raised here? How does the baraita go about answering the question using the biblical verse?
- In this step, the sugya returns to an attempt to find allusions to resurrection in biblical verses. It starts out with one of the most famous of these attempts a midrashic reading of the first words of the “Song of the Sea”.
7-8. Here we have two meimrot in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. The first one is another example of an attempt to derive proof of resurrection from scripture. Here, explain the logic behind the proof. The second uses to the same verse to proof that there is reward in singing God’s praise.
9. This step offers another biblical proof.
1.-3 This section offers the collection of meimrot which offer biblical allusions to resurrection.
- Here too, Rabbi Tavi uses an interesting verse choice and analogy to allude to the idea of resurrection.
- In this baraita, the author attempts to reconstruct the specific conditions of the resurrection through the use of biblical verses and rabbinic analogy.
- Perhaps the story of Ezekiel’s dry bones contradicts the schema constructed in the baraita.
- There were different opinions concerning the significance of the story of the dry bones found in Ezekiel. The Talmud contends that the author of the baraita in step 2 held that this story was a parable and consequently is not relevant to our question.
- The remainder of this sugya discusses different views concerning the meaning of the story of the “dry bones” in Ezekiel, whether it was a parable, whether it really happened, or will happen and who the resurrected dry bones might be truly a fascinating read!
Things to Consider
- Why do you think so much energy has been expended trying to prove that resurrection can be derived from the Torah (Scripture)?
- What theological virtues can be associated with the idea of resurrection?
- Can you find ideas related to resurrection in the siddur?
- In a number of the discussions with non-Jews and/or heretics, different manner of proof for this concept were utilized. For what reason?
- Is the concept of resurrection relevant or irrelevant today?