Issue #45 (May 1985)
Body-renunciation vs body-intoxication
Can anyone take seriously the naive sloppiness of thinking which would be required to parallel Socrates and Jesus? We have all heard such idealistic clap-trap. There just cannot be anything to it, can there? More sober scholarship accepts as axiomatic that classic Greek worship of the body
and beauty is opposite to Orthodox Judaic asceticism and shame or modesty about the body. Can a reconciliation be possible?
Can reincarnation be derived from the Bible? I believe it can.
Consider the paradox that it was Jewish supposed body-renunciation which taught resurrection of the body as the only means for life beyond death. The supposedly body-intoxicated Greeks sublimated the belief in immortality into the survival of the soul [quoteright]or spiritual element only. Among the post-classical Greeks, though admittedly derived from Persian dualism, the body became so condemned that even during earthly life the holy one completely mortified the flesh (or supposedly disregarded it all the more by indulging in lasciviousness which could only benefit the spiritual detachment of the initiate).
What was the true Greek view before corruption by its own sophistication and by overheated oriental religion? The prime ethical thinkers among the Greeks understood their traditions as teaching reincarnation. This was true of the Pythagoreans and others quoted by Plato. Socrates taught that knowledge was simply re-Iearned from a prior life. Plato's treatise on ancient traditions in the Timaeus taught reincarnation. Even today reincarnationists believe they experienced prior lives in Atlantis, the subject of Greek myth. Divorced from the pessimistic Eastern transmigration-with-animals concept, reincarnation is by nature a compromise understanding of life as neither wholly body nor imprisoned spirit.
The Bible view seems quite different. The prophets condemned the wicked, especially nations. They promised a glorious future for Israel. Is it not implicit in this, however, that the good or evil people living at that time would have to be reborn later as individuals to be fair recipients of future honor or shame? The prophecies of doom sometimes proclaimed immediate fulfillment. However, the prophecies of peace and plenty almost always concerned the future beyond a lifetime (both in intention and in the eventual working-out or yet-anticipated messianic accomplishment). Nevertheless, this is a gray area. This could prove either or both a process of routine reincarnation or an ultimate one-time resurrection of the body.
Can reincarnation be derived from the Bible? I believe it can. Consider Ezekiel 16 for a general indication. The whole long chapter treats Jerusalem metaphorically as a harlot. In comparison to her sins, the earlier base corruptions of Samaria (the northern kingdom, Israel, by then in captivity) and Sodom are considered excusable. God declares that these sisters of Jerusalem shall be restored to their former estates in greater fortune than Jerusalem, which shall be In disgrace in their midst (Eze.16:52-55). Later when God shall restore Jerusalem with an everlasting covenant, these sisters shall become daughters to her (16:59-62). Nations do not live; mere territory means even less. Sodom presumably left no physical descendants (unless Lot's descendants are meant), so in one case the dead live on by reincarnation in their descendants, in the other, by reincarnation in some other race. Here in Ezekiel 16, no distinction is clear between reincarnation and resurrection, however.
Isaiah 49 addresses itself to rebirth beyond natural or national descent, which puts out of court the laughable view that simple restoration of something called or representing Sodom or Samaria would suffice to restore justice for the inequities inflicted or suffered by long-dead individuals.
Deutero-Isaiah prophesies for God,
"The place is too narrow for me; make room to dwell more free."
Then you will say in your heart, "Who has got me these?
Whereas I was childless and a widow, who has brought up these?
I was left alone; whence then came these to me?"
"I will lift up my hand to the nations, and raise my signal
In addition to general meaning and various specifics throughout history, I see this and Isaiah 54:1-8 as assurance to the Hasidic victims of the Holocaust in World War II that they and their children wil be born and raised among the nations unbeknownst to their gentile parents. Isaiah 49 and 54 speak not to a bodily resurrection after the end of time, but to secret children naturally conceived and raised among the nations, and they will inherit the possessions of the gentiles and people their citties.
Putting aside (as too big a topic for this essay) whether a somewhat smooth transition to the millennium can be reconciled with Revelation, can such liberality towards ancient sinners be reconciled with even the Old Testament's own harshness? With the Flood, Fire on Sodom, and the war of annihilation on Canaan, it would seem that God's condemnation of the profane is irrevocable. Life after death is implicit in all the Old Testament, explicit in the deutero-canonical books (II Macchabbees, Sirach especially), but explicitly doubted by the preacher in Ecclesiastes 3:18-21. This breath or spirit returns at death to God who gave it (12:7). Similarly, in Ezekiel 18:4, 20, the soul that sins shall die. Note that only the soul is said to die, but the spirit to return; the spirit had pre-existence. The spirit alone is immortal; the soul is subject to annihilation if condemned. God directs the reincarnation of the spirit from life to life. He judges the soul at death to life with Him or to death and annihilation. The Adventists and related Jehovah's Witness and Armstrong cults are right that there is no eternal punishment in Hell for the soul. Only the spirit of man is subject to eternal punishment when the cycle of rebirths ends at the close of the millennium. Even though the wicked soul has been annihilated, the spirit in a later life may find redemption.
Philosopher and poet DALE ADAMS, who describes himself as an "overqualified ex-teacher" and a "former Rationalist," is our resident authority on medieval eschatology. He can be found expounding his views at Mensa gatherings in the Sacramento area.