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N.T. Wright on Resurrection in the Ancient World

Whenever the question of bodily resurrection is raised in the ancient world the answer is negative. Homer does not imagine that there is a way back; Plato does not suppose anyone in their right mind would want one. There may or not be various forms of life after death, but the one thing there isn’t is resurrection: the word anastasis refers to something that everybody knows doesn’t happen. The classsic statement is Aeschylus’s play Eumenides (647-48), in which, during the founding of the Court of the Areopagus, Apollo himself declares that when a man has died, and his blood is spilt on the ground, there is no resurrection. The language of resurrection, or something like it, was used in Egypt in connection with the very full and developed view of the world beyond death. But this new life was something that had, it was believed, already begun, and it did not involve actual bodily return to the present world. Nor was everybody fooled by the idea that the dead were already enjoying a full life beyond the grave. When the eager Egyptians tried to show their new ruler Augustus their hoard of wonderful mummies, he replied that he wanted to see kings, not corpses.


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