While the resurrection of the dead is mentioned less than a half dozen times in the Hebrew Bible, resurrection and judgment are discussed in the Quran in 70 separate verses. However, because resurrection in the Qur’an is more akin to the Hebrew Bible’s many verses about Judgment Day, the difference in overall outlook is not so great:
“Every soul will taste death, and you will be given only your [full] compensation [positive or negative] on Resurrection Day.” (Qur’an 3:185)
Also, while the Qur’an was revealed over something less than 24 years to just one prophet, the Hebrew Bible was revealed over more than 1,000 years to 48 male prophets and 7 female prophets. Thus, the Hebrew Bible can show signs of historical development in religious awareness.
The absence of references to resurrection in the Torah and in the early prophets can be seen as the result of God’s desire to distance Himself from Egypt’s excessive and wasteful emphasis on giant pyramid tombs and expensive mummification rituals for the afterlife.
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Devorah Dimant, a Professor (Emerita) of Biblical Studies at the University of Haifa, is a leading Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) scholar.
In an article entitled “The Valley of Dry Bones and the Resurrection of the Dead” that appeared in the Times of Israel in April 2022 she points out that what was originally an allegorical vision about the future return of the Jewish People to their homeland, (Prophet Ezekiel’s vision in chapter 37) becomes in later centuries one of the cornerstones for the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim belief in the resurrection and judgment of the dead.
The early stages of this later development are made clear in a little-known Qumran scroll called Pseudo-Ezekiel.
The scene of a valley full of dry bones, the same scene as the dry bones resurrected in a vision of Prophet Ezekiel (Bible, Ezekiel 37:1-14), is one of the most enigmatic visions experienced by this prophet, already famous for his other unusual visions. The vision begins when God sets Prophet Ezekiel down in a valley full of bones (vv. 1-2) and asks Ezekiel if they can be brought back to life, to which Ezekiel responds that only God knows that (v.3). God then tells Ezekiel to speak this prophecy over the bones (vv. 4-6):
“O dry bones, hear the word of God. I will cause breath to enter you and you shall live again. I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you, and you shall live again. And you shall know that I am God!”
Prophet Ezekiel does as he is told, and the bones come together and grow flesh. But they were still not alive (vv. 7-8). God then tells Prophet Ezekiel to offer another prophecy, this time to the “breath” or “spirit” (v. 9):
“Come, O breath, from the four winds, and breathe into these slain, that they may live again.”
The wind comes and the corpses breathe and come to life again in great numbers (v. 10). God then explains the vision (v. 11-14) to Ezekiel:
“O mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed.” So say to them: ‘I am going to open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel….’”
These verses mean that the vision is a dramatic image, expressing that the exiled Jews, who feel that all hope is lost, will actually be spiritually revived and returned to their homeland. This Biblical passage of Ezekiel 37 is a prophecy about national restoration rather than about individual resurrection and judgment.
Some early rabbinic interpreters, however, understood Ezekiel’s vision as also being about individual resurrection and interpreted it as a reference to individual resurrection and judgment in the Messianic age.
Professor Dimant says the concept of resurrection of the dead is mostly absent in the Bible but there is a passage in Isaiah which may refer to resurrection:
“Oh, let Your dead revive! Let corpses arise! Awake and shout for joy, you who dwell in the dust! For Your dew is like the radiant dew; You make the land of the shades come to life.” (Bible, Isaiah 26:19)
This verse appears in a section in Isaiah (chapters 24-27) discussing the Messianic end of days. Whether spoken metaphorically, literally, or both, most rabbis understood it to be a literal description of a physical resurrection.
The only biblical passage that unambiguously refers to a future resurrection is found in the final chapter of the book of Daniel. The chapter opens with a description of the future redemption, which will take place during the worst time the world will ever have experienced (v. 1). The text continues by describing other wonders that will occur at that time:
“Many of those that sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to eternal life, others to reproaches, to everlasting abhorrence.” (Bible, Daniel 12:2)
Daniel is the latest biblical book, the final redaction of which is dated to around 167 BCE, so we can say that by the second century BCE, the concept of resurrection clearly had already entered Jewish discourse.
The first century Jewish historian Josephus writes that the Pharisee party of Jews believed in physical resurrection while the Sadducee part rejected it. Rabbinic Judaism adopted the principle of resurrection and a future life as a key element of Jewish faith. Ironically, it even threatens no future life for people who do not believe in the resurrection—ostensibly a reference to Sadducee Jews:
“All of Israel has a share in the World to Come…(only) these are the ones who have no share in the World to Come, namely, anyone who says: “There is no resurrection according to the Torah.”
Yet, two non-biblical Hebrew texts, Messianic Apocalypse and Pseudo-Ezekiel, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls do speak explicitly of Resurrection of the Dead. Their presence in the Qumran library, together with six copies of the book of Daniel, shows that the sectarians were aware of the belief about resurrection of the dead and were interested in reading and studying works that elaborated this belief. The unambiguous references to resurrection in the two Dead Sea Scroll documents show the growing acceptance of this belief in the late Second Temple period.
The Messianic Apocalypse (Qumran code designation: 4Q521) is a fragmentary text —dated [paleographically] to the early 1st century BCE— that lists the works or wonders that will take place in messianic times. In this text, God is twice described as one who resurrects the dead:
“For He heals the slain and the dead He resurrects” (4Q521 2 ii 12)
“He who resurrects the dead of His people.” (4Q521 5 ii 6)
Unlike the Biblical book of Daniel, which distinguished between the righteous and the wicked, the resurrection here, in the Messianic Apocalypse, might be applied to the entire people of Israel, a notion implied in Ezekiel 37.
Pseudo-Ezekiel is written on four fragmentary copies (4Q385, 4Q385b, 4Q386, 4Q388) of a previously unknown composition that shapes the prophecies of the biblical Prophet Ezekiel, discovered among the Dead Sea Scrolls. The multiple copies (four) of this document shows its importance to the people of Qumran.
According to Professor Dimant, the composition now labeled Pseudo-Ezekiel and dated to the second century BCE, contains a reworking of the Biblical Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones, which is one of the best-preserved portions of this work, attested by three copies: 4Q385 2; 4Q386 1; 4Q388 7. The Biblical Vision of Dry Bones is now to be understood as God’s answer to a question of the Qumran‘s Pseudo-Ezekiel:
“And I said: “[O God] I have seen many (people) from Israel who have loved your Name and have walked in the ways of your heart. And these things when will they come to be, and how will they be compensated for their piety?” (4Q385)
In response, God promises a clear answer:
“God said to me: “I will make (it) manifest to the Children of Israel and they shall know that I am God.” (4Q385)
God then presents Biblical Prophet Ezekiel’s Vision of the Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14) as an answer to the question. The Qumran texts skip the description of the actual valley with bones, assuming its readers are all familiar with it, and instead goes directly to the description of Israel’s revival.
According to Professor Dimant the striking feature of this passage is the fact that the Vision of Dry Bones is shown to the prophet Ezekiel as an answer to his question about the future recompense of the righteous. Pseudo-Ezekiel thus transforms the metaphor of national resurrection into a vision about individual resurrection and judgment as the recompense reserved to the righteous for their morality and piety during their earthly life.
The near future of the biblical scene (Ezekiel 37:1-14) is replaced by an event belonging to the Messianic era (according to Pseudo-Ezekiel). Instead of describing the fate of all Israel, the revelation is applied only to the righteous of Israel. Moreover, according to Professor Dimant this recompense is personal.
By the time of the Qur’an the awareness of a coming Judgment Day resurrection was the norm of the three Abrahamic religions:
“Allah – there is no deity except Him. He will surely assemble you for [judgment on] the Day of Resurrection, about which there is no [longer any] doubt.” (Quran 4:87)
The Qur’an adds an important insight to the moral and ethical judgment that was always there. The Qur’an frequently states that all the religious differences that divide Christians, Jews, and Muslims will be answered only by God on Judgment Day:
“The sabbath was only appointed for those who differed over it [Jews and Christians] And indeed, your Lord will judge between them on the Day of Resurrection concerning that over which they used to differ.” (Qur’an 16:124)
And the Qur’an most clearly expands and includes even non-Abrahamic monotheistic religious believers like the Zoroastrians:
“Indeed, the believers [in monotheism], Jews, Christians, and Sabians; whoever truly believes in God, and the Last Day, and does good, will have their reward with their Lord. And there will be no fear for them, nor will they grieve.” (Qur’an 2:62)