The History of Resurrection Tradition
According to Merriam-Webster dictionary, the word ‘resurrection’ stands for “the state of one risen from the dead.” Generally, resurrection refers to restoration to life of the person who is clinically dead.
Concept of resurrection has been in existence in one form or the other since the very birth of the first human being in this planet. Over the centuries, different religions and mythological schools of thought have defined and taken the tradition of resurrection in different ways; therefore, it is always hard to find any commonly agreed fact about it.
For further clarification, it will be necessary to point out that resurrection stands apart from the concepts of ‘immortality of soul’ and ‘resuscitation’ as it involves the rebirth of both body and soul (Harrington).
It will not be wrong to say that the tradition of resurrection is closely associated with the philosophy of religion rather than the creed of human existence itself. Every religion, from past to present, has attempted to delineate resurrection in its own manner-but the basis purpose behind all was to convince people to act wisely in their lives.
The belief on resurrection is the strongest part of some of the religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam while the other mainstream religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism also have certain doctrines about it. However, the most solid and authentic theory till this era is the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
History of Resurrection
When we talk about the history of resurrection, we actually talk about the history of human life. Adam, the first man, who, according to the belief of Abrahamic religions, descended to the earth along with Eve, preached his offspring about the doctrine of resurrection. Following his death, a number of prophets came and almost all of them converged on the point that there was a life after death, and that a living thing could reborn after losing life.
Though the proper history of resurrection tradition starts from the arrival of Jesus Christ, but we shall also take some snapshots of the existence of the concept in ancient eras.
Tradition of Resurrection among Greeks and Egyptians
Egypt and Greece posed to be the greatest civilizations of the old times. Both the nations were often at war against each other in pursuit of material resources and expansion of territories.
The concept of resurrection was found among both of the nations. In ancient Egypt, Osiris was the supreme God who was believed to have resurrected with some miracle (Radford). Apart from this, there was another God, Baal, commonly known as the God of rising while Osiris was considered to be the God of dying.
On the other hand, the ancient Greece believed that those, who resurrected from the bodies of the dead ones, had immortal lives and that they would never die again. The great figures of the time like Asclepius, Achilles, Alcmene, Melicertes, Heracles and Castor were believed to have resurrected. However, most of the Greece philosophers condemned this view and, resultantly, were punished by the clergy and nobility of the time.
As wars were common in those days, those, who died in the battle field, were considered to have taken a new life that, the Greece strongly believed, was never going to end. However, some scholars point out that this concept was propagated by the autocracy of that time in order to convince the people to sacrifice their lives for the cause of its political domination and material benefits.
This concept is also found in Islam to some extent. According to the Islamic mythology, the martyrs, who lay down their lives for right causes, do not die in fact, but transform into immortal deities who rest in heavens.
Resurrection Tradition in Judaism
The era of Judaism, one of the three Abraham religions, was much closer to the birth of Jesus Christ. The Jews, commonly known as Israelites, also believed on resurrection. According to their belief, all the dead ones went to Sheol, a place between heaven and hell, and used to live again in shape of some shadow (Harrington).
They also believed that a complete resurrection would also come at the end of history, and those with good deeds were entitled to gain an eternal life of calm and joy.
As Jews posed to be the most blessed nation, some saints and scholars of that era used to predict that they were entitled to live forever, and their souls were not going to decay after death.
Like Hindus, Jews also believe that a soul can relive in shape of animals and insects. It is the reason they do not cover their foods and edibles, rather expose them to insects, birds and animals as they think that they can be one of them after death. They also avoid trampling insects while walking. This view is very close to ‘Transmigration of Souls’ concept of Hinduism (discussed in detail below).
Christianity and the Culmination of the Resurrection Tradition
Mixing up the concepts of all religions, Christianity transformed the tradition of resurrection into a full-fledged history, and put its foundation on it. This religion backed up the doctrine with historical evidence in shape of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection in physical form.
As per the belief of Christians, Christ, after being crucified by the Romans on Good Friday and buried in the tomb of Arimathea rose to life again and rejoined his followers.
According to the New Testaments, believed to be based on the teachings of Christ, when Mary Magdalene and other ladies went to the tomb on Sunday morning to shower flowers on the grave of Jesus, they found the tomb empty as the buried one had turned to be alive again. It was reported to them by an angel.
After the empty tomb incident, Christians were confronted with the question of appearance of risen Jesus. It was the point where most of the differences emerged as the Prophet was not witnessed and met by all the followers. It is stated in the Bible that only a few blessed figures (disciples, Mother Marry and closest companions) happened to meet and interact with risen Jesus.
Whatsoever the reality is, the creed of Jesus’ resurrection became the basic tenet of the Christianity. That incident changed the course of the history dramatically and the coming generations could not forget it (Keathley).
Views In Favour of and against Jesus Christ’s Resurrection
For almost 2000 years, various scholars, philosophers, religious teachers and researchers have been putting forward different views and opinions both in support of and against Jesus Christ’s Resurrection. Here we take a look on a few of them.
A renowned mythologist, N.T. Wright, writes in his book, ‘The Resurrection of the Son of God’, that early Christians held two strong convictions: one that Jesus’ tomb was found to be empty and second that he appeared again bodily. The writer has used excerpts and evidences from the New Testaments to strengthen his claim that the story of resurrection is true (Wright).
Dr. George Hanson says, “The simple faith of the Christian who believes in the Resurrection is nothing compared to the credulity of the skeptic who will accept the wildest and most improbable romances rather that admits the plain witness of historical certainties. The difficulties of belief may be great; the absurdities of unbelief are greater” (“inplainsite.org”).
J. Hampton, Keathley III, in his research study, ‘False Theories against the Resurrection of Christ’, concludes that none of the theories, which have been propounded to justify the resurrection so far, provides any solid evidence of his rebirth of Jesus Christ (Keathley).
Keathley has analyzed a number of theories including The Swoon Theory, The Hallucination Theory, Te Impersonation Theory, The Spiritual Resurrection Theory, The Theft Theory and The Unknown Tomb Theory. He has also presented refutation of each of the theories along with its description.
Osho, a spiritual teacher who lived and died in India after being abandoned by the entire world, presented a very different view on Jesus Christ’ resurrection in the light of scientific evidences. He told that a human being died at least 48 hours after being hanged, and Jesus was removed from scaffold after 12 hours as the preceding day was Saturday or Sibt which was considered to be a holy day both in Judaism and Christianity. They put Jesus in a cave, aiming to hang him again on Sunday, but his disciples took him away from there and disappeared. Thus, Christ did not die actually, but fell unconscious. This theory denies the entire resurrection tradition.
There is another school of thought which believes that Jesus Christ’s resurrection was one of his God-given miracles, avowing that it is not possible for a common human being to get a new life after death and live normally among his/her fellows. The proponents of this section argue that resurrection is just owed to miracles and without them, it is merely a myth.
Resurrection Tradition in Asian Religions
Like the Western and Arab religions, the resurrection tradition is also found in the Easter religions like Hinduism, Buddhism and Jainism. The three shares almost similar approaches towards the tradition, however, the strongest one rests in Hinduism which poses to be the oldest religion of the world.
Hindus believe on ‘Reincarnation of souls’ which stands for rebirth of the souls of those who die. They also believe on the seven births of a single soul. According to their philosophy, souls never die, only bodies die, and souls keep wandering in the world in one shape or another-this concept is also called ‘Transmigration of souls’.
The followers of this religion term soul as ‘atman’ and body as ‘sarira’, and also believe that the former is imprisoned to the latter.
A cause of the penetration of concept of resurrection in the Asian religions is linked to Jesus Christ’s arrival and stay in India for at least 18 years from the age of 12 to 30. As New Testaments give no record of this period of Jesus’ life, some scholars have explored the history of ancient India and found some strong evidences of Christ’s presence in Tibet and Kashmir. It is also reported that Christ studied the teachings of Buddhism during that period, and, in turn, imparted his own teachings and doctrines to Hindus and Buddhists.
Though the evidences of Christ’s advent in the Sub-continent are found in the history but historians differ over the time period as some historical accounts divulge that the Prophet migrated to India having been survived from crucifixion and lived and died there. However, this notion nullifies the entire resurrection tradition, therefore, is not considered to be reliable.
British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), a media conglomerate of United Kingdom, also trotted into the history of Asia and found some evidences regarding Christ’s presence in Kashmir where he used to cure patients with his miracles.
Are Reincarnation and Resurrection Same?
Some scholars argue that Reincarnation and Resurrection are two different thinks as the former involves only soul while the latter takes both body and soul together. According to them, resurrection actually stands for the return of a dead one to the actual and normal life again. On the other hand, reincarnation just refers to the rebirth of soul and body has no role after death. It is the reason; the Hindus burn their dead bodies.
The Concept of Karma
The concept of ‘Karma’ is at the heart of the three above-mentioned religions with a little variation in its interpretation. Karma means that a person suffers hardships due to his/her bad acts and enjoys blessings for good ones. It also maintains that the reward of the good deeds is given after resurrection as the Hindus have faith that virtuous souls transform into great people while evil souls turn into animals.
The Buddhists believe that the fate of the souls is determined by the acts the people do in their first lives.
Islam and Resurrection Tradition
Islam is the third and last Abraham religion which employed resurrection tradition as a central point of its teachings, and it will be not wrong to say that the rest of doctrines of this heavenly religion are based and dependent on this solo belief.
Originated in 6th century in Arab, it preached its followers to keep the concept of death and rebirth to an eternal life in their minds at each and every move of their lives. According to the Islamic concept of resurrection, all human beings will die and then regain lives on a specific day, known by God only. After the resurrection, there will be a day of judgment when deeds and creeds of every individual are to be evaluated keenly. After evaluations, God will grant heaven and rewards to the good people, and chastise the bad ones in hell.
However, Islam differs with Christianity on the point of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. As per the Holy Quran, the religious book of the Muslims believed to be endowed by God to Prophet Mohammad, Christ was not crucified, buried and resurrected at all, but he was lifted to heavens alive by God. It also reveals that Christ will come on the earth again shortly close to the doomsday to guide people about the status of life after death. Unlike Christians, Muslims do not consider Christ as son of God, but take him merely as a human being and prophet who, like many other prophets, was assigned the duty to show the right path to the world.
Resurrection and Spirituality School of Thought
Spirituality Schools Of Thought, which focus on the internal embellishment of human beings, also deny resurrection. The ace spiritual teachers of the world including Eckhart Tolle, Sadh Guru, Bullay Shah and Mansoor Al-Hlaj have strongly nullified the concept of life after death, terming it as merely an illusion. These mystics believe that there is no past and no future, but present is everything. According to them, we should undertake an inner self-journey through meditations and yoga in order to dump our ego and gain the state of nothingness. According to them, those, who get enlighten, have nothing to do with death and resurrection as they live forever. They also opine that there is no heaven and no hell, claiming that he who does good things for the sake of heaven can never be sincere with his deeds as there is involved an interest in his/her cause. They teach people to love their fellow beings and serve the humanity without any interests and objectives.
Resurrection in Animals
There are certain myths in some parts of the world regarding the resurrection in animals. It is believed that Phoenix, a bird, lives for hundreds of years and when it dies, a new bird rises from its ashes. The similar type of theory is propounded about frogs and toads. Some people believe that a new crop of frogs takes birth from the decayed dead bodies of the old ones when they are exposed to rain. However, these examples constitute no reality at all.
Resurrection and Modern Science
With the overwhelming advancement in scientific investigations and rationalization of thinking, it is often propounded the validity of resurrection tradition cannot be proved scientifically. The proponents of this theory argue that resurrection of Christ was merely a supernatural miracle which cannot be tested empirically. Some other believe that Christ was a superhuman and son of God and his resurrection, if there was any, does not necessarily apply on the other human beings. They consider it to be something exceptional.
On the other hand, there are some scientists who have proved the incident of resurrection true, and also claim that all beings will be resurrected one day or the other. However, this controversial view is not shared more than a few scholars.
Resurrection: A Myth or Reality
It has been a point of debate among the scholars and intellectuals since the happening of Jesus Christ’s resurrection that whether resurrection is reality of myth. Different schools of thought have postulated different opinions in this regard. Some consider it to be a fairly tail and some take as a glaring reality.
The debate of resurrection being myth or reality is actually a debate of body and soul. Those who believe on souls claim that there will be another eternal life hereafter and those with believe on merely material body rule it out. Thus this debate is as everlasting as the soul itself is.
The essence of the whole above discussion is that resurrection tradition has always been a controversial doctrine and it will remain so unless Jesus Christ himself tells the truth-which, at first hand, does not seem to be possible in near future.
However, regardless of the validity of resurrection tradition, it can be ruled out that belief on hereafter provokes people to resort to good deeds in this world. Moreover, there is a wide difference between the life approaches of those who accept it and those who deny.
Analyzing almost all of the major religious schools of thought of the world, it is found that the doctrine of resurrection is shared by all in one form or the other. However, there is still a need of proving this concept scientifically with rock-solid evidences in order to make it more believable and implacable in the modern era. Some scientists are struggling for this cause.
Despite all the facts, evidences and historical accounts, there is still not found any single person around the globe who is resurrected and can share his/her actual experiences. Thus, it is more a myth than a reality.
Harrington, D., J. Jesus: A Historical Portrait. Cincinnati, OH: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2007.
Inplainsite.org. 9 October 2011
Keathley, J.H.”The Resurrection of Jesus Christ.”09 October 2011 <
Keathley, J.H. “False Theories against the Resurrection of Christ.”09 October 2011 <
Radford, B. “Resurrection: A History of Myths.” 9 April, 2009:09 October 2011
Wright, N., T. The Resurrection of the Son Of God. North America: Fortress Press, 2003.
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