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Resurrection

Introduction
‘Why seek ye the living among the dead ? He is not here but is risen.’ (Luke 24.5,6) Immortality is the primary promise of the Kabbalah, the Tradition, of the Tree of Life from the beginning, the Garden of Eden in Genesis : ‘take also of the Tree of Life and eat and live forever.’ (3.22) The first fruit of the spiritual astrology of the Tree is the truth of our own immortal spirit.

Astrology operates through spiritual energies and recognising this spiritual dimension implicitly discovers the spirit within. Something beyond the physical. It is difficult to believe this spirit dies with our physical bodies. This most senior, ancient science is supported by impressive modern evidence of ‘paranormal,’ spiritual experiences and reincarnation. The reality of the spirit is equally the unanimous testament of all religions and the great sages throughout the ages, the wise whom modern science likes to despise.

Apparently based on Cross of the Tree of Life, everlasting life is also the central assurance of the Christian faith. Christ’s Resurrection is said to be the pattern for all Christians.

‘Jesus said,
‘I am the resurrection.
Anyone who believes in me, even though that person dies, will live,
and whoever lives and believes in me
will never die.’                                                 John 11.25 (New Jerusalem Bible)

St Paul makes it clear the original idea of resurrection among the earliest Christians was not unique to Christ but the general rule : ‘if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen … for if the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised.’ (I Cor. 15.13,16) He goes on to give a very clear idea of what he means, which coincides quite closely with the Egyptian portrait of resurrection, the living spirit leaving the dead body. (see The Spirit Rising : Awakening into Day)

Paul is also portrayed in Acts as affirming very strongly his Christian idea of the resurrection is identical to the Pharisees’ idea of resurrection. Josephus, the highly respected Jewish historian of this period, tells us equally clearly the Pharisees’ idea of resurrection includes reincarnation. Paul confirms this, only insisting this reincarnation resurrection is for everyone, not just the good, as the Pharisees believed.

This makes sense of the incredible. Paul’s portrait of resurrection is readily recognisable as a parallel of the increasingly familiar phenomenon of 'near death experiences' in which people have experienced their ‘spirit bodies’ leaving their physical bodies at the time of clinical death, only to return with clear verifiable memories when they are revived by the efforts of doctors and nurses.

Reincarnation is recognised by almost all religions around the world, including early Christianity. It makes practical and moral sense of the fact we have a spirit which does not die at death. Reincarnation is also affirmed by numerous exceptional stories where children have accurately remembered events and individuals from their previous lives in a way which admits no other explanation.

Christ’s Resurrection along with the general Resurrection of the Dead at the End of the World have both been among Christianity’s most baffling and incredible ideas. The nub of this incredulity is the insistence that both Christ’s Resurrection and the general Resurrection were, and will be, accomplished bodily. This bodily resurrection is dramatically highlighted in John’s gospel, just a few verses on from those above, in the story of Lazarus, a story, remarkably, which is not known to the other gospels. Modern science tells us resuscitation after more than ten minutes of clinical death will produce irreparable brain damage due to oxygen starvation. The resurrection of Lazarus was accomplished when his sister said,
‘Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.’ John 11.39

Apart from the example of Christ’s Resurrection and Lazarus’, the New Testament nowhere explicitly promises our dead bodies will rise from their graves in the sense Christians widely expect. This is an image used metaphorically in Isaiah (26.19), Daniel (12.2) and Ezekiel (37. 1-14) and should not be taken too literally, as Paul makes plain : ‘the perishable cannot inherit what is imperishable.’ (I Cor. 15.50) The reality is rather better.

St Paul : Did Christianity Recognise the Resurrection in the Beginning ?
Paul’s idea of the Resurrection is significantly different to the later gospels' version. Paul is considerably the earliest writer in the New Testament. With his conversion dated about 34 AD, his letters (about 60 AD) are much closer to the origins of Christianity than the gospel writers (about 80 to 110 AD). Paul says his experience of the Resurrected Christ qualifies him as an apostle. (1 Cor.15 v 1-8 and 9.1). There are many apostles, according to Paul, who have all shared this experience. But in Paul’s Letters, strange to explain, there are no anecdotes, no suggestion even of Jesus’ recent life, let alone that he has appeared resurrected in the body, eating and drinking and inviting doubters to put their hands into his wounds. On the contrary.

Paul makes it clear that, for him and the early Christians, the appearance of the resurrected Christ was as a spiritual vision, just as he appeared to Paul himself on the road to Damascus. But it is a vision with the power to carry overwhelming conviction – setting the former Saul off on completely the opposite tack. From fervently persecuting Christians to becoming their greatest champion in an international career that led to martyrdom in Rome.

In fact there is a widespread recognition among gospel scholars that the evangelists’ insistence on Christ’s bodily resurrection is a transparent attempt to counter the powerful Docetist heresy of Christ as a phantom. Just as the Nativity stories were probably bolted on in Matthew and Luke for the same reason.

Paul is absolutely explicit the first stage of resurrection is simply the spirit departing the body, very much as it has been described in numerous ‘near death experiences’ and as the ancient Egyptians pictured it.

‘Near death experiences’ or NDEs are now not unusual with modern levels of medical care. People, often in hospital, where they suffer medical emergencies to become ‘clinically dead’ or ‘brain dead’, are brought back to life and recount extraordinary experiences. Typically they remember everything that went on and was said while doctors and nurses tried desperately to revive them, having watched as a disembodied spirit, usually up near the ceiling. These experiences are generally accompanied by various other insights into the ‘reception’ process of death. These experiences are marked by a striking consistency. The same familiar features are recounted time and again by patients who have never heard of NDEs before.

These accounts have been repeatedly rubbished as ‘hallucinations’ because they challenge our conventional disbeliefs. They seem merely to confirm in dramatic fashion the age-old message, we have a spirit which leaves the body at death and has somewhere to go. Unlike hallucinations, almost invariably these experiences can be recalled many years later with dramatic clarity and have a profound effect on their subjects who remain indelibly convinced they have glimpsed through the veil of death. They take more responsibility for their lives, becoming less materialistic, more loving. Is it possible similar experiences informed the ancients’ understanding ? NDEs are discussed more fully in connection with the spirit rising from the mummy.

Paul’s view is quite clearly that the resurrection we all may expect is in a “spiritual body.” He seems to be losing patience with an alternative view, quite possibly the idea of bodily resurrection :

“How are dead people raised and what sort of body do they have when they come ? How foolish ! What you sow must die before it is given new life; what you sow is not the body that is to be, but only a bare grain, say of wheat … it is God that gives it the sort of body that he has chosen for it … With the resurrection of the dead, what is sown is perishable, what is raised is imperishable ….. what is sown is the natural body, what is raised is the spiritual body …… this mortal nature of ours must put on immortality.” (1Cor 35-38, 42,44,53 NJB)

This evocative image of burying the physical body at death to reap the priceless harvest of an immortal spirit and eternal life doubtless inspired the piercing Easter hymn : ‘Love is come again like wheat that springeth green.’

It is apparently an image which originated with the neighbours. In Egypt wheat was used to symbolise the resurrection of the god Osiris from the dead. Osiris’ resurrection was, like Christ’s, the divine model for the resurrection of the spirit of the deceased, pictured (as above) in numerous illustrations as the spirit, ‘ba,’ taking wings above the dead body. Remarkably the Egyptians called death ‘Awakening into Day.’   Very much like the Tibetans later, the Egyptians had their popular Book of the Dead with detailed instructions on the deities the departed spirit would encounter in the world beyond. The Book of the Dead confirms this idea of earthly life as a dream, ‘for his soul hath burst for ever the bonds of his sleep in his house which is upon earth.’

As true for the Nazarenes as it was for the Egyptians, and, as we shall see, for the Pharisees too, this resurrection mechanism is the basis of Christ’s promise, already quoted, that begins so many funeral services : “He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live;” (John 11.25) Naturally this is what awaits us all. These are the spiritual facts of life, the mechanism of death. The basis of the exclusive promise is just that only the true believer is alive to this prospect. Those with little or no faith will enjoy their immortality, their immortal spirit, like a buried treasure that lies lost all their life – until the day they die.

Paul is revealing the practical truth behind the Christian promise of resurrection, the original truth. It is nothing less than immortality, the conquest of death but equally it is nothing more than the glory all humanity is heir to. There are actually plenty of statements in the Gospels, particularly in St John, which celebrate the gift of ‘eternal life,’ the gift of an immortal spirit, suggesting this traditional interpretation of the resurrection of the dead, a spiritual resurrection. ‘Eternal life’ hardly fits the idea of waiting in the grave for the last trumpet to sound. These references were evidently not revised when the new dogma of a bodily resurrection was introduced.

For two thousand years the incredible idea of the bodily resurrection has held all Christendom spellbound. In the nineteenth century there was great concern for maintaining graves so the buried corpses should be fit for resurrection. Because, they say, the Gospels promised. Now, to modern minds, it seems ridiculous, the magic has worn off and we need to rediscover something more credible. Not that the belief in a bodily resurrection is entirely wrong …!

Paul’s exposition of the earliest doctrine of resurrection is as remarkable as it is authoritative. In Acts he has no hesitation in dividing his accusers by pointing out the Christian belief in the resurrection is essentially identical to the established Pharisaic belief in resurrection : ‘ “I am a Pharisee … it is for our hope in the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” …. For the Sadducees say there is neither resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, while the Pharisees accept all three.’ (Acts Ch.23.6-8) Interesting to see they had the same basic doubts and differences two millennia back – not quite atheism versus faith but almost.

This traditional Judaic view of resurrection confirms Paul’s view that Christ’s Resurrection is by no means the unprecedented prototype for something utterly unique to Christianity. Religion just doesn’t work that way, for all it needs to pretend. Religion can only reveal different aspects of the mystery of life, as the faithful are ready to receive them. Essentially the spiritual facts of life.

Resurrection as Reincarnation ?
Josephus assures us that what Paul describes is only the first stage of resurrection. And a ‘bodily resurrection’ is not nonsense but standard, established matter of fact. Only not in the body lain mouldering in the grave. The Pharisees’ belief in the resurrection of the dead is actually a belief in reincarnation – for the good only : “They say that all souls are incorruptible but that the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies – but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment … in Hades.” (Wars Book II Ch 8. 14; also Ant. 18.1.3)

If “all souls are incorruptible,” it is a small step to accept all souls are reincarnated. After all, there is no need to create a hell in the bowels of the earth when we manage to create one very well all around us. There is the widest agreement many lives are just hell.

In Acts Paul again insists on the identity of his views with the Pharisees, clearly echoing their line, only taking a more forgiving, more realistic view : “I worship the God of my ancestors … and I hold the same hope in God that they do, that there will be a resurrection of the upright and the wicked alike.” (Acts 24.15) This adds up to a clear confirmation the earliest Christian belief in resurrection was identical to the Jewish belief in reincarnation, or the transmigration of souls. It would be a bit incredible were it not so. It’s no great leap from proclaiming a resurrection in ‘a’ body to preaching a resurrection in ‘the’ body but in the twenty-first century it may be the difference between sense and nonsense, between faith and disbelief.

We might even wonder whether the present global population explosion doesn’t fulfil the great Christian prophecy of the final bodily Resurrection of the Dead : that every soul who has ever lived on earth is back now, irresistibly reincarnated in a new body, a new life, for this mad jamboree of materialism.

Population projections for historical times are well below our present level of 6 billion souls but we should allow that long holidays are often involved, heaven is somewhere to go. And, while there is little sense in human souls regressing to the animal realm when there is ample scope for inhuman rebirths with words, spiritual progress would suggest the decimation of our wild life could advance a good few candidates for promotion. From Roman times the very name ‘animal’ has defined a creature with a ‘spirit’ or ‘soul’, the ‘anima’.

Isaiah (about 750-700 BC), a skilled star-gazer according to rabbinic tradition and probably a pioneer Kabbalist, already proclaims that God ‘has destroyed the veil which used to veil all peoples, he has destroyed death forever;’ (Ch.25 v.8) and looks forward to a time when ‘Your dead will come back to life, your corpses will rise again.’ (26.19) What can this be but dramatising reincarnation ? It is generally supposed to be the influence of Greek thought, when Israel came under Hellenic rule after Alexander the Great’s conquests, that is believed to have brought reincarnation into mainstream Judaism. Plato, who died in 348 BC, just before Alexander’s reign, taught reincarnation and the immortality of the soul and Platonism was, and has remained, hugely influential, though we have lost connection with its spiritual aspects, down the ages. Plato had travelled greatly and probably met Buddhists and Brahmins from India where reincarnation was an established platform of religious thinking. A century before Plato, the great Pythagoras also taught reincarnation in ancient Greece. Pythagoras is supposed to have learnt esoteric wisdom in Egypt.

Paul and the Nazarenes would not just be ignorant of current Judaic and Greek wisdom if they rejected reincarnation. Reincarnation or the ‘transmigration of the soul’ was taught by virtually all faiths in the ancient world, including even the Celtic Druids. Apparently lost on the bloodlusty Romans, this belief has now been lost in the western world along with the spiritual knowledge (of a spirit) that went with it.

Even now we have plenty of convincing reincarnation testimonies, from the Dalai Lama and other high lamas of Tibet to numerous verified accounts from every continent, every culture. Reincarnation was an accepted tenet of belief for the first quarter of the Christian age : until in 554 AD the Holy Roman Emperor in Constantinople forced the Pope to renounce this and other doctrines in ‘the Three Chapters’, having locked him up and finally exiled him to a remote island.

Reincarnation is strongly supported in the Gospels themselves, with speculation whether Jesus is Moses or Joshua returned, while Jesus quite unequivocally endorses reincarnation when he declares of John the Baptist, “he, if you will believe me, is the Elijah who was to return. Anyone who has ears should listen.” (Mt.11.14-15). So there ! For good measure it is repeated: “I tell you, Elijah has come already and they did not recognise him but treated him as they pleased… Then the disciples understood that he was speaking of John the Baptist.” (Mt. 17.11-13)

Another noted Gospel passage, “Who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John 9.2-3) links reincarnation to something very much like the Indian philosophy of karma, divine justice. This idea recently proved so unfashionable, so heretical, it cost the England football manager one of the best jobs in the world !

Reincarnation was repressed because it conflicted sharply with the idea of a one-off mass Resurrection at the End of the World which became such a mainstay of Christian promises and threats, as it remains today. We may yet find it’s rather easier for the modern rational mind to credit the final Resurrection in terms of reincarnation.

Paul’s practical, common sense explanation fits very well with statements in the Egyptian Pyramid texts and the Book of the Dead : ‘Soul to heaven, body to earth;’ (Vth dynasty) ‘Thy essence is in heaven, thy body to earth;’ (VIth dynasty) ‘Heaven hath thy soul, earth hath thy body;’ (Ptolemaic period) (E A Budge)

Christian commentators can be quite equivocal about Christ’s Resurrection, as this less-than-clear comment in the standard Oxford Companion to the Bible illustrates :

‘The resurrection, while a real event according to the unanimous testimony of the New Testament, is not historical in the sense that ordinary events are. It occurs at the point where history ends and God’s end-time kingdom begins. And it is not in itself an observable occurrence. …. Nor can it be verified.’ (pg. 648.)

Resurrection ideas before Paul : was Christ Moses ?
It is also recognised that there is a very different view within the New Testament which proclaims Christ’s ‘exaltation’ rather than his resurrection. This is particularly prominent in what is described as a ‘pre-Pauline hymn’, quoted by Paul in his Letter to the Philippians, Ch.2.v 6-11. Although we are told ‘God raised him high’ or ‘super-raised him’ this is not resurrection but more like the Ascension to heaven to sit at God’s right hand and any reference to Christ’s Resurrection is conspicuous by its absence.

With Paul’s conversion dated about 34 AD, this ‘pre-Pauline’ hymn invokes the ‘tradition’ Paul assures us he is following in his credos, or statements of belief. These either exclude even mention of the Cross or seem to have Crucifixion references added on, disrupting the verse form. This ‘tradition’ and this ‘early’ hymn can only be sensibly explained in terms of a body of material used by the early Christians which goes back to pre-Christian times. Apparently this material did not include Christ’s Crucifixion or Resurrection. It did not, presumably know Jesus Christ, as such, yet it preached a very similar Messianic figure.

The presence of this material at the heart of Christian beginnings can only suggest the Essenes who we know held very similar views to the early Christians, revering their founder as the Messiah, the Christ. We know the two organisations were remarkably similar in crucial respects and the New Testament is studded with material borrowed from the sacred and secret Essene scriptures.

Some quite advanced theological references within the hymn reinforce the Essene suggestion, particularly the phrase ‘the name which is above all other names.’ This refers to the angelology, with its hosts of named angels, which was such a pronounced preoccupation of the Essenes. We find an identical concern right at the top of the Letter to the Hebrews, ‘So he is now as far above the angels as the title which he has inherited is higher than their own name.’ (1.4) Hebrews is full of sophisticated arguments based on a celestial hierarchy and particularly angelology and has long been suspected of being addressed to the Essenes. It matches their concerns which we are at a loss to find among any other group in Judaism with this pressing importance. Hebrews too, carries precisely the same exaltation ideas we find in this hymn, while resurrection is mentioned just once.

Scholars acknowledge much of this hymn seems to refer to someone very different to the Christ of the gospels, or even the Christ presented in Paul’s writings and several references to the portrait of the Suffering Servant in Isaiah have been recognised. This is a particularly fascinating prophecy which ostensibly prophesies the character of the future Messiah. Yet it is a portrait which is drawn in such detail, ‘he was so inhumanly disfigured that he no longer looked like a man …he had no form or charm to attract us, no beauty to win our hearts;’ (Is.52.14;53.2) scholars are persuaded it refers to an actual individual. This is somewhat remarkable, for a Messianic prophecy. Inevitably it suggests the Messianic prophecy of Daniel which has been ascribed to Onias III, fuelling speculation on Onias’ identity as the Essene Messiah, the Teacher of Righteousness.  It is not surprising early Scrolls scholars looked to the Suffering Servant, ‘crushed because of our guilt … a lamb led to the slaughter house,’ (Is.53.5,7) as a possible portrait of the Teacher of Righteousness who also suffered an ignominious death, ‘shut up without regard to justice... slain without cause.’
(2 Macc. 4.34,36)

This section of Isaiah was not written by the 8th century BC prophet but has been suggested as the work of ‘an anonymous upholder of the Isaiah tradition, a great prophet like Isaiah himself.’ (NJB) Before the Suffering Servant passage, there are three other passages extolling the perfect Servant of God. The NJB suggests these may well be self-portraits by the prophet himself. The Suffering Servant passage appears to be the work of a disciple of the ‘great prophet,’ eulogising him after his death. The final chapters of Isaiah are also ascribed to disciples of this ‘second Isaiah’ but carry hints of an origin in the Hellenistic period, the period of Onias III. Onias certainly appears to be an ideal candidate to fit the bill as the ‘second Isaiah.’ Perhaps in more ways than one.

Christ’s Reincarnation ?
Isaiah is the original ‘religious genius’ who first prophesied the Messiah and, apparently, the idea of reincarnation which we find at the heart of Judaism seven centuries later. As a Kabbalist and astrologer, he would have foreseen the coming of the new age and perhaps expected to return himself for the occasion. Certainly Isaiah casts himself as the heir of Moses who also saw God face to face and lived. The gospels strongly suggest Jesus as Moses returned. The Tibetans demonstrate that their highest lamas return to do the same job again. It would make spiritual sense for this ‘great prophet’ to be indeed Isaiah returned, and perhaps Moses returned, in fulfilling the prophecy of the Messiah. What other soul might be worthy ?

This is the reality of reincarnation, which the Hindus closely associate with ‘karma,’ divine justice or reap what you sow.

Certainly we find the gospels repeatedly associate Christ with this portrait of the Suffering Servant. Perhaps because Jesus was the myth and Isaiah’s Servant was the history ? which tells us to watch out for a return performance for the new age : a general Resurrection led by Christ himself, just as the prophecies proclaimed. We can’t say we weren’t warned.

The message seems to be to look out for a man, more than a god. And perhaps not the most televisual personality we’ve come to expect.

Ultimately the significance of Christ’s Resurrection and the empty tomb is that he has gone, moved on. He had other things to do. As we all have, when the time comes. Now, as the trumpets sound at the dawning of the new age we too may discover the proof of the empty grave, we may find Christ returned and knocking urgently at our doors. If he is just a man, like Onias, Isaiah and Moses, will we notice ? will we care ? will we open ?

‘Why seek ye the living among the dead ? He is not here but is risen.’ (Luke 24.5,6)

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