Have Yourself a Very Deuterocanonical Resurrection

Judas Maccabeus' death

Judas Maccabeus’ death

The readings from yesterday are fascinating. In 2 Maccabees 7 we have the famous story of the mother and sons who were tortured for their faith. Note especially how clearly they express their hope in the resurrection:

You accursed fiend, you are depriving us of this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up to live again forever….It is my choice to die at the hands of men with the hope God gives of being raised up by him; but for you, there will be no resurrection to life.

You will be hard-pressed to find in the Old Testament a clearer portrayal of belief in the resurrection of the dead. Remember that 2 Maccabees is one of the inspired books wrongly rejected by Protestants. Yet, in the New Testament book of Hebrews, chapter 11, a likely allusion to this story in 2 Maccabees 7 is made:

Women received their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, that they might rise again to a better life.

No other passages in the Old Testament fit this reference like 2 Macc. does.

Resurrection Develops

From the same readings yesterday, we encounter the Sadducees in Luke 20, and are told that they deny the resurrection. That should seem odd, unless you knew that at the time of Christ, not all Israelites believed that there would be a resurrection of the dead. In fact the belief in the resurrection was a late development in the theology of the Old Covenant. It was always in there, hidden like a seed, just as the promised Messiah was foretold through hints and shadows. But only in the century or two just before Christ’s Incarnation do we see full-blown references to the resurrection (in, for instance, 2 Macc. and Daniel 12).

But Jesus, in refuting the Sadducees, didn’t use 2 Macc. 7 to prove it to them. Why not? Protestants would say, “Because that book was not inspired by God and therefore not accepted by the Israelites.” But in fact that is not correct on either point. Jesus used one of the five books of the Pentateuch because those were the only books the Sadducees accepted as inspired. Jesus was “all things to all people,” and could play ball on anyone’s turf, because every turf was His. Hence, He used a passage that no one would have ever tried to use to prove the resurrection. But because He used it He showed us that it was indeed there, only that no one saw it.

The conclusion is: we have to turn to a deutercanonical book like 2 Maccabees to find the clearest description of belief in the resurrection in the Old Testament. For Catholics, this is no surprise as we believe it is inspired. For Protestants, it means that, like Wisdom 2’s prophecy of Jesus’ Passion, a blind squirrel found an acorn again with 2 Macc. nailing the resurrection.

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