Friday, October 14, 2011

Josephus & Philo Judeus

Josephus is well known to Christian apologists.
In his Antiquity of the Jews (Book i8, Chap. 1, No.2), Josephus states that there were three sects of philosophy amongst the Jews: the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees. The doctrine of the Sadducees was that souls die with the bodies, but both the Essenes and the Pharisees, he affirms, believed in rebirth. As to the Essenes, who have now become famous owing to the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, he states elsewhere:

They smiled in their very pains and laughed to scorn those who inflicted torments upon them, and resigned up their souls with great alacrity, as expecting to receive them again.

For their doctrine is this, that bodies are corruptible, and that the matter they are made of is not permanent; but that the souls are immortal, and continue for ever: and that they come out of the most subtile air, and are united to their bodies as to prisons, into which they are drawn by a certain natural enticement; but that when they are set free from the bonds of flesh, they then, as released from a long bondage, rejoice and mount upward. . . .
These are the divine doctrines of the Essenes about the soul....

Jewish War, Book 2, Chap. 8, Nos. 10- 11

[The Pharisees] believe that souls have an immortal vigour in them [and that the virtuous] shall have power to revive and live again: on account of which doctrines they are able greatly to persuade the body of the people.
Antiquity of the Jews, Book i8, Chap. 1, No.3
 [From an address of Josephus to some Jewish soldiers who desired to kill themselves rather than be captured by the Romans:]

The bodies of all men are, indeed mortal, and are created out of corruptible matter; but the soul is ever immortal, and is a portion of the divinity that inhabits our bodies. . . . Do ye not remember that all pure Spirits when they depart out of this life obtain a most holy place in heaven, from whence, in the revolutions of ages, they are again sent into pure bodies; while the souls of those who have committed self-destruction are doomed to a region in the darkness of Hades?
Jewish War, Book 3, Chap. 8, No. 5

Flavius Josephus (A.D. 37-100)

More evidence that the Jews definitely believed in reincarnation:
Philo Judeus (20 B.C.-A.D. 54)

Alexandrian Philosopher and Jew

The air is full of souls; those who are nearest to earth descending to be tied to mortal bodies return to other bodies, desiring to live in them.
De Somniis
The company of disembodied souls is distributed in various orders. The law of some of them is to enter mortal bodies and after certain prescribed periods be again set free. But those possessed of a diviner structure are absolved from all local bonds of earth. Some of these souls choose confinement in mortal bodies because they are earthly and corporeally inclined...

All such as are wise, like Moses, are living abroad from home. For the souls of such formerly chose this expatriation from heaven, and through curiosity and the desire of acquiring knowledge they came to dwell abroad in earthly nature, and while they dwell in the body they look down on things visible and mortal around them, and urge their way thitherward again whence they came originally: and call that heavenly region ... their citizenship, fatherland, but this earthly region in which they live, foreign.

Rebirth in the Kabbalah

The Kabbalah it seems, is now fashionable, what with Hollywood types studying it. The Kabbalah along with other Jewish works, demonstrates that the Hebrews certainly entertained the idea of reincarnation.

Of course there were Christian Kabbalists who used the technique with missionary zeal. A famous one being Raymond Lull.

"The Kabbalah is said to represent the hidden wisdom behind the Hebrew scriptures, derived by the Rabbis of the middle ages from still older secret doctrines. The first Jews to call themselves Kabbalists were the Tanaim who lived in Jerusalem about the beginning of the third century B.C. Two centuries later three important Jewish Kabbalists appeared: Jehoshuah ben Pandira; Hillel, the great Chaldean teacher; and Philo Judaus, the Alexandrian Neo-Platonist. During medieval times there were many celebrated Kabbalists, Spain being one of the important seats of their activity. Rabbi Isaac Luria founded a school of the Kabala around 1560, and the great exponent of his teachings, Rabbi Chajim Vital, wrote a famed work called Otz Chiim, or the Tree of Life, from which Baron Knorr von Rosenroth, a Christian Kabbalist, took the Book on the Rashith ha Gilgalim, revolutions of souls, or scheme of reincarnations."
The Talmudic Miscellany by Paul Isaac Hershon contains the following quotations from the Kabbalah:

If a man be niggardly either in a financial or a spiritual regard, giving nothing of his money to the poor, or not imparting of his knowledge to the ignorant, he shall be punished by transmigration into a woman.

Know thou that Sarah, Hannah, the Shunamite (2 Kings, iv. 8), and the widow of Zarepta, were each in turn possessed by the soul of Eve.

The soul of Rahab transmigrated into Heber the Kenite, and afterwards into Hannah; and this is the mystery of her words: "I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit" (I Sam. i. 15)- for there still lingered in her soul a sorrowful sense of inherited defilement. . . .
 Sometimes the souls of pious Jews pass by metempsychosis into Gentiles, in order that they may plead on behalf of Israel and treat them kindly.
Yalkut Reubeni, Nos. 1, 8, 61, 63

Gilgul describes a Kabbalistic concept of reincarnation. In Hebrew, the word gilgul means "cycle" and neshamot is the plural for "souls." Souls are seen to "cycle" through "lives" or "incarnations", being attached to different human bodies over time. Which body they associate with depends on their particular task in the physical world, spiritual levels of the bodies of predecessors and so on. The concept relates to the wider processes of history in Kabbalah, involving Cosmic Tikkun (Messianic rectification), and the historical dynamic of ascending Lights and descending Vessels from generation to generation. The esoteric explanations of gilgul were articulated in Jewish mysticism by Isaac Luria in the 16th century, as part of the metaphysical purpose of Creation.

Hebrews 9:27

Regarding an objection that might be made - Hebrews 9:27 - here's a note from a Lutheran: the late great Gerry Palo:

"Whenever the question arises whether it is possible to reconcile the idea of reincarnation with Christianity without sacrificing the essential Christian beliefs about the uniqueness and divinity of Jesus Christ and His relationship to the Earth and man, and the veracity of the Bible, sin, salvation, and the Last Judgement, someone invariably raises the apparently justifiable objection that Hebrews 9:27 proves that reincarnation is incompatible with Christianity.
"In the following paragraphs from Christianity and Reincarnation, Rudolf Frieling discusses this verse and the whole of Hebrews in context to show that it does not conflict with reincarnation."

From Christianity and Reincarnation by Rudolf Frieling:

"Something from the Letter to the Hebrews should also be mentioned which is often carelessly quoted as a negation of the idea of reincarnation: 

'And just as it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgement' (9:27)......

"It is the Letter to the Hebrews which again and again uses the word 'once' (hapax or ephapax) in relation to the deed of Christ in order to make it quite clear that Christ made the descent into the sphere of death, into sarx, through Golgotha once and for all, and that His 'coming again' will be a spiritual event occurring under entirely different conditions. The idea of death is here used as indicative of something irrevocable and decisive that concludes a man's life on earth and happens in the course of it only once.

"A mortal on earth is thereby able to understand just what in the highest sense is meant by 'once' in relation to Christ's deed......

"This uniqueness of the experience of death would not be affected by thoughts of reincarnation. As a particular person, a man dies only once. In a following incarnation, the eternal individuality that goes through all of them builds up another person, through which it 'sounds' (per-sonat - The word comes from the latin 'persona', an actor's mask. Translator's note.) But death is something that happens once to each person. After that--judgement. This would also be affirmed from the point of view of reincarnation. Death is followed by the experience of the sternest trials.

"Besides, the original text of that Letter to the Hebrews does not say 'the judgement', but only 'judgement' (krisis).

"There is indeed also in the New Testament the concept of a Last Judgement but that does not exclude 'judgement' being experienced 'already now' in each case after death. There are also moments even in earthly life when one can be profoundly shaken by the experience of a 'judgement'. It meant judgement for Peter when he said to Christ: 'Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord' (Luke 5:8).

"Thus, this sentence from the Letter to the Hebrews contains nothing that would stand in the way of the possibility of repeated lives on earth.

[Note: In the following chapters Frieling discusses in depth the reality of the Last Judgement and its treatment in the New Testament. Just as this Christian view of reincarnation differs with the oriental one in that it acknowledges the divinity of Christ and the central and world changing significance of his incarnation, death and resurrection, so it also takes seriously the idea of the Last Judgement - an idea that even many modern Christians deny or at least would rather not think about.]"

"Christ is not the teacher, as one is wont to say, Christ is not the inaugurator, He is the content of Christianity."
- Schelling.