Friday, April 29, 2011

Did Saadia Gaon & Maimonides Believe in Eternal Marriage?

I'm very much in favour of using sources from the ancient world to explore our scriptures and doctrines.
They deepen and enrichen our understanding because, lets face it, we live in a time far-removed from that of the scriptures. Our understanding is not necessarily their understanding.
If you were to give a Russian a dozen roses they would ask who died. An even number of flowers in Russian culture is used for mourning, not for romantic or thoughtful gifts. Hilary Clinton commited a major faux pas when she sent birthday congratulations to the Ukrainian president Viktor Yanukovych before his birthday. For Russians and Ukrainians, this is considered very bad luck, nd a possible jinx. It simply isn't done. Many years ago, when I was a little kid, some BYU Jerusalem professors had been with the students to a cemetary in Israel. My Dad asked them how it had been. It was alright, the professor said, but the cemetary was in a terrible condition, little rocks all over the graves! We spent most of the time clearing them off.
Dad had to explain that leaving small rocks on a grave is a Jewish custom and not a lack of proper maintenance.
These are all examples of how easy it is to misunderstand a living culture, let alone a dead one several millenia removed from us.
What I find problematic is trying to force our own understandings unto the past. Particularly doctrinal understandings. Mormonising the sources, so to speak.
To avoid any misunderstanding, let me state that I believe in the doctrines of the Restoration. What I don't believe in is making texts say something that they don't.
This gives us a distorted view of both past and texts.
This colloquy between Jesus and his Sadducean detractors does not question or throw doubt, in proper cases, on the eternal verity that the family unit continues in the resurrection. Jesus had previously taught the eternal nature of the marriage union. "What therefore God [not man!] hath joined together, let not man put asunder." That is, when a marriage is performed by God's authority—not man's!—it is eternal. See Matt. 19:1-12. "Whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever." (Eccles. 3:14.)

Indeed, almost the whole Jewish nation believed that marriage was eternal, and that parents would beget children in the resurrection. Those few who did not believe that marriage continued after death and among such were the Sadducees, who could not so believe because they denied the resurrection itself—were nonetheless fully aware that such was the prevailing religious view of the people generally. Without doubt Jesus, the apostles, the seventies, and the disciples generally had discussed this doctrine.

The Sadducean effort here is based on the assumption that Jesus and the Jews generally believe in marriage in heaven. They are using this commonly accepted concept to ridicule and belittle the fact of the resurrection itself. They are saying: 'How absurd to believe in a resurrection (and therefore in the fact that there is marriage in heaven) when everybody knows that a woman who has had seven husbands could not have them all at once in the life to come.'

A most instructive passage showing that the Jews believed there should be marriage in heaven is found in Dummelow. "There was some division of opinion among the rabbis as to whether resurrection would be to a natural or to a supernatural (spiritual) life," he says. "A few took the spiritual view, e.g. Rabbi Raf is reported to have often said, 'In the world to come they shall neither eat, nor drink, nor beget children, nor trade. There is neither envy nor strife, but the just shall sit with crowns on their heads, and shall enjoy the splendor of the Divine Majesty.' But the majority inclined to a materialistic view of the resurrection. The pre-Christian book of Enoch says that the righteous after the resurrection shall live so long that they shall beget thousands. The received doctrine is laid down by Rabbi Saadia, who says, 'As the son of the widow of Sarepton, and the son of the Shunamite, ate and drank, and doubtless married wives, so shall it be in the resurrection'; and by Maimonides, who says, 'Men after the resurrection will use meat and drink, and will beget children, because since the Wise Architect makes nothing in vain, it follows of necessity that the members of the body are not useless, but fulfill their functions.' The point raised by the Sadducees was often debated by the Jewish doctors, who decided that 'a woman who married two husbands in this world is restored to the first in the next.'" (Dummelow, p. 698.)

How much nearer the truth were these Jews, on this point, than are the modern professors of religion who suppose that family love, felicity, and unity cease simply because the spirit steps out of the body in what men call death!
Bruce R. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary

The very first problem to present itself is one of chronology. Saadia Gaon was born in 882 AD and died in 942. If we assume that Jesus died somewhere between AD 28-33, then Saadia is separated from him by almost eight hundred and fifty years! Maimonides was a couple of centuries later even than that, from 1138-1204.
Such late sources by themselves are very poor indicators of what beliefs 1st-century Jews would have held.
If this was the extent of the problems posed by this source, then things might not be so bad. My blog post would certainly be shorter.
No such luck.
I might be a little hard on McConkie. Most of this is not so much his fault as the fault of his source- Dummelow's commentary.
The whole thing is available for free through google books.
The Reverend John Roberts Dummelow in 1908 had edited a work entitled "The One Volume Bible Commentary." This was a fairly critical work for 1908, but in terms of Jewish and New Testament scholarship anything that old tends to be positively primeval. So many new directions and, indeed, new sources had opened up since then that our understanding of those topics is vastly improved.
Dummelow's provides no citations for the quotes listed above. By modern standards that is entirely unforgiveable in a scholarly source. I did however manage to track down the sources used.
The first source is the only one to predate Jesus' mortal ministry.
I shall destroy all iniquity from upon the face of the earth, and every evil work shall come to an end; and there shall appear the plant of righteousness; and it shall be a blessing, and deeds of righteousness shall be planted with joy for ever.
And now all the righteous shall escape, and shall live till they beget thousands; and all the days of your youth and of your old age you shall fulfil in peace. Then shall the whole earth be tilled in righteousness, and it shall all be planted with trees, and filled with blessing. And all luxuriant trees will be planted in it; and they will plant vines in it, and the vine which they plant will produce a thousand measures of wine, and of all seed which is sown upon it.
Each seah will produce a thousand seah; and every seah of olives will produce up to ten baths of oil. And as for you. cleanse the earth from all uncleanness, and from all injustice and from all sinfulness and godlessness; and all the unclean things that have been wrought 'on the earth' remove from the earth. And all the children of men are to become righteous and all nations shall serve and bless me, and all shall worship me.
And the whole earth shall be freed from all defilement and from all uncleanness, and wrath and castigation: and I shall not again send a Deluge upon it unto generations of generations and for ever.
-1 Enoch 10:16-22, trans. Matthew Black.

This passage does not imply eternal marriage in the LDS understanding of the term.
As William R. G. Loader wrote, "the images of the future do not include sexuality as a theme, although some statements imply it. The abundant fruitfulness to which 10:17-19 looks forward, when Michael rejuvenates the earth, will include that people “will live and beget thousands and all the days of their youth and their old age will be completed in peace” (10:17). This means that the author does not envisage that human beings will live like undying angels, without further need for procreation, nor that they will be in the kind of holy context where sexual activity would be out of place."[1]
Likewise, Nicklesburg, in page 49 of his commentary on 1 Enoch, explained the biblical imagery underlying 1 Enoch's concept of the future, "most of the major sections of 1 Enoch– drawing on Isaiah 65-66 for their inspiration– envision a renewed earth and a restored Jerusalem as the setting for the long life that the righteous will enjoy after the judgment."
What presents us here, then, is an ideal, rejuvenated earth in which the righteous will live as long as the antediluvian patriarchs, if not longer, and will beget thounds of children. The trees will be just as productive, yielding colossal quantities of fruit and oil. After living a long life, the righteous will die.
Nothing so far about eternal marriage.
As for the so-called Rabbi Raf, he seems to be Rabbi Judah the Patriarch, known by the honorific Rav. Rav was the chief (though not the only) compiler and redactor of the Mishnah and one of the most significant authorities among the ancient sages. Rabbi Raf is pointless tautology, much like saying Rabbi Rabbi.
In the world to come there is no eating nor drinking nor begeting nor give and take nor jealousy nor hatred nor competition, but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads feasting on the brightness of the divine presence (Shekhinah), as it says, "And they beheld God, and did eat and drink (Ex. 24:11)."
-Babylonian Talmud, t. Berachot 17a.

This talmudic passage is a little ambiguous. Rav might have been referring to a corporeal state or he might have meant a bodiless one. Be that as it may, Rav is saying that the existence of the righteous in the world to come will be extremely different than what we know from earthly experience. The prooftext is meant to show that basking in God's splendour is what replaces physical meat and drink.
Or shall he ponder and say, 'Those in this world, shall they eat, drink and be married, or no?'
We should know that they will eat and drink like us, and be married, as is elucidated by the Sareptan widow's son and the Shunamite's son, who lived in this world, ate, drank and were worthy of marriage. One of the sages said that he was of the seed of one of them.
-Saadia Gaon, the Book of Beliefs and Opinions, the seventh article, chapter five.

I've rendered a fairly literal translation, following R. Yosef Qafih's first-rate Hebrew translation. Saadia Gaon, one of the most influential figures in Judaism, was embroiled in a polemic against those who denied the resurrection and particularly against those who spiritualised it. Any brief sketch According to Saadia, the resurrection takes place in this world. Here on earth, not in heaven. Not a general principle, the resurrection is restricted to the righteous and penitent among the children of Israel. It is a reward for the righteous. For him the resurrection is also an indication of God's power and preeminence, because if he once created us ex nihilo, then he can certainly recreate us from the same even after our bodies have entirely decayed away. This world, the world of the resurrection, is a transient and corporeal one and we will be transfered from it into the world to come, which is in heaven. There we neither eat, drink, nor live a married life. Saadia uses Moses as an example. Moses ate and drank before ascending Mt. Sinai, but while there he went without those things. Moses' experience symbolises what is to come. When he ascended Mt. Sinai and was directly, but temporarily, in the presence of God then eating, drinking and sex were a non-issue for him. They played no part at all in that experience. If that held true for the mortal Moses the more so when we will live permanently in God's presence.
Yosef Qafih says that he couldn't find a source for Saadia's statement regarding the two sons, but thinks that it might be emmendated to read "as is elucidated by the Sareptan widow's son and the Shunamite's son, and the dead which Ezekiel brought to life." The sage mentioned by Saadia is R. Judah b. Bathira, who declared that he was descended from the dead in Ezekiel's vision.[2]
At any rate, Saadia's concept of marriage was not eternal marriage. Marriage was a condition of this world. It lasted as long as people were in this world.
Saadia was very insistent that resurrection was part of this world, not the one to come.
Marriage was what legitimised sexual activity. Sexual activity was a bodily function (or appetite), like eating and drinking. Resurrection, after all, related first and foremost to the body. Eating, drinking and sex were (indeed, are) the epitome of earthly life.[3]
The last quote is the most problematic of all. It is distorted almost beyond recognition.
We can see from those treatises that the people whose souls shall return to their bodies will eat, drink, copulate, beget children and die after a very long life, a life as long as life is in the days of the Messiah. Indeed, the life after which there is no death is the life in the world to come, since there is no body in it. We believe, as any man of understanding verily does, that in the world to come souls are bodiless as the angels are. This explanation, that the body is the sum of instruments required for the soul's actions, has already been explained in an examplary fashion... Here it has been explained that the entire purpose of the body is the recption of food for sustaining the body, and begeting similar ones for the continuance of that body's kind. When that purpose is removed then it [the body] becomes unnecessary. That is, in the world to come, which is what our sages of blessed memory have elucidated, that in it is neither eating, nor drinking, nor usage[4], which is explained by the absence of a body. The Blessed One would not invent things in order for them to remain unused, and would not do anything without a reason, and heaven forbid that his acts would be like those who worship idols, "Eyes have they, but they see not, they have ears, but they hear not; noses have they, but they smell not (Ps 115:5-6)."
-Maimonides, the Treatise on Resurrection.

Maimonides had written a book entitled The Guide of the Perplexed. This book reconciled traditional Jewish beliefs with the mysteries of Aristotelian philosophy.
His book inspired many who were far more radical than he himself. They were embroiled in a sharp disoute with the traitionalists, who assumed that Maimonides was just as radical and that he denied the reality of the resurrection. He wrote the Treatise on Resurrection in order to defend himself from those charges.
Maimonides was not only a reknowned philosopher but also a gifted physician. I ommited the passage describes the three groups of functions the body is divided into.
For Maimonides, like Saadia, marriage wasn't eternal. It lasted only until man went to the heavenly realm, which is entirely bodiless. The resurrection isn't permanent. It is followed by another death, and then entry into perfect world which is that of the disembodied spirit.
None of what McConkie used support his claim.
This is not to say that there aren't Jewish sources indicating a belief in an eternal marriage.
There are some, but Dummelow's didn't include them. For the sake of fairness, I'll dedicate a future blog post to at least one of them.
My post though is more about the use of sources than eternal marriage in ancient Judaism.
To sum up my post, never use Dummelow's, there are far too many better ones out there, and McConkie's commentary should be used only with great caution. Elder McConkie being an apostle of the Lord had many good spiritual insights and he could bear powerful witness of the atonement, but he was not a great New Testament scholar.

[1]Enoch, Levi, and Jubilees on sexuality: attitudes towards sexuality in the Early Enoch Literature, the Aramaic Levi Document, and the Book of Jubilees, pg. 80.

[2]Babylonian Talmud, t. Sanhedrin 92b.

[3]I'm indebted to my friend Walker for that phrase.

[4]Usage was a rabbinic euphemism for sex.

1 comment:

  1. I find it very ironic that the Dummelow quote is attributed to me when the point of my post was to show its inaccuracy. Not only that, but though my heritage is Jewish and I am Israeli, my faith is LDS.