In my previous post on Hope, I talked about what I consider to be arrogance, when people think they know what’s best for others whose context they have no experience of (in the section “Thoughts about Destroyers”), in an attempt to promote understanding of the fact that where humans find hope, and how much they need, is very much dependent on the situation they find themselves in.
Related to that line of thinking, below is an extract from Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan’s The Last Week. This extract discusses how the contexts of the Sadducees influenced their beliefs with regards to an afterlife.
Mark tells us in 12:18–27 that some Sadducees come to Jesus. The Sadducees were part of the aristocracy. Wealthy and powerful, they included high-priestly families as well as lay nobility. As a group, they overlap but are not identical to the “chief priests, elders, and scribes” who have been central to Tuesday’s stories thus far.
Their religious convictions differed in two significant ways from those of most of their Jewish Contemporaries. First, they accepted only the “law” (“the five books of Moses,” also called the Torah or Pentateuch) as sacred scripture, whereas most Jews also saw “the prophets” as sacred. Their nonacceptance of the prophets reflected their position in society, for the books of the prophets emphasize God’s justice over against the human injustice of social systems dominated by the wealthy and powerful.
Second, as Mark’s story tells us, the Sadducees did not believe in an afterlife. That is, in Jewish terms, they did not believe there would be a resurrection of the dead. Within Judaism, the belief in a life after death was a relatively recent development. It emerged some two centuries earlier with the martyrdom of faithful Jews who resisted the Hellenistic emperor Antiochus Epiphanes IV. Its purpose was to redress human injustice: Jews who were faithful to God were being executed, and Jews who were willing to collaborate with Antiochus were being spared. Thus belief in a resurrection was a way of defending God’s justice: the martyrs would receive a blessed afterlife. By the time of Jesus, a majority of Jews (including deeply committed groups like the Pharisees and Essenes) affirmed a life after death. So apparently did Jesus, even though life after death was not the focus of his message.
But the Sadducees did not. Their privileged place in society meant that they had little or no awareness of any serious injustice that needed to be rectified. As one of our graduate school professors put it, “If you’re rich and powerful, who needs an afterlife?”
This extract comes from a section discussing a question posed by the Sadducees, and Jesus’ response to it. It’s context in the book is to provide context to help understand the Sadducees’ motivations with their question (in particular “their purpose is obviously not a desire for information about what the afterlife will be like”). I’m obviously sharing it in a slightly different context. For now I’ll let the extract speak for itself, I’ll share my thoughts on the matter in the third post of this little three-post series.