The students of history are interested to know where the idea of resurrection first arose and how it was adopted by other nations. If we read carefully the writings ascribed to Moses and other writers of the Old Testament we find that the ancient Israelites did not believe in the Christian heaven or hell, nor in reward or punishment after death. It is doubtful whether they had any clear conception of the existence of soul after the dissolution of the human body. They had no definite idea of the hereafter. They did not believe in the resurrection either of the soul or body. Job longed for death thinking that it would end his mental agony.
In Psalms we read, “Wilt Thou shew wonders to the dead? Shall the dead arise and praise Thee?” (Ps. lxxxviii, 10.) “In death there is no remembrance of Thee; in the grave who shall give Thee thanks?” (Ps. vi, 5.) Again (Ps. cxlvi, 4) it is said about princes and the son of man,–“His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, in that very day his thoughts perish.” “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.” (Ps. cxv, 17.) Solomon speaks boldly: “All things come alike to all; there is one event to the righteous and to the wicked, to the good and to the clean and to the unclean… as is the good, so is the sinner.” (Eccl. ix, 2.) “Go thy way, eat thy bread with joy, and drink thy wine with a merry heart…. Live joyfully with thy wife… for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, whither thou goest.” (Eccl. ix, 7, 9, 10.) Again in verse 5 it is said: “The dead know not anything, neither have they anymore a reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.”
“For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them; as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath, so that a man hath no pre-eminence above a beast.” “All go into one place; all are of the dust and all turn to dust again.” “Who knoweth the spirit of man that goeth upward and the spirit of the beast that goeth downward to the earth?”
(Eccl. iii, 19-21.) There are many such passages which show clearly that before the Babylonian captivity the Israelites had no belief in reward or punishment, neither in heaven nor hell nor in the resurrection of the soul. Some say that they had a belief in a sheol or pit where departed souls remained after death, but were never resurrected.
But when the ancient Jews were conquered by the Persians, 536 B.C., they came in contact with a nation which had developed a belief in one God, in a heaven and a hell, in the resurrection of the dead, in reward and punishment after death, and in the last day of judgment. Under the dominion of Persia, whose rule began with the capture of Babylon and lasted from 536-333 B.C., the Jews were greatly influenced by the Persian religion. They gave up their idolatry, gradually developed social organization and had considerable liberty. About that time the Jews were divided into two classes, the Pharisees and Sadducees. Those who adopted the religious ideas of the Parsees were called Pharisees (according to some authorities the word Pharisee was the Hebrew form of Parsee), and those who followed strictly the Jewish ideas, ceremonies, rituals and beliefs were called Sadducees. The former were sharply opposed to the latter in their doctrinal beliefs. They believed in angels and spirits, they expected the resurrection of the dead and believed in future reward and punishment and also in Divine pre-ordination.
The Sadducees did not step beyond the bounds of ancient Judaism. They were Orthodox and very conservative in their views. They denied the existence of angels and spirits, the resurrection of the dead, and reward and punishment after death. In Matt, xxii, 23, we read, “The same day came to him the Sadducees which say that there is no resurrection.” The Sadducees were fewer in number than the Pharisees. Gradually the latter grew very powerful and after the death of Jesus their doctrines of the resurrection of the dead, and of reward and punishment after death, and the belief in angels and spirits, became the cardinal principles of the new Christian sect. Thus we see that the idea of resurrection first arose in Persia and afterwards took a prominent place in the writings of the New Testament, and since then it has been largely accepted by the Christians of the Western countries.