Ruairidh Boid (M.N. Saraf), “Use, Authority and Exegesis of Mikra in the Samaritan Tradition,” Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading and Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, ed. Martin Jan Mulder (Peabody: Hendrickson, 2004) 608-609.

Whether some Samaritans denied any life at all beyond death is hard to tell from the sources. A denial of resurrection is not the same as a denial of some future life. One could, for example, think of re-incarnation, which can be demonstrated from the Tora much more easily than resurrection, individual or collective. The standard Jewish proof for re-incarnation is from such verses as Exod 20:5-6, where it does not say ‘to thousands of generations’, but only ‘to thousands’; if they are not generations they can only be lifetimes; and the visiting of the sins of the sons on the fathers must have the same meaning, otherwise there would be a denial of justice.

I don’t entirely understand the exegesis of Exodus 20:5-6 here. Exodus 20:5 says that God visits the iniquity of the fathers on the sons, so I don’t see reincarnation here, but rather transgenerational punishment: God punishes the sons for the sins of the fathers. Are Jewish proponents of reincarnation saying that the sinner is punished over three or four of his lifetimes, meaning that the same man can be reincarnated as his son (or descendants, perhaps)?

Regarding Judaism and reincarnation, I’ve mostly encountered it in medieval Judaism: Nahmanides, the Zohar, etc. (see Reincarnation and Jewish Tradition). A preacher I knew once claimed that there were Jews of Christ’s day who believed in reincarnation, since the disciples asked Jesus about a man who was born blind: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:2 NRSV). If the man was born blind, and his blindness was a result of his own sin, then he had to sin before his birth, according to the mentality of the disciples when they asked their question. So argued my preacher friend.

I don’t know. Josephus doesn’t say there were Jews in the first century who believed in reincarnation, at least not in my recollection. And a professor once told me that there were Jews who thought it was possible to sin in the womb, and that could have been the mindset behind the disciple’s inquiry.

I’d like to believe in reincarnation, since the concept of God giving people multiple chances to grow appeals to me more than God basing our eternal destinies on this life alone. But Hebrews 9:27 seems to exclude reincarnation: “And just as it is appointed for mortals to die once, and after that the judgment[.]” It says die once, not die more than once (reincarnation).

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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