After settling in to the new house, meeting the new roommates, and the cat, I inquired as to the contents of a shabby tupperware container full of used books. Happily, I was offered the chance to slide said container across the wooden floor into my new room, whereupon I set about examining its contents. At once I happened upon Aharon Agus’ The Binding of Isaac & Messiah: Law, Martyrdom, and Deliverance in Early Rabbinic Religiosity, published in the 90s by SUNY press.

The author makes a compelling case for exactly why bodily resurrction was such an important aspect of religious being in early Rabiinic time. In fact, Agus’ argument is that bodily resurretion exists for the religious person in the very intensity of their suffering.  His premise and demonstration of this view comes from the story of Hannah and Her Seven Sons from the second book of Maccabbees. The story validates the suffering personality whose reasons for rejecting the command of a king to eat swine and defy the Law are understandable. Basically, the defiant gesture goes like this: “You may take my body and my life, but my Creator will return these things to my possession due to my obedience.”

This story from Agus’ book argues that bodily resurrection exists and has meaning through the historical contingency and metaphysical impact of martyrdom. This is a relational or functional view of the existence of bodily resurrection. No matter when or how the situation of martyrdom comes about, the impact of that exposure to evil produces the justified belief in the resurrection of the body. This is quite a different method for justifying belief than the positivist or materialist variety, which asks whether the material conditions for bodily resurrection could ever obtain in any possible world. The latter method offers a window to bodily resurrection only in a possible future where sufficiently advanced technology reproduces bodily consciousness, either in a new substrate or through biological reproductive means, i.e. cloning. The former method retains the nuance of religious history and the context in which belief in bodily resurrection arises.

In the religious context, there is no demand on the Creator to resurrect the body at a particular time in history; the end suffices. Rather, the only demand is the demand to obey the Law in the present, i.e. by not eating swine. Defying the king is thus the operational command. The context of the materialist method of inquiring about bodily resurrection places the operational command on the future:, i.e. show me the situation in which bodily resurrection obtains. The materialist conception focuses on the object of the resurrected body; the religious conception focuses on the object of the living command of dietary purity.

Strange, that bodily resurrection could be more or less real for the martyr focusing on the Law, compared to the materialist who either believes or disbelieves in the likelihood of bodily resurrection.

In this vein, I’m also thinking about Heidegger and John Dewey and Gilbert Ryle, whose works are featured in a fine 2005 book by W. Teed Rockwell called Neither Brain nor Ghost. Rockwell argues that consciousness or mind cannot be isolated in the brain, or the nervous system, or bounded by the skin. Mind arises from interaction with environment to produce a world of experience. Beyond the world of experience lay a real world of immense adaptive complexity, composed of so many umwelts and objects and systems. What determines meaning, and in some important sense existence, are the purposes and goals of the subjects in question, and those of the inquirer also.

Does bodily resurrection then exist, and if so, what is the manner of its existence? For whom? Under what conditions?

An ontology framed by cultural historians or historians of ideas might isolate particular situations in which bodily resurrection functioned as a real object or process. The object might be viewed through an agnostic lens if a paleoanthropologist asked the historian of ideas whether bodily resurrection exists, i.e. how does one answer this question whether the phenomena exists “in the end”? It might or it might not. Depends what kind of universe this is.

The criteria used by paleoanthropoligists to determine the existence of bodily resurrection in such case places different demands on the object of study. Likewise, a theoretical physicist might analyze bodily resurrection in terms of a 13-dimensional typoloogy, or a framework of parallel universes. The question whether bodily resurrection is metaphysically or logically or actually possible might intrigue the theoretical physicist, the paleoanthropologist, and the historian of ideas all,

What Agus himself claims is that “Its proclamation here, therefore, is an essential part of the being in the world of the mother and her sons.” In other words, bodily resurrection somehow fits in the world as an important feature of the situation of martyrdom.

It is no wonder, then, that belief in bodily resurrection is called into question when the situation of martyrdom abates in world history. The thought of bodily resurrection loses some of its “cash value” as William James would say.

For an anthropologist, the question arises whether belief in bodily resurrection universally accompanies situations analogous to martyrdom. How could such a question be asked, and what might count as data relevant to the question?

It seems obvious, then, that bodily resurrection is an immensely rich hyperobject. It is only the hierarchy of knowledge that pooh-poohs bodily resurrection as an element of historical time, a superstition relegated to particular historical conditions. But then, if theoretical physics is at the top of the hierarchy of knowledge, perhaps bodily resurrection has a future? The ontologies of Tippler and others offer case studies, not of bodily resurrection itself, but of theoretical physicists arguing for its actual possibility “in the end.”