In the Bosom of Abraham

06 Feb

The “Bosom of Abraham” is found in Scripture only in Luke 16 in the “parable” of Lazarus and the Rich Man. Rabbi Abraham Geiger suggests that Luke 16 preserves Jewish legend [Jüdische Zeitschrift für Wissenschaft und Leben Vol.VII 200. 1869]. If, indeed, this is the case the legend might be of priestly origin  if it is used as an apologetic against the resurrection (surely a merciful God would send someone from the dead if the wicked are punished and the righteous are rewarded in a future resurrection — cf. Luke 16:27-30). In such a case the legendary myth would reflect the worldview of the Sadducees, for they did not believe in life after death. The Pharisees, on the other hand, did believe in the resurrection and had many “stories” about what occurred after death. In fact, Josephus mentions their understanding thus:

“Now as to Hades, wherein the souls of the righteous and unrighteous are detained… the just are guided to the right hand… by the angels appointed over that place… The countenance of the fathers and of the just, which they see, always smiles upon them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham… But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment. [JOSEPHUS: Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades; chapter 1, paragraphs 1, 3, 4]

The Targum on the Song of Solomon says: “…no man has power to enter into the garden of Eden (equivalent to the bosom of Abraham) but the just, whose souls are carried there by the hands of the good angels.” [Targum on Song of Solomon 6:12 (parenthesis mine)]. In Kiddushin 72b rabbi Adda bar Ahavah of the 3rd AD century is said to be “sitting in the bosom of Abraham.”

In other words, Jesus is speaking of a rabbinic hope that was well known among his listeners. However, he describes the “rich man” as clothed in purple and fine linen. This describes the apparel of the high priest (Exodus 28:1-8). If Jesus is really describing the high priest for the “rich man” in this rabbinic story, then he is pointing to a Sadducee in a story derived from rabbinical tradition. Why would he do this? I believe we have a clue in the discourse this “rich man” has with Abraham. Notice after he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brethren who are yet alive and warn them of this place, that Abraham replied: “…they have Moses and the Prophets—let them hear them.” To this the rich man replied: “…if one went from the dead, they would repent” (Luke 16:29-30).

Whether this is a Pharisaical story or an apologetic myth of the Sadducees the twist given it by Jesus, especially his last remark, would have been meant to put down their foolish understanding about the resurrection doctrine. The argument:  “if there is a resurrection, why wouldn’t God (at the intercession of Abraham) send someone back from the dead to tell us? It would seem the righteous and merciful thing to do.” On the other hand, would the unrighteous “rich man” have more concern over the sins of his family than a righteous God? The Sadducees composed their arguments to suit the situation, an example of which can be found in Luke 20:27-33, when they presented their argument to Jesus.

Jesus then replied to the “rich man’s” argument with, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). And, the proof of Jesus’ statement is that he was in Judea at this time for the express purpose of raising Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary in Bethany, from the dead, which he had already done. Jesus even used Lazarus’ name in the story, and it had its effect (John 11:47-54).

It seems, then that Jesus’ story, though it has its base in rabbinical tradition, probably points  to a theme used by the Sadducees in order to refute the Pharisical argument concerning a resurrection. However, Jesus used both traditions to show repentance does not come through miracles, even if one rose from the dead, but repentance comes through the mercy of God. I believe Luke’s submission of his Gospel to Theophilus, the High Priest of 37-41 AD would be a work of mercy meant to bring repentance, but the act of repentance is not forced but offered in hope.

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Posted by on February 6, 2010 in Christianity, Religion, spiritual warfare


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