Resurrection, Last Judgment, Afterlife, Heaven, and Hell
The “Middle Eastern religious paradigm” also features a vivid set of beliefs about what happens after death. Although they differ from one another in many details, Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all subscribe to the idea that the dead will experience a resurrection after death and that a Last Judgment will evaluate the balance of good and evil in their earthly lives. Rabbinic Judaism places less emphasis on this issue than the other three traditions, focusing instead on atonement in this world for sins committed, but Zoroastrianism, Christianity, and Islam all stress that a Last Judgment will determine one’s eventual fate in an afterlife—eternal torment in hell for those deemed to have lived an evil life in the world, eternal felicity in paradise for those who led good lives. In all cases, the implication of the teaching is that we are all morally responsible for our actions in this life and will, eventually, be called to account for them; we will not be able to “get away with” bad deeds because the Judgment will be rendered by an omniscient God.
Fred M. Donner
Professor of Near Eastern History, University of Chicago
1. In what ways do the concept of monotheism and the central belief in prophesy relate to one another?
2. This essay clearly explains each of the similarities between the monotheistic faiths within the Middle Eastern religious paradigm. However, there are stark differences between polytheism and monotheism—apart from the quantity of deities one worships. In particular, with regard to the degrees of difference in the areas of prophesy, revealed scripture and final judgment. Using what you know about polytheistic faiths, and inferring from reading the main essay, describe how polytheistic faiths would stand apart from the Middle Eastern religious paradigm concepts of prophesy, revealed scripture, and final judgment.
3. Donner explains the enormous growth of Christianity and Islam through their proselytizing character, whereas Judaism, and its smaller population of faithful, is non-proselytizing. Generally speaking, what challenges would/has each faith encounter(ed) through history as related to their proselytizing or non-proselytizing character?