Too often we make the resurrection only a matter of apologetics
and melt the resurrection accounts down into an ingot of doctrine.
— Eugene H. Peterson (Christ Plays in Ten Thousand places)
Zoroastrianism is a religion based in Persia—modern day Iran. Statistically speaking, the percentage of Zoroastrians in the world today is slim. However, in the centuries before the birth of Christ, this religion was flourishing.
I’m no expert on the religion. To be honest, most of what I know comes from Wikipedia. However, when it was mentioned in my Ezekiel commentary I did a little extra digging.
One of the peculiar practices of ancient Zoroastrians was to place their dead on top of towers for the vultures and weather to clean the bones. The bones were then taken and placed in an ossuary in the centre of the tower. Both earth and fire were considered too holy to accept a corpse. Since they believed that the soul left the body on the fourth day after death, there was nothing taboo about letting nature do its worst to the corpses.
There is no evidence—in fact, it is unlikely—that Ezekiel had ever been to Peria to see these practices in person. However, it would seem naïve to assume that he had never heard of the practice.
. . .
The Old Testament doesn’t say much about the resurrection from the dead. That is why in the gospels you have Sadducees and Pharisees arguing about the topic. Some scholars go so far as to say that Sadducees were the heirs of orthodox Judaism, while Pharisees were helplessly mired in Zoroastrian ideas.
All of this background makes Ezekiel’s account all the more poignant. It’s almost as if Ezekiel was satirizing Zoroastrianism: “Sure, bones are good for nothing in this world—but instead of dumping them into an ossuary, watch what can happen when Yahweh breathes into them!” Resurrection.
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Read verse 10 and try to visualize it. The bodies had already come together. Now all at once a vast multitude of bodies stand to their feet. What was going through Ezekiel’s mind?
We like to think that we live in a more refined world today—a world where silly myths about the afterlife are discarded in the face of naked truth. But have you ever been to a funeral? I think the most stubborn myth out there is, “my loved one has now earned her wings and is my guardian angel up in heaven”. Refined, indeed.
Ezekiel tells me that despite competing world views, and despite a lack scriptural information, the same God that breathed life in me once can do it again. He can stand me back on my feet in this world.
. . .
Lord, your power is overwhelming and your love is humbling. I’m yours—in this life and in the resurrection to come. In Jesus’ name, Amen.