The Popularity of Resurrection

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by Neil Godfrey

Golden plaques representing the resurrection o...
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I’d love to have the time to cite links and sources for each of the following. Maybe I can catch up with doing that in the future. But for now I like at least the idea of a bare list the examples of resurrection belief and hope in the ancient world as discussed by Richard Carrier in Not the Impossible Faith.

This post should be seen as part of a set of other posts I have done in the past:

Popular novels and the gospels

Another empty tomb tale

Resurrection reversal

Dog resurrection

Two Greek historians of the 4th century BC, Theopompus and Eudemus of Rhodes, described the Persian Zoroastrian religious belief that “men will be resurrected and become immortal”. This religion — with its belief in resurrection to physical immortality — was still the dominant religion of the Persian empire throughout the Roman period.

Herodotus records the Thracians believed in a physical resurrection of Zalmoxis. The link is to the Wikipedia article where you can read about the religious cult that grew around this resurrected Zalmoxis, a cult that promised eternal paradise for believers (Carrier cites here the attestation of this in Plato’s Charmides, 156d).

Herodotus also reports the belief in the resurrection of Aristeas of Proconnesus. Again the link is to a Wikipedia quotation from Herodotus.

“Lucian records that the pagan Antigonus had told him: “I know a man who came to life more than twenty days after his burial, having attended the fellow both before his death and after he came to life.” (Carrier, p.86)

Celsus listed names of those whom many pagans believed to have been resurrected:

Zalmoxis in Scythia, the slave of Pythagoras

Pythagoras himself in Italy

Rhampsinitis in Egypt

Orpheus among the Odrysians

Protesilaus in Thessaly

Heracles at Cape Taenarus

Theseus (He was seen fighting alongside the Athenians at Marathon; Greek art depicted him rising from the ground a thirty years after the war.)

Aristeas of Proconnesus

the Dioscuri

Asclepius (reports of many Greeks and nonGreeks having seen the real Asclepius, not a mere phantom, of him resurrected; he was also believed to have the power to resurrect the dead)


Pliny the Elder says many gods lived and died on alternating days.

The Sumerian goddess Inanna passed through seven gates of Hell, and is crucified, remains dead for three days and nights before her resurrection.

The Egyptian Osiris was murdered — as a result of a conspiracy of 72 men, dismembered, buried (“sealed” in a casket), then after three days, and on the full moon, ascended to heaven to become the “Supreme Father of the Gods”.

The Roman national deity, Romulus, descended from heaven to become human and die. His mission in the flesh was to establish a new Kingdom — the beginnings of the Roman empire. A supernatural darkness occurred at his death. His death was the result of a conspiracy of rulers. His corpse was missing at the time of his death, but he appeared after his “resurrection”, at dawn, to a close follower on a road leading to Rome. People fled in fear when the body of Romulus vanished, and kept their silence for a long time before finally proclaiming Romulus a risen god.

Other mortals who in Greek myth were resurrected were Eurydice and Alcestis.

Lucian and Apuleius tell us that it was a common belief that sorcerers could restore the dead to life.

Apollonius of Tyana was said to have raised a girl from the dead.

Empedocles was said to have preserved the body of a lifeless woman for 30 days before sending her away alive.

Proclus reports that Eurynous of Nicopolis was buried by his relatives but returned alive after 15 days and lived many more years.

Rufus of Philippi, a pagan high priest, “died and returned to life on the third day”.

Varro, according to Pliny the Elder, on two occasions saw people carried out for burial returning home alive.

Pliny also claimed to have witnessed the resurrection of his own uncle-in-law, Corfidius.

He also tells us of a sailor who had his throat cut “and almost severed”, and who returned that evening to report on his visit to Hades.

Plato speaks of Er who was slain in battle, yet who returned to life after 12 days on his funeral pyre.

The Syrian commander Bouplagus rose from the dead after being slain on the battle field (stabbed 12 times) and rebuked the victorious Romans for looting the bodies of the dead.

The Lady Philinnion returned to life to visit her lover.

Aridaeus fell to his death but returned to life on the third day.

Timarchus was dead two days and a night before returning to life, and then relating what he had seen in the beyond.

I’d love to find the opportunity to explore some of these a little further and flesh out more details for them on this blog. Hopefully that can happen before the end of the year.

But one thing is clear, as Carrier notes. The notion of return from the dead — in flesh or spirit — was certainly not such a bizarre or offensive notion among ancients as many apologists, seeking to establish the uniqueness of the Jesus story, would have us believe.

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Neil Godfrey

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3 thoughts on “The Popularity of Resurrection”

  1. You can find Herodotus on Zalmoxis at the Perseus Digital Library: http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Hdt.+4.95.1&fromdoc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0126

    Moses could probably fall into the category of physically resurrected beings as well. From Philo:

    “And some time afterwards, when he [Moses] was about to depart from hence to heaven, to take up his abode there, and leaving this mortal life to become immortal, having been summoned by the Father, who now changed him, having previously been a double being, composed of soul and body, into the nature of a single body, transforming him wholly and entirely into a most sun-like mind… For when he was now on the point of being taken away, and was standing at the very starting-place, as it were, that he might fly away and complete his journey to heaven, he was once more inspired and filled with the Holy Spirit, and while still alive, he prophesied admirably what should happen to himself after his death, relating, that is, how he had died when he was not as yet dead, and how he was buried without any one being present so as to know of his tomb, because in fact he was entombed not by mortal hands, but by immortal powers, so that he was not placed in the tomb of his forefathers, having met with particular grace which no man ever saw; and mentioning further how the whole nation mourned for him with tears a whole month, displaying the individual and general sorrow on account of his unspeakable benevolence towards each individual and towards the whole collective host, and of the wisdom with which he had ruled them. (292) Such was the life and such was the death of the king, and lawgiver, and high priest, and prophet, Moses, as it is recorded in the sacred scriptures.”

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