The Greek anastasis is the act of rising up, typically translated “resurrection” in the Bible. It could refer to simply rising from a seat, or, more profoundly, coming back to life after death. Resurrection after death appears in various ancient religions and mythologies, but it’s difficult to know exactly what early societies believed. For example, Greek mythology records the resurrection of various gods, such as Asclepius. However, despite the belief in Hades, an underworld where the spirit resides after death, widespread belief in universal resurrection – everyone coming back to life – doesn’t seem to be commonly held among the ancient Greeks.

The Egyptians similarly believed in an afterlife, preparing extravagant tombs and treasures to provide for the dead in their next life. Yet resurrection from death wasn’t part of their belief system either.

Judaism, however, held a different view. The Old Testament records three instances of overt bodily resurrection:

Additionally, some passages in the Hebrew Scriptures hint at universal resurrection. The writer of Psalm 49 had hope that God would “redeem my soul from the hand of Sheol” (Psalm 49:15a). Job believed he would see God after death, saying “Even after my skin’s struck, I’ll see God from my body” (Job 19:26). Likewise, Isaiah said, “Your dead will live. Their corpses will rise. You, lying in the dirt, wake up and rejoice” (Isaiah 26:19). Finally, Daniel records, “Many of those sleeping in the dust of the ground will wake up, these to everlasting life, but others to abuse and horror forever” (Daniel 12:2). Although these passages suggest some sort of resurrection, different sects of Judaism in the first century held different views on the subject, so it’s unclear exactly what the general public believed.

[Abraham] figured that God could raise from death, and, in a way, he got [his son] back from there.

– Hebrews 11:19