Well, Jon Snow has been resurrected on Game of Thrones. Western culture is no stranger to resurrections, of course. Christianity based itself on belief in just such an event. What many may not be aware of, however, is that the idea of resurrection long predates Christianity and was already present in the Judaism from which Christianity sprung as well as in religions that predate Judaism.
In the Hebrew bible the prophet Elisha (2Kings chapter 4) resurrects a child. But not only are incidents of resurrections reported, future resurrections are predicted. In Daniel, we are told that at the end of time: “Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life.”
There are various conceptions of afterlife in the religions of the world. In Eastern religions reincarnation is predominant. Among Western faiths, more commonly discussed is that the soul lives on after us. While it strikes many as the most probable, the truth is we have no experience of a disembodied person. All we know and experience about ourselves is tied to physical experience. The more we learn about our bodies, the more we appreciate the indispensability of physicality to what we know of ourselves. When your brain changes, you change as a person. So what is the imperishable essence that is not also part of our material being?
That is why the idea of resurrection has a certain appeal. It affirms the essential goodness of the body. It says that in our ideal states, we will have bodies, and therefore bodies are not bad or essentially sinful. Moreover, resurrection is faithful in some sense to our experience—as we were once born from nothing, we would recreated from nothing, or from the dust of what we were. Vladimir Nabokov’s book Speak Memory opens with a passage declaring that our existence is a brief crack of light between two darknesses, the one before we were born and the one after we die. Dying is, in a sense, returning to the prenatal death. But of course, if there was once a birth, why not again?
Judaism and Christianity are hardly the first or the only to imagine rebirth. It seems inevitable, as nature gives us examples of resurrection each spring, when flowers re-bloom from the dead earth. In ancient Egypt, Osiris suffered, died and rose again. Ancient Greek and Near Eastern writings similarly tell stories of death and resurrection.
Apart from theology, hints of resurrection thread through our lives. We look for old ideas to be renewed, old joys and music rediscovered, the things and people we once knew or loved somehow springing up anew. There is a Jewish practice of saying a blessing when you encounter a friend you have not seen for a long time—”Blessed be God who resurrects the dead.” Our lives, which are full of things passing away, are full of resurrections. The most painful of course, is that those whom we have truly lost do not return. Not yet, anyway. As some small consolation, for now, we have Jon Snow back.