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Olam Ha-Ba



I was researching the term Olam Ha-Ba which is basically the same terminology as “Eternal Life” (zoe aionios) in the New Testament, as a matter of fact; Olam is often translated with the word Aionios in the Septuagint. As I was researching, I stumbled upon this article talking about the Olam Ha-Ba on Judaism 101. It was quite confusing. On one hand they talked of the Olam Ha-Ba as occurring at a fixed point in the future (the resurrection of the dead) and at another point they talked of the Olam Ha-Ba in terms of the phrase Gan Eden (Garden of Eden) as a sort of Heaven-like place. I’m wondering if anyone can make heads or tales of this.

Both of these varying views have been used by both mainline Christians and those of us who don’t tend to believe in the immortality of the soul as evidence that ancient Judaism believed (or didn’t believe) in a soul or that you went to heaven when you die. I can see how the confusion can take place. Of course, we must go to the bible for our information, but it is interesting to note whether or not terms were “metaphoric” or not, “apocalyptic” or not.

I also looked around further and found that the schools of Shammai and Hillel interfaced with this idea in terms of resurrection as well. There are apparently three schools according to Shammaic and Hillelic (are these words…I don’t know) at the resurrection. One is raised and immediately enters into Gan Eden (heaven, but not, more like paradise, perhaps the kingdom?). The other goes to Gehenna (place of burning) to be annihilated, and the other (Shammaic and Hillelic views differ on this) either is tried through fire and given another chance (Hillel) or destroyed as well.

In the end, it seemed as if Orthodox Jews believed strictly in a resurrection of the dead much like the Pharisees did at Jesus’ time, but Conservative Judaism parts from this only a little whilst Reform Jews part from this to the point of believing the Messiah to be metaphoric language for the body of Jewish believers instead of a historical figure.

Something else I found interesting in my research is that the Jews focus so much on life in the here and now that there particular views of the “afterlife” can differ from Jew to Jew yet still be completely “orthodox” as long as they believe in the Olam Ha-Ba (age to come) and the resurrection of the dead. The intermediate state doesn’t seem to concern them at all.

I find these bits of information very intriguing. What exactly was classical Judaism and how did the Rabbis interpret this information around the time of Jesus and before?

In any case, read the article and perhaps there can be some good discussion.

8 Responses to “Olam Ha-Ba”

  1. on 07 Mar 2008 at 10:16 amJohnO


    As I’ve come to find out, we have to be careful about just ideas we place as relevant to the time of Jesus. There is the Second Temple Judaism period, up to 70AD, then after that the Tainnitic period (70-200AD) in which the Mishnah (oral law) is being developed, then after that we are in the realm of the Targums (biblical commentary) and Talmud(mishnah commentary).

    Some elements of Mishnah can be traced back to Second Temple Judaism, some cannot. So we have to be careful of just when our sources are and where we can place these ideas.

  2. on 07 Mar 2008 at 11:42 amRay


    I can’t help you with Jewish words.

    I once had a Jewish friend who seemed to know the meanings
    of all the terms, phrazes, and what they meant by jewish people.
    They were their common tools, but to me, it may as well have been

    The sad thing is that my friend was always trying to judaize me
    and make me eat or not eat with all kinds of legalism, so we had
    to part.

    It’s sad because his gifting by God would have been so helpful to me.

    I believe there are keys to understanding that may be locked up
    in words and their meanings, so keep going. Keep searching. I
    hope you can find a good Jewish friend.

  3. on 07 Mar 2008 at 1:20 pmKaren

    There’s an old saying: two Jews, three opinions. Judaism does not have a set of doctrines, per se. While there are the original 613 ‘mitzvot’ in the OT, these have been interpreted and re-interpreted by Rabbis down the centuries; their discussions about these matters can be found in the Talmud. Intellectual matters, particularly learning Torah and Talmud, and argument and discussion about them, are the lifeblood of the Jewish people. Coming to a particular conclusion is secondary.

    Jews (particularly Conservative and Reform) do indeed focus very much on the here and now. ‘Tikkun olam’, which means ‘repairing the world’, is seen as the mission of most Jews, and is the reason Jews have been in the forefront of things like the Civil Rights movement. Most Jews don’t think about an afterlife much, if at all; we’re brought up to believe that death is the end, therefore one should live the best life possible here and now, showing concern for others, particularly the poor (see Isaiah). But the Orthodox do indeed believe in an afterlife, and are looking forward to the Messiah; they’ll be quite surprised when they see who he is!

  4. on 07 Mar 2008 at 2:49 pmSean

    Olam Ha Ba is equivalent to the age to come. This is kingdom language–the messianic age–when messiah will come to make establish Israel as the chief of the nations and through Israel bless the inhabited world. Often when speaking with Jews I will first ask them if they believe in Olam Ha Ba and depending on their answer I will go in a different direction. Unfortunately, do to the length of time since these biblical prophecies were given, this hope has waned for many of the Jewish faith (not to mention the faith killing effect that the Holocaust had). Even so, I find that more often than not when I bring up Olam Ha Ba the person says they believe it will come when mashiach arrives.

    Regarding the Jewish view on the afterlife, I found this article on the immortality of the soul extremely helpful. By the 1st century many Jews had come to believe in resurrection on the basis of Isaiah 26.19 and Daniel 12.2. However, as the Greek idea of the immortal soul became more and more popular the original Hebrew faith was blended (made to fit with) Greek philosophy by Philo of Alexandria towards the end of the 1st century.

  5. on 07 Mar 2008 at 3:18 pmKaren

    The Jewish Encyclopedia is a great resource. Just be aware that it was published in 1906, so while the history is excellent, there’s much in it that doesn’t apply to contemporary Conservative and Reform Judaism (in fact, the Conservative movement was just getting started at the time.)

  6. on 09 Mar 2008 at 12:57 amKarl

    Hello Kyle:

    Orthodox jews don’t have a strict set of beliefs regarding the afterlife. There are some who belief that the ultimate destiny of man is spiritual in nature and there are others who believe that it is bodily in nature.

    You wrote: “Something else I found interesting in my research is that the Jews focus so much on life in the here and now that there particular views of the “afterlife” can differ…”

    I can understand why they don’t have that much concern for the afterlife seeing how the Law of Moses (the basis of their religion and all subsequent revelation) doesn’t even mention an afterlife or the resurrection of the dead.

  7. on 09 Mar 2008 at 2:40 pmjoshuag

    If orthodox jews dont have a strict set of beliefs for what happens when people die, it could have something to do with the fact that theyre still waiting for the messiah to come the first time around. Seeing as how for believers in the kingdom that was described in the NT is disregarded by them; we have much more opened to us correct?
    In the NT we realize much more about the coincidence of faith and works; both being variables for God to mix in with the equation of his grace – which in turn leads around to what we have to look forward to as the return of christ being

  8. on 10 Mar 2008 at 1:13 amRon S.

    Sean is correct in that Olam Ha-ba means “The Age (or World) to Come”. It is generally associated with the appearance of the Messiah to bring about God’s judgment upon the world and return Israel to a perfect age of peace and full knowledge of the one true God under His just rule.

    However as Karen also pointed out in the old saying of “Two Jews, Three opinions”, there is not one set belief within Judaism regarding the “Olam Ha-ba” since there are many varied and contrasting afterlife opinions within Judaism. For instance, check out the following article regarding some of those pointed differences: http://www.seedwiki.com/wiki/conj/olam_haba?wikiPageId=724839

    Often people see the unity of Judaism on things like their unwavering dedication to believing God is One (the Shema) and that Jesus isn’t the Messiah, and think that Judaism is totally united and has been that way since the days Moses and then the time of Jesus. But this just isn’t the case. Jusaism today (much like Christianity) is not exactly the faith that was started by Moses and practiced by Jesus of Nazareth. For an interesting look into how this is so, I would highly recommend the following link for an article entitled “Is Judaism the Religion of Moses?“. It is a LONG read (72 pages if you print it out), but gives an detailed account of how the Hebrew people over time were influenced by other cultures and not always for the better. Some of those very issues were what Jesus seemed to be campaigning against (or trying to reform) during his ministry. Check it out at: http://www.hope-of-israel.org/judaism.htm

    NOTE: I should also mention that the site (Hope for Israel Ministries) is a non-trinitarian, non-preexistence, supporter of Jesus (although referred to using his Jewish name “Yeshua”) as the Messiah. And also like here on Kingdom Ready they too don’t believe people go to Heaven or Hell and that the Resurrection at the Return of the Messiah is what brings the dead back to life. But they do differ on some things in that they believe Jesus’ actual father was his human father Joseph (i.e. no virgin birth), and that the “Law” is still in effect – taking Jesus’ “think not that I came to abolish the Law….” to a possible literal extreme. That said they do have many interesting articles that often are in the same vein as many here at Kingdom Ready.



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