By Israel Drazin
I pointed out in my books that most of the notions held today by many Jews, as well as Christians and Muslims, are relatively recent accretions into Judaism, thoughts that are not in the Bible but taken from pagan cultures. These include the belief that people have souls, the need to have faith, and concepts that have become central to the synagogue services on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, such as divine punishment in heaven or hell for good and bad deeds here on earth.
In his excellent very informative book, The Sages, volume three, Binyamin Lau makes this clear.
According to the Bible, the reward for doing mitzvot is granted in this world: “that you may fare well and live long” (Deuteronomy 33:7). The Mishna likewise states “Whoever performs one mitzva is rewarded, and his days are prolonged, and he inherits the land (Mishna Kiddushin 1:10). The idea of reward and punishment in another world appears as early as the time of Hillel, a hundred years before the destruction of the Temple. “If he has acquired words of Torah, he has acquired the World to Come” (Mishna Avot 2:7).
In a footnote, Lau adds that Abraham Heschel argues “in Heavenly Torah that the notion of the World to Come was developed in the beit midrash (school) of Rabbi Akiva (who died in 135 CE) and does not appear in the sources associated with (his colleague) Rabbi Yishmael.” Akiva drew many lessons from the Torah that were not even implied in the literal reading of the Torah text, while Ishmael insisted that we read Torah as we read other books because “the Torah speaks in human language.” However we date the origin, what is certain is that the teaching of otherworldly punishment and reward is a late accretion and its source is most likely from Greek culture, for this was a period when many Romans who taught Greek thought lived in Israel.