Does Daniel 12 reveal that there is life after death with reward and punishment, and does the Book of Daniel speak of the events preceding the victory of Chanukah?
Life after death
The biblical books preceding the book of Daniel do not contain clear statements about life after death. Although a number of verses appear to refer to life after death, these are actually speaking of the resurrection of the Jewish people after the nation is destroyed. Is Daniel an exception?
Daniel 12:2 and 3 state:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.
Daniel 12:13 states:
But go your way to the end; and you shall rest, and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.
Assuming for the moment that these verses are informing Daniel about life after death, what are they saying? The verses are not at all clear.
If “those who sleep in the dust” refers to the dead and “awake” means that they come back to life, what is everlasting life? Even commentators who believe that the verses are a statement about life after death recognize that “everlasting life” could mean a long life that ultimately ends in a second death. What is the meaning of “those who are wise” and those “who turn many to righteousness”? Whatever it means, it seems clear that it is not referring to those who were well behaved or those who observed the commandments of the Torah. And in verse 13, what is Daniel’s “allotted place,” when is the “end of days,” and to what does it refer?
An Alternative Interpretation: Chanukah
In view of these questions, many scholars are convinced that Daniel 12 is not referring to life after death. Daniel lived during a period – probably around the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Syrian Greeks – when life in Judea was very difficult and many misguided Judeans were seducing their co-religionists away from Judaism and toward a sole acceptance of Hellenism.
Daniel’s vision, expressed in this passage, is that the dire situation will not continue. Many living anti-Hellenists will find the strength to rise, as if awakened from the dead, combat the pro-Hellenists, shame them, and be able to live a long life in peace. Who are the pro-Hellenists? They are scholars, wise people who taught their fellow Judeans the correct views of Judaism. They will shine in the eyes of their co-religionists.
Daniel feels that he is being told to be patient. He is advised to “rest.” He will be among the victors where he belongs when the day of victory arrives: “in your allotted place at the end of the days.”
Thus, the interpretation that is more reasonable and appropriate in light of the historical context is that the passage in Daniel is not a revelation about personal life after death, but the revival of Judaism.
I agree that Danie 12 is not talking about a literal resurrection. Maimonides understood the soul as “pure intellect,” that would “bask in His glory for all eternity.” Maimonides felt that “resurrection” was synonymous with “eternal spiritual life” (Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Teshuva). Aristotle also did not think there was a soul that would be resurrected.