Reincarnation as a Concept in the Ancient World Notes by Dr. Honora M. Finkelstein The concept of reincarnation came up in our reading of Aeneas in the underworld. It was a belief that had many adherents in the ancient world, and was a part of the belief structure of some Talmudic scholars and Kabbalistic students. Any belief system incorporating a pre-existence of the soul prior to incarnation is suggestive of multiple incarnations as a possibility. Furthermore, many scholars point to references in the Bible suggestive of a belief in reincarnation, though admittedly in all cases those references that remain in our current translations may be interpreted in a variety of ways. In Malachi 4:5-6 it is prophesied: “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. “And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse.” The answer to this prophecy comes in the book of Matthew: Matthew 11:12-15: “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears let him hear.” And again in the same gospel, Jesus took Peter, James, and John up a mountain, where the disciples had a vision of Jesus speaking with Moses and Elijah, and they heard a voice say,  “This is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.” Afterward Jesus told them to tell no one of the vision “until the Son of man is raised from the dead.” Then in Matthew 17:10-13 we read, “And the disciples asked him, ‘Then why do the scribes say that fist Elijah must come?’ He replied, ‘Elijah does come, and he is to restore all things; but I tell you that Elijah has already come, and they did not know him, but did to him whatever they pleased. So also the Son of man will suffer at their hands. Then the disciples understood that he was speaking of John the Baptist.” Some other passages you might be interested in examining are Matthew 16:14, Galatians 6:7 and John 9:2-3. An even more fruitful approach would be to examine the patterns of karma (best defined as “lesson learning from past deeds” or “as you sow, so shall you reap”) and grace in the Bible. As each group sins, God sends an experience to teach them afresh that there are other, more productive ways of living, which ultimately lead to grace. The culminating grace, from this perspective, was the grace engendered through Jesus himself, who represents the pattern that all men may learn to follow. Among the church fathers who wrote doctrines of belief of the early church was Origen, who was considered the most brilliant mind of these early writers. The doctrine of reincarnation was totally accepted by Origen, an orthodox church father who wrote early in the third century. For example, we read in his Contra Celsum the following passage: “Is it not more in conformity with reason that every soul for certain mysterious reasons (I speak now according to the opinion of Pythagoras and Plato and Empedocles, whom Celsus frequently names) is introduced into a body, and introduced according to its deserts and former actions? . . . “Is it not rational that souls should be introduced into bodies, in accordance with their merits and previous deeds, and that those who have used their bodies in doing the utmost possible good should have a right to bodies endowed with qualities superior to the bodies of others? . . . “The soul, which is immaterial and invisible in its nature, exists in no material place without having a body suited to the nature of that place; accordingly, it at one time puts off one body, which was necessary before, but which is no longer adequate in its changed state, and it exchanges it for a second.” Hence, reincarnation was a part of church doctrine from about AD 210 until it was expunged in the sixth century under Emperor Justinian, whose wife, Theodora, had been a pantomime actress before she married him and who, some scholars maintain, didn’t like the idea of possibly having to come back and “reap” what she might have sown. Whether there are other biblical passages referring to reincarnation that were also expunged is still a matter for scholarship to determine. To his credit, Justinian, ruling from 527 to 565, was responsible for codifying the Roman law in the Corpus Juris Civilis.  Though he had many problems with the Germanic tribes in the Western provinces, he managed to maintain the Empire from Byzantium. Made with Xara Website by Susan Smily