Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
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09-09-2013, 09:38 PM (This post was last modified: 09-09-2013 09:53 PM by TheLastEnemy.)
Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
It seems, from many scriptures in the Hebrew Bible, that the Israelites had no concept of an afterlife, and believed, as many do today, that consciousness simply ceased at death.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression that almost every people at that point in history believed in an afterlife of some sort, even the Hebrews' immediate neighbors, so why didn't the Jews?, were they just unimaginative?, or simply more down to earth?

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09-09-2013, 09:48 PM
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
Clearly it is because they worship the wrong god. If only they would worship Mark Dreher , they would be saved.
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09-09-2013, 09:49 PM
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
That is an excellent question. I have no idea. Certainly the concept of an afterlife had been well-established by other cultures which interacted with the Jewish tribes. Maybe they really were more down to earth? Perhaps we could get a couple of the resident Jews to chime in on this one? I look forward to hearing the responses.

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09-09-2013, 09:59 PM
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
(09-09-2013 09:49 PM)Dark Light Wrote:  That is an excellent question. I have no idea. Certainly the concept of an afterlife had been well-established by other cultures which interacted with the Jewish tribes. Maybe they really were more down to earth? Perhaps we could get a couple of the resident Jews to chime in on this one? I look forward to hearing the responses.

I'm pretty sure the Jews now believe in an afterlife, they have since a couple hundred years before Jesus I think.

That sounds really fucking depressing though, no wonder the Jews never got any converts.

Israelite: Worship Yahweh heathen!

Phillistine: Why?, If I worship him will I go to paradise when I die?

Israelite: Pfft!, No, when you're dead you're dead!, what are you, stupid or something?

Phillistine: Do I get ANY rewards?

Israelite: I Won't decapitate you.

Phillistine: I Think I'll just stick with Dago-*Is decapitated*.

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09-09-2013, 10:04 PM
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
"Afterlife" are staples of dictatorial states. "Work hard, take abuse, and you'll be rewarded in the afterlife."

The Jewish religions were never part of long lasting states (all I know of are the Khazars). Because they were decentralized, there was never one overarching authority making promises. But instead the mythology suited a diaspora religion - prophecies, common suffering, old languages, etc. Things that tie people together rather than subjugating them.
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09-09-2013, 10:10 PM
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
(09-09-2013 10:04 PM)PoolBoyG Wrote:  "Afterlife" are staples of dictatorial states. "Work hard, take abuse, and you'll be rewarded in the afterlife."

The Jewish religions were never part of long lasting states (all I know of are the Khazars). Because they were decentralized, there was never one overarching authority making promises. But instead the mythology suited a diaspora religion - prophecies, common suffering, old languages, etc. Things that tie people together rather than subjugating them.

Weren't Israel and Judaea kingdoms for about two-hundred years?

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09-09-2013, 10:51 PM (This post was last modified: 09-09-2013 10:55 PM by PoolBoyG.)
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
(09-09-2013 10:10 PM)TheLastEnemy Wrote:  
(09-09-2013 10:04 PM)PoolBoyG Wrote:  "Afterlife" are staples of dictatorial states. "Work hard, take abuse, and you'll be rewarded in the afterlife."

The Jewish religions were never part of long lasting states (all I know of are the Khazars). Because they were decentralized, there was never one overarching authority making promises. But instead the mythology suited a diaspora religion - prophecies, common suffering, old languages, etc. Things that tie people together rather than subjugating them.

Weren't Israel and Judaea kingdoms for about two-hundred years?

And the Jews built the Pyramids Rolleyes

But all that is beside the point. It's not relevant if it was thousands of years ago. It wasn't a state religion, it never developed that way. It's a diaspora religion.

Just a hypothesis. I'd like to see studies on whether religions with strong afterlife beliefs developed in authoritarian states. And religions with weak to no afterlife beliefs had no history of being state religions.
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09-09-2013, 10:56 PM
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
I know that the ancient Hebrew didn't believe in Hell as the Christians do, but I thought they still had an afterlife, just not one that involved eternal pleasure or torture. That was the point of She'ol, was it not?


Quote:She'ol (/ˈʃiːoʊl/ shee-ohl or /ˈʃiːəl/ shee-əl; Hebrew שְׁאוֹל Šʾôl), translated as "grave", "pit", or "abode of the dead", is the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible's underworld, a place of darkness to which all the dead go, both the righteous and the unrighteous, regardless of the moral choices made in life, a place of stillness and darkness cut off from God.[1]

The inhabitants of Sheol were the "shades" (rephaim), entities without personality or strength.[2] Under some circumstances they could be contacted by the living, as the Witch of Endor contacts the shade of Samuel for Saul, but such practices are forbidden (Deuteronomy 18:10).[3] While the Old Testament writings describe Sheol as the permanent place of the dead, in the Second Temple period (roughly 500 BCE-70 CE) a more diverse set of ideas developed: in some texts, Sheol is the home of both the righteous and the wicked, separated into respective compartments; in others, it was a place of punishment, meant for the wicked dead alone.[4] When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek in ancient Alexandria around 200 BC the word "Hades" (the Greek underworld) was substituted for Sheol, and this is reflected in the New Testament where Hades is both the underworld of the dead and the personification of the evil it represents.[5]

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheol

I imagine that like most anything man made, the ideas and concepts evolved over time.

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09-09-2013, 10:58 PM
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
(09-09-2013 10:51 PM)PoolBoyG Wrote:  
(09-09-2013 10:10 PM)TheLastEnemy Wrote:  Weren't Israel and Judaea kingdoms for about two-hundred years?

And the Jews built the Pyramids Rolleyes

But all that is beside the point. It's not relevant if it was thousands of years ago. It wasn't a state religion, it never developed that way. It's a diaspora religion.

Just a hypothesis. I'd like to see studies on whether religions with strong afterlife beliefs developed in authoritarian states. And religions with weak to no afterlife beliefs had no history of being state religions.


That's different, the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel existed, that's a historical fact, if not, what was it that got conquered by Assyria and Babylon?

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09-09-2013, 11:05 PM (This post was last modified: 10-09-2013 08:14 AM by Bucky Ball.)
RE: Why Didn't The Hebrews Believe In An Afterlife
They had a concept of "shades" which inhabited Sheol. It was not really an "afterlife". But it was where they thought what happened to humans goes on. Shades were "shadows of their former selves". There are multiple example of these in the Bible, both OT and NT. Some scholars think a case can be made that a resurrected Jebus was seen as a "shade", (as they were afraid of it, and didn't recognize it).

From my Resurrection thread. Sorry. It's not short.
http://www.thethinkingatheist.com/forum/...other-look

The Egyptians believed in an after life. They had for thousands of years. The concept of a "soul" as distinct from the body, and surviving the body, was called the "ka". http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ancient_Egy...f_the_soul
They speculated about what it would be in the Book of the Dead.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Book_of_the_Dead

The Sumerians talked about it in the Epic of Gilgamesh.
While there are obvious things appropriated from Sumerian texts, in the Bible, they did not import content about an after -life.

Almost all the surrounding cultures of ancient Israel DID believe in some sort of afterlife. Israel was an odd exception to this. It has perplexed scholars. Why Not ? I will propose my personal explanation for this later. There is both a positive, and negative case for this. It is important. Israel was not concerned with a personal afterlife. Genesis 3:19 says, "For dust thou art, and unto dust thou shalt return". God breathed life into the man, not a soul. There are examples of exceptions to this, in 1 Samuel 28:15, Saul calls the Witch of Endor, and she conjures up the shade of Samuel, who is angry to be disturbed. He was in a "dormant" state". not a "blissful" state. Conjuring was forbidden. Apart from the magic, there was just no cultural content of the idea of an individual ("happy", or "sad", or tormented) state of immortality. That does not mean immortality was not present. We'll look at that later.

Psalm 39 :
"Turn your gaze away from me, that I may smile again,
before I depart, and am no more"

Psalm 115 :
"The dead do not praise the Lord,
nor do any that go down into silence".

However ALL the dead, both good and bad, were thought to go to an underground region called "Sheol".
Sheol is referenced in mostly the Wisdom texts. It's certainly NOT where Yahweh lives.
Psalm 6 : "For in death there is no remembrance of you, in Sheol, who can give you praise ?"

However, ....
The Biblical texts were written, by the upper-class Hebrew priests.
In Canaan , ancestors remained powerful, after death, and had to be fed, and placated. Because of it's threat to monotheism, shamanism and witchcraft had to be suppressed. The fact it had to be suppressed at all, means it was widespread, and perceived as a threat. Saul expelled the mediums and the wizards. When the Witch of Endor conjures Samuel's "shade", Saul asks the witch, "What do you see ?". She answers, "I see a DIVINE being, (the word is "elohim"), coming up out of the ground". (Only the witch could *see* or perceive the shade). Saul asks "What does he look like ?". She describes him. And the text then says, ((just as the text in the New Testament does about the "Road to Emmaus" (resurrection) incident)), "So Saul knew it was Samuel...etc" because of the description. The DEAD SHADE HAD TO BE INFERRED. In Hebrew culture, the dead did not have recognizable human shapes. or appearances !!!. Read that again, please. The identity of dead shades was not apparent. The "shade" of Jesus also was not recognized, when they said they saw it. Next, if a shade is a "divine being", it speaks volumes about what that means to them. If a dead human's shade is of the SAME essential nature as other "divine" beings, (and there were many, in the polytheistic Hebrew culture), then it calls into question our notion of "supernatural" vs "divine". In our culture a "god" is perceived as "up there", "watching from above", powerful from on high, riding the clouds of heaven. Obviously from the Samuel's shade remark we see that was not true of the Hebrews. Instead of saying "super-natural", it would be more correct to say "other than natural", as it denoted an equal, or equivalency of power and status. There is no hierarchical paradigm implied.

Historically there is a long, very interesting historical set of occurrences, in which the Greek, and Roman, and Seleucid empire's forces are battling for ascendancy in the Near East http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antiochus_IV_Epiphanes .
Suffice it to say the Greeks purchased the High Priesthood in Israel, and Jason, (Greek equivalent name of Jesus), imported Hellenistic ideas, even more than they had been already, as recounted in 2 Maccabees, which drove some changes in the Hebrew culture, and it's assumptions. The famous "abomination of desolation" resulted from the interaction of the forces from these days, when the desolate temple, was associated with not allowing Jews to perform their ritual practices. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abomination...solationry involved Unfortunately it would lead us too far afield here, to do all the history involved here, but as a result of persecution in the Maccabeean period, there arose the idea of Martyrdom. An unusual heroic death for a noble political cause.

In the Book of Daniel, in chapter 12, for the first time the idea of rising from the dead appears in the Old Testament. Interestingly enough, it also involves a redemptive aspect.
Thus we know that before that date, there was NO concept of general, or individual immortality, in Hebrew culture. The author of Daniel had to try to make sense of the horrific experience of the Exile and the trying times they were experiencing. Thus he had the "trial in lions den", etc, which symbolized the horrible time in Babylon, and the invasion of the Maccabean period. How would he make sense of the awful experience. Daniel 12:3 "Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars, for ever and ever." They get rewarded for suffering. But it's allegorical. NOT physical. And "immortality" is born.

A few years post Exile, we have Isaiah saying: (now very different from the old psalmist),
Isaiah 26:19
"Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
O dweller in the dust, awake and sing for joy !
For your dew is a radiant dew, and the Earth will give birth to those long dead."

The first text in the Bible to be written was the Book or Torah of Job, was also an attempt to ask why, and make sense of the experience of "exile".

So, just as with everything else in Hebrew culture, the horror of the Exilic period, gives rise to it's MOST important changes, and ideas. Religion had to rationalize how an absent god could allow his chosen people to undergo such a horror. Who cares, if you live forever, and there was another life after this one ?
So something clearly has changed here. This is when and how the Hebrew's prophets and priests, added the notion of an after-life to a culture which had none, previously. The culture was ready for this new addition, for another reason, as you will see below. However, these men, in no way say everyone rises, or that eternal life is for everyone, or where the resurrection takes place, or how exactly how this is made manifest.

There is a transitional period, as always. In Maccabees 2, there is the famous set of speeches of the seven sons of Hannah.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Woman_with_seven_sons
Each of the sons gives a speech before they are martyred for refusing to eat pork, ("an" abomination of desolation). In the speeches, they refer to SOME people being given eternal life, not all. Saint Paul STILL had this "some" idea. Only the saved have eternal life, in the Pauline literature.

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Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music - Friedrich Nietzsche
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