The origin and development of Old Testament and inter-testamental belief regarding life after death
Davis, Wilma Esther
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A study of the origins of any belief entails the investigation of prehistory. In the search for the earliest beginnings of the belief in life after death, it is further necessary to include a belief in God, and in man's awareness of spiritual things, since the belief in the future life is part of the whole religious consciousness of man. Man came into being so long ago that his first religious awakening is buried in the mists of earth's morning. Archaeological investigation has found the earliest knowledge of prehistoric man connected with his belief in life after death: his careful burial of the dead, with weapons, utensils and ornaments for use in the next world. Thus man's cultural development can be traced by his burial deposits. It seems proved beyond a doubt that belief in life after death was universal, and must have been part of man's consciousness, suggesting the Creation statement that he was "made in the image of God." While very little is known of any other actions or beliefs of man so long ago, it is recognized by the remains at the grave that burial entailed some kind of religious ceremony. This can be seen by the many cup-holes found at the grave sites, which suggest libation offerings, and by the easily-recognized remains of feasts held there, which may have been either funeral or memorial rites. By Chalcolithic times many tombs had vestibule entrances, often with an altar in central position. In Egypt people paid more attention to life after death and built more elaborate tombs than anywhere else in the world, and here was apparently the first distinction recognized between good and evil in the world beyond. The pictures on the walls of the early tomb-temples portray souls being weighed, and show the happy life awaiting the successful, and the dangers in store for those who fail to make the grade. After the invention of writing, development can be followed more clearly. Egyptian documents are many, dealing with life in the future world, and the incantations to insure a happy state there. Mesopotamian epics recount prolonged attempts to attain immortality, and belief in the power of gods over men. Burial rites can be read from Hittite documents. The Homeric epics incantations to insure a happy state there. Mesopotamian epics recount prolonged attempts to attain immortality, and' belief in the power of gods over men. Burial rites can be read from Hittite documents. Homeric epics tell a like tale. In far-off America such belief is found and similar rites practiced. This seems to have been a normal development, but it was not all an upward trail. In many parts of the world magic rites developed, often accompanied by human sacrifices to insure favor of gods who were placated rather than worshiped. In the midst of these people, Israel seems to have maintained a healthy interest in life on earth, with death only casually mentioned. These people were aware of the interest of the Lord, their one God, in the affairs of everyday life; the dead were "gathered to their fathers." They were often tempted into the ways of their pagan neighbors, but the prophets gave protest continually, upholding high ideals. Life after death is mentioned incidentally, which may indicate that it was a basic belief which they did not need to emphasize. Until the later writings, which may have been influenced by Persian concepts, this spirit life was but a shadowy existence. Even in the Psalms, where one would expeet a soaring of the spirit, the outlook is dismal. Sheol is a land of darkness and forgetfulness; the shades "cannot praise the Lord." In the later writings there are a few references to a happy state in the next world, but Daniel is the only prophet who speaks of a resurrection of both good and evil for judgment. The victories of the Maccabaean revolt, and the establishment of Jewish independent national life finally under the leadership of John Hyrcanus, led to a return of high hopes that the golden age prophesied for them was at hand. When the failure of the new regime frustrated their expectations, they did not lose faith in God or in their prophetic future. They lifted their expectations to a new plane. Many apocryphal references to the future of Jerusalem look to an eternal glory that is more than earthly, and an anointed leader or Messiah of superhuman qualities. The newly-discovered Dead Sea Scrolls give emphasis to the Messianic expectations. Meanwhile, in lands all over the earth men were seeking light on the next world, and some way of being assured of a good place there. Many mystery religions had developed, similar in belief: spirits both good and bad, active in both worlds; a resurrection of the god, developed from the old nature cults where winter's sleep and spring's awakening suggested a resurrection symbolism; and ceremonies to induce that god to grant a good life in the spirit world. Philosophers and astrologers also were teaching tyPes of eternal life. Such developments are evidence of the universal longing of the human heart to find some way to overcome the tragedy of death. The conquest of Alexander the Great opened the roads of the world, and brought to Palestine as well as to other nations, the contact with the Greek culture. While Greek influences were moving eastward, Oriental culture was moving toward the West. The Jewish Dispersion placed the Jews in the very center of this movement, for all varieties of thought and worship were found in Egypt where most of them were finally settled. The Pseudepigraphical writings reflect this influence, both in the Palestinian and the Egyptian books. The foreign influence is most noticeable in the conception of life after death: vivid descriptions of the horrors of hell and the glories of heaven. There is a suggestion also that a few people would find the punishment of the lower world remedial, and would later be admitted to Paradise. The Jews were discriminating in their acceptance of pagan ideas. They rejected anything that would lower their conception of the great God of both heaven and earth. He was the one and only God, over all, majestic and of great glory, but even so, never removed far from earth. He was their "Guide even unto death," and their Father who showed steadfast love to his children of earth. They looked forward to an immediate entrance at death into places prepared for them "from the foundation of the world": for the wicked, places of torment; for the righteous, heavenly glories. And they expected a Leader, God-anointed, a Messiah, who would come to earth and restore the Paradise of Eden. A final Day of Judgment would mean destruction for all that was evil, and rewards for the faithful, after which there would come from God a "new heaven and a new earth" where righteousness would prevail, and all would be joy. [TRUNCATED]
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University
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