Marcus J. Borg, an American New Testament scholar and theologian, in his last book ponders the strange absence of the afterlife in the Jewish Bible:
‘In the Old Testament, which is more than two-thirds of the Christian Bible, belief in an afterlife is basically absent. Not until the final chapter of its last book to be written (Daniel, around 165 BCE) is there an unambiguously clear reference to a blessed afterlife. And even there, it’s not about eternal punishment of the wicked and rewards for believers, but specially about the resurrection of the martyrs – of Jews who were killed because of their loyalty to God by the power that ruled their world.’
‘In all the centuries before that, the great figures of the Old Testament – Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, Moses in the time of the exodus from Egypt, the prophets in the time of the monarchy and its failure and fall, the authors of the Psalms and the wisdom literature – did not believe in life after death. And yet they were passionate about God and salvation. But the afterlife was not the main motivation for this passion.’
‘Though the words “heaven” and “Sheol” frequently occur in the Old Testament, they are not the same as Christian understandings of heaven and hell. The former (singular or plural) sometimes means “sky,” as in “the heavens declare the glory of God.” Sometimes it means the abode of God and other spiritual beings. Even Satan, according to the book of Job (1,6), lives in heaven. But “heaven” is not a blessed after-death destination of the faithful.’
‘So also the word “Sheol” (Hebrew) or “Hades” (Greek) do not refer to a place of punishment like the common Christian understanding of “hell” does. Rather, they refer to the land of the dead, the grave, where everyone goes – not because they’ve been bad, but because they’re dead.’
Marcus J. Borg Convictions: A Manifesto for Progressive Christians published 2014, pp. 60-61
(Marcus J. Borg (1942–2015) was an American New Testament scholar and theologian and a major figure in historical Jesus scholarship. He retired as Distinguished Professor of Religion and Culture at Oregon State University in 2007).
Interestingly, the Qur’an states:
Prosperous are those who purify themselves, remember the name of their Lord, and pray. Yet you people prefer the life of this world, even though the Hereafter is better and more lasting. All this is in the earlier scriptures, the scriptures of Abraham and Moses.
Surah 87: 14-18
God speaks about two earlier revelations to Abraham and Moses. No Book of Abraham has come down to us. The present Pentateuch is a surviving recension of the original revelation of Moses. Where is the teaching about the Hereafter to be found in today’s Torah? Nowhere. This means it was either removed or lost or forgotten – thus indicating textual corruption. That is why belief in an afterlife is basically absent from the Old Testament.