The Afterlife in the Old Testament – surprisingly there is no heaven or hell..


Many readers of the Bible are surprised to learn that the ideas of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible are not closely related to what most people think today. The idea that after you die, your soul goes either to heaven or hell (or even purgatory) is not an idea rooted in the Jewish Scriptures. The few passages that refer to an afterlife in the Hebrew Bible assume that after death, a person goes to “Sheol.” That is not the Hebrew equivalent of “hell” – a place of punishment for the wicked. It is the place where everyone goes, good or evil. It is sometimes spoken as a place of rest (remember how Samuel was not pleased at having his rest disturbed in 1 Samuel 28). But as a rule, it is not thought of as a pleasant place (think of all the horrors associated with going to Sheol in the book of Psalms). It is a shadowy kind of netherworld that everyone goes to when they die, like it or not.

Other authors of the Hebrew Bible deny that there is any afterlife at all, and indicate instead that death is the end of the story (see Job 14:11-12; Ecclesiastes 9:3-6).  

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The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction by renowned biblical scholar and New York Times Bestselling author Dr Bart D. Ehrman, p. 219.



Categories: Bible, Death, Hell

33 replies

  1. Better to say “Tanakh” instead of the Hebrew Bible.
    Also, Jews believe in reincarnation so it’s the right time to make your own heaven or path to mokṣa/mukti/nirvana.
    Fragments of the truth are found in every religion!

    Like

  2. @quranandbibleblog,

    My sincere salams to you.

    With all due respect, if you leave the Salafi boxed in way of thinking, your mind and heart can expand.

    There is much good in Salafi thinking such as the recognition of the evil of praying to saints at graves, etc.

    But the anthropomorphism, the opposition to the faculty of reason which he Quran extols, the hyper exaggerated ghuluw toward hadith so much so in eclipsing the Quran although the Quran clearly indicates that relying on any body of literature like the hadith is deeply problematic,…such issues cloud and restricts thinking clearly.

    I am sure you have great and true knowledge of problems of Pauline Christianity, and I hope my Christian brothers and sisters will benefit from your advice but some of the Salafism is restricting the Quran to speak on its own terms.

    But it’s good you acknowledge how some information of religions you are not aware of blows your mind.

    Wassalam alaykum wa rahmatullahi wanbarakatuhu

    Like

  3. This leave indeed us with a question mark? How could this very important article of faith be absent from the Hebrew bible? By the way, Ibn Hazm emphasized on this point to prove that the text is corrupted.

    In addition, we know historically that this fact has been manifested on some jews such as Sadducees. This is in Islam is Kufr leaving a person out of Islam. Moreover, if we look to the theme of Jesus’ miracles, we can conclude that they might’ve been related to this absence. It seem Jesus’ miracles and mission for Israelites were aimed to prove/revive this fact. His birth without a father proves that the dead can be resurrected. Raising the dead as well proves the article of the Last Day. In Qur’an, creating the living birds out of clay by God’s permission.

    A trivial fun fact:
    I remember that I watched a video for Joseph, the jewish zionist in SC, and he accused muslims that they are selfish because they are doing the good deeds for people to gain the rewards in the Hereafter while jews don’t do that because there’s no such a thing in the Hebrew bible. In other words, he was saying that jews are not selfish because they help people for nothing!

    The poor Joseph. To look forward to the rewards is intended! This article of faith gives you hope and motive! Also, If the justice has not established for a certain case in this life, we know it will be done inevitably Hereafter. This article of faith gives the life a deep meaning. Atheists cannot give us any rational reason why a person cannot do evil if there’s no consequences. That’s in case they can determine what evil is without God in the first place. It’s really a dim world that atheists live in. Alhmdulillah for Islam.

    Liked by 3 people

    • quote :
      The Christians use similar arguments to expose the “Selfishness” of Muslims. They say that we Muslims do good for virgins and wine in paradise. Whereas Christians do it only to see Jesus and be in his divine presence. Lol just ask them why are they so excited to see Jesus. They can’t run anywhere other than getting cornered with this argument of self interest i.e. They wanna see Jesus because it makes them feel good. It’s not that they are selfless or altruistic. Lol.

      Liked by 2 people

    • As Ehrman, quoted by Williams above, writes historical-critical scholarship explains the lack of references to “hell” as this idea was not current among the rooted in the Jewish scriptures: “The idea that after you die, your soul goes either to heaven or hell (or even purgatory) is not an idea rooted in the Jewish Scriptures”. This idea in the early Judeo-Christian tradition is according to scholarship a later development that may be traced to about the first Christian century. See Kyrtatas’ article The Origins of Christian Hell

      brill.com/view/journals/nu/56/2-3/article-p282_7.xml

      There are many interesting articles in the same volume including one on the Islamic Hell.

      Liked by 2 people

      • The Muslim belief is that such teaching was certainly to be found in the original Torah, but has been lost or changed by later scribes. The Quran’s purpose is to remind the Jews of truths they have forgotten.

        Like

      • We don’t ask whether it’s absent or not. The question is, how could’ve that happened? I don’t agree that the idea is not rooted in the jewish scripture. I think it’s found originally.

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      • Then provide historical proof for your position, which is contradicted by scholarship, such as Ehrman’s, who have analyzed the available evidence.

        We don’t ask whether it’s absent or not. The question is, how could’ve that happened? I don’t agree that the idea is not rooted in the jewish scripture. I think it’s found originally.

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      • I have given possible reasons why it happened. It doesn’t contradict any historical facts I am aware of.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @ Tre

        Could have happened due to a variety of reasons from Dr. Joel Hoffman in his book “The Bible’s Cutting Room Floor” states:

        “The Bible you usually read is the abridged version. Its contents were culled from a much larger selection of holy scriptures when new realities forced religious leaders to discard some of their most cherished and sacred books, resulting in what we now call the Bible. Some writings were left out for political or theological reasons, others simply because of the physical restrictions of ancient bookmaking technology. At times, the compilers of the Bible skipped information that they assumed everyone knew. Some passages were even omitted by accident. For these reasons and more, your Bible doesn’t give you a complete picture. […]

        In the end, correct answers to the question, How many books are in the Bible? range from thirty-three to seventy-eight. Yet even with seventy-eight books, more material was left out than was included. Additionally, different groups of people order the books of the Bible differently. The modern Jewish order is different from the traditional Jewish order. Christians put the Old Testament books into a third order yet. (For instance, Christians put Daniel near the other famous prophets like Ezekiel and Isaiah, to underscore his centrality. Jews marginalize Daniel by grouping him with the other “writings.”) The Apocrypha, too, appear variously as part of the Old Testament, as an addition to the Old Testament, or—as we just saw—not at all. Underlying all of these differences is the simple fact that there used to be lots of holy writings, and different groups of people compiled different collections of them to form a single book.”

        When you add to the fact that the Jews don’t have the Torah and even if we’re generous and say the Pentateuch is (but it’s not) they lost it twice and have 1000+ years missing of what happened to their text. Not really that crazy. Even reading the Bile it feels like it’s incomplete.

        Liked by 4 people

      • Many things could have happened. Scholars like Ehrman show on basis of the evidence that their belief in afterlife was different, not heaven and hell. As Kyrtatas article demonstrates this is a later development. If you wish to argue that it was something else it is incumbent upon you to provide the historical evidence for this or at least show that scholarship has interpreted the same evidence the way you do.

        “Many readers of the Bible are surprised to learn that the ideas of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible are not closely related to what most people think today. The idea that after you die, your soul goes either to heaven or hell (or even purgatory) is not an idea rooted in the Jewish Scriptures. The few passages that refer to an afterlife in the Hebrew Bible assume that after death, a person goes to “Sheol.” That is not the Hebrew equivalent of “hell” – a place of punishment for the wicked.”

        Like

      • Many things could have happened. Scholars like Ehrman show on basis of the evidence that their belief in afterlife was different, not heaven and hell. As Kyrtatas article demonstrates this is a later development. If you wish to argue that it was something else it is incumbent upon you to provide the historical evidence for this or at least show that scholarship has interpreted the same evidence the way you do.

        “Many readers of the Bible are surprised to learn that the ideas of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible are not closely related to what most people think today. The idea that after you die, your soul goes either to heaven or hell (or even purgatory) is not an idea rooted in the Jewish Scriptures. The few passages that refer to an afterlife in the Hebrew Bible assume that after death, a person goes to “Sheol.” That is not the Hebrew equivalent of “hell” – a place of punishment for the wicked.”

        Like

      • @ True

        Already proved my position. I can’t make missing text appear. Out of the cliff note work they call the Bible, more material was left out than included and they straight up lost Moses’s(as) revelation given to him on Sinai. God straight up says they lost most of their beliefs:

        “God had taken a Covenant from the Children of Israel…But they broke their promise, so I cursed them and made their hearts hard. They changed the words from their original places and have forgotten a large portion of what they were told repeatedly to remember…” (5:12-13)

        So you are basically saying “hey out of this 5-10% work they made up one day prove their beliefs” which doesn’t make any sense.

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      • So far you have made only a claim, but not proven anything with contemporary historical evidence. Scholars such as Ehrman and Kyrtatas explain the lack of heaven and hell in the Hebrew Bible as this is a concept developed later in the history of religion. To quote Ehrman:

        “But one view that is NOT represented in the Hebrew Bible is the later Christian notion of heaven and hell, that is, heaven as a place of eternal reward for souls that are faithful to God (or who have lived good lives) and hell as a place of eternal punishment for souls who are not faithful (or good).” (Emphasis in the original).

        ehrmanblog.org/the-afterlife-in-the-hebrew-bible-sheol/

        As an issue of historical and empirical critical methodology we cannot simply claim it was there and then claim that the evidence was removed. Or at least cite scholarship that agrees with your position that there was such a belief and that this specific belief was removed. We need to substantiate such assertions with evidence or such assertions will simply remain unsubstantiated assertions.

        Like

      • So far you have made only a claim, but not proven anything with contemporary historical evidence. Scholars such as Ehrman and Kyrtatas explain the lack of heaven and hell in the Hebrew Bible as this is a concept developed later in the history of religion. To quote Ehrman:

        “But one view that is NOT represented in the Hebrew Bible is the later Christian notion of heaven and hell, that is, heaven as a place of eternal reward for souls that are faithful to God (or who have lived good lives) and hell as a place of eternal punishment for souls who are not faithful (or good).” (Emphasis in the original).

        ehrmanblog.org/the-afterlife-in-the-hebrew-bible-sheol/

        As an issue matter of historical and empirical critical methodology we cannot simply claim it was there and then claim that the evidence was removed. Or at least cite scholarship that agrees with your position that there was such a belief and that this specific belief was removed. We need to substantiate such assertions with evidence or such assertions will simply remain unsubstantiated assertions.

        Like

      • “Then provide historical proof for your position, which is contradicted by scholarship, such as Ehrman’s, who have analyzed the available evidence”
        It needs to be investigated more. But we are telling you that from an Islamic perspective, this’s a clear indication of corruption.

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      • @ True

        Do you think using big words makes your argument stronger? Very simple, you cannot base any development of beliefs on missing text. If you have majority of the text gone how can you investigate or claim anything? Quote whoever you want it makes no effect on my point.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @ True

        Also look up the definition of “claim” as I have not claimed anything. I said something is impossible to prove without a complete text.

        Like

      • Quote: Abdullah1234

        “It needs to be investigated more. But we are telling you that from an Islamic perspective, this’s a clear indication of corruption”. No problem, and by all means, investigate it further. However, this perspective that the doctrine was removed is not supported by the current state of scholarship:

        1. On the issue of belief in an afterlife no evidence is found for the belief in heaven and hell in the Hebrew Bible as discussed by Ehrman.
        2. The beliefs about afterlife that are attested in the Hebrew Bible are different from the idea of heaven and hell as described by Ehrman.
        3. The concept of heaven and hell is attested only in a period later than the writings of the Hebrew Bible as described by Ehrman and Kyrtatas.

        Liked by 1 person

      • TA

        That is not unusual: for most societies of the ancient world we assume that the surviving written records is only a fraction of what once existed. We can conjecture if a specific belief may or may not have been found or may or may not have been removed or lost from writings that may or may not have survived to our time. This approach is not only unhistorical and unconvincing, speculative as it is, it also lacks any foundation in empirical evidence. For the beliefs about afterlife cf. Ehrman and my response above to Abdullah.

        The fact remains that doctrine of heaven and hell, as described by Ehrman, cannot be traced back to the societies that produced the writings of the Hebrew Bible and is attested later in history to deal with the theological issue as discussed by Kyrtatas and Ehrman. There is neither evidence nor any biblical scholar or scholarly analysis supporting the idea that the doctrine of heaven and hell, as described by Ehrman, was created or rooted in the societies that produced the writings of the Hebrew Bible.

        Liked by 1 person

      • @ True

        We’re not discussing if something is usual or not. One cannot say the development of belief happened or not due to not having the text period point-blank. Not 50%, not 30% not even 10%. The Jews do not have the Torah anymore and it has gone the way of the Dodo bird. Unless Ehrman or Kyrtatas got it buried in their backyard somewhere they’re just shooting into the dark and making assumptions. The Hebrew Bible is just some 7th-century text they all got together and made up one day (and even then lost most of that). You can quote to eternity but that is the situation and it will not change.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. That is of course perfectly true in Islam, though it is not supported by empirical historical evidence as described by historians of religions such as Ehrman and Kyrtatas.
    L 1
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    Liked by 1 person

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