..."alive" after death in the HB?

Martin A. Shields mshields at mail.usyd.edu.au
Sun Dec 22 00:28:31 EST 2002

On 22/12/02 9:53 AM, Ben and Jo Crick at ben.crick at argonet.co.uk wrote:

> On Sat 21 Dec 2002 (16:57:44 +0100), furuli at online.no wrote:
>> I have never seen any passage in the Hebrew Bible which contradicts
>> the words of Ecclesiastes 3.19-20 that, as respects death, man is
>> like an animal, s/he goes to the same place as the animals and have
>> the same spirit. Thus neither RUA:X survived death, in the view of
>> the writers, so what was it that survived, according to the texts?
> It appears from Ecclesiastes 3:21 that the spirit of man (the sons of Adam)
> is clearly distinguished from the spirit of a beast (B:HeMaH), and that
> whilst the latter returns to the earth, the former goes back "up" to God who
> gave it (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The question MiY YoWDea` is IMHO a rhetorical
> question expecting the answer "We all know..." or "God knows...". Adam's
> earthly frame was dust, and to dust it certainly returned (Genesis 3:19).
> Compare also Psalm 104:29.

A reasonably literal reading of the MT of Eccl 3:21 would be something like:

"Who knows the spirit of man which goes upward, and the spirit of the beast
which goes down to the earth?"

Since it reads the H on "goes upward" and "goes down" as the article. Most
ancient versions, however, read it as an interrogative, from which most
English versions render "Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward..."
The context certainly warrants the latter reading, and demands a negative
answer (rather than the positive answer you suggest). Qohelet's point has
been that there is no distinction between humans and animals. To introduce
such a distinction here completely undermines his argument that (to use
Qohelet's words in Eccl 3:19) "humans have no advantage over the animals..."
If Qohelet argued that humans enjoyed some afterlife not shared by animals,
his point makes no sense.

Finally, if there is any doubt about the matter, it is cleared up completely
in Eccl 9:5-6, 10. If there is an existence after this life, from what
Qohelet has to say it can't really be called "life."

Returning to the original question, however, since Qohelet so stridently
contradicts so the remainder of the Hebrew Bible on other matters, his
denial of (or at least extreme scepticism toward) an afterlife is no proof
that there is no such concept of one to be found elsewhere. I have to wonder
what implications for this discussion the end of Elijah or Enoch have...

Martin A. Shields

Email:  mshields at mail.usyd.edu.au
WWW:    http://www-personal.usyd.edu.au/~mshields/

"Don't let your heart be puffed-up by your knowledge; don't be confident
because you're wise. Take counsel with the ignorant as well as the wise."
                                                            - Ptah Hotep

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