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

furuli at online.no furuli at online.no
Sun Dec 22 05:25:33 EST 2002

Dear Ben,

See my comments below:

>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.

Martin A. Shields has given a fine comment on the words of 
Ecclesiastes (I disagree, however, that "Qohelet so stridently 
contradicts so the remainder of the Hebrew Bible), so I refrain from 

The prophets wrote about a future with hope. Daniel should rise at 
the end of days to receive his allotted inheritance (Daniel 12.13), 
and Jesus found the  resurrection of the dead implied in God's words 
regarding Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Luke 20:37,38). While animals 
have no future, men might have one, but the question is on which 

45 years ago the German theologian Oscar Cullmann wrote a book 
entitled: "Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead? The 
Witness of the New Testament". This title nicely outlines the 
contrast. Is eternal life something man is born with, or is it a gift 
that s/he will receive from God? My original point was that there is 
nothing in the Hebrew Bible indicating that a part of man's nature is 
immortal. When man dies s/he is at the same place and in the same 
condition as the animals. But the verse after the one you quoted 
(Psalm 104:30) indicates hope for men, but such a hope is never 
mentioned as regards the animals.

It is important to be aware of Hebrew idiom when we try to understand 
the Hebrew text. Ecclesiastes 12:7 says that  "the spirit returns to 
God who gave it." When we take Hebrew idiom into consideration, in no 
way do the words say that an immortal part of man called "spirit" 
goes to heaven.  The idiom is seen in the words of Jesus in Matthew 
10:13 NIV "If the home is deserving, let your peace rest on it; if it 
is not, let your peace return to you. "  The phrase "your peace 
return to you" simply means that the house should no longer benefit 
from the peace that you brought - it returns to you, so to speak. The 
same is true with the spirit. God gave it (I take it as an impersonal 
life force) to man, and when man dies,s/ he no longer benefits from 
it; so it goes back to god, so to speak. You need a passage saying 
that man has an immortal part in order to prove that point.

>  Psalm 73:17 speaks of the Psalmist understanding the "end" of the ungodly
>  ('aBiYNaH L:'aCa:RiYTaM). There is an "after" death. For the Psalmist
>  himself, there is an "aftermath" too, verse 24: "Afterwards you shall
>  receive me (to) Glory" (W:'aCaR KaBoWD TiQQaCeNiY). His hope is in heaven
>  (verse 25); God is his portion for ever (W:CaL:QiY 'e:LoHiYM L:`oWLaM).

If the psalmist looked for a better future, did he believe that he 
had an immortal part that would continue to live? Was it because he 
believed in a resurrection of the dead? Or was his belief regarding 
the future rather vague; the only thing he knew was that God had 
something in store for him?

>  The /locus classicus/ is Job 19:25-27. Unfortunately, the phrase "and from my
>  flesh" (uWMiBB:&aRiY) is ambiguous. But whatever the scholarly consensus,
>  Job's confidence is clearly unshakeable. And Job is a much earlier book than
>  Ecclesiastes.
>  In the Hebrew Bible we also have the translation of Enoch (Genesis 5:4) and
>  of Elijah (2 Kings 2:11). Elijah raised the widow of Zarephath's son to life
>  (1 Kings 17:17-24). Elisha raised the Shunammite's son to life (2 Kings
>  4:32-37). David lamenting the death of his first son by Bathsheba, comforts
>  himself "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23).

The word "translation" in the case of  Enoch is somewhat inaccurate. 
This would normally be taken in the sense that Enoch did not die but 
went directly to heaven. The word LFKAX  ("took") in Genesis 5:25 is 
ambiguous. It can both mean that he died and that he did not die. The 
writer of Hebrews commented on this (11:5), using the words MH IDEIN 
QANATON (so that he should not *see* death). The NIV has an 
interpretative rendering of the phrase "so that he did not 
*experience* death". This is one possible interpretation of the Greek 
words - that Enoch should not die. But there is another possible 
interpretation as well- he should not be left to his enemies, so that 
he would see death approaching by their hands, but die he should.  We 
need not be uncertain as to the interpretation, because in 11:13 we 
learn that "*All* these people (including Enoch) ...died." The word 
"translation" is therefore misleading. As to Elijah, he was on earth 
several years after his "translation" (2 Chronicles 21:12-15). His 
disciples did not believe that he was taken away from earth, because 
they searched for him (2 Kings 2:16-17).

>  There is life after death in the Hebrew Bible.

Your claim is true in the sense that for the writers of the Hebrew 
Bible the death of man was not the end of everything. But the reason 
for hope was not an intrinsic immortality which man got when s/he was 
conceived; the hope was based on the view that God had something in 
store for his people.

>  Shalom
>  Ben
>  Revd Ben Crick BA CF, and Mrs Joanna (Goodwin) Crick
>  <ben.crick at argonet.co.uk>
>  232 Canterbury Road, Birchington, Kent, CT7 9TD (UK)
>  http://www.cnetwork.co.uk/crick.htm
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