Is Life After Death A New Idea, Or, An Old One?

What’s old is new again.  This is the theme of an article written by Peter Berger in The American Interest.  The article’s title is,  “Immortality and Hay Fever.”

He writes his life will live on through memories, things he has written, DNA and his hay fever. There will be no afterlife.

But, Berger’s interest is really in plotting the belief, or nonbelief, in life after death in Jewish history.  The most ancient Isralite tradition did not include a happy life after death.  That changed about two centuries B.C.E.

The irony is that while the “traditional”, or main stream thinking today, within the Jewish faith remains with the rewarding afterlife, it is falling out of favor in the younger generation of Jews.  These younger Jewish scholars are returning to the view that prevailed earlier than two centuries B.C.E., that of no happy life after death.

The first Old Testiment reference to a rewarding life after death was in the 12th Chapter of Daniel.  Daniel is thought to be the most recent of the cannons of the Hebrew Bible. It revealed the new view of life after death.

Berger discusses a couple of possible reasons for the change in Jewish thinking.  One was the violent conflict between Jews and the Greeks and their Hellenism.  Dealing with the death of Jewish martyrs was helped by developing the view they lived on as a reward.

Religious truths were changing back then.  They are still changing.


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26 Responses

  1. Henry

    God given nature tells us this. What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. Otherwise, it would be very sad you see.

      1. Henry

        I am thinking of wheat, corn, and squash. The seed is dead coming from a previously living plant. What we observe in nature is what our ancient ancestors observed as well. Therefore life after death is an old concept. Otherwise, it would be sad you see.

        1. Henry 3:32 I tried to point out in the blog that in our own thread of belief, the concept of no life after death, is older than the one common today, that we live after death. I wrote that this older concept, no life after death, is being embraced by younger Jewish scholars.

          1. Henry

            Jon, are you rally sure no life after death is an older concept? You have the resurrection of enoch in Genesis. You also have the resurrection of Elijah.

            I believe what you are referring to is the sect of the Sadduccees for which there is no evidence they were around prior to the second temple. The Sadduccees, I believe, shared some of your beliefs.

          2. Henry 3:12 I’m just quoting stuff I stumbled upon. Let’s be honest. All the religious views we have written down since there has been writing were passed down from some previous group. So, the after life topic probably went back and forth for tens of thousands of years. The article I used for my blog was based on a conference of, apparently, younger Jewish scholars and the author felt most of them thought the no after life was the older. I’m just pointing out that there are people who see it that way.

          3. Henry

            I appreciate that, Jon. I am just pointing out what the scriptures and nature tell me in regards to your stated topic question.

    1. entech

      Actually a seed needs to be intact and viable to germinate. Most seed may be dormant for years, centuries or a couple of thousand in the case of the Sacred Lilly; some like most vegetables must be germinated within a year or two or they are no longer viable. The key is dormant, a dead seed does not germinate – a dead seed does not come to life. A dead seed is not viable; in this sense a dead seed resembles much of your commentary.

  2. Bob

    How awful for those Jewish people, Jon. How sad. I’d like to gently (perhaps in a desperate whisper) berate their parents for not putting a stop to it and encouraging their kids to reject the torah and become freethinkers. I’d tell the Jewish kids, “you’re safe, rejoice, there’s no proof of hell, or any dictator like after life at all.” Then smile and give them hugs.

    Despite that I’d always been a natural skeptic, I’m so grateful to more prominate atheists for explaining through books and online videos about why they are atheists. Those books and videos gave me more in’s and out’s, more how’s and why’s that I needed to become not just a natural skeptic, but the verbal and anecdotal tools for being publically an atheist, skeptic and freethinker.

    1. doubtful

      “reject the torah and become freethinkers.”

      So a freethinking person believes as you do? Some free thinking.

  3. Wanna B Sure

    And then one can check the timelines before and after Daniel, for an alternative view.
    Google “life after death in the Old Testament”, and go from there. (Hebrew Bible).
    Timeline charts can be very helpfull.

    1. Wanna 2:26 I did not find the time line. The one thing I happened to choose from a Google after entering “Life After Death Old Testiment” was from From a PDF essay was this, “A self-centered conception of immortality, where something with the human is innately equipped to exist beyond physical death apart from the created order is not found in the Old Testiment….essence lived bey9ond death in the shadowy existense of Sheol…no hope for a fulfilling ‘spiritual’ life apart from this world.”

      I can’t vouch for this source–or others. My guess is that the source I used in the blog is as reliable as a Google time line.

      1. Wanna B Sure

        There are several timelines available. Some have paralells with contemporary/ different cultures, etc.
        Many other sources. Google is just a start.

      2. Wanna B Sure

        Jon; Of course if one chooses only material which agrees with them, and rejects all others, the result is going to validate the original proposal. Your opinion is understandable, but not objective.

        1. Wanna 3:24 I quoted stuff I stumbled upon. I don’t know if they are “objective” or not. I know I’m not objective. Do you consider yourself to be “objective” and are you certain your own sources are objective?

          1. Wanna B Sure

            Jon; Re. “Do you consider yourself to be “objective” and are you certain your own sources are objective?”
            I believe my conclusions are objective, using ALL the evidence. We may disagree with yours, and my conclusions, but that’s OK. It’s your blog, I only wish to make aware that your’s is not the final, and only conclusion. Your continuing research is up to you.

          2. Wanna 7:18 I have no doubt you have looked at both sides of the issue. But, your use of the terms “opinion” (earlier) and “objective” (vs subjective) are different than the way the terms are used among social sciences. The entire realm of social sciences circles around these terms–the debate is so fierce the terms are generally not used in the sweeping sense that you use them.

            Generally, one does not conclude an observation is “objective” just because he has looked at both sides. For example, the field of Womens Studies looks at history through a different lens than does “establishment” history, even though they have looked at both sides. They come up with different conclusions about what and why things happened. But, their view is a legitiment contribution because they are forthright in saying they look at history as women see it. The same is true of the field callled “Black Studies”.

            It seems like this standard should apply to the study of religion as well. Someone who looks at the Jewish view of life after death back hundreds of years B. C. E. would say, I look at this period through the eyes of a believing Chrisitan, Jew or atheist, instead of claiming complete objectivity. Now, one has the perfect right to apply the term objectivity and opinion to themselves in anyway they wish. I’m just saying it is used differently elsewhere.

          3. Wanna B Sure

            Circular reasoning is a hazard especially if a bias is present.
            The problem with your thesis is you used Daniel as a base line, and as an indication of the start of “life after death”. (606-520 BC), and as late as 200 years BC, without considering Elija, circa 862 BC, and the eschatology of Genesis, (?? BC.) I haven’t read Bergers writing, but from your use of it, I would consider it to be interesting, but not authorative. There are sects within Judaism with emphasis’ all over the place, so to choose one for support is circular.
            As I have said in the past the OT is primarily Law and prophesy, with a lesser % Gospel,(consider Isiah, et. al.). My understanding, and firm belief is that; no, not all things revealed in the NT Gospels were yet known in completness, during OT times, although hints, and shadows were present, which enabled the Gospel to be more readily/easily understood in the NT. The NT Gospels didn’t happen in a vacume. I see no “creation”, or “evolution” of the Gospel in the OT as some have said,rather a growing understanding as time went by with the fulfillment of those earlier prophesies, culminating with the Gospel, The Good News of Salvation through faith in the Christ. This first started with the protoevangelium “in the garden”.
            I am sure you reject this as will others. All of the evidences I have seen compell me not to reject it. In this lies the rub. You reject, I accept.
            I’m not going to discuss this any more. I believe everything I have just said, I have said before, over and over, and any more repeating is useless. The totality of the Scriptures in conjunction with ancient contemporary history, (and comprehensive timelines) are sufficient for my satisfaction, and contentedness. I’m an old man, and I have studied this for more years that I care to consider. There are many things that I don’t know, but I have seen nothing remotely authorative to make me change my developed understanding, least of all small snippits of shallow revitalized ideas, such as what you use from Berger, or much of what I would anticipate you to use from others in about six paragraphs, then jump to another etherially provocative subject.
            I’m done here.

  4. entech

    The Protoevengelicum is a fascinating concept, you take a verse from Genesis about a woman and snake becoming enemies and striking and bruising each other and low and behold you have a Jesus prediction from the beginning of time. The snake a very subtle and devious beast of the field becomes Satan according the ravings Revelations of a raving loony visionary called John the Divine and the seed of the woman becomes Jesus – but wait, wasn’t Jesus co-existent and co-eternal with God and therefore pre-existent to the woman Eve but somehow her seed!! The simple mind boggles.

    Circular, here is a view of circular: there is an event, so you look back through the Book and find something that could be an allusion to a possible future event. Sound of trumpets blowing: Here we have a prophecy fulfilled. Sorry retrospective prophecies don’t count.

    1. Wanna B Sure

      There there, I know it’s hard. Almost makes your hair hurt. Wouldn’t expect anything less from you. Moving on now.

    2. entech 8:14 You are on a great roll today. Keep’em coming. “Retrospective prophacies”, that’s writing gold. I wonder if there is a college course called “Retrospective Prophacies” offered anywhere? Let’s see, it would not be offered at a unversity with church roots, bad for alumni donations. It would not be offered at a state government supported university, legistlators who provide funding would not like it. I guess there would not be such a course. We’re left to study retrospective prophacies for ourselves. Maybe a little blog about them would be helpful.

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