Belief in a Continuation of Existence According to the Bible (13 June 2017, 19 Sivan, 5777)
Adapted from an answer by Yair Davidiy to a Quora Question:
When did the idea of belief in an afterlife enter Judaism?
Belief in the After-Life existed from the beginning.
It is suffused throughout the Biblical texts even though a systematic description and explanation of its processes is lacking.
[In Judaism there is quite an extensive literature on this subject. It is not however a matter most religious Jews are really interested in.
In the following article we have limited ourselves to a few of the sources in Scripture and not more than that.]
We have the Hebrew term "Sheol" which is the Place of the Dead.
It seems to indicate a condition of indefinite waiting.
The English word "soul" (Old Saxon seola, Old Norse sala, Old Frisian sele, Middle Dutch siele, Dutch ziel, Old High German seula, German Seele, Gothic saiwala, of uncertain origin) may be related to the Hebrew "sheol," pronounceable as "seol". Its connotation would be that aspect of eternity in all human beings.
We see how Saul tried to speak with Samuel who was in Sheol even though such attempts were strictly forbidden (2-Samuel 28:3-25).
In other words they believed the dead were in Sheol, had some degree of consciousness, and could return to a degree to this world.
Job speaks of Sheol as a place of waiting.
- Job 14:
- 13 Oh that You would hide me in Sheol, That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You, That You would set a limit for me and remember me!
Job is saying, I wish you would put me in Sheol for as long as you are angry with me and after that return me to life.
This, it is implied, is what Sheol was for!
Jacob speaks of Sheol as a place one goes to but not necessarily forever.
- Genesis 37:
- 35 Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, 'Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.' So his father wept for him.
cf. Genesis 42:38, 44:29, etc.
Numbers 16:30 describes Sheol as being under the ground BUT here the intention may be the equivalent of the burial place and the grave that lead to Sheol.
- Numbers 16:
- 30 "But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD."
Sheol is a place that has power over the soul which still exists.
- Psalm 49:
- 15 But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol,
- For He will receive me.
Here the Psalmist (David) praises God who will redeem his soul from Sheol.
The intention here may be to a future Resurrection of the Dead.
David also says that he will go to his son who is dead.
The implication is that this dead son still exists in some indeterminate state.
- 2-Samuel 12:
- 23 But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD! [Haleluyah!]
# everything that has breath # in Hebrew "col [everything, all] ha-nashama". "ha-nashama" is translated here as "that has breath". This indeed could be one interpretation of the expression. Nevertheless a more acceptable rendition would be "soul". "Nashama" in Hebrew connotes the soul i.e. that potion of the spiritual subconscious that is always aware of the Almighty and that in the Afterlife will render an accounting.
The soul knows the truth always.
Our souls are called upon to praise the ALMIGHTY.