Friday, September 22, 2006

To Be Gathered to One's People



This is an artist's depiction of Sarah's burial during the Bronze Age (Genesis 23). The cave was to become a family tomb, where Abraham himself would be buried (Genesis 25) and, in time, the couple's offspring. It was crucial for Abraham to establish a family tomb on family owned land, so that after death he and Sarah would not be alienated from the ties of communion of their kin. For his soul to become alienated like that would mean being "cut off" (see Lamentations 3:54; Psalm 31:22; 88:5-6; Ezekiel 37:11).

What did it mean for an ancient Hebrew person to be "gathered" to their people when they died? (E.g., Gen 25:8; 35:29; Deut 32:50.)

Certainly, the bones of all family members were eventually gathered together in special bone repositories. This physical practice is symbolism; please don't forget about the reality behind it. When one dies one hopes to be gathered to one's people in order to avoid the dark forces of Sheol, which isolate and "cut off" the soul. To have one's bones in a repository symbolizes a spiritual antidote to Sheol, and apotropaic counter to Sheol's threat of excision from one's family communion.

3 Comments:

Anonymous cseminarian said...

Do you have any references one can look at on this?

Tue Oct 10, 09:21:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi cseminarian! I am preparing a paper on this to be delivered next month at the Society of Biblical Literature. I could share it with you after the meetings. Meanwhile, I do not have too much to recommend. You could try such works as James Barr, _The Garden of Eden and the Hope of Immortality_; Karel van der Toorn, _Family Religion_; Augustine Pagolu, _The Religion of the Patriarchs_; and Herbert Brichto in _HUCA_ 44 (1973): 1-54. Does that help? ---SLC

Wed Oct 11, 08:16:00 AM GMT-5  
Anonymous cseminarian said...

Thanks!

I'll be looking forward to seeing your paper after the meeting!

Wed Oct 11, 10:25:00 AM GMT-5  

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