Friday, October 06, 2006

Burial and the Hereafter in Yahwism, Part 6

For the immediately preceding post in this series, click here.

In Ruth 4, the way to show loving-kindness to the dead is to remember them, to ensure that the name of the deceased not be "cut off" (Ruth 4:10). To be cut off is to lose one's identity as part of the verdant, branching faith-community and from God's special nurture of that community (Psalm 88:5-6; Isaiah 38:18). It is to grow dry and withered (Job 14:2, 11-12; Ezekiel 37:11). The soul must languish in Sheol, the land of "forgetfulness" (Psalm 88:12-13).

How can mere remembrance work to fend off Sheol and effectively counter its power to parch and wither the soul? To understand this, I would argue, we need to keep in mind the rich suggestiveness of the vocabulary of memory in the Hebrew Bible. Parallel evidence from traditional African religions is also helpful.

In Africa, among the Akamba, to die is to "dry up, wither, evaporate." The Basoga also speak of the deceased as dry: Death (walumbe) "has made him dry." The antidote is re-membrance, that is, re-actualizing the communal body in all its members. The corporate group must cling to its deceased members, regularly recalling their names, perpetuating their personality, character, and words. Their wisdom must be preserved and enacted. They receive symbolic offerings of food and libations as tokens of respect and ongoing communion.

In the Hebrew Bible, remembrance is not simple recollection but action and encounter (cf. Genesis 8:1; Job 14:13; Psalm 106:4). Remembrance has to do with bridging gaps, creating solidarity, renewing fellowship and participating in its power. In short, remembrance in its full dynamic character is about actual mutuality between community members. It is about making sure that the living-dead truly remain bundled up in God's care with the living faithful.

3 Comments:

Blogger Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...

Steve,

How does this series play when we look at Samuel appearing to Saul at Endore?

Fri Oct 06, 08:23:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Joe, thanks---excellent. I shall write Endor up as the next post in the series, number 7. Should have it ready by Sunday or Monday. Alan Segal's brand new book, _Life After Death_, has two sections on Endor, and I want to go over them before posting. I will be very interested to see what you think...
---Steve

Fri Oct 06, 08:32:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Peter said...

Steve,

This reflection on Remembrance in the Hebrew scriptures is just excellent. It does resonate with some discussion that Jeff Hensley had with us a year ago in the Christology Systematic Theology course. I remember ;) that while we were reading Rowan Williams' book Resurrection that there is a powerful reflection on the need for remembrance in order to have forgiveness and wholeness ... very much in harmony with, "remembrance in its full dynamic character is about actual mutuality between community members. It is about making sure that the living-dead truly remain bundled up in God's care with the living faithful." Well done, very helpful!!

Thu Oct 12, 10:02:00 PM GMT-5  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home