Thursday, September 28, 2006

Burial and Afterlife in Yahwism, Part 3

(For the preceding post in this series, click here.)

In biblical faith, as in ancient Near Eastern culture, Death was a horror and a serpentine monster--an unclean, irrational, and intruding enemy of life and holiness. Contrary to almost every scholarly discussion you read about Death's city, "Sheol," biblical faith is not resigned that every soul must end up captive there.

To resist Death's snares, one huddled with one's people, was gathered to one's ancestors in death. One's relatives kept one's name alive, buttressed the ties of kinship that bound together the communion of saints.

One small evidence of the attempt to keep the snares of Sheol at bay are the clay lamps found in great numbers in Israelite burials. Here is yet one more spiritual attempt to fend off Sheol's dark shroud (see Psalm 88:6; 143:3; Lamentations 3:6).

From time to time, you will see scholars suggest that, in biblical faith, Death does not necessarily represent an antithesis to God's will (James Barr), that it was simply part of an ordered, harmonious creation (Lloyd Bailey). Horse pucky! Just compare the anguished cries about Death in the psalms and the parallel expressions in traditional African cultures. In Africa, Death is always and everywhere unnatural and preventable. When someone dies, the people always suspect some evil force to be at play: most likely, magic, sorcery, or witchcraft. There is a strong desire to extirpate Death. The Acholi sing, "If I could reach the homestead of Death's mother, I would make a long grass torch... I would utterly destroy everything!" "If," only if... (series to be continued).


Blogger Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


You have hit the ball out of the park with this post! It is so true what you speak of - especially in the East African culture. In Tanzania and Kenya, death was something to be so afraid of! It was so refreshing to see the freedom from fear that Christianity brought to these people. No, they still did not embrace death, nor should we, but it was in a sense defanged. They knew that it was an opening to a greater world. Yes, there was sadness but it was tinged with great hope. Klaas Spronk did a scholarly piece on Death and Afterlife in Israel and the Ancient Near East that is right down this alley. Once again, great post!

Thu Sep 28, 08:24:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

Y'all don't like death? Think it something not to be embraced?

I think I'd disagree. I'm more of the harmonious order kind of guy, I reckon. I like John Muir's quote:

On no subject are our ideas more warped and pitiable than on death...Let children walk with nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life, and that the grave has no victory, for it never fights. All is divine harmony.

I assume you're suggesting that death was not part of God's original plan, just part of the back-up plan once sin entered the equation?

Thu Sep 28, 12:29:00 PM GMT-5  

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