Friday, September 29, 2006

Death and the Demonic (Response to Dan's Comment)

Asking a great question, Dan T. comments: "Death is demonic." Says who? What's your theological problem with death? I've heard various positions on death, but nothing so strong as "death is demonic."

Allow me to respond:
I would say yes, in the biblical world, death is opposed to God, life, and holiness, even to the radical extent that it has active power to contaminate the Israelite community and the tabernacle/temple. What is more, in the Israelite cult of the dead, apostates tried to access Death's active, numinous power to prop themselves up. This appears to be going on, for example, in Isaiah 57:9 when it speaks of journeying to Molech deep down in Sheol. One sends envoys to Death and makes covenants with death, because one recognizes its numinous, demonic power. We actually have an ancient Semitic illustration of this sort of thing thanks to the discoveries at Pozo Moro.

Apologies to my readers who find this image disturbing. It shows a child sacrifice to a monster of death. The head and legs of the child are visible sticking up from the basket in the monster's hand. A pig lies on the offering table in front of the monster (cf. Isaiah 66:3). After the discoveries at Pozo Moro, it is hard to deny that Death is demonic in biblical thought.


Blogger Dan Trabue said...

I'm sorry, I'm missing something. I see two references to Isaiah, but found no mention of death as evil in either of those passages. The Molech reference appears to be God talking to "sinners" and those who've rejected God who've visited Molech, because they apparently don't fear God.?

I don't get a fear of death out of that.

Clearly, God is trying to put the fear of God into them by these words, but I see nothing in this passage that says we ought be consider death evil. And I recognize in the Jewish purity laws, there were all kinds of proscriptions warning them away from the dead and dying things. I even recognize how sheol/hades/hell are considered evil places, but that is not the same as death.

Help me out here, I'm still not seeing any biblical precedent for considering death evil.

Fri Sep 29, 04:02:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Dan, you had asked about the demonic quality of death in the Bible, and I maintain that Isaiah 57 illustrates that well. Those who do not fear God in the passage are instead trying to access the demonic powers of Sheol for help and support (Isaiah 57:9). They are even sacrificing human children (Isaiah 57:5). I am puzzled by the distinction you appear to make between death and Sheol. In biblical thought, death and Sheol are parallel concepts, as seen in the poetic parallelism of Psalms 6:5; 18:5; 55:15; 89:48; Hosea 13:14, and so on. The realm of death and Sheol is certainly demonic and fearsome in biblical religion. I'm afraid most modern Christians have been utterly deceived by our popular images of death as angels with wings playing harps on clouds. I know this view is shocking for many; many of my seminarians are really quite surprised to hear that the clouds and wings and so on are utterly wrong... --SLC

Sat Sep 30, 06:03:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

You've not convinced me that death = evil or demonic.

I've no doubt that many people - including people of OT times, may have perceived death in that way, but you've offered nothing that makes me think God considers it such or that we should. I think Paul's position makes the most sense, biblically and logically ("for me to die is gain.").

Not that it's any big deal to me, I'm just saying...

Mon Oct 02, 08:00:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Dr. Joseph Ray Cathey said...


Again, I would steer you towards 1 Cor. 15:54-57 where Death is portrayed as an enemy which is defeated by the cross of Christ. In the mind of the Hebrews, death, sheol, and sickness were always things to be feared. Why fear? Because they cut off the person from the land of the living, blessings, and Yahweh. Death was the complete opposite of Yahweh, it was not seen in dualistic terms. Death and Sheol are sometimes seen as twins in the poetic literature. Prayers for protection against Sheol are rampant in the Psalms. Sheol is active via death and sickness as it makes it way into this world. I agree with Steve that death was something which not only the ancient Hebrew avoided but modern man as well. Notice the prohibitions against consulting the dead and the unclean statutes involving the dead.

Mon Oct 02, 08:22:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger Dan Trabue said...

"In the mind of the Hebrews, death, sheol, and sickness were always things to be feared."

Exactly as I acknowledged. It may well have been thus in the minds of the Jews. But Christ has freed us from the fear of death and, seems to me, the notion of death as evil. "For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither the lower ranks of evil angels nor the higher...can separate me from the Love of God." Romans

"Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him." 1 Thessalonians

"Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints" Psalms

I mean, I can look at passages such as the one in Hebrews:

"Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death"

And see where one could associate "the power of death" with the devil, as it does fairly straightforwardly there. But the Bible offers many illustrations for various points. Overall, it seems like - to me - the writers are addressing this notion that people fear death as an evil and are telling us, "it's okay. God's in control. You need not fear any evil," as a way of telling us that death just is what it is. An end, a beginning. A natural part of life.

But maybe that's just me.

Mon Oct 02, 09:34:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Dan, I would certainly agree with you that, in both Testaments, God has power over the demonic forces of Sheol, and that ultimately the faithful may have peace about death because of God's promised victory over it. Actually, where I think many people go wrong is in imagining that a disembodied spiritual life in an ethereal heaven is God's ultimate plan for the soul. At least, this was the Corinthian's problem in the passage that Joe referenced, 1 Cor 15. As I write on p. 174 of my Abingdon book, Paul attacks the wayward Corinthians here precisely because they "comfort the bereaved with notions of ethereal, heavenly joys, whitewashing the cold, hard tragedy of the grave. Such thinking fits ancient Hellenistic dualism well, but not the witness of biblical literature." What Paul pushes hard for is the concept of corporeal, living, resurrected life, not life as a shade/ghost.

Mon Oct 02, 10:48:00 AM GMT-5  

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