Friday, October 19, 2007

Now in Print: My Article on Afterlife in the Hebrew Bible

Religion Compass
My recently completed article, "Funerary Practices and Afterlife Expectations in Ancient Israel" has just been published on-line by Blackwell Synergy. It is presently posted in the "OnlineEarly Articles" section of the Blackwell Journal Religion Compass. To access the article at Religion Compass, click here. When the article is offically "published" as part of an upcoming issue of the journal, I shall make another post here, but it will be the same article...

Here is a brief excerpt from the essay:

A cursory overview of modern interpretation of biblical thanatology quickly reveals the lack of current consensus among scholars. There is pressing need for further study and clarification. Was Sheol real or not for ancient Israelites? If it was real, were all souls expected to end up imprisoned there? How did Israelites interact (or refrain from interacting) with the shades of the dead? By summarizing the latest findings, including those of the archaeology of death, and by introducing a new cross-cultural model for use in interpretation, I hope that the present essay makes a solid contribution toward a new shared interpretation.

I shall argue in this essay that interpreting burial and afterlife in ancient Israel requires cross-cultural comparisons, especially comparisons to the beliefs about ancestors of traditional African religions. Such comparisons make it possible to unpack the allusions to death and the hereafter in our source texts and access a system of beliefs foreign to our modern (often dualistic) thinking. Taking advantage of comparative data, a social-scientific model can assist the task of biblical interpretation. Such a model is crucial in connecting the intriguing but cryptic evidence available from key biblical texts and from inscriptions and archaeology.

Here is the article's official abstract:

Ancient Israel was thoroughly familiar with existence beyond death. Individual personalities survived the death of the body, most Israelites believed, albeit in a considerably weakened and vulnerable state. The ensnaring tentacles of Sheol constantly threatened the living-dead, but the fortunate among them were able to use the power of kinship bonds to keep Sheol’s threats at bay. The traditional ties of lineage and kin-bonding, according to biblical Yahwism, were an actual way for the living-dead to pull themselves back from death’s devouring suction. Ancient Israel’s funerary practices and afterlife expectations are greatly illumined by recent archaeological studies and by a new comparative model that draws on data gleaned from African ethnography.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Should I be surprised that the analogues are African, rather than from the Middle East?

Fri Oct 19, 11:45:00 AM GMT-5  
Blogger S and C said...

Hi Thomas! African ethnography is very rich on the topic of the living-dead ancestors. I defend the approach in the article. ---Steve

Fri Oct 19, 03:18:00 PM GMT-5  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what i read here (and i will read the article once break starts and i have time) agrees with what i know about African ethnography. i guess what i'm surprised about (but i don't know if i should be) is how the practices came from Africa, in preference to indigenous practices in the Middle East.

Sun Oct 21, 12:44:00 AM GMT-5  

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