Dry bones transformed and other visions: What do Jews believe about life after death?

Dry bones transformed and other visions: What do Jews believe about life after death?


The Hebrew Bible makes no mention of an afterlife. When did this belief come into being among the Israelites, and why?


This is an appropriate follow-up to our December 1 answer to Paula concerning “what does Christianity say happens to believers after death?”

True, the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (or for Christians the Old Testament) has no explicit and detailed concept of the afterlife such as we have in the New Testament. This whole topic has been considerably more central and developed in Christianity than in Judaism. However, Jewish authors offer a more complex scenario than that Jewish Scripture “makes no mention of an afterlife.” They observe that while most biblical references are vague, we see an evolution in belief. Some particulars:

Frequent references in Genesis, followed by the Psalms and the prophets, say that the dead abide in a shadowy state called sheol. Such passages as Ecclesiastes 9:5, Job 14:21, and Psalm 88:11-12 indicate that this involves no conscious existence.

On the other hand, the Bible depicts forms of life beyond death in Genesis 5:24 (Enoch taken directly to God), 2 Kings 2:11 (the same with Elijah), 1 Samuel 2:6 (God “brings down to sheol and raises up”), Psalm 49:15 (“God will ransom my soul from the power of sheol, for he will receive me”), and Saul’s notable conversation with the deceased Samuel in 1 Samuel 28.

Also, sages interpreted the prophet Ezekiel’s “dry bones” vision in chapter 37 as depicting a communal afterlife for Israel, and the Talmud saw Isaiah 60:21 (“they shall possess the land forever”) in terms of bodily resurrection.

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Deseret News covers heaven: But how many voices does this story need to include?

Deseret News covers heaven: But how many voices does this story need to include?

Anyone who has spent some time on the religion beat knows that religious organizations like to hold conferences about big, complex, interesting topics.

Covering one of these things is a great way to spend a day. Most of the time when you are sent to one, you end up hearing all kinds of articulate people talking about all kinds of interesting angles on what is usually a very interesting subject (at least it's interesting to members of the flock that staged the conference).

But there are challenges. For starters, what do you do if there are two really interesting presentations going on at the same time? Also, you can end up with dozens of interesting points of view competing for the lede of your story. How do you pick a winner? How does one decide which voice is the most newsworthy?

In the end, reading competing news accounts of the same conference tells you just as much about the reporters involved in the coverage as it does the content of the actual event.

If you want to see a perfect example of this syndrome, check out this recent story from The Deseret News about a conference focusing on a subject that is certainly interesting and potentially even newsworthy. But the topic is so massive, and the event drew so many interesting experts, that the result is kind of -- well, I'll let you be the judge of that.

How big is the subject? Let's start with the lede:

PROVO -- What lies beyond the grave?

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No chat about afterlife inside death cafés?

We’ve been doing death, so to speak, at my house the last few weeks — working through the aftermath, talking about grief, that sort of thing. So I immediately was drawn to an Associated Press piece highlighting end-of-life discussions taking place in informal settings throughout the U.S. and in major cities worldwide.

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