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A Study of The Minor Prophets: "Looking Down" a special essay

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Posted on CCPC's website 2022

The Minor Prophets Study Index page.

      The Grave. The Abode Of The Dead. Hell. The 'Other World' or the 'Other Side'.
      In short: “Wherever GOD Isn't”.
      In some ways they were, and are, thought of as the same thing, or parts of the same thing, and yet, they're all different when you stumble across them in the Old Testament.
      Or are they?

      Of course, when you look at it in the cold hard light of total objectivity, all of it is speculation. Sitting up here in the press box, you can see, Nothing. It's like covering one of those football games in San Francisco that they nickname “The Fog Bowl”. There may be something Out There, but you can't tell what it is. You can not know, let's say that again, OBJECTIVELY One CAN NOT KNOW with any degree of certainty....

(To objectively know like this writer Knows this: “Yes, I know all about the traffic in downtown Philadelphia, I've been outbound on South Broad Street on a weekday afternoon. It is total madness, red lights and green lights don't mean anything, people are walking across the street every which way, delivery trucks and taxis stop wherever they want. Really, you're lucky to get out of town with all four fenders intact and no windows shot out.”)
      .... you can not know, what happens to the you that is You, your spirit (“neshamot” in Hebrew), not your corpse, once that physical body permanently assumes room temperature. So when dear old Uncle Joe 'moves on', what we're left with is a dead body that smells like cigars and cheap rum, and is wearing a suit that's twenty years out of style, but it still isn't Uncle Joe.
      Right? The man we knew as Joe, is gone.
      Everything from there on in is from the realm of faith. More on that later.

      First a tour of the area we've been dealing with in our study of the Minor Prophets, then we'll look at some terms, then we'll see if there is a conclusion out there in that fog. Or if it is just more fog.

      In Middle Eastern mythology, including Judaism, and the Canaanites around them, as well as to the ancient Egyptians, the Greeks, and the Sumerians, and just about everybody else, when a human died, from whatever cause, in their sleep from old age, due to an illness when younger, or violence or an accident at any age, they descended into the Earth. Both their 'spirit' in whatever form, and in some ways, their body, went down.
      And it is there that many of the similarities begin to dissipate.

      In Egypt, after death the “real adventure” began. There were the trials outlined in the Book of the Dead, and then there were other issues to deal with in the “Book of Two Ways” which outlined different paths through the beginning of the afterlife. See links below.
      In short, the dead in Egypt had to know various phrases, including magical spells, and have the right amulets or other totems, and be ready for proverbial 'curve balls' from various figures they'd meet along the way. There were gods of various ranks with different authority, and then the occasional demon that would seek to trip the newly arrived post-mortal individual, or the parts thereof, depending on which of the below documents you took as your guide. In general, 'bad' people essentially ceased to exist, after being a snack for one of those demons, the 'good' moved on through. Entire dissertations have been written about the various aspects of these texts and their meanings, and that's not what we're looking at here.
      The journey of the Pharaoh and various nobles, and the priests, is well known. However, there was little change to the 'life' of the dead peasant. In the afterlife they got to do pretty much what they did before death: tend fields, work in the stables or on the river, and serve in the palaces of the aristocracy.

      In ancient Greece, the underworld was Hades, both as a personification of Death, and the abode of the dead. There were three levels to their world under the Earth. The deepest was Tartarus which is what we would think of as Hell, where the wicked dead were punished, evidently forever. The largest section was the middle area where those who were neither really good nor really bad ended up. Called the Asphodel Meadows, those who ended up there drank from a river of forgetfulness, the Lethe, which resulted in them existing in a haze for eternity. The upper level was called the Elysian Fields, and is something of what would later be considered a “Garden of Earthly Delights” with wine and flatbread. When a person died, they made their way to one of those levels, and, apparently stayed there except for a few special case.
      So if Uncle Joe was Greek, we know where to look for him.
      Somewhere in and around those three levels there was an assortment of lesser gods and demons and some that were something in between.
      It is also worth noting that Hades, as an embodiment of Death, makes a reappearance as the sidekick of the horseman on the pale horse in Revelation 6.

      There was no standard issue underworld or afterlife in Sumerian and other Mesopotamian mythology. Depending on the period, the underworld was identified with several different names, including some that we still use, such as “Beyond... ” or “the Mountains of... The Sunset”, or as “Kurnugia” (the Land of No Return”), which was generally more unpleasant than the mortal world, including a contaminated water supply.
      There were certain similarities as they were all drawing from the same well for backstory. But the final product had more to do with their current situation and level of civilization than anything else.

      In the Canaan stories, Mot, the enemy of Ba'al, ruled death and the underworld, but most of the narratives recovered from the archive at Ugarit are about their 230 gods, and not what they thought happened to people when they moved on, only that, like Ba'al did when Mot defeated him in battle (a battle Ba'al started), and killed him, so Ba'al like the regular people ended up in the realm of the dead, overseen by Mot. Which was somewhere 'under' the earth.
      One of the things that can be inferred from the Ba'al Cycle is that the gods are a lot like the ruling classes of people all through time, and need a lot of cooks and wait staff for their feasts, and a lot of farmers and gardeners to supply them. So it is probable that the ordinary people, like the Egyptians, believed that the working life of peasants continued even after death.

      One thing we can say for certain is that the various ancient civilizations disposed of the corpse as soon as possible, or as soon as at least as soon as was practical. Both for reasons of sanitation and religion. So when Joe wheezed his last, in many of these cultures they didn't do a lot of verification that he wasn't just snoozing, they began the process of burial. Which, if he were of the royal house could be very drawn out and involved. If he were just some working stiff (pun? No, not today) he'd be relegated to the care of whatever local 'undertaker' worked cheap. Some would take the trouble to 'make sure' that Joe was gone, others didn't, which led to legends of the 'walking dead' of various descriptions.
      Which could lead us down the rabbit hole of defining death and whether lack of brain activity (with the sole exception of politicians) or just the cessation of breathing and heartbeat constitutes death. There have been numerous cases in the modern world where a person had brain activity while their organic heart was in the trash bin, and others where they have been brain dead for years, but their body continued to function, and in at least one case, give birth to a living baby.
      But that isn't the ancient world that we're talking about, and that's where we're going to stay for this one.
      Grab your skull cap and we'll make a right turn just in case Old Uncle Joe kept kosher.

      The Jews had their own set of ideas about the afterlife. Some of which we know about from Biblical sources, and some that came from outside, such as their adopting bits and pieces of the lands they passed through or had been associated with, or from taking on the practices of the outsiders that invaded and occupied the Jewish homeland.
      For the most part, they believed that the physical person did have an immaterial part that continued. But from there on, things aren't as specific as one would expect. In fact, some Jewish sects openly believed in “gilgul” (circle or cycle) reincarnation, not as it is usually seen further East where the soul is being perfected. Instead, the Jewish soul had work to do to fulfill a somewhat lengthy list of commands, which simply could not be completed in one normal lifetime. See link to article at below. We'll touch on this again in a minute.

      Time to make some effort to define some of the terms that are in play in this discussion. And there begins some of the problems those in modern times, the first word on our list... Sheol.

      There was a difference between where the dead body ended up, and where they believed the soul went, and yet the same word is used for both, depending on the translation.
      First, according to them, the body is to be buried in the ground the same day the person assumes room temperature,.... according to.. them....
            .......according to their.... wait a minute.

      Is that 'their' Scripture or Tradition?

      Well, it appears it was a bit of both, but, as is often the case, it was mostly tradition.
      As far as we could find for this study, there is only one verse in the Five Books of Moses about burying the dead the same day they died:

“And if a man haue committed a sinne worthy of death, and he be to be put to death, and thou hang him on a tree: His body shall not remaine all night vpon the tree, but thou shalt in any wise bury him that day: for he that is hanged, is accursed of God: that thy land be not defiled, which the Lord thy God giueth thee for an inheritance.”
Deuteronomy 21 : 22 and 23 (1611)

      The above is paraphrased elsewhere in a Non-Biblical source, namely from the Dead Sea Scrolls in what is called the Temple Scroll, section 64 (11Q19 64:7–13). See link below.

      And then that is also mentioned in Josephus's “The Wars of the Jews” book 4 chapter 5 section 2
"Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun." (see link below)

      Going back to the Old Testament, we find it in the Minor Prophets.
      In Amos 9 : 2 the same word is used for the “abode of the dead” or the “underworld”, in a few places- 'grave', and many times, for “hell” and / or “hades”. And here, it makes sense both ways:
“If they dig into Sheol, from there shall my hand take them; if they climb up to heaven, from there I will bring them down.”

      And from there you can go back into Job and Psalms, as well as many other references throughout the OT, and sometimes even looking at the term in context in the Hebrew, you're not sure which it means because it makes sense as either a 'hole in the ground' grave or someplace lower and maybe warmer.

      But there is another word that ALWAYS means grave or tomb, a burial place for a dead body, “qeber".
      You see it in Nahum 1 : 14
"And the Lord hath giuen a commandement concerning thee, that no more of thy name be sowen: out of the house of thy gods will I cut off the grauen image, and the molten image, I wil make thy graue, for thou art vile." (1611 KJV)

      OK, obviously there is a lot more to the five thousand years, or more, of Jewish belief than we can cover here.
      There are even those that believe in that odd sort of Jewish reincarnation we mentioned earlier. Another of which is mentioned in the New Testament as the people who said Christ was Elijah reborn in Matthew 16. A bit about a modern take on that idea is linked below.

      Which brings us back to that fog, or was it Philadelphia traffic? Either way, what we can, as we said, objectively know about the other side of the earthly veil is very limited. All we have that we can rest on is faith that there is something more, and that what we do here matters Over There. And that if Uncle Joe was a man of faith, that faith is now for him, his reality.

      And if he lacked faith, that TOO is now his reality. And as the rich man was told by Abraham, 'even if one returned from the dead they wouldn't believe', Which still holds true today.

End 'looking down' special.

Resource Links:
NOTE: All links were working as of date of original posting:


About the 4000 year old Egyptian “Book of Two Ways”

Egyptian Book of the Dead
The Pyramid Texts at The Internet Sacred Text Archive

Includes several images of various “coffin texts” and tomb art arranged to assist the dead in their journey:


A broad look at Canaan's other realm

Death & Bereavement in Judaism: Ancient Burial Practices

Judaism and Reincarnation

The Temple Scroll from The Dead Sea Scrolls

A complete set of the scrolls as PDF

By Flavius Josephus


Souls in Kabbalah

NOTE: The Bible Study Lesson presented above is posted as a reference document to begin a conversation of the topic. And that's it. Please accept it at such.

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