Sunday, September 5, 2010

From whence the hereafter?

One of the first things to strike a reader of the Old Testament is the total absence of the hereafter - there's no life after death. When Moses dies, he just dies; he isn't resurrected somewhere else. That's the end for him. Finito.

To the recalcitrant, God (or, rather, Yahweh) never says "If you don't do what I say, I'll send you to Hell!"; nor, to the obedient, does he proclaim, "Since you have done my bidding, I shall send you to Heaven!" There simply is no Heaven or Hell.

Instead, to the recalcitrant, Yahweh says, "Listen to me or else I'm going to make your life a living Hell"; and to the obedient, He says, "I'm happy with you, so you shall have good food and nice clothes and lots of land, etc. etc." This is all the more surprising since the Egyptians believed in a posthumous existence, and the Jews were said to have spent a great deal of time in Egypt. But, of course, Egyptian polytheism would have been abhorrent to them.

Now, Christianity is supposed to be an epilogue to the Mosaic story: but the question must surely bother one - where one earth (or elsewhere) did the notions of Heaven, Hell, resurrection, the Devil and so on and so forth come from? They couldn't have come from Judaism. From Christianity, the ideas penetrated Islam.

One explanation that's been offered is that the dualities - good God, evil Satan, nice Heaven, awful Hell - came from Zoroastrianism, that is, they are Iranian influences. Zoroastrianism posits a struggle between Evil and Good as personifications. Good and Evil battle each other, but the former is assured of triumph. God's omnipotence is thus only temporarily limited.

There is resurrection as well, and a crossing of the Bridge of the Requiter: it takes the good to paradise, but the evil fall into Hell. After death, the soul meets its own religion (daena) in the form of a beautiful girl; but the wicked soul encounters a hag.

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