by Mark S. Railey
Aug. 24, 2021
The consensus of Jewish scholars is that the Scriptures teach when someone dies, they are gone. They are dead. There is no resurrection or reincarnation... nothing. This is an older view, which was found among the Sadducees during the Second Temple period and later among the Karaites. Today, the consensus of the scholars and rabbis follows the insights of the Pharisees that the concept of Sheol evolved in the post-exilic era.
Which should we believe? Let's set aside the obvious belief in the afterlife of the Second Temple Period, the teachings of most Rabbis, and the logic of pursuing an "intimacy" with an Eternal G-d if there is eternal hope... Do we see life after death either hinted at in the Torah or directly stated in the rest of the Tanakh? Yes, thankfully!
While the consensus, that dead is dead, was prevalent in the pre-exilic era. The post-exilic writings add complexity to the idea of Sheol. The most obvious Scriptures that point to this complexity are as follows:
Psalm 16:10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, nor let your holy one see corruption.
Psalm 30: O LORD, you have brought up my soul from Sheol; you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.
Psalm 86:13 For great is your steadfast love toward me; you have delivered my soul from the depths of Sheol.
Psalm 73:24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward, you will receive me to glory.
Psalm 139:8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
The belief of the Second Temple Period is captured by Daniel 12:12 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.
The question of whether this means the people of Israel or the soul of individuals among the "many of those who sleep" is absurd given the evolution toward the beliefs of the New Testament era - ie. eternal life after a judgment - some to heaven and some to hell.
Ultimately, the question is one of faith and reason. Let's use Pascal's Wager to support the view of life after death.
If you believe in life after death and G-d greets you after death, you've lived a life of joyful expectation and gained everything! G-d exists!
If you believe in life after death and G-d does not greet you, then you've lived a life of joyful expectation. Ultimately, it was a dream.
If you do not believe in life after death and G-d greets you, you've lived a life of misery, but were surprised. G-d exists! You needed more faith.
If you do not believe in life after death and G-d does not greet you, you lived a life of misery. It didn't matter.
Three out of four options recommend believing in life after death because either you have lived a life of joyful expectation, G-d exists, or both. Only one out of four says live in misery because it doesn't matter. So the better option is to have faith and believe in life after death. Either it will be really good or you will have lived a good dream.
My recommendation: Have faith and believe in life after death. You will gain a joyful expectation.