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Religious Views of Life After Death


... affirmed a beatific afterlife for all worshippers of the one true God. ... (samsara), roughly the idea that souls are reborn in new bodies until the cycle ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Religious Views of Life After Death

Religious Views of Life After Death
Views of life after death associated with the
ancient and modern religious traditions of the
Earliest Evidence of Human Belief in Survival of
Archeological Evidence
The practice of intentional human burial, which
dates back to at least the Neanderthal period
(300,00 - 30,000 BCE), provides prima facie
evidence of the concept of death among early
The practice of ritual burials among later
Neanderthal and Cro Magnon humans is prima facie
evidence of the concept of survival of death
among early humans.
Archeological Evidences of Ritual Burial
1. Unique positioning of the corpse (e.g., fetal
2. Painting the corpse or covering it with carved
stones or plants.
3. Clothing and decorating corpses with jewelry
(e.g., pendants, bracelets, necklaces, beads).
4. Burying corpses with other grave goods (e.g.
jewelry, tools)
Between 1957-1961Columbia University
archeologists excavated nine Neanderthal
skeletons in the caves of the Zagros Mountains.
The corpses date between 60,000 and 80,000 BCE.
Some of the bodies had been buried with carved
rocks and split animal bones around the grave.
Substantial pollen deposits found in the soil
around one skeleton (Shanidar IV) suggest that
the body was buried with flowers.
Zagros Mountains, Northern Iraq
Shanidar Caves
Shanidar IV
Pre-historic humans exhibited a concept of death
and belief in survival of death.
Written Evidence
Epic of Gilgamesh (circa 2000 BCE) After death,
the human person goes to the netherworld as an
etemmu (ghost or shade).
The shade is a ghostly double of the human
person, and the netherworld is a gloomy
subterranean realm.
The idea of the continued existence of a person
as a ghost in the Netherworld was common
throughout Mesopotamia by 2000 BCE.
Portions of the Hebrew Scriptures (circa 800-500
The dead go to sheol, but some are capable of
being raised as spirits or ghosts. (e.g., I
Samuel 28)
The Iliad and the Odyssey (circa 750-650 BCE )
The dead go to Hades (the underworld). There
remains then even in the house of Hades a spirit
and phantom of the dead, but there is no life
within it. (Iliad 23).
Significance of this Ancient Conception of the
The afterlife is not a desirable place.
The conception of the afterlife is not a beatific
one. It isnt a place of happiness and joy. It
also isnt a place of punishment.
The prevalence of this negative concept of the
afterlife in the ancient world undermines the
idea that belief in an afterlife arose because
people wanted a better life than they had during
their earthly lives.
If the afterlife does not distinguish between the
just and the unjust, afterlife beliefs cannot be
used as ways of enforcing morality and
controlling peoples behavior.
Morally Relevant Conception of the Afterlife in
Mesopotamia and India around 1400 BCE.
Mesopotamia - the 12th tablet of the Epic of
The quality of life in the Netherworld varies
depending on the quality of ones earthly life.
India Rig Veda (of the sacred Vedas)
The virtuous receive a new body after death and
enter the world of the fathers after death (a
heavenly realm of pleasure and joy occupied by
ones ancestors and the gods), but the wicked are
cast into a dark pit.
With the exception of survival beliefs in Egypt
and South Asia, the conception of the afterlife
in the ancient world prior to the first millenium
BCE was not a positive one.
The Axial Period (800-200 BCE)
Zoroaster (prophet of Zoroastrianism)
Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle
Completion of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old
Composition of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita
Two Important Features of the Axial Period
Ideal Self
Beatific Conception of the Afterlife
The Rise of Soul
The Socratic dialogues affirmed the existence of
the self as an individual soul, an immaterial,
simple substance that intrinsically has
immortality. The soul can enter into a divine
world after death, otherwise it might be reborn
in a new body on earth.
The Upanishadic Hindu tradition in India affirmed
the existence of a true self (atman) that
transcends the individual self of our present
The Persian and Hebrew traditions affirmed the
existence of an individual self that will survive
death, first in the form of a disembodied soul
and subsequently as a unity of soul and body.
Zoroastrianism Ancient Religion of Persia
Zoroastrianism affirmed a beatific afterlife for
all worshippers of the one true God.
The soul (urvan) of the dead person goes to a
heavenly realm after death. The soul is rejoined
to the body at some time in the future when God
conquers all the forces of evil.
The wicked enter a place of punishment after
death (hell), but exist there only for a limit
time. All people are eventually redeemed.
By the 2nd century BCE, the doctrines of
disembodied soul-survival and a future bodily
resurrection from the dead are present in Judaism.
These ideas eventually work their way into
Christian and Islamic theology in the common era.
Asian Religion
The Upanishads (circa 800-500 BCE) and the
Bhagavad Gita (500-200 BCE) explicitly affirm the
doctrine of reincarnation (samsara), roughly the
idea that souls are reborn in new bodies until
the cycle of death an rebirth is broken.
Buddhism taught a similar doctrine of rebirth
from its inception in the 6th century BCE.
The Heart of Hinduism and Buddhism
Afterlife Views at a Glance
Eastern Religions (Hinduism, Buddhism,
Taoism) Reincarnation
Western Religions (Judaism, Christianity,
Islam) Bodily Resurrection
Eastern and Western Religions Disembodied
Survival (Intermediate State)