Genesis 25:8—Did the Hebrews have a concept of life after death at such an early point in their history?
Problem: Critical scholars assert that the early Hebrews had a very rudimentary religion that over the centuries would undergo great evolutionary development before ultimately arriving at a concept of life after death. However, this phrase implies that the Hebrews had a concept of immortality at a very early stage in the development of the nation.
Solution: First of all, this criticism is based on the highly problematic premise that there is an evolutionary development of religion, with highly developed monotheism being very late. Recent archaeological findings at Ebla, however, contradict such speculation showing that monotheism was a very early belief (even before 2000 b.c.). Furthermore, the expression “gathered to his people” certainly seems to indicate more than merely being buried close to his kinsmen. In fact, since Abraham had left his homeland in Ur of the Chaldees to go to the land which God promised him, it would be contrary to Abraham’s life to have his body returned to the land of his father’s house for burial. The idea that the soul continued to live after the death of the body was a belief held by many peoples in the time of Abraham, including the Sumerians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and others.
In addition, this is not the only early reference to the concept of life after death. The Book of Job is probably the oldest book of the OT, with the events of the book dating back to the time of Abraham and the patriarchs of Israel. Yet, as early as Job, we find not only the concept of life after death, but also the concept of a bodily resurrection. In Job 19:25–26 we find Job expressing his confidence that, though he may not see his personal vindication in this life, he knew that God would ultimately make things right. This confidence moved him to express his conviction that he would indeed stand before God even after his physical demise; “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; And after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God.” This verse shows that the concept of life after death was a very early conviction, and that the people of God also believed in the resurrection of the body.
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This excerpt is from When Critics Ask: A Popular Handbook on Bible Difficulties (Wheaton, Ill.: Victor Books, 1992). © 2014 Norman Geisler and Thomas Howe. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Click here to purchase this book.