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Shades of Sheol: Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament [Paperback]

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Item Specifications...

Pages   204
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.56" Width: 5.34" Height: 0.85"
Weight:   0.75 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 1, 2002
Publisher   Apollos
ISBN  0830826874  
EAN  9780830826872  

Availability  0 units.

Item Description...
"For in death there is no remembrance of you," said the psalmist, but what did the ancient Israelites actually believe about the Shades of Sheol? Exploring death and the afterlife in the Old Testament, Oxford researcher Philip Johnston offers fresh evidence that the Hebrews weren't overly preoccupied with the underworld---as some scholars allege. Discover how worshiping Yahweh as God of the living led to positive views on the resurrection. 288 pages, softcover, InterVarsity.

Publishers Description
"For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who can give you praise?" (Psalm 6:5) Death is a profound and complex subject. How did the Israelites respond to it? The dead apparently went to Sheol. Where and what was it? The inhabitants of Sheol are sometimes called "shades." What does this indicate? Many ancient peoples venerated their ancestors. Did Israelites do this? Did anyone hope for a positive afterlife? If so, in what form? What about resurrection? How and when did this belief emerge? Philip S. Johnston explores these and other issues. He examines Israelite views on death and afterlife as reflected in the Hebrew Bible and in material remains, and sets them in their cultural, literary and theological contexts. Johnston argues in detail that the Israelites were not as preoccupied with the underworld or the dead as some scholars have recently alleged. Instead, their faith that Yahweh was the God of the living, and that Sheol was cut off from him, led eventually to the hope of a positive afterlife. This important study sheds fresh light on Israelite beliefs in an area central to the later development of the Christian faith.

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More About Philip S. Johnston

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Philip S. Johnston is director of studies in theology and religious studies and senior tutor at Hughes Hall, Cambridge. He has taught at Belfast, St. Andrews and Oxford. He has published studies of Israelite afterlife beliefs, and has an interest in Israel past and present--along with a commitment to reconciliation. His other books includeLes Psaumes, Interpreting the Psalms (coeditor with David Firth), Shades of Sheol and The Land of Promise (coeditor with Peter Walker).

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Product Categories
1Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Old Testament > Study   [3032  similar products]
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Reviews - What do our customers think?
Well done study on the ancient Hebrew view of the afterlife  Apr 26, 2008
Johnson has done an excellent job of reviewing the Old Testament view on death and the afterlife. I have often been puzzled at what seem to be contradictions in the scripture's view of Sheol, and this works seems to prove that my bewilderment was quite appropriate. It seems that the author's conclusion is that writers of the Old Testament weren't all that concerned with death and the afterlife, focusing on their relationship with Yahweh in the current life. It seems that much of the focus on death and the afterlife occurred in the inter-testamental period and quite possibly reflected the Hebrew exposure to Persian and Greek cultures.
Although dry and academic in parts, overall this is a well done and well written work. If you are interested in Sheol, or "The Pit", this is a great place to start.
The best book available on Sheol  Mar 2, 2008
I recently wrote a research paper on Sheol for a class I had, and was astonished to find that there were so few books available on the subject. I believe this was the only book I could find (after searching diligently on the internet) about Sheol written in the last 50 years or so. Sure a few books about the afterlife in general had sections about Sheol, but this was the only one which was dedicated entirely to Sheol. Other than this book the only recent (written in the last 50 years) texts about Sheol were some M.A. theses (not published) and individual journal articles. This book was by far the best source I found on the topic.

Johnson goes through, in great detail, the Hebrew beliefs about death, burial, the underworld, and the prospects of future life. It was a little difficult to read straight through because he went off into so much detail about specific relevant texts in other near-eastern cultures contemporary to the Old Testament texts, but it was definitely very readable as long as you skimmed over some sections instead of getting bogged down in them. As a reference tool, this would be of extraordinary benefit, as he has an index in the back of all the relevant scripture verses and what pages he discusse them on.

If I were to describe this book in one word, it would be thorough. I was astonished at the level of research he put into this book. He interacted with just about every scholarly source there is on Sheol, including those written in German and other languages which are inaccessable to most english speaking people. His book is very systematic and easy to follow, and he leaves very few stones unturned in his quest to determine what the Hebrews believed about Sheol.

His conclusions, in a nutshell, are that the Hebrews believed that (1) Sheol was a literal, underground abode of the dead which was (2) where the wicked go and (3) where they are cut off from God and exist in something resembling an unconscious state. I agree with one and three, but his evidence that they did not believe that everyone goes to Sheol was a bit scant and seemed to be something he wanted to believe rather than something he thought the evidence merited. He took the position that the Hebrew saints hoped for something other than Sheol upon their death, but they just didn't know what that would be. At this point I will have to politely disagree with him, as I think he has gone beyond the evidence on this point.

Overall, however, I found myself agreeing with the majority of his conclusions. He stands in the middle ground between very conservative Christians who want to interpret Sheol simply as the grave (or else they have the embarassing problem of affirming a strict view of inerrancy and yet have the Scriptures affirming a literal underground abode of the dead) and liberal scholars who want to equate it with other near-eastern underworld beliefs. No matter where you find yourself on that spectrum, this books needs to be encountered in any study of Sheol, as it seems likely to emerge as THE definitive study on it. My one critique of the book is that it really needs an index by suject. He has an index by scripture references, and one by authors, but there is no subject index. There were quite a few times I wanted to go back and re-read his secion on, say, Sheol's relationship to the literal grave and was unable to find it because there was no subject index. That is definitely something that needs to be added to future editions.

Overall grade: A+
an encyclopedia of information and discerning interpretation  Jul 25, 2005
The author organises this encyclopaedic study under four parts: Death, the Underworld, the Dead, and the Afterlife. An introductory apology for the study confronts the reader with a paradox: death and the underworld are fascinating topics for Judaism, Christianity, and modern scholarship, yet 'Israel's religious writers were not particularly concerned with the underworld or with the dead. The related to Yahweh in this life, and were relatively uninterested in the life hereafter.'

In Part A, the manifold figures under which death appears in the Old Testament are exhaustively surveyed, noting that death is sometimes seen as natural while at other moments is viewed as a contradiction and adversary of the life which Yahweh has created. A second chapter reviews practices surrounding death and burial in ancient Israel, concluding that 'religious rites either did not occur or were of such minimal importance that they have left no trace in any of the varied literary strands of the Old Testament. Little continued interest in the remains of the dead is evident.
In his consideration of the underworld (Part B), Johnston finds an Israelite distinctive in its relative disregard for Sheol, which when it is mentioned is an unwelcome fate, sparsely described, and always in first-person accounts rather than reportage. The argument for late editorial extraction of the theme is discussed, then dismissed.

Arguing that most underworld language is metaphorical, Johnston criticizes studies by Pedersen and Barth that suggested that the Israelite sufferer actually experienced Sheol in this life. Under the questioning heading 'The Pervasive Underworld?', Johnston examines uses of earth, water, and similar words which the Dahood school has understood as references to the underworld. He answers the title's query in the negative, concluding that water and earth are physically associated with the underworld, but never used as names for it. The probability of accidental or intentional minimization of a pervasive underworld by the tradents of the biblical text is dismissed.

In Part C, Johnston turns to the dead themselves, noting biblical texts that show people naming, consulting, and honouring them. Again, his emphasis falls on how unimportant the dead were to living Israelites. Part of his effort is dedicated to deconstructing scholarly reconstructions of practices that involved the dead, usually by observing their tenuous basis.

Unlike related ANE literatures, the Old Testament is largely uninterested in the consultation of the dead. There exist a few prohibitions of necromancy and scattered references to the practice, but just one account. Johnston claims that all literary layers of the witch of Endor story at 1 Sam 28 show the practice to be both effective and illegal.

Johnston find reconstructions of a cult of the dead textually dubious and methodologically spurious. Further, the paucity of censure of such cult speaks for its scarcity or absence. The biblical record and, Johnston judges, Israelites themselves were largely unconcerned with rites that honoured the dead.

In Part D, Johnston discusses the afterlife under the headings of 'Communion Beyond Death' (ch. 9, pp. 199-217) and 'Resurrection from Death' (ch. 10., pp. 218-239). Some biblical characters escaped death, but they did not become paradigms of subsequent experience. Johnston cautiously analyses possible intimations of hope beyond death in the Psalms, Proverbs, and the crux at Job 19.25-27. While the Proverbs and the Job passage are found not to affirm communion after death, the psalmists do. However, they provide no details beyond the hope of further communion with God. Johnston's final chapter argues that a `distinctively Israelite' notion of individual resurrection was not significantly influenced by other faiths.

Rather, this idea-absent in Old Testament witness but present in Second Temple speculation and New Testament assumptions-emerged from 'Yahweh's proclaimed power to renew life, its occasional experience in life and in vision, his authority over the underworld, and the desire for unending communion with (Yahweh).'

This book takes its place as an indispensable-because encyclopaedic-guide to the Old Testament discussion of the themes it treats, a feature that is complemented by a welcome layer of sober interpretation.
A very thorough and exhaustive study   Apr 7, 2005
This is an excellent reference book in that it covers many a Hebrew bible text that scholars have suggested are even remotely related to the topic. The author outlines each text, giving the literal Hebrew translation, or admitting where the texts have difficulty in translation and reviews scholarly approach to arguments suggesting the texts are related to the concept of the state of the dead and the possibility of afterlife. This method I found establishes well his argument that the subject matter of the state of the dead and an afterlife is hardly referred to at all in the Hebrew bible. He reviews apparent contradictions between texts which basically state there is no existence beyond this one, and the handful that hold out the hope of a physical resurrection. Likewise he reviews the chronologic development of Israel's belief system concerning the subject. By the time of the New Testament, he states "the perspectives between the Old and New Testaments on human fate after death are significantly different. Indeed for many scholars they are not just distinctive, but actually contradictory." I recommend this as an excellent book on the subject for those not afraid to investigate.
Great Book  Nov 16, 2002
This book is an excelent book. Johnson explores almost everything the Old Testament says about death and Sheol. He even brings points that go against the common thought of the day which cause one to think. I recomend this book to anyone wanting to more about death in the Old Testament. It is a great resource for papers too.

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