Keith Hunt - Background to the New Testament - Page Nine   Restitution of All Things

  Home Previous Page Next Page

Background to the New Testament #9

Death - Burial - After Death!


From the book "Sketches of Jewish Social Life" by Alfred



     A SADDER picture could scarcely be drawn than that of the
dying Rabbi Jochanan ben Saccai, that "light of Israel"
immediately before and after the destruction of the Temple, and
for two years the president of the Sanhedrim. We read in the
Talmud (Eer. 28 b) that, when his disciples came to see him on
his death-bed, he burst into tears.  To their astonished inquiry
why he, "the light of Israel, the right pillar of the Temple, and
its mighty hammer," betrayed such signs of fear, he replied: "If
I were now to be brought before an earthly king, who lives to-day
and dies to-morrow, whose wrath and whose bonds are not
everlasting, and whose sentence of death, even, is not that to
everlasting death, who can be assuaged by arguments, or perhaps
bought off by money - I should tremble and weep; how much more
reason have I for it, when about to be led before the King of
kings, the Holy One, blessed be He, Who liveth and abideth for
ever, Whose chains are chains for evermore, and Whose sentence of
death killeth for ever, Whom I cannot assuage with words, nor
bribe by money! And not only so, but there are before me two
ways, one to paradise and the other to hell,  and I know not
which of the two ways I shall have to gowhether to paradise or to
hell: how, then, shall I not shed tears?" Side by side with this
we may place the opposite saying of R. Jehudah, called the Holy,
who, when he died, lifted up both his hands to heaven, protesting
that none of those ten fingers had broken the law of God! It were
difficult to say which of these two is more contrary to the light
and liberty of the Gospel - the utter hopelessness of the one, or
the apparent presumption of the other.

(Well, when you know the truth BOTH are WRONG!! - Keith Hunt)

     And yet these sayings also recall to us something in the
Gospel. For there also we read of two ways - the one to paradise,
the other to destruction, and of fearing not those who can kill
the body, but rather Him who, after He bath killed the body, bath
power to cast into hell. Nor, on the other hand, was the
assurance of St. Stephen, of St. James, or of St. Paul, less
confident than that of Jehudah, called the Holy, though it
expressed itself in a far different manner and rested on quite
other grounds. Never are the voices of the Rabbis more
discordant, and their utterances more contradictory or
unsatisfying than in view of the great problems of humanity: sin,
sickness, death, and the hereafter. Most truly did St. Paul,
taught at the feet of Gamaliel in all the traditions and wisdom
of the fathers, speak the inmost conviction of every Christian
Rabbinist, that it is only our Saviour Jesus Christ Who "hath
brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel" (2 Tim.
1. 10).
     When the disciples asked our Lord, in regard to the "man
which was blind from his birth: "Master, who did sin, this man,
or his parents, that he was born blind?" (John ix. 1,2) we
vividly realise that we hear a strictly Jewish question. It was
just such as was likely to be raised, and it exactly expressed
Jewish belief. That children benefited or suffered according to
the spiritual state of their parents was a doctrine current among
the Jews. But they also held that an unborn child might contract
guilt, since the Yezer ka-ra, or evil disposition which was
present from its earliest formation, might even then be
called into activity by outward circum stances. And sickness
was regarded as alike the punishment for sin and its atonement.

(Again, wrong Jewish theology - Keith Hunt)

    But we also meet with statements which remind us of the
teaching of Heb. xii. 5,9. In fact, the apostolic quotation from
Prov. iii. is made for exactly the same purpose in the Talmud
(Ber. 5 a), in how different a spirit will appear from the
following summary. It appears that two of the Rabbis had
disagreed as to what were "the chastisements of love," the one
maintaining, on the ground of Ps. xciv. 12, that they were such
as did not prevent a man from study, the other inferring from Ps.
lxvi. 20 that they were such as did not hinder prayer. Superior
authority decided that both kinds were "chastisements of love,"
at the same time answering the quotation from Ps. xciv. by
proposing to read, not "teachest him," but "teachest us out of
Thy law."  But that the law teaches us that chastisements are of
great advantage might be inferred as follows: If, according to
Ex. xxi. 26,27, a slave obtained freedom through the chastisement
of his master - a chastisement which affected only one of his
members - how much more must those chastisements effect which
purified the whole body of man?
     Moreover, as another Rabbi reminds us, the "covenant" is
mentioned in connection with salt (Lev.ii.13), and also in
connection with chastisements (Dent. xxviii. 58). "As is the
covenant," spoken of in connection with salt, which gives taste
to the meat, so also is "the covenant" spoken of in connection
with chastisements, which purge away all the sins of a man.
     Indeed, as a third Rabbi says: "Three good gifts hath the
Holy One - blessed be He! - given to Israel, and each of them
only through sufferings - the law, the land of Israel, and the
world to come."
     The law, according to Ps. xciv. 12; the land, according to
Deut. viii. 5, which is immediately followed by ver.7; and the
world to come, according to Prov. vi. 23.

     As on most other subjects, the Rabbis were accurate and keen
observers of the laws of health, and their regulations are often
far in advance of modern practice. From many allusions in the Old
Testament we infer that the science of medicine, which was
carried to comparatively great perfection in Egypt, where every
disease had its own physician, was also cultivated in Israel.
Thus the sin of Asa, in trusting too much to earthly physicians,
is specially reproved (2 Chron. xvi. 12). In New Testament
times we read of the woman who had spent all her substance, and
suffered so much at the hands of physicians (Mark v. 26); while
the use of certain remedies, such as oil and wine, in the
treatment of wounds (Luke x. 34), seems to have been popularly
known. St. Luke was a "physician" (Col. iv. 14); and among
the regular Temple officials there was a medical man, whose duty
it was to attend to the priesthood who, from ministering
barefoot, must have been specially liable to certain diseases.  
     The Rabbis ordained that every town must have at least one
physician, who was also to be qualified to practise surgery, or
else a physician and a surgeon. Some of the Rabbis themselves
engaged in medical pursuits: and, in theory at least, every
practitioner ought to have had their licence. To employ a heretic
or a Hebrew Christian was specially prohibited, though a heathen
might, if needful, be called in. But, despite their patronage
of the science, caustic sayings also occur. "Physician, heal
thyself," is really a Jewish proverb; "Live not in a city whose
chief is a medical man" - he will attend to public business and
neglect his patients; "The best among doctors deserves Gehenna
" - for his bad treatment of some, and for his neglect of others.

     It were invidious to enter into a discussion of the remedies
prescribed in those times, although, to judge from what is
advised in such cases, we can scarcely wonder that the poor woman
in the gospel was nowise benefited, but rather the worse of them
(Mark v. 26). The means recommended were either generally
hygienic - and in this respect the Hebrews contrast favourably
even with ourselves - or purely medicinal, or else sympathetic,
or even magical. The prescriptions consisted of simples or of
compounds, vegetables being far more used than minerals.    
Cold-water compresses, the external and internal use of oil and
of wine, baths (medicated and other), and a certain diet, were
carefully indicated in special diseases. Goats' milk and
barley-porridge were recommended in all diseases attended by
wasting. Jewish surgeons seem even to have known how to operate
for cataract.

     Ordinarily, life was expected to be protracted, and death
regarded as alike the punishment and the expiation of sin. To die
within fifty years of age was to be cut off; within fifty-two, to
die the death of Samuel the prophet; at sixty years of age, it
was regarded as death at the hands of Heaven; at seventy, as that
of an old man; and at eighty, as that of strength. Premature
death was likened to the falling off of unripe fruit, or the
extinction of a candle. To depart without having a son was to
die, otherwise it was to fall asleep. The latter was stated to
have been the case with David; the former with Joab. If a person
had finished his work, his was regarded as the death of the
righteous, who is gathered to his fathers. Tradition (Per. 8 a)
inferred, by a peculiar Rabbinical mode of exegesis, from a word
in Ps. lxii.12, that there were 903 different kinds of dying. The
worst of these was angina, which was compared to tearing out a
thread from a piece of wool; while the sweetest and gentlest,
which was compared to drawing a hair out of milk, was called "
death by a kiss." The latter designation originated from Numb.
xxxiii. 38 and Deut. xxxiv. 5, in which Aaron and Moses are
respectively said to have died "according to the word" -
literally, "by the mouth of Jehovah." Over six persons, it was
said, the angel of 'death' had had no power - viz., Abraham,
Isaac, and Jacob, because they had seen their work quite
completed; and over Miriam, Aaron, and Moses, who had died by "
the kiss of God."  If premature death was the punishment of sin,
the righteous died because others were to enter on their work -
Joshua on that of Moses, Solomon on that of David, etc. But, when
the time for death came, anything might serve for its infliction,
or, to put it in Rabbinical language, "O Lord, all these are Thy
servants;" for "whither a man was to go, thither his feet would
carry him."

(Again, one must remember we are reading "Jewish" ideas, some
could be correct, but many were incorrect - Keith Hunt)

     Certain signs were also noted as to the time and manner of
dying. Sudden death was called " being swallowed up," death after
one day's illness, that of rejection; after two days, that of
despair; after four days, that of reproof; after five days,
a natural death. Similarly, the posture


1 We purposely do not enter on the Rabbinical views about the
"angel of death." The Babylon Talmud, however, has a curious
passage about anointing the eyes of the dying with oil.


of the dying was carefully marked. To die with a happy smile, or
at least with a bright countenance, or looking upward, was a good
omen; to look downward, to seem disturbed, to weep, or even to
turn to the wall, were evil signs. 1 
     On recovering from illness, it was enjoined to return
special thanks. It was a curious superstition (Ber. 55 b), that,
if any one announced his illness on the first day of its
occurrence, it might tend to make him worse, and that only on the
second day should prayers be offered for him. Lastly, we may
mention in this connection, as possibly throwing light on the
practice referred to by St. James (Jas. v. I4), that it was the
custom to anoint the sick with a mixture of oil, wine, and water,
the preparation of which was even allowed on the Sabbath (Jer.
Ber. ii. 2).

     When our Lord mentioned visitation of the sick among the
evidences of that religion which would stand the test of the
judgment day (Matt. xxv. 36), He appealed to a principle
universally acknowledged among the Jews. The great Jewish doctor
Maimonides holds that this duty takes precedence of all other
good works, and the Talmud goes even so far as to assert, that
whoever visits the sick shall deliver his soul from Gehenna (Ned.
4o a). Accordingly, a Rabbi, discussing the meaning of the
expression, "Ye shall walk after the Lord your God" (Deut.
xiii. 4), arrives at the conclusion, that it refers to the
imitation of what we read in Scripture of His doings. Thus God
clothed the naked (Gen. iii. 21), and so should we; He visited
the sick (Gen. xviii. 1); He comforted the mourners, (Gen. xxv.
11); and He buried the dead (Deut. xxxv. 6); leaving us in all
this an ensample that we should follow in His


1 An account of the manner of "setting one's house in order " (2
Sam. xvii. 23; 2 Kings xx. 1), would lead beyond our present


footsteps (Sota 14a). It was possibly to encourage to this
duty, or else in reference to the good effects of sympathy upon
the sick, that we are told, that whoever visits the sick takes
away a sixtieth part of his sufferings (Ned. 39 b). Nor was
the service of love to stop here; for, as we have seen, the
burial of the dead was quite as urgent a duty as the visitation
of the sick. As the funeral procession passed, every one was
expected, if possible, to join the convoy. The Rabbis applied to
the observance of this direction Prov. xiv. 32, and xix. 17; and
to its neglect Prov. xvii. 5 (Per. 18 a). Similarly, all
reverence was shown towards the remains of the dead, and
buryingplaces were kept free from every kind of profanation, and
even from light conversation.

     Burial followed generally as soon as possible after death
(Matt. ix. 23; Acts v. 6,10; viii. a), no doubt partly on
sanitary grounds. For special reasons, however (Acts ix. 37,39),
or in the case of parents, there might be a delay even of days.  
The preparations for the burial of our Lord, mentioned in the
gospels - the ointment against His burial (Matt. xxvi. 12), the
spices and ointments (Luke xxiii. 56), the mixture of myrrh and
aloes - find their literal confirmation in what the Rabbis tell
us of the customs of the period (Per. 53 a). At one time the
wasteful expenditure connected with funerals was so great as to
involve in serious difficulties the poor, who would not be
outdone by their neighbours. The folly extended not only to the
funeral rites, the burning of spices at the grave, and the
depositing of money and valuables in the tomb, but even to luxury
in the wrappings of the dead body. At last a much needed reform
was introduced by Rabbi Gamaliel, who left directions that he was
to be buried in simple linen garments. In recognition of this a
cup is to this day emptied to his memory at funeral meals. His
grandson limited even the number of grave-clothes to one dress.

     The burial-dress is made of the most inexpensive linen, and
bears the name of (Tachrichin) "wrappings," or else the
"travelling-dress." At present it is always white, but formerly
any other colour might be chosen, of which we have some curious
instances. Thus one Rabbi would not be buried in white, lest
he might seem like one glad, nor yet in black, so as not to
appear to sorrow, but in red; while another ordered a white
dress, to show that he was not ashamed of his works; and yet a
third directed that he should have his shoes and stockings, and a
stick, to be ready for the resurrection! As we know from the
gospel, the body was wrapped in "linen clothes," and the face
bound about with a napkin (John xi. 44; xx. 5, 7).

     The body having been properly prepared, the funeral rites
proceeded, as described in the gospels. From the account of the
funeral procession at Nain, which the Lord of life arrested (Luke
vii. 11-15), many interesting details may be learned. First,
burying-places were always outside cities (Matt. viii. 28; xxvii.
7, 52,53; John xi. 30,31). Neither watercourses nor public
roads were allowed to pass through them, nor sheep to graze
there. We read of public and private burying-placesthe latter
chiefly in gardens and caves. It was the practice to visit the
graves (John xi. 31) partly to mourn and partly to pray. It was
unlawful to eat or drink, to read, or even to walk irreverently
among them. Cremation was denounced as a purely heathen
practice, contrary to the whole spirit of Old Testament teaching.

(That would indeed seem the spirit of the Old Testament. It is
not recorded anywhere that any saint of God was "cremated" -
hence going by example, we have only "grave burial" given to us.
Of course God is able to resurrect anyone, no matter if killed by
fire, drowned in the sea etc. - Keith Hunt)

     Secondly, we know that, as at Nain, the body was generally
carried open on a bier, or else in an open coffin, the bearers
frequently changing to give an opportunity to many to take part
in a work deemed so meritorious.
     Graves in fields or in the open were often marked by
memorial columns. Children less than a month old were carried to
the burying by their mothers; those under twelve months were
borne on a bed or stretcher. 

     Lastly, the order in which the procession seems to have
wound out of Nain exactly accords with what we know of the
customs of the time and place. It was outside the city
gate that the Lord with His disciples met the sad array. Had
it been in Judaea the hired mourners and musicians would have
preceded the bier; in Galilee they followed. 

     First came the women, for, as an ancient Jewish commentary
explains - woman, who brought death into our world, ought to lead
the way in the funeral procession. Among them our Lord readily
recognised the widowed mother, whose only treasure was to be
hidden from her for ever. Behind the bier followed, obedient to
Jewish law and custom, "much people of the city." The sight of
her sorrow touched the compassion of the Son of Man; the presence
of death called forth the power of the Son of God. To her only He
spoke, what in the form of a question He said to the woman who
mourned at His own grave, ignorant that death had been swallowed
up in victory, and what He still speaks to us from heaven, "Weep
not!" He bade not the procession halt, but, as He touched the
bier, they that bore on it the dead body stood still. It was a
marvellous sight outside the gate of Nain. The Rabbi and His
disciples should reverently have joined the procession; they
arrested it. One word of power burst inwards the sluices of
Hades, and out flowed once again the tide of life. "He that
was dead sat up on his bier, and began to speak " - what words of
wonderment we are not told. It must have been like the sudden
wakening, which leaves not on the consciousness the faintest
trace of the dream. Not of that world but of this would his
speech be, though he knew he had been over there, and
its dazzling light made earth's sunshine so dim, that ever
afterwards life must have seemed to him like the sitting up on
his bier, and its faces and voices like those of the crowd which
followed him to his burying.

     At the grave, on the road to which the procession repeatedly
halted, when short addresses were occasionally delivered, there
was a funeral oration. If the grave were in a public cemetery, at
least a foot and a half must intervene between each sleeper. The
caves, or rock-hewn sepulchres, consisted of an antechamber in
which the bier was deposited, and an inner or rather lower cave
in which the bodies were deposited, in a recumbent position, in
niches. According to the Talmud these abodes of the dead were
usually six feet long, nine feet wide, and ten feet high. Here
there were niches for eight bodies: three on each side of the
entrance, and two opposite. Larger sepulchres held thirteen
bodies. The entrance to the sepulchres was guarded by a large
stone or by a door (Matt. xxvii. 66; Mark xv. 46; John xi. 38,

     This structure of the tombs will explain some of the
particulars connected with the burial of our Lord, how the women
coming early to the grave had been astonished in finding the
"very great stone rolled away from the door of the sepulchre,"
and then, when they entered the outer cave, were affrighted to
see what seemed "a young man sitting on the right side, clothed
in a long white garment" (Mark xvi. 4,5). Similarly, it explains
the events as they are successively recorded in John xx.
1-12, how Mary Magdalene, "when it was yet dark," had come to
the sepulchre, in every sense waiting for the light, but even
groping had felt that the stone was rolled away, and fled to tell
the disciples they had, as she thought, taken away the Lord out
of the sepulchre. 

(Notice that it was "yet dark" when Mary Magdaline came to the
tomb, and the stone was already rolled away and Jesus was already
gone, raised from the dead; all fully explained in my study on
"Three Days and Three Night" on this Website - Keith Hunt)

     If she knew of the sealing of that stone and of the Roman
guard, she must have felt as if the hatred of man would
now deprive their love even of the sacred body of their Lord.    
And yet, through it all, the hearts of the disciples must have
treasured hopes, which they scarce dared confess to themselves.  
For those other two disciples, witnesses of all His deeds on
earth, companions of His shame in Caiaphas' palace, were also
waiting for the daybreak - only at home, not like her at the
grave. And now "they both ran together." But on that morning, so
near the night of betrayal, "the other disciple did outrun
Peter."  Grey light of early spring had broken the heavy curtain
of cloud and mist, and red and golden sunlight lay on the edge of
the horizon. The garden was still, and the morning air stirred
the trees which in the dark night had seemed to keep watch over
the dead, as through the unguarded entrance, by which lay "the
very great stone" rolled away, John passed, and "stooping down"
into the inner cave "saw the linen clothes lying."  "Then cometh
Simon Peter," not to wait in the outer cave, but to go into the
sepulchre, presently to be followed thither by John. For that
empty sepulchre was not a place to look into, but to go into and
believe. That morn had witnessed many wonders - wonders which
made the Magdalene long for yet greater for the wonder of
wonders, the Lord Himself. Nor was she disappointed. He Who alone
could answer her questions fully, and dry her tears, spake first
to her who loved so much.
     Thus also did our blessed Lord Himself fulfil most truly
that on which the law and Jewish tradition laid so great stress: 
to comfort the mourners in their affliction (comp. James i. 27). 

     Indeed, tradition has it, that there was in the Temple a
special gate by which mourners entered, that all who met them
might discharge this duty of love. There was a custom, which
deserves general imitation, that mourners were not to be
tormented by talk, but that all should observe silence till
addressed by them.  Afterwards, to obviate foolish remarks, a
formula was fixed, according to which, in the synagogue the
leader of the devotions, and in the house some one, began by
asking, "Inquire for the ground of mourning;" upon which one of
those present - if possible, a Rabbi - answered, "God is a just
judge," which meant, that He had removed a near relative. Then,
in the synagogue, a regular fixed formula of comfort was spoken,
while in the house kind expressions of consolation followed.

     The Rabbis distinguish between the Onen and the Avel the
sorrowing or suffering one, and the bowed down, fading one, or
mourner; the former expression applying only to the day of the
funeral, the latter to the period which followed. It was held,
that the law of God only prescribed mourning for the first day,
which was that of death and burial (Lev. xxii. 4,6), while the
other and longer period of mourning that followed was enjoined by
the elders. 

     So long as the dead body was actually in the house, it was
forbidden to eat meat or drink wine, to put on the
phylacteries, or to engage in study. All necessary food had to be
prepared outside the house, and was, if possible, not to be eaten
in presence of the dead. The first duty was to rend the clothes,
which might be done in one or more of the inner garments, but not
in the outer dress. The rent is made standing, and in front; it
is generally about a hand-breadth in length. In the case of
parents it is never closed up again; but in that of others it is
mended after the thirtieth day.

     Immediately after the body is carried out of the house all
chairs and couches are reversed, and the mourners sit (except on
the Sabbath, and on the Friday only for one hour) on the ground
or on a low stool. A threefold distinction was here made. Deep
mourning was to last for seven days, of which the first three
were those of "weeping." During these seven days it was, among
other things, forbidden to wash, to anoint oneself, to put on
shoes, to study, or to engage in any business. After that
followed a lighter mourning of thirty days. Children were to
mourn for their parents a whole year; and during eleven months
(so as not to imply that they required to remain a full year in
purgatory) to say the "prayer for the dead." The latter, however,
does not contain any intercession for the departed. 

     The anniversary of the day of death was also to be observed.

An apostate from the Jewish faith was not to be mourned; on the
contrary, white dress was to be worn on the occasion of his
decease, and other demonstrations of joy to be made. It is well
known under what exceptional circumstances priests and the
high-priest were allowed to mourn for the dead (Lev. xxi. 10,11;
1-4). In the case of the high-priest it was customary to say to
him, "May we be thy expiation!"  ("Let us suffer what ought to
have befallen thee;") to which he replied, "Be ye blessed of
Heaven" (Sank. ii. i). 

     It is noted that this mode of address to the highpriest was
intended to indicate the greatness of their affection; and the
learned Otho suggests (Lexic. Rabb., p.343), that this may have
been in the mind of the apostle when he would have wished himself
Anathema for the sake of his brethren (Rom. ix. 3). 

     On the return from the burial, friends or neighbours
prepared a meal for the mourners, consisting of bread,
hard-boiled eggs, and lentils - round and coarse fare; round like
life, which is rolling on unto death. This was brought in and
served up in earthenware. On the other hand, the mourners'
friends partook of a funeral meal, at which no more than ten cups
were to be emptied - two before the meal, five at it, and three
afterwards (Jer. Per. iii. i). In modern times the religious duty
of attending to the dying, the dead, and mourners, is performed
by a special "holy brotherhood," as it is called, which many of
the most religious Jews join for the sake of the pious work in
which it engages them.

     We add the following, which may be of interest. It is
expressly allowed (Jer. Ber. iii. i), on Sabbaths and feastdays
to walk beyond the Sabbath limits, and to do all needful offices
for the dead. This throws considerable light on the evangelical
account of the offices rendered to the body of Jesus on the eve
of the Passover. The chief mourning rites, indeed, were
intermitted on Sabbaths and feast-days; and one of the most
interesting, and perhaps the earliest Hebrew non-Biblical record
- the Megillath Taanith, or roll of fasts - mentions a number of
other days on which mourning was prohibited, being the
anniversaries of joyous occasions. The Mishnah (Hoed K. iii. 5-9)
contains a number of regulations and limitations of mourning
observances on greater and lesser feasts, which we do not quote,
as possessing little interest save in Rabbinical casuistry.  The
loss of slaves was not to be mourned.

(As before stated, remember we are reading customs and traditions
of the Jews in the main. Much of what we have read is NOT
strictly prescribed by the Scriptures, hence funneral services
can vary according to customs of the nation and personal desires
- Keith Hunt)


     But what after death and in the judgment? And what of that
which brought in, and which gives such terrible meaning to death
and the judgment - sin? It were idle, and could only be painful
here to detail the various and discordant sayings of the Rabbis,
some of which, at least, may admit of an allegorical inter-
pretation. Only that which may be of use to the New Testament
student shall be briefly summarised.

     Both the Talmud (Pes. 54 a; Ned. 39 b), and the Targum teach
that paradise and hell were created before this world. One
quotation from the Jerusalem Targum (on Gen. iii. 24) will not
only sufficiently prove this, but show the general current of
Jewish teaching. "Two thousand years," we read, "before the world
was made, God created the Law and Gehenna, and the Garden of
Eden. He made the Garden of Eden for the righteous, that they
might eat of the fruits thereof, and delight themselves in them,
because in this world they had kept the commandments of the law. 
But for the wicked He prepared Gehenna, which is like a sharp
twoedged destroying sword. He put within it sparks of fire and
burning coals, to punish the wicked in the world to come, because
they had not observed the commandments of the law in this world.
For the law is the tree of life.  Whosoever observeth it shall
live and subsist as the tree of life." 1 

     Paradise and hell were supposed to be contiguous, only
separated - it was said, perhaps allegorically - by an
handbreadth. But although we may here find some slight
resemblance to the localisation of the history of the
rich man and Lazarus (Luke xvi. 25,26), only those acquainted
with the theological thinking of the time can fully judge what
infinite difference there is between the story in the Gospel and
the pictures drawn in contemporary literature. Witness here the
22nd chapter of the book of Enoch, which, as so many other


1 Other Rabbinical sayings have it, that seven things existed
before the world; the law, repentance, paradise, hell, the throne
of God, the name of the Messiah, and the Temple. At the same time
the reader will observe that the quotation from the Targum given
in the text attempts an allegorising, and therefore rationalistic
interpretation of the narrative in Gen. iii. 24.


from pseudo-epigraphic and Rabbinical writings, has been mangled
and misquoted by modern writers, for purposes hostile to
Christianity. 1
     The Rabbis seem to have believed in a multitude of
heavens - most of them holding that there were seven, as there
were also seven departments in paradise, and as many in hell.   
The pre-existence of the souls of all mankind before their actual
appearance upon earth, and even the doctrine of the migration of
souls, seem also to have been held - both probably, however,
chiefly as speculative views, introduced from foreign,
non-Judaean sources.

(And I might add, very untrue, and against the plain teachings of
the Word of the Lord - Keith Hunt)

     But all these are preliminary and outside questions, which
only indirectly touch the great problems of the human soul
concerning sin and salvation. And here we can, in this place,
only state that the deeper and stronger our conviction that the
language, surroundings, and whole atmosphere of the New Testament
were those of Palestine at the time when our Lord trod its soil,
the more startling appears the contrast between the doctrinal
teaching of Christ and His apostles and that of the Rabbis. In
general, it may be said that the New Testament teaching
concerning original sin and its consequences finds no analogy in
the Rabbinical writings of that period. As to the mode of
salvation, their doctrine may be broadly summed up under the
designation of work-righteousness.

     In view of this there is, strictly speaking, logical
inconsistency in the earnestness with which the Rabbis insist on
universal and immediate repentance, and the need of confession of
sin, and of preparation for another world. For, a paradise


1 We must take this opportunity of referring to a book which has
long served as chief storehouse to certain writers, and been too
often carelessly accepted as absolute authority by those who
should have ascertained for themselves the accuracy of
quotations. We are alluding to Gfrorer, Gesch. d. Urchrist, where
the passage from Enoch xxii. is certainly misquoted.


which might be entered by all on their own merits, and which yet
is to be sought by all through repentance and similar means, or
else can only be obtained after passing through a kind of
purgatory, constitutes no mean moral charge against the religion
of Rabbinism. Yet such inconsistencies may be hailed as bringing
the Synagogue, in another direction, nearer to Biblical truth.
Indeed, we come occasionally upon much that also appears, only in
quite another setting, in the New Testament. Thus the teaching of
our Lord about the immortality of the righteous was, of course,
quite consonant with that of the Pharisees.  In fact, their
contention also was, that the departed saints were in Scripture
called "living" (Ber. 18 a). 1
     Similarly, it was their doctrine (Ber. 17 a, and in several
other passages) - though not quite consistently held - as it was
that of our Lord (Matt. xxii. 30), that "in the world to come
there is neither eating nor drinking, neither fruitfulness nor
increase, neither trade nor business, neither envy, hatred, nor
strife; but the righteous sit with their crowns on their heads,
and feast themselves on the splendour of the Shechinah, as it is
written, 'They saw God, and did eat and drink' (Ex. xxiv. 11)." 

   The following is so similar in form and yet so different in
spirit to the parable of the invited guests and him


1 I would here take leave generally to refer to my article on
"Sickness and Death," in "The Bible Educator," vol. iv. pp.
330-333. In Sanh. go b, 9r a and b, we have long argumentations
in which the doctrines of immortality and of the resurrection are
proved in controversy, chiefly with the Sadducees, but also with
heathens, from the law, the prophets, and the hagiographa. The
passages quoted are (in Mechilta, Ex. xv. i, which is rendered:
"Then Moses shall sing"): Deut. xxxi. 6; xi. 21; iv. 4;  Numb.   
xviii. 28;  Ex. vi. 4; Numb. xv. 3I; Ex. xv. 1; Deut. xxxii. 39;
Isa. xxvi. 19; lii. 8; Cant. vii. 9; Ps. lxxii. 16; lxxxiv. 7
(the tense being in this, as in other of the quotations, made
future). Similar reasoning on the subject is found in Abod. S. 18
a; Pes. 68 a; Sanh. 92 b; and in many of the Midrashim.


without the wedding garment (Matt. xxii. 1-14), that we give it
in full. "R. Jochanan, son of Saccai, propounded a parable. A
certain king prepared a banquet, to which he invited his
servants, without however having fixed the time for it. Those
among them who were wise adorned themselves, and sat down at the
door of the king's palace, reasoning thus: Can there be anything
awanting in the palace of a king? But those of them who were
foolish went away to their work, saying: Is there ever a feast
without labour?  Suddenly the king called his servants to the
banquet. The wise appeared adorned, but the foolish squalid.   
Then the king rejoiced over the wise, but was very wroth with the
foolish, and said: Those who have adorned themselves shall sit
down, eat, drink, and be merry; but those who have not adorned
themselves shall stand by and see it, as it is written in Isa.
lxv. 13." 

     A somewhat similar parable, but even more Jewish in its
dogmatic cast, is the following: "The matter (of the world to
come) is like an earthly king who committed to his servants the
royal robes. They who were wise folded and laid them up in the
wardrobes, but they who were careless put them on, and did in
them their work. After some days the king asked back his robes.  

Those who were wise restored them as they were, that is, still
clean; those who were foolish also restored them as they were,
that is, soiled. Then the king rejoiced over the wise, but was
very wroth with the careless servants, and he said to the wise:
Lay up the robes in the treasury, and go home in peace. But to
the careless he commanded the robes to be given, that they might
wash them, and that they themselves should be cast into prison,
as it is written of the bodies of the just in Isa. lvii. 2; 1
Sam. xxv. 29, but of the bodies of the unjust in Isa. xlviii. 22;
lvii. 21; and in 1 Sam. xxv. 29." 

     From the same tractate (Shah. 152 a), we may, in
conclusion, quote the following: "R. Eliezer said, Repent on
the day before thou diest. His disciples asked him: Can a man
know the hour of his death? He replied: Therefore let him
repent to-day, lest haply he die on the morrow." 

     Quotations on these, and discussions on kindred subjects
might lead us far beyond our present scope. But the second of the
parables above quoted will point the direction of the final
conclusions at which Rabbinism arrived. It is not, as in the
Gospel, pardon and peace, but labour with the "may be" of reward.

As for the "after death," paradise, hell, the resurrection, and
the judgment, voices are more discordant than ever, opinions more
unscriptural, and descriptions more repulsively fabulous.  This
is not the place farther to trace the doctrinal views of the
Rabbis, to attempt to arrange and to follow them up.

     Work-righteousness and study of the law are the surest key
to heaven. There is a kind of purgation, if not of purgatory,
after death. Some seem even to have held the annihilation of the
wicked. Taking the widest and most generous views of the Rabbis,
they may be thus summed up: 

     All Israel have share in the world to come; the pious among
the Gentiles also have part in it. Only the perfectly just enter
at once into paradise; all the rest pass through a period of
purification and perfection, variously lasting, up to one year.  
But notorious breakers of the law, and especially apostates from
the Jewish faith, and heretics, have no hope whatever, either
here or hereafter! Such is the last word which the Synagogue has
to say to mankind.

     Not thus are we taught by the Messiah, the King of the Jews.

If we learn our loss, we also learn that "The Son of Man has
come to seek and to save that which was lost."  Our righteousness
is that freely bestowed on us by Him "Who was wounded for our
transgressions and bruised for our iniquities." "With His stripes
we are healed." The law which we obey is that which He has put
within our hearts, by which we become temples of the Holy Ghost. 

"The Dayspring from on high hath visited us" through the tender
mercy of our God. The Gospel hath brought life and immortality to
light, for we know Whom we have believed; and "perfect love
casteth out fear." Not even the problems of sickness, sorrow,
suffering, and death are unnoticed. "Weeping may endure for a
night, but joy cometh in the morning." The tears of earth's night
bang as dewdrops on flower and tree, presently to sparkle like
diamonds in the morning sun. For, in that night of nights has
Christ mingled the sweat of human toil and sorrow with the
precious blood of His agony, and made it drop on earth as sweet
balsam to heal its wounds, to soothe its sorrows, and to take
away its death.




In 2007 I attended a religious meeting where a Rabbi was giving
what "they" taught regarding the "after death" subject. He said
they taught there was no such thing as an after life, period! All
there is, is what we have today in this physical life. He was
speaking as if this was the teaching of ALL Judaism. He did not
explain that this is not the case. He was a "Sadducee" Rabbi. The
main body of Orthodox Jews are Pharisee. It is the Sadducee Jews
ONLY that do not believe in a resurrection, or life again after

Keith Hunt

Entered on this Website March 2009

  Home Previous Page Top of Page Next Page

Navigation List:

Word Search: