Ever wondered where the notion of an afterlife first emerged in the Bible?
No, it’s not in Genesis. Sure, Adam, Noah, Moses & Company may have lived hundreds of years, but when they died, they seemed to be genuinely kaput. Concepts such as a spirit or soul were unknown to the ancient Biblical authors; in fact, there wasn’t even a term for “soul” in Hebrew. The idea of any afterlife is a decidedly late Jewish tradition, the Judeo-Christian notion of heaven today doesn’t find its beginnings until the Book of Daniel, written in the 2nd century BC. Daniel, 12:2 -3:
“2And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. 3And they that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars for ever and ever.”
And there you have it, occurring nearly a thousand pages into the narrative. The Judeo-Christian concept of an afterlife was still a developing notion by the New Testament, which is why the Rapture reads not unlike the above, though both may strike the modern reader as very much un-heaven like.
Other, more contemporary takes on the idea of an afterlife:
I would love to believe that when I die I will live again, that some thinking, feeling, remembering part of me will continue. But as much as I want to believe that, and despite the ancient and worldwide cultural traditions that assert an afterlife, I know of nothing to suggest that it is more than wishful thinking.
— Carl Sagan, The Demon Haunted World
We are each free to believe what we want, and it is my view that the simplest explanation is there is no God. No one created the universe, and no one directs our fate. This leads me to a profound realization: There is probably no heaven, and no afterlife either. We have this one life to appreciate the grand design of the universe. For that, I am extremely grateful.
— Stephen Hawking, Did God Create the Universe
The significance of our lives, and our fragile planet, is then determined only by our own wisdom and courage. We are the custodians of life’s meaning. We long for a Parent to care for us, to forgive us our errors, to save us from our childish mistakes. But knowledge is preferable to ignorance. Better by far to embrace the hard truth than a reassuring fable. If we crave some cosmic purpose, let us find ourselves a worthy goal.
— Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space