I have been reading the Book of Pseudo-Philo for my daily quiet time. My Charlesworth Pseudepigrapha dates Pseudo-Philo to the first century C.E. Pseudo-Philo is a Jewish work, and it contains interpretations and elaborations of biblical stories that may have been used in synagogues.
The topic of the afterlife has been on my mind as I have been reading Pseudo-Philo. Here are three items:
1. In Pseudo-Philo 33, the judge Deborah is exhorting the Israelites
to direct their hearts towards God while they are still alive, for they
will not have a chance to repent after they die. I follow her so far.
One will hear a similar message at a lot of Southern Baptist or other
conservative Christian churches: repent and get right with God now, for
you will not have a chance to do so after you die, and you will go to
hell if you have not done so in this life. That was a prominent message
within Second Temple Judaism, yet there was at least one source that
held that the dead could repent in hell prior to the day of the final
judgment (see here),
and one can find within rabbinic Judaism the view that those with
intermediate righteousness will be punished in Gehenna before they enter
Paradise (see here).
2. What especially got my attention, though, was what Deborah says
soon after, about the state of the people in hell. “For even if you
seek to do evil in hell after your death, you cannot, because the desire
for sinning will cease and the evil impulse will lose its power” (D.J.
Harrington’s translation). People cannot sin in hell, nor are they
influenced by their evil impulse, according to Deborah in Pseudo-Philo.
This passage reminded me of a debate that I heard a while back on Justin Brierley’s radio program, Unbelievable. You can find the debate here.
In this debate, James White was defending the view that the wicked dead
are consciously tormented in hell for all eternity, whereas a British
couple, Roger and Faith Forster, were arguing that the wicked dead are
annihilated. The Forsters, as I recall, were saying that the wicked
dead may suffer in hell for a while, but they are eventually
annihilated, and how long their suffering lasts is based on the
intensity of their sins. James White, however, raised an interesting
point. White said that the wicked are continuing to sin in hell, and
thus they are still earning God’s wrath. If that is the case, can the
wicked dead in hell ever pay their sentence then pass quietly into
annihilation? Even in hell, they are continuing to do things that earn
God’s wrath, that earn more years of suffering. It’s an unending
process, a vicious cycle!
Well, Pseudo-Philo offers a different view, even though I have my
doubts that Pseudo-Philo was an annihilationist (but I have not finished
the book). For Pseudo-Philo, those in hell do not sin or even want to
sin. They are still being punished for their sins that they committed
in this life, however. (UPDATE: I was looking through passages in Pseudo-Philo again, and, in
Pseudo-Philo 16, God talks about the destruction of the wicked.
Pseudo-Philo may have believed in the ultimate destruction of the
wicked, or perhaps he had a loose understanding of death and
destruction, one that would be consistent with eternal torment.)
According to the note at the bottom in my Charlesworth
Pseudepigrapha, “The idea that the evil impulse ceases after death is
unique to Ps-Philo.” Off and on, I have been reading a nineteenth
century book called The Ancient City,
which is by Numa Denis Fustel De Coulanges. The book is about the
religion, families, and cities of early Greece and Rome. The author
says that people were believed to have the same flaws after their death
that they had in life. The author is not discussing this in the context
of hell, but rather in the context of the ancient obligation to provide
food and sustenance to one’s ancestors, lest they become unhappy
ghosts. Still, his discussion stood out to me, in light of what I read
in Pseudo-Philo about whether the dead in hell have any moral agency.
3. A topic that I visit and revisit on this blog is soul sleep.
Soul sleep is the view that the dead are unconscious until they are
resurrected from the dead at or after Christ’s return. It contrasts
with the doctrine of the immortal soul, which holds that the soul of the
dead leaves the body immediately at death and is conscious some place,
whether in heaven, hell, the underworld, or someplace else. My
religious upbringing embraced soul sleep. I grew up in an offshoot of
Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, and the Seventh-Day
Adventist churches that I would later attend embraced soul sleep.
Believers in soul sleep often point out that there are numerous
references in the Bible in which death is called a sleep. Does that
mean that the dead are unconscious? I said in my post here:
“I think that believers in soul sleep do well to point out that death
in the New Testament is presented as a sleep. My question would be: Was
it possible in ancient literature to call death a sleep, while also
believing that the dead could be conscious? I would not be surprised if
such were the case.”
I would say that Pseudo-Philo may be a case in which death is called a
sleep, and yet the dead are still believed to be conscious. In
Pseudo-Philo 35, the dead are called those who have “fallen asleep”
(Harrington’s translation). And yet, the dead in Pseudo-Philo clearly
are conscious. There is a place in Pseudo-Philo, for example, in which
God informs the dead Israelites who failed to enter the Promised Land
that their descendants made it into the Promised Land. (I hope that God
was telling them this to encourage them rather than to rub it in their
face, but that is another issue.) In the ancient world, does calling
death a sleep imply a belief that the dead are unconscious? Not
necessarily. It could just be an expression, for dead bodies do appear
to sleep (i.e., their eyes are closed, they are lying down, etc.).
On the other hand, as I talk about in this post
from a while back, is this an either/or? In parts of the Hebrew Bible,
the dead do seem to be asleep ordinarily, but they can be disturbed and
woken up. We see this with Samuel in I Samuel 28, and with the kings
in Sheol in Isaiah 14. To what extent, if any, this corresponds with
Pseudo-Philo’s views, I do not know.
Another relevant issue would be the authorship of Pseudo-Philo: could
it contain different views? Could it be saying that the dead are
conscious in some places, while maintaining that they are asleep in
others? I would have to read more to know the answer to that. My
understanding right now is that Pseudo-Philo probably draws from
different traditions, but it also has common themes throughout. And
post-mortem reward and punishment is one of those common themes,
indicating (to me) that whoever put Pseudo-Philo together had a robust
belief in a conscious afterlife. My hunch is that, if he calls death a
sleep, that may indicate that he did not deem calling death a sleep to
be inconsistent with a conscious afterlife. There is always the
possibility of him including something that went against the overall
beliefs of the book, however, either on account of carelessness, or
Deeper Waters Podcast 10/21/2017: John Walton
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