Zagros mountains, Northern Iraq substantial pollen deposits around skeletal remains dating between 80,000 and 60,000 BCE. Shanidar IV.
Assyrians, Sumerians, and Babylonians all believed
Religious Views of Life After DeathViews of life after death associated with the ancient and modern religious traditions of the world
Earliest Evidence of Human Belief in Survival of DeathArcheological EvidenceThe practice of intentional human burial, whichdates back to at least the Neanderthal period(300,00 - 30,000 BCE), provides prima facieevidence of the concept of death among earlyhumans.
The practice of ritualburials among laterNeanderthal and CroMagnon humans is primafacie evidence of theconcept of survival of deathamong early humans. Archeological Evidences of Ritual Burial 1. Unique positioning of the corpse (e.g., fetal position) 2. Painting the corpse or covering it with carved stones or plants. 3. Clothing and decorating corpses with jewelry (e.g., pendants, bracelets, necklaces, beads). 4. Burying corpses with other “grave goods” (e.g. jewelry, tools)
Between 1957-1961ColumbiaUniversity archeologistsexcavated nine Neanderthalskeletons in the caves of theZagros Mountains. Thecorpses date between 60,000and 80,000 BCE.Some of the bodies had beenburied with carved rocks and splitanimal bones around the grave.Substantial pollen deposits foundin the soil around one skeleton(Shanidar IV) suggest that thebody was buried with flowers. Zagros Mountains, Northern Iraq Shanidar Caves
Pre-historic humans exhibited a concept of death and belief in survival of death.
Written EvidenceEpic of Gilgamesh (circa 2000 BCE): After death, the human person goes to the netherworld as an etemmu (ghost or shade). The “shade” is a ghostly double of the human person, and the netherworld is a gloomy subterranean realm.
The idea of the continuedexistence of a person as aghost in the Netherworld wascommon throughoutMesopotamia by 2000 BCE.
Portions of the Hebrew Scriptures (circa 800-500 BCE)The dead go to “sheol,” but some are capable of being raisedas spirits or ghosts. (e.g., I Samuel 28)The Iliad and the Odyssey (circa 750-650 BCE )The dead go to Hades (the underworld). “There remainsthen even in the house of Hades a spirit and phantom ofthe dead, but there is no life within it.” (Iliad 23).
Significance of this Ancient Conception of the Afterlife The afterlife is not a desirable place. The conception of the afterlife is not a beatific one. Itisn’t a place of happiness and joy. It also isn’t a place of punishment.The prevalence of this negative concept of the afterlife in the ancient world undermines the idea that belief in an afterlife arose because people wanted a better life than they had during their earthly lives.If the afterlife does not distinguish between the just and theunjust, afterlife beliefs cannot be used as ways of enforcing morality and controlling people’s behavior.
Morally Relevant Conception of the Afterlife inMesopotamia and India around 1400 BCE….Mesopotamia - the 12th tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh.The quality of life in the Netherworld varies dependingon the quality of one’s earthly life.India – Rig Veda (of the sacred Vedas)The virtuous receive a new body after death and enter “theworld of the fathers” after death (a heavenly realm ofpleasure and joy occupied by one’s ancestors and thegods), but the wicked are cast into a dark pit.
With the exception of survival beliefs in Egypt and South Asia, the conception of the afterlife in theancient world prior to the first millenium BCE was not a positive one.
The Axial Period (800-200 BCE) Zoroaster (prophet of Zoroastrianism) BuddhaGreek philosophers Socrates, Plato and Aristotle Completion of the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) Composition of the Upanishads and Bhagavad Gita
Two Important Features of the Axial Period Ideal Self Beatific Conception of the Afterlife
The Rise of Soul The Socratic dialogues affirmed the existence of the self as anindividual soul, an immaterial, simple substance that intrinsically has immortality. The soul can enter into a divine world after death, otherwise it might be reborn in a new body on earth. The Upanishadic Hindu tradition in India affirmed the existence of a true self (atman) that transcends the individual self of our present experience. The Persian and Hebrew traditions affirmed the existence of an individual self that will survive death, first in the form of a disembodied soul and subsequently as a unity of soul and body.
Zoroastrianism affirmed a beatificafterlife for all worshippers of theone true God.The soul (urvan) of the dead persongoes to a heavenly realm afterdeath. The soul is rejoined to thebody at some time in the futurewhen God conquers all the forces ofevil.The wicked enter a place ofpunishment after death (hell), butexist there only for a limit time.All people are eventuallyredeemed.
By the 2nd century BCE, the doctrines of disembodied soul-survival and a future bodily resurrection from the dead are present in Judaism. These ideas eventually work their way into Christian and Islamic theology in the common era.
Asian ReligionThe Upanishads (circa800-500 BCE) and theBhagavad Gita (500-200BCE) explicitly affirm thedoctrine of reincarnation(samsara), roughly the ideathat souls are reborn in newbodies until the cycle ofdeath an rebirth is broken. Buddhism taught a similar doctrine of rebirth from its inception in the 6th century BCE.