Ideas Of The Future Life In The Pentateuch -- By: Thomas Stoughton Potwin

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 052:207 (Jul 1895)
Article: Ideas Of The Future Life In The Pentateuch
Author: Thomas Stoughton Potwin


Ideas Of The Future Life In The Pentateuch

Rev. Thomas Stoughton Potwin

Dr. 50:H. Mills, the learned Orientalist of Oxford, has thrown the great weight of his authority in support of the view that the early religion of Israel was “Sadducaic,” and indeed hardly allows that the Hebrews before the exile had any real belief in immortality.1 In Sanscrit studies Dr. Mills stands for a high antiquity of the literature and profound views in the authors; but when he turns his face toward the Hebrew, he seems to lose his happy power of insight and worthy appreciation.

It is not strange, perhaps, that the average reader of the English Bible, when he meets the words that the patriarchs “were gathered unto their people” (Gen. 49:29, 33), gets little, if any, idea beyond that they died as their fathers had died before them. Our modern notions of the future state are so inextricably interwoven with conceptions of reward and punishment, that any language which does not make account of these seems to be almost meaningless and unimportant. Men immersed in the life of to-day are insensibly drawn to interpret all literature by current ideas. But ignorance and confusion are quite sure to result. The whole matter of making Old Testament criticism seem rational and intelligible to men and women who are not scholars strikes upon this obstacle. But learned commentators and students of the world’s primitive literatures ought to be able to free themselves from such

limitations, and present us broad and liberal views. I hardly need say, however, that such has not always been the case.

It is conceded, of course, that the moral and religious discipline of the Hebrews was not based directly on sanctions drawn from the life after death. That was conducted theocratically in the present life under promises of present blessings or punitive judgments. This no doubt tended somewhat to limit speculation and minimize controversy regarding the future. But we shall make a great mistake if we infer from this the absence of opinions and expectations for the coming state. This is the first point to fix, the separation, in our search for beliefs in regard to future immortality, of all connection with direct promises and threatenings. What then are our sources of information as to these beliefs?

First, we have the direct sources, in what is said in the Pentateuch of the relations of God to man, what is said of the close of the lives of individuals, and what is said of Sheol as a place of the dead. Then we get indi...

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