By L. H. WOOD, Professor of Archeology, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

The question of what happens after death has been an intriguing one throughout the history of the world. From the day Adam looked on the still form of his first-born son, down to the present moment, man has asked, "Is death merely a vestibule, as it were, to a continued existence? Or, when the hand of the grim reaper closes the door on existence in this cold world of sorrow, toil, and care, is that the end of it all?" The Spirit of prophecy indicates that this is one of the three most important subjects for us as a people to study at this time.

"The only safety now is to search for the truth as revealed in the word of God, as for hid treasure. The subjects of the Sabbath, the nature of man, and the testimony of Jesus, are the great and important truths to be understood; these will prove as an anchor to hold God's people in these perilous times. But the mass of mankind despise the truths of God's word and prefer fables. 2 Thess, 2:10, 15. . , . The most licentious and corrupt are highly flattered by these satanic spirits, which they believe to be the spirits of their dead friends, and they are vainly puffed up in their fleshly minds."—"Testimonies," Vol. 1, p. 300.

In these days when man is being stirred by a strange spiritual hunger, when he is being disillusioned regarding his own ability to find the elixir of life, when he is reaching blindly for some form of spiritual leadership, what is more simple than to see him respond to the satanic suggestion that regardless of how he lives now, his life, as an immortal soul, will continue indefinitely, leading him to an ex­istence constantly more worthwhile? If the nature and destiny of man is listed as the second most important topic for study, per­haps it would be wise as a matter of orienta­tion to see what we can find concerning the attitude of primitive man on this topic.

History is always repeating itself. There­fore in the various concepts of this question during the early centuries there may be found helpful suggestions, first, as to the reasonable­ness of the Bible concept, and second, as to the spurious delusions to be expected as the controversy between good and evil reaches its climax. Only a very small percentage of earth's inhabitants count themselves to be atheists. Religious feeling of some kind is found to be inherent in the heart of man. W. M. Dixon, professor of English Literature in the University of Glasgow, speaking of this subject, recently said:

"If in the denial of any renewal of life beyond the grave, we do not virtually deny all life's present values, I do not know where to find a more resolute denial of them."—"The Human situation, p. 425.

It has been shown in previous articles that the Bible account is correct which speaks of the fall of man through the deceit of the evil one and the growth of a degraded conception of God that led to polytheism. Even so, here it will be shown that the Biblical conception of life after death has been corrupted till it virtually destroys the purpose for which this earthly life has existed; that is, as a period in which man may deliberately choose the character he desires, and thus his destiny.

It is interesting to note that none of the archeological remains found in the Near East indicate a belief that life was necessarily ter­minated by death. In Babylonian thought, consciousness after death survived in a sub­terranean place called Aralu, where all the dead were gathered without distinction. There they lay in a state of languishing in­activity under the stern guardianship of Erish­kigal—Ruler of the Great Place. Death was looked upon as a malevolent spirit who brought them to Aralu, where they were beyond the concern of the gods, food for their existence being supplied by their living friends. The warrior slain on the field of battle and prop­erly buried, was thought to fare sumptuously; but the ordinary individual, forgotten by his living friends, had to subsist on food thrown out in the gutter. No differentiation was made between good and evil. There was no hope of leaving Aralu except at the special inter­vention of Marduk, who had been granted the power of restoring the dead to life. Such views remained practically constant through­out all periods of Babylonian and Assyrian history. (See Morris Jastrow, "Hebrew and Babylonian Traditions," pp. 196-253.)

As early as the fourth dynasty in Egypt, differentiation was made between body (khat), soul (ba), and spirit (khu). While the phys­ical body did not leave the tomb, the Egyptians thought of the soul and spirit as passing from the body and dwelling with the beatified. A fifth-dynasty inscription reads: "The soul to heaven, the body to earth." The preservation of the body was thought necessary for the welfare of the lea or one's second self, and for the development of a new body. As Isis protected the body of Osiris by formulas given her by the great spirit Thoth, the dead were protected by inscriptions on their coffins, or by amulets, etc., that would have the same effect as the words of Thoth if accompanied by certain symbolical ceremonies and prayers all done in harmony with priestly ordinances. These assisted the body in becoming a Sahu, or spiritual body which had the ability to pass out of the tomb and dwell with the gods.

In one of the pyramid inscriptions, Unas of the fifth dynasty says he rises as a ba in the form of the god who feedeth on his fathers and mothers. He became stronger than the god, the first-born of all the first­born, having the wisdom of every god, his existence becoming everlasting, feeding on the gods and devouring men. Having reached the Elysian Fields, he planned to transform his hair, mouth, ears, nose, eyes, and others of his members into the counterparts of some god, till he could say: "There is no member of my body which is not the member of a god. The god Thoth shielded my body alto­gether, and I am Ra day by day." (See E. A. Wallis Budge, "Egyptian Religion," pp. i66­198.) How easy it was for one who during his lifetime here on earth coveted power and adoration, to yield to the satanic suggestion of exaltation ! It all sounds strangely familiar to the boast made by the evil one himself :

"I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God : I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north : I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High." Isa. 14:13, 14.

The spirit and thought of primitive man may be studied today among some of the native tribes of the South Seas who have been cut off from the rest of the world by geo­graphical barriers. J. G. Frazer, in his book, "The Belief in Immortality" (Macmillan, 1913), has made a very careful study of these races, and finds it fundamentally true that there is a universal belief in existence in a disembodied state, with unabated or even greatly increased powers for good or evil. Many believe that there is a place of sojourn common to both good and bad where the dead live, and from which they may visit members of the living for purposes of help or hin­drance. This very belief is in many cases the cause of intertribal warfare, appeasing the angry ghosts of friends who have been bewitched by members of other tribes.

Among many tribes differentiation is made between the aristocracy and the common peo­ple, but not between the good and the bad. The leaders in this life were to be the leaders in the life to come, and to have the opportunity of returning to the land of the living by night, and giving instruction through dreams. Among a very few of the islands in Micro­nesia it was found that the destiny of the soul depended on its world conduct, while in others it depended upon the spirit's ability to slip by the watchman through phenomenal ability at dancing !

Thus is clearly seen the attempt of Satan to draw the attention of mankind away from belief in regeneration and turning away from sin, to that of the old adage that "might makes right:" that destiny is determined by one's prowess as a soldier; that heaven is a place where the conqueror becomes supreme, and eternal in existence. It is but the gradual unfolding in unbroken continuity of the germ of evil planted in the hearts of Adam and Eve, "Ye shall not surely die," but "shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." The grave, a place of quiet, undisturbed rest, where the child of God awaits the call of the Life-giver, has been turned into a purgatory, a place where women, children, and cowards are roasted and fed to the demons guarding the place of no return, an abysmal region where man's trickery and deceit may possibly make way for him to be reincarnated in some ani­mal or plant life, and thus avoid total extinc­tion. It is all salvation by the works one does, usually in demonstration of personal prowess.

As Israel set before the world the revela­tions of God concerning His desire for the people of the earth, the priests of the various polytheistic religions in contact with Israel changed the tenets of their religion to be as near like the true as possible, and still reject the salvation offered by Christ. When Israel was given the sanctuary service with all of its types representing Christ in His various capacities, Egypt was proclaiming Osiris as the god of the dead, before whom every soul had to appear in judgment and have his heart weighed against the feather of truth. Before forty-two judges the soul had to make its dec­laration of good deeds, and demonstrate that he had become an Osiris here on earth. For unless this was done, he could not dwell with Osiris in the hereafter. By his own sheer strength had he done all these things, and so was now fit to associate with the gods. The grace and assistance of a higher power did not enter into the question.

Today we face a disillusioned world, tired of strife and turmoil, gravely questioning the future. The Spirit of God is pleading for the last time with the hearts of men, as Satan is preparing his last delusions which will lead, if possible, the very elect into his net. Arche­ology and ethnology have shown how far amiss the thoughts of man's heart have led him. By a proper understanding of the state of the dead and of the life hereafter, many a soul may yet be redeemed from the bondage and fear that naturally grip his heart as he faces the uncertain future. May we be chan­nels of light and courage in such an hour as this.

dl. So long as we live and work in this imper­fect world, just so long will we have to work with imperfect people. Idealism is lovely, yes, essential. But in this realistically finite world we must reckon with marked human limita­tions. In fact, we all have them ourselves.


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By L. H. WOOD, Professor of Archeology, S.D.A. Theological Seminary

June 1940

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