Saturday, January 03, 2009

Book Review: Shades of Sheol

Shades of Sheol, Death and Afterlife in the Old Testament
by Philip S. Johnston

I have never thought of how I had presupposed my view of heaven and hell on the OT. It never occurred to me that the OT view of life after death is not only different, it is actually not very much discussed. Moreover, the topic of resurrection is almost absent, maybe except for Deuteronomy 32, 1 Samuel 2, Isaiah 26 and Daniel 12.

Philip Johnston has indeed provided us with a very indepth study on the topic in the OT: death and afterlife.

He first examined death in general in the milieu of the OT. This is quite interesting as he describe how the people of that time view death in its various forms: death and diversity, death as an end of life, death as a friend, death as an enemy, death as a separation, death as a reunion?, death by sacrifice, death by suicide, and more.

He then looked into the realm of the death i.e. the underworld, particular at this place called Sheol in the OT. He examines biblical verses to try to draw a picture as to what Sheol refers to, who goes there and what is thought to be there. It is clear that the OT has little interest in the underworld.

Next, he explored the inhabitants of the underworld and concludes that in the OT times, the dead were of minimal importance.

Finally, he looked into the afterlife: is there communion beyond death and is there resurrection from death. The first, he concluded that for most of the Israelites, hope remained firmly anchored in the present life but a few seem to glimpse some form of continued communion with God beyond life. On resurrection, they recognised that God has the power to bring life but it was rarely brought up or explored - the belief itself was enough to begin with.

The book was indeed a very good read, albeit tough at certain parts. It made me realise that the doctrine of life and death had actually developed through time as God revealed himself to us, and it might indeed continue to develop as we meditate more and more on Scripture and on this God-given life itself as it unfolds before our eyes.



  1. Would it not be better for you to think about life Pearlie? There is lots to be done while living. Nothing when we die. - Dave

  2. :) Hmm ... you know after going through the millennial maze, I guess the core issue is that none of us could really grasp the meaning of disembodied state or what "death" exactly is. I'm still downloading, supporting journals ... really "doing a marathon" now. Hope to make it on time. :P They (STM) may have given 6 months, but kiasus like us need a year or two to get the sorting out of millennial views done. That, and an "unlimited" word count. There's SO MUCH to write!!!

  3. Hi Pearlie, thanks for the review. I had wanted to read the book but didn't prioritize it. Good to read about your summary.