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The Angel of Death in Semitic Tradition by Joseph H. Marcus
DEATH AND ITS SEMITIC TRADITIONS BY JOSEPH H. MARCUS, M.D.
IN the Bible death is viewed under form of an angel sent from God, a being deprived of all voluntary power. Throughout the Bible are mentioned the following: The “angel of the Lord" smites 185,000 men in the Assyrian camp; "the destroyer" kills the firstborn of the Egyptians, and the destroying angel rages among the people of Jerusalem. In I Chronicles xxi:15 the “angel of the Lord" is seen by David standing “between the earth and the heaven, having a drawn sword in his hand stretched out over Jerusalem.” Job uses the general term “destroyer,” which tradition has identified with “destroying angels," and Proverbs xvi:14 uses the term the “angels of death." The rabbis found the angel of death mentioned in Psalms lxxxix:45, where the translation reads: “There is no man who lives and, seeing the angel of death, can deliver his soul from his hand." Ecclesiastes viii:4 is thus explained in the passage: “One may not escape the angel of death, nor say to him, ‘Wait until I put my affairs in order,’ or ‘There is my son, my slave; take him in my stead.'"
The angel of death occurs very frequently in rabbinical literature. Where the angel of death appears there is no remedy. If one who has sinned has confessed his fault, the angel of death may not touch him. By acts of benevolence, the anger of the angel of death is overcome; when one fails to perform such acts, an angel of death will make his appearance. God commands the angel of death. As soon as he has received commission to destroy, he does not discriminate between the good and the bad. In the city of Luz, the angel of death has no power, and when the old people are prepared for death they leave the immediate precincts of the city, and die in the outskirts. A legend to the same effect existed in Ireland in the Middle Ages.
The angel of death was created by God on the first day. His dwelling place is in heaven, whence he reaches the earth in eight flights, whereas pestilence reaches it in one day. He has twelve Wings. “Over all people have I surrendered to thee the power," said God to the angel of death, “only not over this one which has received freedom from death through the law." It is said of the angel of death that he is full of eyes. In the hour of death he stands at the head of the departing one with a drawn sword, to which clings a drop of gall. As soon as the dying individual sees the angel he is seized with a convulsion, opens his mouth, whereupon the angel of death hurls the drop into it. This drop is the cause of his death, and he turns putrid and his face becomes yellow. The expression “the taste of death" originated in the conception that death was caused by a drop of gall. The soul is said to escape through the mouth or, as is mentioned elsewhere, through the throat; therefore the angel of death stands at the head of the patient. When the soul forsakes the body its voice travels from one end of the world to the other, but it is not heard. The drawn sword of the angel of death indicates that the angel of death was regarded as a warrior who kills off the children of men. “Man, on the day of his demise, falls down before the angel of death, like the beast before the slayer."
In later representations the knife sometimes is substituted for the sword, and reference is also made to the cord of the angel, which indicates death by throttling. Moses said to God, “I fear the cord of the angel of death.” Of the four methods of execution in this period, three are named in connection with the angel of death: burning (by pouring hot lead—the drop of gall), slaughtering (by beheading), and throttling. The angel administers the particular punishment which God has specified for the commission of sin. A peculiar mantle belongs to the equipment of the destroyer. The angel of death assumes the particular form which will best serve his purpose; e.g. he appears to a scholar in the form of a beggar imploring pity. "When pestilence rages in the town, walk not in the middle of the street, because the angel of death (pestilence) strides there; if peace reigns in the town, walk not on the edges of the road. When pestilence rages in the town go not alone to the synagogue, because there the angel of death stores his implements. If the dogs howl, the angel of death has entered the city; if they make sport, the prophet Elijah has come." The “destroyer” (Satan Hamashhit) in a daily prayer is represented as the angel of death.
There are six angels of death: Gabriel over kings; Kapziel over youths; Mashbir over animals; Mashhit over children; Af and Hemah over man and beast.
When the Messiah comes all the dead will arise, and there will be an end to death, for the angel of death will be himself destroyed by the Messiah. The last enemy that shall be annihilated is death; the same idea seems to be expressed in the book of Jubilee, 29 and xxiii: “And they shall fulfill all their days in peace and joy and shall live on, since there will be no Satan and no evil to destroy them.” The angel of death, who is identified with Satan, immediately after his creation had a dispute with God as to the light of the Messiah. When Eve touched the tree of knowledge she perceived the angel of death and thought: “Now I shall die, and God will create another wife for Adam." Adam also had a conversation with the angel of death.
It was Moses who most often had dealings with the angel. At the rebellion of Korah, Moses saw him. It was the angel of death in the form of pestilence which snatched away 15,000 every year during the wandering in the wilderness. When the angel came to Moses and said, “Give me thy soul," Moses called to him, “Where I sit thou hast no right to stand," and the angel retired in shame and reported the incident to God. Again God ordered him to bring the soul of Moses. The angel went and, not finding him, inquired of the sea, the mountains, and of the valleys; but they knew nothing of him. Really Moses did not die through the angel of death, but through God’s kiss (bineshkah); ie. God threw his soul out of his body. Legend seizes upon the story of Moses' struggle with the angel of death, and expands it at length.
Solomon once noticed that the angel of death was grieved. When questioned as to the cause of his sorrow he answered: “I am requested to depart with your two beautiful scribes." Solomon at once charged the demons to convey his scribes to Luz, where the angel of death could not gain access. When they were near to the city, however, both perished. The angel laughed on the next day. whereupon Solomon inquired as to the cause of his mirth. "Because," answered the angel, “thou dist send the youths thither, whence I was commanded to bring them." In the next world God will permit the angel of death to fight with Pharaoh, Sisera, and Sennacherib.
The teaching of God shields one from the power of the angel of death. The children of Israel have accepted the Torah (the five books of Moses— Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy) only that the angel may exert no power over them. Since death can only result from sin, it cannot, of course, come to those who live in accord with the Torah. Although the sentence of death once pronounced could never be recalled, yet the angel may not visit teachers of the law; he is, on the contrary, their friend, and even imparts knowledge to them.
Teachers of the law of the fourth century associate rather familiarly with him. When he appeared to one on the street, the instructor reproached him with rushing upon him as upon a beast; whereupon the angel called upon him at his house. To another he granted a respite of thirty days, that he might put his affairs in order before entering the next world. To a third he had no entry, because he was powerless to interrupt the study of the Talmud. To a fourth he displayed a rod of fire, whereby he is recognized as the angel of death. Oftentimes does he resort to cunning means to approach and seize his victims.
The death of Joshua ben Levi, in particular, is enhanced with a web of fable. When the time came for him to die and the proverbial angel of death appeared to him, he demanded to be shown his place in paradise. When the angel had consented to this, he demanded his knife that the angel may not frighten him on the way. This request was also granted him; and Joshua sprang with the knife over the wall of paradise; the angel, who is not allowed to enter paradise, caught hold of the end of his raiment. Joshua swore that he would not come out, and God declared that he should not leave paradise unless he was absolved from his oath; if not absolved, he was to remain. The angel of death then demanded back his knife, but Joshua refused. At this point a heavenly voice rang out: Give him back the knife because the children of men have need of it.”
In Arabic Literature, the angel of death is spoken of in the Koran, and is called by the Mohammedans, Azrael. “When death was created by God, he, on account of his terrible power, had to be put in seventy thousand chains of a thousand years’ journey’s length each, and behind millions of barriers. When Azrael was placed in charge of him, and saw him he called the angels to look at him; and when he, at God’s command, spread his wings over him and opened all his eyes, the angels fainted away, and remained unconscious for a thousand years. Azrael was given all the powers of the heavens to enable him to master death."
Azrael reaches from one end of the world to the other and has seventy thousand feet and four thousand wings. His entire body is covered with eyes and with tongues as numerous as the living creatures on earth. When any of these latter die a corresponding eye bulges forth. At the end of the world all these eyes, excepting eight, are plucked out by God; those of Israfil, Michael, Gabriel, Azrael, and the four “Hayyot” of the heavenly chariot alone remaining. The times of the death of persons is made known to the angel of death through the roll-book in his possession, showing the white stripe around the name of the person doomed. Forty days before death, however, a leaf falls from the tree of life, under the throne of God, into the lap of Azrael, who is seated in the seventh heaven, thus announcing the death.
"When people lament and weep too much over the departed person the angel of death shall stand at the door, and say: ‘What cause have you for such violent complaint? I am only the messenger of God and have done His bidding, and if you rebel against Him I shall return often and take one of your house.’ When a righteous person dies, thn angel comes with a host of good angels carrying sweet odors of paradise and makes the soul leave the body like a drop taken out of a bucket of water. When a wicked person dies the angel of death comes in the company of demons, who pull the soul out as with iron spits."
The ancient Hebrews expected to be gathered to, or sleep with, their fathers when death befell them. and feared only the idea of going down to Sheol (pit or destruction) mourning. To sleep and be at rest was the desire of the distressed. To die in “a good old age” was regarded as a blessing; to be cut off from the land of the living in the noontide of life was dreaded and looked upon as a calamity. Only at times the stings of mortality and the stroke of Sheol became objects of horror, from which the Lord was petitioned to redeem men. Nowhere, however, in the Bible is death regarded as a genuine evil, except from the point of view that man, being of divine origin, should have had, like any other heavenly being, access to the tree of life, and have existed forever. Accordingly, the eschatological view found expression in such phrases as that “death shall be swallowed up forever” and “the dead shall rise again.” Satan is called in the New Testament “a murderer from the beginning” and the “destroyer.” Death is conceived of as a person who has charge of the shades in the nether world. He is their general. The following is a description of death as one of God’s messengers:
“When Abraham had refused to let the archangel Michael take his soul, God said to the latter: ‘Call Me hither, death of the shameless countenance and pitiless look.’ Death shivered and trembled at being called to come before the Lord, when God said to him: ‘Come hither, thou bitter and fierce name of the world, hide thy fierceness, cover thy corruption, and cast away thy bitterness from thee, and put on thy beauty and all thy glory and go down to Abraham, My friend, and bring him to Me.’ Death put on a robe of great brightness, and made his appearance like the sun, and became fair and beautiful above the sons of men, assuming the form of an archangel, his cheeks flaming with fire, and went to Abraham, a sweet odor and a flash of light, announcing his coming to the patriarch, who took him to be an archangel, the chief captain of God, and welcomed him as the purveyor of light and the most glorious helper. But death rejoined: ‘Most righteous Abraham, I am the bitter drop of death,’ and when asked for his errand he said: 'For thy holy soul have I come.’ Abraham again refused to relinquish his soul. Death followed him into his chamber, and when Abraham laid down upon his couch he sat by his feet, and would not depart, notwithstanding all the entreaties of the patriarch to let him live.
“On inquiry of the patriarch, he told him that only because of his great righteousness, his hospitality to man, and his love toward God, which became a crown of glory upon his head, did he approach him in such beauty and glory; to sinners he came in fierceness, and corruption, and bitterness. ‘Show me these,’ asked Abraham, but death replied, ‘Thou canst not stand these looks.’ Thereto Abraham answered: ‘By means of the name of the living God, I shall be able to look.’ So death put off his sunlike glory and put on his tyrant-like robe and made his appearance fiercer than all wild beasts, and filthier than all filth, and he showed Abraham seven fiery serpents’ heads and fourteen faces: (1) of flaming fire, (2) of darkness, (3) of a viper, (4) of a precipice, (5) of a fierce asp, (6) of a terrible lion, (7) of a cerastes, (8) of a basilisk, (9) of a fiery scimitar, (10) of terrible lightning and thunder, (11) of a stormy sea, (12) of a rushing river, (13) of a three-headed serpent, and (14) of a cup filled with poison; and then he showed him every mortal disease emanating from the odor of death. Seven thousand man-servants and maid-servants of Abraham died from the effect of this odor and sight, so that Abraham implored death to hide his fierceness and to put on his former garb of beauty. Death complied with his request, and joined Abraham in a prayer to God to restore to life those who had died so suddenly by his fierceness, and the prayer was granted.
“Abraham, however, would not consent to surrender his soul until death had explained to him the different forms and faces he had displayed to him in all their fierceness; whereupon death answered that the seven heads of the serpents indicated the seven ages during which he is to destroy all men, rich and poor, and to bring them to the bottom of Hades. Because people die by fire, by falling from precipices, by the sword, by rushing rivers, on the raging sea, and in storms of lightning, by wild beasts, or cups of poison, he assumed all those aspects. Finally, he spoke of the seventy-two kinds of death, and of the death of the holy. Then death took the right hand of Abraham, and his soul clung to him."
Death appears here as the personification of psychic evil, with numerous traits, but not of moral evil.
There are different views among Jews concerning death, and its cause. Some assign it to Adam's first sin in partaking of the forbidden fruit. This point of view is somewhat modified by the rabbis, who regard death as the fruit of personal sin, maintaining that, like Adam, each person dies on account of his own sin, as “there is not a righteous man that doeth good sinneth not" (Ecclesiastes vii:20). Still the rabbis speak of a number of “saintly men who died without sin and only in consequence of the poison of the serpent”: e.g. Benjamin, Amram, Jesse, the father of David, and Chileab, the son of David. Another view is that death was ordained at creation, and that Adam by his sin merely hastened death. According to others, Adam was destined to live forever and not to taste death, but, owing to the fact that men like Hiram of Tyre and Nebuchadnezzar wanted to be worshiped as Gods, God decreed death for man. The opinion is also expressed that God would have annihilated the power of the angel of death over Israel after its acceptance of the law, but for the fact that the decree could not be altered. From the point of view that sin precedes and causes death in each person, the Talmud designates special reasons for the death of innocent children.
Modes of Death—There are 903 distinct deaths. The hardest is by asthma, and the easiest is called “death by the kiss” which is “like drawing hair out of milk," that is the interpretation of “by the mouth of the Lord." Six persons are known to have died in this manner; namely, the three patriarchs, and Moses, Aaron, and Miriam.
Death coming after an illness of five days' duration is considered an ordinary occurrence; after four days a reprimand from heaven; after three days a severe rebuke; after one day, a sudden one, or, according to some, an apoplectic one. To die before reaching the age of fifty is designated as “being cut off.” Sixty years is a ripe age; seventy is old age, and eighty is advanced age.
Many allegorical tales are related in rabbinical literature regarding the communication of the dead with the living. A pious man, being censured by his wife for giving away a diner (a Roman silver coin worth about fourteen cents) to a mendicant in time of famine, went to sleep in the cemetery. It was New Year’s eve, and he overheard the spirits of two women gossiping. One of them proposed to fly and listen behind the curtain in the judgment chamber to the promulgation of the future visitations in the world. The other spirit excused herself, saying: “I cannot accompany thee because I am buried in reed matting; go thyself and come back and tell me what thou hearest.” Presently her companion returned and reported: “I heard that the hail will kill whatever is planted in the first rainy season." The pious man planted in the second rainy season. The following year he again went to sleep in the cemetery on New Year's eve, and overheard a similar conversation, gaining the information that whatever was planted in the second season would be consumed by blight. The pious man planted during the first season. His wife was curious to know how he managed to evade the calamitous visitations, and he, being pressed, related his story. A few days later the woman had a quarrel with the mother of the second spirit, and abused her for giving her daughter an indecent burial. The third year the pious husband again sought to obtain information regarding future crops. The second spirit said: “Hush, companion! Our former conversation was overheard by mortal man."
The dead are supposed to take an active interest in worldly affairs. The assertion of one authority that “the dead know not anything” is interpreted, “the wicked who are considered dead while yet alive." R. Isaac said, “The sting of a worm to the dead is like the pricking of a pin to the flesh of the living." The dead are very sensitive. One must not tell tales around the deathbed of a scholar. Inasmuch, however, as the dead are exempt from performing the precepts, they feel slighted if such performance should take place in their presence by the living, as it would be like “mocking the poor." In burying a scholar it was customary to deposit in his coffin a scroll that was unfit for reading.
The practice of praying for the intercession of the dead is of early origin. Caleb on entering Hebron visited the cave of Machpelah and prayed to the patriarch to be saved from cooperating in the conspiracy of the scouts sent by Moses to make a report of the conditions existing in the Holy Land. The Talmud mentions the custom of visiting the cemetery to request the dead to pray for the living. The noise of the soul’s departure from the body reverberates through the world from one end to the other, yet the sound is unheard. Prior to the exit of the soul it sees the Shekinah (the majestic presence or manifestation of God which has descended to “dwell” among man). The soul after death is in the same condition as it is in life when one dreams. Until the body is entirely consumed the soul hovers over the grave. Samuel said: “If one wants to have a taste of death, let him sleep with his shoes on.” “And God saw everything that He made, and behold it was very good." This includes death. “The day of death (is better) than the day of one’s birth” is explained to mean that death tells of the meritorious life of the departed; it is like the vessel entering port laden with goods. The great ones of each generation must die to make room for the greatness of successors; “the righteous themselves ask for death as a favor.” The Zohar (a commentary on the Pentateuch) calls death a festal day, and the day upon which Adam died was made a holiday.
The windows of the death chamber should be opened to allow the spirits to enter and to depart. The angel of death is supposed to wipe his bloody knife in water near the dead; hence all water of the adjacent houses must be emptied on the ground. As the “shedim” (demons) are supposed to follow the dead or to wander around their graves, those who follow a funeral cortege must wash their hands on their return, before entering a house; but should not dip them in a river. A special lavatory for this purpose is usually provided at the cemetery. On returning from the funeral one should sit down and rest on the way several times, so as to drive away the spirits that follow them. The board upon which the dead is cleansed must not be turned over. One should not visit the same grave twice during one day, nor sleep in a cemetery, nor look closely upon the face of a deceased person, nor kiss the dead, not even when a near relative.
A common superstition is current that if the shadow of one’s head is invisible against the wall in a house where a light is burning on Hosha’na Rabbah (the popular name for the seventh day for the feast of Booths) eve, it is a sign that the person will perish within the year. If visible, he will live. R. Ammi says, “If one wishes to ascertain whether he will live during the following year, let him, during the ten penitential days, burn a candle in his house where no wind can extinguish it. If it is not blown out he will live; otherwise not." To discover whether the husband or the wife will die first, calculate the numerical value of the letters in the names of both. If the amount is even the man will expire first; if odd, the woman.
Fanaticisms relative to death in connection with dreams are quite numerous. One of them, the vision of a scroll in the ark, presages death, as the demise of Aaron follows the description of the tablets placed in the ark. A dying child may be released from the grip of dissolution, if nominally sold by the parents to a friend for a shekel. A change of name may save one from mortality. The removal of a feather pillow from beneath the bed of a dying individual aids the soul in an easier departure. Some rabbis objected to this custom, on the supposition that it disturbed the patient and so hastened his demise. The iron keys of the synagogue, if placed under the pillows, are believed to accomplish the same effects. Announcement of a death should be made in an indirect manner, and it was for this reason that the shofar (the ancient ritual horn of Israel) was blown in talmudical times when death occurred in a town. The beadle who summons the congregation to early morning prayer and devotion, by knocking three times on their doors or windows, announces a death by reducing the number of raps to two. It is a happy omen to die with a smile on the face, or to die on one’s birthday. Rain on the day of one’s funeral is a sign of pity and condonation toward the departed. It is habitual to bend the thumb of the corpse so that the entire hand resembles the word “Shaddai” (Almighty), and to bind it in this position with certain fringes. A shard is placed over the eyes, a little stick in the hands, a piece of metal on the body, a small bag of earth from the Holy Land under the head, and a three-toothed wooden fork in the hand, to enable the dead to excavate a subterranean passage to the Holy Land on the day of resurrection, when all the Jewish dead Will arise in Palestine. A towel is hung up and a glass of water placed next to it, so that the soul might bathe when it returns to the body.
To demons were ascribed the various diseases, particularly such as affect the brain and the inner parts. In the main they were perpetrators of great harm to the body. There were a great many sup~ posed to exist, some of which are mentioned below. “Shabriri” (lit. dazzling glare), the demon of blindness, who rests on uncovered water at night and strikes those with blindness who drink of it; “Ruah Zeradah,” the spirit of catalepsy; “Ruah Zelatah," the spirit of headache, hovering on palm trees; “Ben Nefilim," the demon epilepsy; “Ruah Kezarit,” the spirit of nightmare; “Ruah Tezazit," the spirit of delirious fever and madness; “Ruah Zara’at,” the spirit of leprosy; “Ruah Kardeyakos,” the spirit of melancholy; “Shibetta,” a female demon, bringing croup to persons, especially to children, who do not wash their hands in the morn; “Bat Horin,” a demon bringing a disease of the eye to one who fails to wash his hands after meals; “Kuda,” a demon who attacks women in childbirth; “Eshshata,” the demon of fever; “Ruah Zenunim,” the spirit of sexual desire; “She’iyyah,” an ox-like fiend dwelling in desolate homes; “Puta” or “Pura,” the spirit of forgetfulness; “Ben Temalyon," the demon of St. Vitus’ dance.
These demons were supposed to enter the body and cause the disease, while overpowering or “seizing” the victim; hence the ordinary cognomen for “epileptic” is “nikpeh.” The synonymous Greek word means the state of being in the authority of exorcism. To cure such diseases it was necessary to draw out the evil demons by certain incantations and talismanic-performances. Josephus, who speaks of friends as “spectres of the wicked which enter into men that are alive and kill them," but which can be driven out by a certain root, witnessed such a performance in the presence of the Emperor Vespasian, and attributed its inception to King Solomon.
In the Book of Wisdom, Solomon claims to have received from God power over the demons. The same potency of curing by demonism such diseases as dumbness, blindness, epilepsy, mania, and fever were exercised by Jesus and His disciples, as also by their Jewish contemporaries. Occasionally a demon is called “Satan”: “Stand not in the way of an ox when coming from the pasture, for Satan dances between his horns.” The name “mashhit” (destroyer) seems to refer to the head of the demons in the sentence: “When permission is given to the destroyer to do harm, he no longer discriminates between the righteous and the wicked.” The queen of demons is Lilith, pictured with wings, and long flowing hair, and called the “mother of Ahriman.” “When Adam, doing penance for his sin. separated from Eve for 130 years, he, by impure desire, caused the earth to be filled with demons and evil spirits." And it was Lilith, as Adam’s concubine, who bore them.
Birds as Souls—In Psalm xi:1 the soul is compared to a bird: “Flee as a bird to the mountain." As living beings that move and fly through the air birds have suggested themselves at all times and in all lands to primitive man as images of the soul, the name for which in most languages is taken from breathing (“nefesh," “neshamah” = “anima” or "psyche"); the soul was represented in the form of a butterfly, as illustrated by the tombs of the early Christians. The soul of the king of Egypt was pictured on the monuments as a bird, and the genius of the kings of Persia and Assyria retained the wings of the bird. The Arabs also regarded the soul as a bird, and believed that after death it hovered at times around the body, screeching like an owl. This view was shared by the Jews. They placed credence in the supposition that all souls are gathered in a great cage or treasure house in heaven, a columbarian, called “Guf”; and so Rabbi Asi taught that the Messiah, the son of David, cannot come until all the souls have been taken out of the Guf, and have gone through human bodies. In the Greek Baruch Apocalypse, Baruch sees in the fourth heaven a lake full of birds, and is told that these are the souls of the righteous, who continually sing the praise of God. These stories are repeated by Christian saints who affirm having seen the souls of the devout in paradise. In the zohar the sparrow and the swallow, spoken of in Psalm lxxxiv:3, are compared to the souls of the religious which dwell in paradise. Three times a year, they rise upon the walls of paradise and sing the praise of the Master of the universe, whereupon they are ushered into the palace where the Messiah is secreted, called the great “Souls' Nest." They are adorned with crowns in his honor when he appears to them, and from beneath the altar of heaven, where dwell the souls of the pious, they prepare the erection of the temple of the future. It is customary among certain Jews, when a death occurs, to open a window in order that the soul may fly away like a bird.
As previously recounted, the dead are assigned to a place called “Sheol,” which connotes a locality where those that had passed away were believed to be congregated. Jacob, refusing to be comforted at the supposed death of Joseph, exclaims: “I shall go down to my son a mourner unto Sheol." (Genesis xxxvii:36) Sheol is underneath the earth and is very deep and it marks the point at the greatest possible distance from heaven. The dead descend or are made to go down into it; the revived ascend or are brought and lifted up from it. Sometimes the living are hurled into Sheol before they would naturally have been claimed by it, in which cases the earth is described as “opening her mouth." Sheol is spoken of as a land, but ordinarily it is a place with gates, and seems to have been viewed as divided into compartments with “farthest corners” one beneath the other. Here the dead meet without distinction of rank or condition—the affluent and the indigent, the pious and the iniquitous, the master and the bond servant—if the portrayal in Job iii refers, as most probably it does, to Sheol. The dead continue after a fashion, their mundane existence. Jacob would mourn there (Genesis xxxvii:35, xlii:38); David abides there in peace (I Kings ii:6); the warriors have their weapons there with them (Ezekiel xxxii :27), yet they are mere shadows.
The following extracts, also, are quoted in the Bible: The dead merely exist without knowledge or feeling. Silence reigneth supreme, and oblivion is the lot of them that enter therein. Hence it is known also as “Dumah,” the abode of silence, and there God is not praised. Still on certain extraordinary occasions the dwellers in Sheol are credited with the gift of making known their feelings of rejoicing at the downfall of the enemy. Sleep is their usual lot. Sheol is a horrible, dreary, dark, disorderly land, yet is the appointed house for all the living. Return from Sheol is not expected; it is described as man’s eternal house. It is “dust”; hence in the Shemonah Esreh, in benediction No. II, the dead are spoken of as “sleepers in the dust.” God's rulership over it is recognized. Hence He has the power to save the pious therefrom. Yet Sheol is never satiated; she “makes wide her soul," i.e. increases her desire and capacity. In these passages Sheol is personified; it is described also as a pasture for sheep with death as the shepherd. From Sheol, Samuel is cited by the Witch of En-dor.
As a rule Sheol will not give up its own; they are held captives with ropes. The realm of the dead is in the earth, the gateway being in the west. It is the "land without return." It is a dark place filled with dust, but it contains a palace for the divine ruler of this shadow realm. Seven gates guard successively the approach to this land, at the first of which is a watchman. A stream of water flows through Sheol.
This concept of Sheol reverts to primitive animistic conceits. With the body in the grave remains connected the soul, as in dreams; the dead buried in family graves continue to have communion. Sheol is practically a family grave on a large scale. Graves were protected by gates and bolts; therefore Sheol was likewise similarly guarded. The separate compartments are devised for the separate clans, sects, and families, national and blood distinctions continuing in effect after death. That Sheol is described as subterranean is but an application of the custom of hewing out of the rocks, passages leading downward for burial purposes.
There is no scriptural basis for the belief in retribution for the soul after death; this was supplied by the Babylonians and the Persians, and received the Jewish coloring from the word “gehinnom" (the valley of Hinnom) made detestable by the fires of the Moloch. The smoke of the subterranean fires came up through the earth in this place; there are cast the spirits of sinners and blasphemers and of those who work wickedness and pervert the words of the prophets. Gehinnom has a double purpose—annihilation and eternal pains. Gehinnom has seven names: “Sheol,” “Abbadon,” “Pit of Corruption," “Horrible Pit,” “Mire of Clay," “Shadow of Death,” “Nether parts of the Earth.” It is also called “Tophet.” It has seven divisions, one under the other. According to rabbinical traditions, thieves are condemned to fill an unfillable tank; the impure sink into a quagmire; those that sinned with the tongue are suspended thereby; some are suspended by the feet, hair, or eyelids; others eat hot coals and sand; others are devoured by worms, or are placed alternately in snow and fire. These conceptions are ascribed chiefly to Joshua ben Levi, and have their parallel in the apocalyptic literature appropriated by the Christian church. The punishment of the evil endures twelve months, according to R. Akiba; the generation of the flood will in time be released, but the Punishment of those who have led others into heresy, or dealt treacherously against the law, will never cease.
The Garden of Eden is called the “Garden of Righteousness,” being no longer an earthly paradise. It is above the earth, and its inhabitants are clothed with garments of light and eternal life, and eat of the tree of life in the company of the Lord and HIS anointed. In Slavonic Enoch its place is In the third heaven; its four streams pour out honey and milk, oil and wine. It is prepared for the "righteous who suffer innocently who do works of benevolence and walk without blame before God.” It has been created since the beginning of the world, and will appear suddenly at the Judgment Day in all its glory. The pious dwell in those heights where they enjoy the sights Of the heavenly “Hayyot" (previously mentioned) that carry God's throne. There are seven divisions for the good which shine like the sun, the moon, the firmament, lightnings, torches, and lilies. Each Of these divisions is placed differently before the face of God. Each of the holy will have a mansion, and God will walk with them and lead them in a dance. As the wicked have a sevenfold pain, the righteous have a sevenfold joy.
“In the world to come there is neither eating. drinking, nor procreation, neither barter nor envy, neither hatred nor strife; but the holy sit with their crowns on their heads and enjoy the splendor of the Shekinah, for it is said: ‘And they saw God, and they did eat and drink'; that is, their seeing God was meat and drink to them.”
Regarding death, the philosophical attitude of the Jew is beautifully expressed in the following narrative:
During a brief absence of Rabbi Meir from home two of his sons died. Their mother, concealing her profound anguish, awaited the return of the father. He soon arrived, and after the customary exchange of greetings and a fond embrace she said to him: “My husband, some time ago, two jewels of inestimable value were placed in my charge for safekeeping. He who left them with me called for them this day, and I delivered them into his hands." “That is right," said the Rabbi, in an approving manner, “and I am very happy that you acted accordingly. Furthermore, we must always return cheerfully and loyally those things that are left in our care for protection." Shortly following this exchange in words the rabbi asked for his boys, and the heartbroken mother, taking him by the hand, gently guided him to the chamber of death. Meir gazed upon his sons and, realizing the truth, wept bitterly. “Weep not, beloved husband," said his noble wife; “didst thou not say to me we must return gladly when ’tis called for, and all that has been placed in our care for safekeeping and protection? God gave us these jewels. He left them with us for a time, and we gloried in their possession, but now that He calls for His own we should not repine.”
The few following paragraphs are taken from the Talmud, which is replete with wit and wisdom:
The question is asked, “Why is a man born with his hands clinched, but has his hands wide open in death?” And the answer is: “On entering the world man desires to grasp everything, but when leaving it he takes nothing away.”
Even as a fox who saw a fine Vineyard and lusted after the grapes within the confines of the fence surrounding the enclosure; but being too fat to crawl through the only opening there was he was compelled to fast for three days. Having attained the necessary slimness it was an easy matter to gain access to the grapes. After having fed to his heart's content he could not get out until he had fasted for three days more. “Naked man enters the world, and naked does he leave.”
Death is the haven of life, and old age the ship which enters port.
Do not speak ill of the departed, but remember that his soul still lives, though the body is dead.
It is our duty to comply with the last wishes of a dying person.
The death of the holy is a calamity equal in magnitude to the burning of the temple.