Date of Graduation
Bachelor of Arts
World Languages, Literatures and Cultures
Committee Member/Second Reader
Committee Member/Third Reader
In 1986, Klaas Spronk published a monograph titled, Beatific Afterlife in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East. Although many have criticized Spronk’s central thesis, his study began a new era in biblical scholarship on death and the afterlife in ancient Israel. More specifically, it sparked renewed interest in the study of the relationship between the living and the dead. Just three years after Spronk’s work, Theodore J. Lewis published his own study, Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit (1989). Lewis affirmed and developed evidence for one of the foundational aspects of Spronk’s book: in ancient Israel, the dead depended on the living for the proper performance of certain rituals which would maintain 1) the connection between the living members of a family and their deceased kin, and 2) the livelihood of the deceased in the afterlife. This ritual interaction between the living and the dead has been described variously as a “cult of the dead,” an “ancestor cult,” and a “cult of dead kin.” In this study, I will employ the last of these phrases, “the cult of dead kin,” to describe these rituals which the living offered to their deceased, as it is unquestionable that this cult was indeed centered around the family unit. In 1991, Elizabeth Bloch-Smith published a monograph, Judahite Burial Practices and Beliefs about the Dead, extensively cataloguing the archaeological data for burials in the Levant during the Iron Age (ca. 11th century BCE to 6th century BCE). These three studies, among many others, were able to change the longstanding scholarly opinion that no such cult could have existed in ancient Israel.
What follows are three chapters investigating various aspects of this cult in ancient Israel. Chapter 1 is comparative and philological in nature. In it, I interpret the narrative of Judah and Tamar found in Gen 38 as primarily concerned with death. From Judah’s motivations to Tamar’s near immolation, it appears that each of these characters seeks to preserve his/her own postmortem existence. In Chapter 2, I take a more historical and sociological approach to investigate whether parity existed in the way men and women were treated after their death in ancient Israel. Here, I analyze several biblical texts, including Gen 23; 35; and 2 Kgs 9, along with comparative material from Ugarit and the Levant. Finally, in Chapter 3, I have conducted a lexical study of the root פקד. As stated above, in Mesopotamia, the pāqidu was the caretaker in the cult of dead kin. I posit in this last section of the study that Isa 26:14; 38:10 and Jer 15:15 preserve this custodial meaning in the Hebrew Bible.
While each of these chapters investigates a separate question underlying the cult of dead kin in ancient Israel, their total effect amounts to a strong development in the evidential basis of the cult of dead kin in the Hebrew Bible. In other words, I intend for each of the following chapters to offer further clarity and support for the ways biblical authors used ideologies of death and the afterlife to inform their writing. I believe that these references to the cult are not hidden or cryptic. Rather, it seems that the biblical authors were able to assume knowledge of this cult, so that their writings did not reflect in-depth discussions on this common aspect of life, instead making subtle use of the imagery and ideologies of this cult.
Israel and Judah, Death and Afterlife, Hebrew Bible
Jacobs, J. (2023). Studies in the Ancient Israelite Cult of Dead Kin. World Languages, Literatures and Cultures Undergraduate Honors Theses Retrieved from https://scholarworks.uark.edu/wllcuht/9
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