Does the Torah mention life after death?

The general consensus is that the Hebrew Bible does not mention life after death or even hint that it exists. Yet books such as “The Everyday Bible Commentary Daniel” by John C. Whitcomb argue that the book of Daniel does speak of life after death. Dr. Whitcomb’s book is a Christian theological commentary, that is rather than seeing what the Bible actually says and what the author or authors wanted to say in the book, his commentary reads Christian theology into its wording, ideas that are not explicit in the text. Dr. Whitcomb (born 1924) takes the Bible literally believing, for example, that God created the world about 6,000 years ago, that God flooded the world soon after creation, and so on. He is a missionary for this view. While the author or authors of Daniel lived centuries before Jesus, Dr. Whitcomb sees Jesus and what he understands as Jesus’ work, implied in the book. He does it quite well. One who reads this volume will learn much about Christian theology.

For example, he reads chapter 12 of Daniel foretelling that Daniel and the righteous will be bodily resurrected after they die and the will “be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years over the present earth and then forever in the new heavens and the new earth that God will create for His people.” Dr. Whitcomb reads this theology into 12:2, 3, 13, the last verses of Daniel. Which only state:

Daniel 12:2 and 3:

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Daniel 12:13:

But go your way to the end; and you shall rest and shall stand in your allotted place at the end of the days.

Assuming for the moment that these verses are informing Daniel about life after death, what are they saying? The verses are not at all clear.

If “those who sleep in the dust” denotes the dead and “awake” means that they are restored to life, what is everlasting life? The term is obscure. Even commentators who believe that the verses announce a life after death recognize that “everlasting life” could mean a long life that ultimately ends in a second death.

Additionally, what is the meaning of “those who are wise” and those “who turn many to righteousness?” Whatever it means, it seems clear that it is not referring to those who were well behaved or those who observe Torah commandments. And in verse 13, what is Daniel’s “allotted place” and when is the “end of days”?

In view of these questions, many scholars are convinced that Daniel 12 is not referring to life after death. Daniel, according to these scholars, lived during a period—probably around the time of the Maccabean revolt against the Syrian Greeks—when life in Judea was very difficult and many misguided Judeans were seducing their co-religionists away from Judaism and toward the acceptance of pagan Hellenism.

Daniel’s vision, expressed in this passage, is not addressing a personal afterlife, for this was not his concern, but the existence of the Judean nation; Daniel envisions that the dire situation will not continue. Many living anti-Hellenists will find the strength to rise, as if awakened from the dead, combat the pro-Hellenists, shame them, and still be able to live a long life in peace. Who are the anti-Hellenists? They are the wise people mentioned in the passage, scholars who taught their fellow Judeans the correct views of Judaism. They will shine in the eyes, be respected by, their co-religionists.

Daniel feels that he is being told to be patient. He is advised to “rest.” He will be among the victors, where he belongs, when the day of victory arrives: “in your allotted place at the end of the days.”

This interpretation seems more reasonable and appropriate and relevant considering the historical context and the personal concerns of Daniel; the verses are not a revelation about a personal life after death, but the revival of Judaism that is under duress.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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