Charles A. Kennedy discusses the Cult of the Dead in the Bible and related literature; addresses the debates as to whether the dead were seen as having a conscious existence after death.

Chalres A. Kennedy

Charles A. Kennedy, "Dead, Cult of the," in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary, ed. David Noel Freedman, 6 vols. (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 2:105–8, Logos ed.

Logos, Doubleday
Chalres A. Kennedy
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D. Conclusions

The cult of the dead was primarily a family affair, totally divorced from public and national concerns. Its purpose was to perpetuate the status of the deceased within the family structure and to validate the succession of the patrimony. The cult was of necessity connected with specific tracts of land. Site names in Palestine such as Baal-hazor (2 Sam 13:23) and Baal-shalisha (2 Kgs 4:42) were probably family cult centers for certain districts. The term baʿal would seem to be transformed through time from an original meaning of husband/father to a generic name for lord/god and finally to a specific Canaanite god. The archaeological evidence and the textual evidence both confirm that the cult of the dead preceded the establishment of the Israelite confederation, but it would be unwise to conclude that the Israelites did not engage in such rituals until they entered the land.

Yahwism opposed these cult centers because private, family shrines threatened the Deuteronomic ideal of one God worshipped in the temple in Jerusalem. Furthermore, the debaucheries associated with the shrines were morally offensive. In the Exile, when the national life was at a very low ebb, this second aspect was addressed more forcefully. Memorials and tombs were denounced as unnecessary for the righteous dead, whose deeds would be memorial enough, while the unrighteous would “have no reward, but the memory of them is lost” (Eccl 9:5).

Christianity, as had Judaism before it, effected a modus vivendi with the converted pagans. The annual Parentalia, memorial rituals for family members would in time become the feasts of All Saints and All Souls.

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