The Bosom of Abraham and Hades
The parable of Lazarus and the Rich man (Luke 16) has long been one of the alleged “proof-positives” of traditional “churchianity”, that there is a heaven and a hell where the righteous and the unrepentant go respectively. The church has had a paternalistic role in the lives of Christians for many generations. This has given rise to the cultish following of believers who accept what is taught from the pulpit without question and without concern for the origin and accuracy of these “truths”. As a result, the delivery of sermons from the pulpit, taught throughout generations, have lead to a body of manmade doctrines creating the belief system called “churchianity”
Do you recall the age old adage, “If Jesus said it, I believe it, and that settles it?” Well, if this is true then, certainly when Yehshua speaks Christians must listen. This adage is reminiscent of the old commercials that brought into mainstream American vernacular: “When Merrill Lynch speaks people listen”. The problem with churchianity is that its followers fail to measure what they hear coming from the pulpit, against what is written in the scriptures; and to correctly perceive what the Master is saying in his parables. As a result, bad teachings emerge and generations grow up with doctrines that eventually filter into and become part of mainstream beliefs. How many millions of well intending adherents to the Christian faith are misled by these bad teachings?
On the surface the parable of Lazarus and the rich man seems to provide support for the existence of a heaven and a hell as the destination for the afterlife. But here is a prime example of misinterpreted dogma that has led generations of followers to believe that the dead go to either heaven or hell immediately after death.
If this case was tried in the court of human reason, and the investigation called to the witness stand, two witnesses: common sense and Holy Spirit revelation to investigate the facts surrounding this parable? One of the biggest challenges would be the separation of culture from discernment of truth. This is the challenge facing responsible Christians of the Bible in their search to gain an understanding of the inseparable cultural and historical link that has always existed between Judaism and Christianity. Without discernment from the Spirit, the Bible student will not understand the truths of the Faith. Every Christian should always consider asking the Father for guidance, revelation, wisdom knowledge and understanding of the text. It is also a great idea to tap scholarly resources to learn about the culture and history surrounding the passage of interest, to solidify a firm understanding.
We are fortunate to live in a time when the sum of human knowledge (including knowledge of the history and evolution of the Christian Faith and the Bible) dwarfs the human imagination. President Bill Clinton stated during his presidency, “Today the store of human knowledge doubles every five years.” Thus, there is absolutely no reason for Christians today to be ignorant of the history and culture from which the Christian faith was born. The information is out there and in more cases than not, it rests within the public domain and is free of charge to anyone who seeks it.
To understand the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man one must gain an understanding of first century Jewish folklore and teachings, not to mention gaining at least a modest understanding of ancient Egyptian and Greek culture and mythology. Remember that Yeshua was every bit a Jew as Abraham, Moses, and all the patriarchs of the Old Testament. He was well trained and knowledgeable of the Hebrew sacred writings and the rapidly developing oral tradition of Pharisaic (and later Rabbinic) Judaism. The individuals in attendance during His delivery of this parable were quite familiar with the well known story of Abraham’s Bosom, which had over time become infused into the popular belief system of that time.
Pre-Temple 1, (Gen 37:21, Deut 19:6, 11; Jeremiah 40:14-15; Judges 16:30, Num 23:10; Ezra 22:25-27; Job 11:20) Hebraic understanding and teachings on the afterlife described the soul at death as having no consciousness and remaining dormant and awaiting the future resurrection of the dead. At some point in the Temple II period (500 BCE – 70 CE), Hebraic teaching and understanding of the afterlife began to infuse Egyptian, Babylonian, and Greek belief systems into standard Hebraic teachings and culture.
The source of the teachings of the life after death experience during the Temple II period comes from Egyptian (reference the famous Egyptian Book of the Dead—“…centuries before Judaism, Hellenism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam” according to Samuele Bacchiocchi, Biblical Scholar) and subsequently Greek (reference Bulfinch’s Mythology) sources. We should bear in mind that as the government changed hands, as in the case of the Babylonians overtaking the Egyptians and the Greeks overtaking the Babylonians, the prevailing power would frequently absorb the culture and sometimes the religious beliefs of their conquered foe into theirs.
Many of these teachings were not only promulgated in the oral teachings of Hebrew scholars but also in many old testament writings that include I & 2 Esdra, 1, 2, 3, & 4 Maccabees, Baruch, additional writings to Daniel, Judith, The Prayer of Manasseh, Sirach, Tobit, and the Wisdom of Solomon—all rejected writing not found in the Jewish Bible (i.e., the Tanakh) but accepted in the Catholic Bible.
By 200 BCE Jewish thinking on She’ol (i.e., Hebrew for the grave) transitioned to Hades (i.e., Greek for the underworld or abode of the dead). This most interesting doctrinal transition and thinking on the afterlife fueled a unique Hebrew storyline where essentially, the Bosom of Abraham which was once a place of comfort in Hades (formally She’ol) where righteous Jews awaited Judgment Day; now became Hades, the abode where all the dead went, both righteous and unrighteous that was essentially cut off from Yahweh.
The preferred destination of any God fearing Jew at the time would be the Bosom of Abraham, because it represented a place of rest, security and love. According to Maldonatus (A.D. 1583)—“…to be in Abraham’s Bosom is to be in repose and happiness with him…”
The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man highlighted a situation where the Rich Man, in torment in one compartment of hades, is able to converse and see Abraham in another compartment of hades comforting Lazarus who is reposed on his bosom. Conventional Greek mythology provided the special detail of hades having separate compartments housing the righteous and the unrighteous respectively. Compare the Greek story where certain of the dead crossed the River Styx (one of several rivers in the underworld) via feeryman Charon after the newly deceased paid a prescribed fee to Cheron.
Thus we have some understanding of the origin of the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man that seems to be heavily based upon pagan understanding of death and the grave. So does Yeshua use the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man to confirm and or explain to His listeners the concept of heaven and hell if the story is based upon Egyptian and Greek mythology? Join me in my next posting as we explore likely answers to this question that just may prompt you to think that traditional Christianity’s teaching of heaven and hell may not be as you’d perceive it to be. Stay prayerful and alert. Seek always the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.