Conceptions of death in the religions of selected ancient civilizations Cover Image

Koncepcje śmierci w religii wybranych starożytnych cywilizacji
Conceptions of death in the religions of selected ancient civilizations

Author(s): Łukasz Grzendzicki
Subject(s): Ancient World, Theology and Religion
Published by: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Szczecińskiego

Summary/Abstract: Writing about the first three thousand years of the creation of human civilization in such a short paper is beyond description, even if taking into consideration just one aspect which is the theme of death. Cultures originated from the east part of the Mediterranean Sea as well as from the region of Miedzyrzecze have a unique, complicated history and express a colorful inlay of traditions, habits and ideas. All of them, to some extend, are at the mainstay of the civilization which we are familiar with nowadays. We do not often realize that known traditions and reflections were born in people's minds thousands and thousands years ago. Investigating these cultures releases a feeling of human fate unity and as well as a feeling of some metaphysical cultural continuity regarding the aspect of death. Regarding presented material we may think that the civilizations of Near East did believe in the existence of the other life. The faith in a way of after-death existence motivated the care and rites. The most typical funeral formalities among ancient civilizations were inhumation cremation and burial, among which the last one was the most commonly performed and was regarded as an expression of the deceased's fate. In countries as Mesopotamia, Egypt and Syria it was believed that the deceased had an influence on life of those who stayed alive at that time, so the formalities were to assure the benevolence of the deceased for those being still alive. These believes resulted in supporting the deceased with gifts expressing not only the respect for the person, but also with confidence he or she will have all they need in the other world. The burial was proceeded by mournful procession. The objects which the deceased was buried with often expressed the position or merits of the person. The expressions of deep sorrow were rites of maiming the body, loud mourning and strewing with ash. The corpse was put into a tomb which from then on was a kind of everlasting life. It is to be mentioned that was a noticeable diversity between the rich and the poor. During the times the diversity became more and more noticeable. In terms of reflections upon the world of the deaths, it was almost always placed beneath the ground level whereas the world in which the spirit existed was either placed deep in the ground or in a distant realm-depending on traditions. There are two distinguished cultural models: an Egyptian and Mesopotamian one including a part of Syria and Asia Minor. The Egyptian conception was created upon the observation of periodical revitalization of the nature associated with the outflow of the river Nile. The religion of Egypt gave the beginning for eschatological thinking and the concept of personal existence after the death. The resurrection in the realm of Osiris was available for those who throughout their life had achieved high moral status. The after-death life was first granted for kings, but during the time flow it became available for an average Egyptian as well. In the beginning it was conditioned with the body behaviour and the access to the foods- gifts in the tomb. Later on, more focus was but on towards ethics till the times of New Republic during which the fate of the deceased was linked with the fate of Osiris and in this way hope for immortality was given. The condition for this though was the complying with the law of Gods and following the moral rules. In the Mesopotamian model the fate of human was rather pessimistic. The deceased 'lived' in a dark and unpleasant place in which there was lack of light, lack of pleasures even sometimes lack of food and clothing. The subterranean deities were also unpleasant and dreadful as their realm was. They appeared not to be mercyful at all. The social status of the deceased had a reflection in the realm of the dead, but it was not much of a relief. The deceased depended on the gifts granted him by the living members of the family. The worst of all was the lack of the funeral. The spirit of such a person was cruising in the world being a meliciuos demon. As far as we know there was also an idea of after-death judgement, but unfortunately is still unclear for us. The idea of ancient Persian prophet Zaratushra is worth mentioning as well. His moral lectures indicates moral behaviour in life as the only condition for achieving happiness in the realm of the deceased. A human is to be judged and doomed either heaven or hell. There was a possibility of redemption of the guilts and avoidance of the condemnation. As it has been mentioned, all theological and philosophical systems discussed so far assume that a particle of a human being is able to survive biological death and continue to exist in a separate world distant from ours. Despite the fact not all of them appear to be optimistic, they express a general human belief, hunch and hope for justice, reparation for tool of life on earth in a better place.

  • Issue Year: 2011
  • Issue No: 17
  • Page Range: 59-93
  • Page Count: 35
  • Language: Polish
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