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Death and Afterlife Beliefs

There remains no scientific evidence or facts which can prove the existence of the after life. Such concepts like reincarnation, salvation, and near-death experiences have been very controversial topics of debate over the years. However, different religions, philosophies and spiritual beliefs from different cultures amazingly provide very detailed and meticulous explanation about the concept of death and the afterlife. These explanations vary as their core of ideologies and philosophies vary as well. The Mesopotamian civilization has been known for its very rich culture and tradition.

During the reign of the civilization, a lot of discoveries and inventions have been made which eventually led to some modern advancement as well. In addition to this, the Mesopotamian culture also had a very interesting view of death and eternal life. According to the ancient Mesopotamian belief, the world can be divided into three different layers: these are the heaven, the netherworld and the living world (Cornell University [CU] academic site, 2004). The divine beings or the gods and goddesses are believed to reside the heavens.

This place is said to be exclusive for these holy beings. The netherworld on the other hand was believed to be the “imprisoning” place after death which is also described as the house of darkness and a place, where no one, to any further extent, can escape. According to Mesopotamian myths in relation to King Gilgamesh’s adventures and stories about Ishtar, the descent to the netherworld is really frightening but inevitable, and that in fact, even Gilgamesh himself went on his adventures in trying to escape this place.

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Lastly, the living world was described to be the world where all living beings reside and survive the days with their humane and worldly needs. Although this culture recognizes the existence of death and afterlife in the netherworld, Mesopotamians believed that a man can still escape the course of death and the dark netherworld by being righteous and trying to connect and have an intimate relationship with God. The Egyptian tradition and beliefs of death and the afterlife on the other hand, can also be considered one of the most culturally rich traditions in the world.

Deaths of Egyptians are rather commemorated and venerated than mourned. They were more focused on the preservation of the body as a positive ritual in giving the dead a pleasant afterlife state. Ancient Egyptians would also design the tombs of the dead with scriptures, holy verses, poems, and beautiful sculptures of scenes of the afterlife in the hope that the spirit of the dead will be at a peace and be granted prosperity in the afterlife. The tomb of the dead is also packed with necessities that the owner might need or want to bring with him/her in the afterlife.

The afterlife in Egyptian culture was described as a place where there are beautiful canals, dams, and farms where the yield of the fruit-bearing trees and crops is never-ending (Williams, 2008). Life in ancient Egypt in general has been blessed being resided along the banks of the Nile River where people always have sufficient resources. This somehow explains why Egyptians also looks forward to a blessed afterlife. They have been used to living life bountiful with resources that is why they would always hope to find the same bountiful afterlife like the life of the living.

On the other hand, the culture of the Greeks and the Romans (Greco-Romans) was rather more personified and mythical. Concepts of death and afterlife were incorporated with very detailed descriptions of gods and goddesses. The life of ancient Greeks was always bounded and guided by these gods and goddesses who were believed to have the ability to talk and live with them. According to the ancient Greek mythology, as a person dies, his/her psyche or soul is being release through a puff or breath of wind (Metropolitan Museum of Art).

Death in ancient Greek tradition also had very elaborate rituals that were divided into three parts: the prothesis, ekphora and the internment. During the prothesis, relatives and loved ones of the dead come and pay respect. And during the ekphora, the dead shall be brought to the cemetery through a procession which happens before dawn. And then finally, the deceased will come to its final rest through the internment. The concept of afterlife for the Greeks was clearly described through the stories of the Iliad and Odyssey which was able to write a very detailed account of the Greek mythology.

Homer noted in the Odyssey the early description of the underworld where the dead people all go. The place was described as a place underneath the earth where Hades, the brother of Zeus and Poseidon reigns. A person who enters the underworld can never go back. However, there were also stories told about great people who were able to go to the underworld to talk to their deceased loved ones and were able to go back to the world of the living. But the success of these people required trickery and deception of the king of the underworld, Hades.

Hercules was one of the great Greek characters, who was able to return from the underworld. But knowing that Hercules was half-immortal, it was also understandable that he could do such a thing. And because the life of the Greeks has been closely guided by several gods and goddesses, it was also believed that a person can possibly escape the deep and frightening walls of the underworld by having a close and intimate relationship with the gods. Through this, people to whom gods and goddesses are mostly pleased are sometimes brought to the heavens (Olympus) to live an immortal life with them.

The most popular story about death and afterlife in Christianity is probably that of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For Christians, it was taught that Christ died on the cross, then after three days he rose from the dead and eventually rose up to the heavens, body and soul. This story has been the inspiration for the spiritual lives of all Christians. The resurrection of Christ from the dead has been the greatest affirmation to Christians that there really is life after death. And from this story, a lot have already been told in Christian bible about the life after death.

This concept has been argued by the apostle Paul to the disbelievers, he said: “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain. ” (1Corinthians 15. 12-14 qtd. in Houben). For Christian believers, every person has a soul (dualism) and that soul is what lives after the person dies.

The soul can either rest in heaven or continuously suffer in hell depending on how s/he was able to live his/her life. These concepts of heaven and hell have been the guiding idea of the Christians to how they live their lives. According to teachings, one shall be accepted in heaven if s/he was able to follow the commandments of the Lord, and if s/he was able to be righteous in his life in accordance to the word of the Lord. On the other hand, one shall suffer the pains of hell if s/he did bad things in considerably most of his/her life and s/he chose to live against the will of the Lord and his teachings.

Over the years, this has been the main teaching to Christians about heaven and hell. Christians would describe the heaven as the place where there are golden roads and castles. A place where there are bountiful trees and crops that never runs out of yield, and also, a place where there is no more suffering. The heaven was indeed taught as a paradise after death, where hell on the other hand was described as the complete contrary and was further depicted as the worse place one can ever be in.

The burial and commemoration rights for the dead among Christians are also somewhat detailed. They would lament and pay respect to the dead for a couple of days, gathering the family, and offering flowers and prayers to the dead and to the family. During these gatherings, the dead is often remembered and prayed for. The prayers were believed to help the soul of the departed reach to the heavens easily. After the lamentation, the dead shall now be brought to its last venue where flowers and significant items to the dead are being buried with it into the grave.

And the commemoration of the dead does not end there because Christians celebrate the life of the dead on the same day of their deaths every year which is called their death anniversary. Looking at these different perspectives about death and the afterlife, we can observe that there are several similarities and differences among the religions or spiritual beliefs discussed. The Mesopotamian, Greco-Roman and Christian cultures all believe in the concept of heaven or paradise and hell or underworld after death.

This concept of a very beautiful and peaceful place after death has been evident in the teachings of the three cultures. All of them also taught that only righteous people can ascend to the heavens and be with the gods. The Mesopotamian and Greco-Roman cultures similarly described the underworld as the place where the dead inevitably go. These two cultures also described the underworld as place where people cannot escape anymore once they are there. While the Christians believed in the concept of hell as a frightful place where people who chose to be bad shall go after they die.

The Egyptian culture also shared that similarity with that of the Christians and the Greco-Romans in terms of lamentation and burial rights. All these three cultures lament or commemorate the death of their loved ones in belief that this would please the dead. These cultures also practice very detailed burial rights in order to give the dead a peaceful cross over. There may be similarities in the practices of these religions or cultures; however their core beliefs are completely different from each other.

Over the years, we have relied on spiritual and religious teachings to find hope and explanation if there really is life after we die. We as human beings have that natural urge to find out what can possibly happen to us after death, but even how different or similar religious teachings might explain death and afterlife; we must understand that the answer will always depend on what specific religious belief we stick to and what beliefs we have about life itself. These religions or spiritual beliefs may vary in explaining the concepts of death and afterlife, but these differences come from the differences they have with their ideologies.

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Death and Afterlife Beliefs. (2017, Jan 17). Retrieved from

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