Death in the Iron Age

This brief review by me appeared in the Journal of Old Testament Studies.

Some themes from the book are relevant to natalism. Hays confirms in great detail that ancient Israelites, like many of their Near Eastern neighbours, regarded offspring and male heirs as the best way to overcome death, believing in a proxy “immortality” through descendants. Therefore numerous healthy and strong offspring, already important for practical labour and support in old age, were vital to them also because of their belief that a family line transcended individual extinction.

HAYS, CHRISTOPHER B., Death in the Iron Age II and in First Isaiah (Forschungen zum Alten Testament, 79; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2011), pp. xviii + 445. € 129.00. ISBN 978-3-16-150785-4 (hardback edition).

Hay’s 2008 dissertation is here revised and expanded. He explores links between cultural productions (such as burial, memorial, afterlife, fear of spirits, and ancestor cults) and the imagery of death in Isaiah 1-39.

Four chapters provide a valuable and near book-length (almost 200 pages) synthesis of ancient Near Eastern ideas about death, looking in turn at Mesopotamia, Egypt, ‘Syria-Palestine’, and Judah.

The first two chapters discuss ‘mechanisms of influence’ before considering details of culture as reflected in archaeology and texts.

Chapter 3 is mostly about Ugarit, and Hays justifies his use of Bronze Age evidence.

Chapter 4 offers an interesting review of death in Israel, Judah and the OT, including a helpful exploration of recent shifts in scholarship on afterlife ideas.

Hays then turns to Isaiah in his long chapter 5, which has 144 pages. He considers fourteen texts, and also numerous hôy oracles, from Isaiah 1-39. They are grouped under four headings: threats of an unhappy afterlife, comparing the living to the dead, responses to cults of the dead, and life’s triumph. A few of the ideas here have previously appeared in Hay’s articles in VT and ZAW.

The book is indexed by subject, author, and biblical text.

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