“All religions are based on people’s fear of death and their desperate attempts to find hope after death.”
Have you heard statements like this? Certainly the afterlife is an important part of many (but not all) religions.
My interest is in how this relates to biblical faith. Again the afterlife is important to Christians. The most important event for Christians is the resurrection of Jesus. There is plenty of teaching throughout the New Testament on the resurrection of the dead.
But that does not tell us much about the initial impulse to start writing the Bible. What about the Old Testament? The Old Testament was the Bible for Jesus and Paul. Is their evidence that the Old Testament was written to try and find hope after death?
The short answer is no. The Old Testament does not talk much about what happens after one dies. The most common teaching is that of sheol. Sheol is best translated as the grave and it is the place where all, both good and evil, go after death. That the dead go to the grave at death is no deep spiritual truth.
The focus of the Old Testament is to be in relationship with God, especially to be in relationship in the land that God promised his people. A good long life with plenty of children was important. But they did not seem all that worried about what happens after death.
Does the Old Testament have anything to say about the afterlife?
The clearest statement is found in one of the last books to be written:
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:2–3 ESV)
I am not saying that before Daniel no one believed in life after death. I am saying that by far reflection on the afterlife was not the central motivation for writing the Bible.
If you are interested in more about this topic, I wrote a book dealing with the main sources of hope in the Bible: the promised land and the resurrection. I look at the connection between the two and how hope shifted from one to the other.