Time makes no distinction at all, sooner or later there will come a time for everyone to abandon the earthly condition that is life, to move into the Afterlife, the continuation of the existence after physical death but in a different form. One of the very few certainties that humanity has during life is the future awareness of its own death, and understanding some basic aspects about the Afterlife allows you to better deal with existence in the present. Usually death is frightening because its form is permanent to our eyes, as it is to the body the pain that generates inside the soul of those who stay. It is obvious why all human cultures on the planet have codified rituals elaborated to be able to deal with death. From the ancient Egyptian pyramids, to the complex funeral rituals at the time of the Roman Empire, up to those of our times, when the body exhausts that hidden energy that allows it to function and disappear, it is impossible to believe that everything is really over. And this is not a desire to deny a reality too hard to face, but simply an instinct and a natural faith in a creation where “nothing is created and nothing is destroyed, but everything is transformed”. Therefore, not only is it legitimate to question phases about what will happen after our death, but it is above all necessary because the very idea that we have about what follows the end of our existence on earth will determine the way we decide to spend it. It would be really too banal for such a magnificently complex universe, to simplify the experience of death by defining it as an end, and so the most illustrious minds in history have followed one another in the search for clarity and try to answer this question with a thousand answers.
This article will try to support everyone’s personal path towards the knowledge of the Hereafter starting from the assumption that life on earth is nothing more than a test to be overcome in order to achieve a temporary reward in the present, but that it can become eternal one in the future.
Conceptually, therefore, a conscious, persistent and progressive ascent, as if you were walking along Jacob’s Ladder, where you stop proceeding “walking in the dark”, deciding instead to move along the road already travelled in the past by our ancestors who brought back directions and dynamics.
There are two types of death, one of the body and another of the soul. The latter, when it leaves its earthly “container” takes nothing with it in the other world except that imprint that good and bad deeds are engraved on it. In the journey to the Hereafter, it is these actions that can ensure a boost towards elevation, or a weight that oppresses and regresses the person who has just died. But a similar process also happens for the living similarly, since it is reported in many books of the Holy Scriptures of different religions that although a body is alive, the soul within it can remain dead. The Bible and the Qur’an maintain that although some people appear to be alive, their souls are dead in a body that no longer acts as a mere “container” but as a tomb. So as long as that soul remains “dead”, it will continue to live again even after death by reincarnating in other bodies (graves) until that spirit is enlightened, awakening and finally breaking that wheel that Eastern religions call Samsara. These and the next concepts that are trying to formulate do not want to be a trivial pot full of concepts of different traditions, but only highlight the similarities that all religions have in common, starting from the fundamental rule, the Golden Rule, but also with regard to eschatology, that is, the area of philosophy and theology that deals with the events that will happen at the end of days (the coming of a redeemer or Messiah, the Afterlife, and the rebirth of the righteous.
The true basis of religion is not faith, but personal and direct experience, and whoever claims that a religion is wrong or not, has already distanced himself from the Truth that is only with GOD.
Reincarnation and Resurrection
By reincarnation (in Hebrew called “gilgul” or “wheel”), we mean a rebirth of the Soul of an individual in another physical body, while the resurrection (or resurrection) is the return to life after death, an awakening following a “sleep” that brings back to life the same Soul in the same body. It remains obvious to observe a close relationship between these two “rebirths” and although most doctrines consider them two separate or even opposite matters, they are instead two sides of the same coin and should be considered and studied as a single event.
In Judaism the Midrash Shmuel (Bereishit Rabba 56) clearly states that “There is no generation in which there is not someone like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Samuel, etc.”
Ibbur e dybbuk
The dualism between good and evil in the Afterlife and understood by the terms Ibbur and Dybbuk. The former, Ibbur (in Hebrew: עיבור, “pregnancy” or “incubation”) is one of the forms of transmigration of the soul and is similar to Gilgul neshamot. The Ibbur is always the positive “consequence”, while the dybbuk (דיבוק, from the Hebrew verb דָּבַק dāḇaq which means “to adhere” or “cling”) is the negative one because in the latter case it is an evil spirit to “possess” or “dominate” the soul of the deceased person. Tradition presupposes that the spirit leaves the host body once it has achieved its purpose, obviously as an opponent for the good of mankind, but it cannot be excluded that it may remain in the “container” until the end of its days, or even remaining attached to the soul in the body that hosts it after the reincarnation.
The ibbur instead is the same form of “possession” but for the achievement of good (for the person and humanity in general), and that only apparently seems to be regulated by more complex dynamics, but in reality it has only been (obviously by believing scholars) more elaborate as a concept, but both are equal and opposite. This happens when a righteous soul (tzadik) decides to occupy the body of a living person for a certain time, and is spiritually reunited with the existing soul. The Ibbur is always temporary, and the living person may or may not know that it has taken place, the purpose, as already mentioned is purely benevolent, the deceased soul wishes to complete an important task, fulfill a promise, or perform a mitzvah (a religious duty) that can only be accomplished in the flesh. The soul of the righteous one enters and spreads throughout the body, just like the soul (נֶ֫פֶשׁ Nefesh) of the host. The two will be one and the same, they will be pleased for the worthy things accomplished and will suffer the pains together and in equal measure, remaining there for a determined time to rectify and complete what he needs and then leave while the person is still alive.
The end of time
Jewish eschatology includes a series of interconnected themes:
- The return of exiles from Jewish diaspora
- The reconstruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (third temple)
- The World to Come (‘Olam Ha-Ba), an equivocal term that may refer to the Hereafter, to the messianic realm over the world, therefore also to the life of the resurrected.
The end of time is usually called “the end of the days” (aḥarit ha-yamim, אחרית הימים) and is a phrase that appears several times in Tanakh. The main written resource for the belief in the “end of days” and the events that follow are found in the prophetic texts of pre-exile (including Isaiah and Jeremiah) and those of exile (Ezekiel and Deutero-Isaiah). The main foundations of eschatology can be listed as follows:
- End of the world (meaning the end of everything as we know it now).
- GOD redeems the believers’ people from the last great captivity begun during the Babylonian exile, through a new Exodus
- GOD bring back the Jewish people to the Land of Israel
- GOD restores the House of David and the Temple of Jerusalem
- GOD creates a regent of the House of David (the Messiah) to lead the Jewish people and the world, inaugurating an era of justice and peace.
- All nations recognize that the One GOD is the one true God
- GOD resurrects the dead
- GOD creates a new sky and a new earth
In Christianity reincarnation was accepted only in Christian environments later considered heterodox, that is, by those doctrines formulated on different opinions than those accepted as truthful by the Church as an institution. Yet fathers of the Church as Origen seemed to accept the possibility of a pre-existence of the soul before birth, he only contested that the human spirit could reincarnate in the body of animals, a common belief in other Eastern doctrines. According to Origen and many other supporters of reincarnation in Christianity, some passages of the Gospel would confirm this theory:
- When Jesus asked the disciples about the opinion of the crowd: “Who do you think I am?”, they answered: “Some say that you are John the Baptist, others Elijah and others Jeremiah or one of the Prophets. (Luke 9, 18-19) This would testify to the acceptance of the possibility that a prophet from the past could reincarnate in the Messiah (Christ).
- The episode of the transfiguration on Mount Tabor: “But I tell you that Elijah has already come and they have not recognized him” […] then the disciples understood that he had spoken of John the Baptist”. (Matthew 17, 11-13)
- “All the prophets and the Law have prophesied to John and, if you want to accept it, he is that Elijah who was to come”.
- When the Pharisees question the blind man who announces the healing: “You came into the world covered with sins and you want to be our teacher. (John 9)
- When the Pharisees question the Baptist about who he is and with what authority he carries out his ministry, they point out to him three characters, one of whom is surely dead: Elijah, the Messiah or the Prophet.
The Scriptures of the New Testament do not mention an “end of the world” but rather the end of an immoral society. Jesus affirms that the event will take place in the hour and day that no one knows, and as Solomon would have taught (“nothing new under the Sun”) it will take place in a way similar to the days of the past during the Universal Flood:
36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the Angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the FATHER. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.
(Matthew 24, 36-39)
The end of the Days
Jesus anticipated and explained the signs that the “end of the days” is approaching, including natural disasters, famine, civil uprisings, wars, all things that in today’s world seem to afflict humanity as one being, and not as a set of states. Global warming and the damage caused to the environment by the uncontrolled activity of capitalism, overpopulation, shortage of clean water are just some of the signs that today’s believers identify as identifying before the coming of the Messiah. But regarding the precise time Jesus only mentions that he will come as a “thief in the night” (Revelation 3, 3), and if therefore no one can know the time or the day, except the FATHER, then the doctrine of the Trinity cannot be justified. If Jesus is “the same substance as the FATHER” he cannot but know His thought and Truth in its entirety and this passage cannot but be an impassable obstacle to the equal identity of the Trinitarian figures.
Islamic eschatology also deals with aspects of theology that concern events in the days to come. The Afterlife and the End of the World are emphasized in the Koran, but it also speaks about the Final Judgment and the eternal division of the just and the wicked that will take place on the Day of Resurrection (in Arabic: يوم القيامة, Romanized: Yawm al-Qiyāmah) also called “Day of Judgment” (in Arabic: يوم الدين, Romanized: Yawm ad-Dīn). Several verses of the Koran quote the Last Judgment and as in other Abrahamic religions, Islam teaches that there will be a resurrection of the dead which will be followed by a final tribulation and eternal division of the just and the wicked. The Great Tribulation is described in the hadith and comments of the ulama, including al-Ghazali, Ibn Kathir and Muhammad al-Bukhari. The Day of Judgment is called in the Koran by different names, “Day of Reunion” and “Last Day and the Hour (al-sā’ah)”. The hadith describe several events that will happen before Judgment Day, and during this period, the terrible corruption and chaos will dominate the earth, caused by the Masih ad-Dajjal (the Antichrist in Arabic), then appears Isa (Jesus) who together with al-Mahdi will defeat the Dajjal and establish an eternal period of peace, freeing the world from cruelty. These events will be followed by a period of serenity, when people will live according to religious values. The Islamic apocalyptic literature describing Armageddon is often known as fitna, Al-Malhama Al-Kubra (The Great Massacre) or ghaybah in Shī’a Islam. The righteous are rewarded with the pleasures of Jannah (Paradise), while the unjust are punished in Jahannam (Hell).
As for the concept of reincarnation we find it very similar to the Jewish Kabbalah, and some Islamic doctrines, such as the Druze, also integrate concepts of reincarnation similar to Pythagoreanism, Manichaeism and Christian Gnosticism. But the resurrection is not strictly a concept that falls within the Abrahamic religions, as it also exists in Zoroastrianism, as well as in Ancient Egypt. Initially the concepts of reincarnation and resurrection seem to be two philosophies that cannot coexist at the same time, but if we analyze textually and linguistically the Bible and the Quran to better understand these concepts we understand that they are two sides of the same coin.
Christianity and Islam are the two main religions that zealously preach the resurrection of the dead. It is one of the principles of the profession of Christian faith, since it is undoubtedly a teaching of Christ and in the Gospels it is reported that the Jews in the time of Christ were divided between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the first believers in the resurrection, while the other opponents did not even believe in reincarnation. Jesus Christ sided with the Pharisees in his argument against the Sadducees on the subject of resurrection (Matthew 22:23-33; Mark 12:18-27). Unlike the Torah, which does not seem to be explicit on the Afterlife, the Koran is very clear on the theme of the afterlife and the resurrection of the dead. The main topic discussed by the Quran is the Day of Resurrection and the Afterlife. For these reasons, Christianity and Islam have in their respective Scriptures explicit references to the resurrection of the dead that talking about reincarnation seems absurd. However, to understand resurrection, death must first be understood. The resurrection of the dead cannot be defined if death is not defined.
In the Qu’ran we often talk about death (Quran l-‘Imrān 3, 185 ; al-Anbiyā’ 21, 35 ; al-‘Ankabūt 29, 57), however, in almost all these cases, it refers to the death of souls, never making a mension of bodily death (badan) or (jasad).
وَلَا تَقُولُوا لِمَنْ يُقْتَلُ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أَمْوَاتٌ ۚ بَلْ أَحْيَاءٌ وَلَٰكِنْ لَا تَشْعُرُونَ
And do not say, “Those who were killed [following] GOD’s way are dead. No [they are] alive, but you do not perceive it.
(Qur’an al-Baqarah 2, 154)
It is clear that the Quran speaks about death and resurrection, but more precisely to the death of the soul, in which on the Day of Resurrection, when the bodies will be resurrected, everything that has been hidden (or not understood by the human mind) by men will be made manifest. The Islamic pilgrimage (Hajj) describes the journey of a dead or at least dying soul to life, Surah al-Hajj, and emphasizes the resurrection of those in their graves, which can also be understood as dead souls in bodies moving to be resurrected. After all, the Hajj represents bodies in motion, but still wearing a funeral shroud, because it is not the body, but the soul within it that is truly dead.
The term for sacrificial lamb in Arabic ‘ijl, which also means “wheel” or “roll” and shares the same meaning of gilgul in Hebrew, which means the “rotation” of souls through reincarnation. Ijl is used several times in the Quran, also to indicate the calf that the Israelites had taken while Moses was receiving the Torah (Quran at Baqarah 2, 51).
The Eastern religions together with the Bible and the Quran can be seen as containing the same message: they all define the ego as an enemy, and until this enemy is recognized and defeated, the cycle of life and death in the reincarnations of the soul will continue. To stop the wheel of reincarnation one must aspire to personal enlightenment, which leads first to the Messianic Era and then to the subsequent resurrection of the Souls.
The soul is eternal, only the body can change through the different “phases” of life of the Spirit that resides within each man by means. Just as there is one GOD, so too humanity descends from one man and one woman, so we are part of a larger spirit that fragments itself gradually through different life cycles, and resurrections of the Souls. Reincarnation and resurrection are often considered different, but different only in their interpretation, as both bring the Soul back to Earth to complete (for better or for worse) what was previously begun. Believe in only one GOD, it corresponds to doing the right thing, doing our best so that the Spirit that is good breaks into our imperfect bodies and leads to evil. It is enough to have knowledge and everything can really work out for the good of all. The world would be a better place if we sought GOD not only outside of us and through religions, but above all in each other’s souls.
- Gate of Reincarnations – classics “Torah Concepts of Reincarnation”, an introduction by Perets Auerbach
- Norman C. McClelland (2010), Encyclopedia of Reincarnation and Karma, McFarland, ISBN 978-0-7864-5675-8
- Jewish Tales of Reincarnation’, By Yonasson Gershom, Yonasson Gershom, Jason Aronson, Incorporated, 31 Jan 2000
- Rudolf Frieling, Christianity and Reincarnation, Floris Books 2015
- Jacob Neusner The Documentary History of Judaism and Its Recent Interpreters 2012 – Page 138 – “… tense in Scripture, proof of the resurrection is drawn from numerous passages: Exodus 15.1; Joshua 8.30; 1 Kings 11.7; Psalm 84.5; Isaiah 52.8; Deuteronomy 33.6; Daniel 12.2 and 12.13. The grave and womb in Proverbs 30.16 are likewise …