In both Qoheleth and contemporaneous Egyptian tomb biographies, death shows itself to be a force that annihilates human identity, consciousness, and all forms of personal or community continuity previously available in each culture. While these strange works have typically been explained in terms of outside influences, usually Greek, they are better understood as the result of changes that were occurring throughout the civilizations of the ancient Near East in the last half millennium B.C.E. These changes led to shifts in the patterns of religion, of which the rethinking of death, poignantly and frighteningly evident in the above texts, is just one example among many.
Shannon Burkes is Assistant Professor of Religion at Florida State University.
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