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Ecclesiastes, Fleeting and timeless


Biblical Philosophy

Thus Kohelet’s bold opening—the assertion that such efforts are futile—constitutes the first step of an intellectual revolution. However, having rejected the notion of achieving immortality through material gains, Kohelet must seek another way. One possibility is the negation of life in favor of the world to come, represented in both the Christian and Islamic approaches to immortality by means of richly described afterworlds. The Koran, for example, emphasizes the similarity of heaven to the temporal world: “As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph. Theirs shall be gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed maidens for companions: a truly overflowing cup.”13 Similarly, Christian scripture includes vivid descriptions of souls in the world to come, much of which were elaborated upon by Dante in his visual descriptions of heaven and hell, and which were captured in the grandiose paintings of Hieronymous Bosch. In all these cases, the afterlife is portrayed as a concrete reality, thus ingrained in its adherents from childhood.


The religions of India and the Far East offer, instead, the idea of reincarnation. They emphasize the immortality of the soul, yet attach little significance to the self-conscious awareness of the reincarnated individual.  With the exception of certain rare enlightened beings, immortality is achieved at the expense of identity. Yet one need only look at the elaborate Tibetan Book of the Dead to see that the nature of the afterlife is, once again, considered concrete knowledge, and is described—and illustrated, in numerous mandalas—in lush detail.

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