As I have been arguing, *most* of the authors of the Hebrew Bible who have anything to say about life after death believe that people go to Sheol – whether they are good or wicked, faithful or unfaithful.  It is the fate of all.  Different authors may have different views of what Sheol entails, but nowhere is it a place or reward or punishment for what one does (or believes) in this life.

A major exception seems to be the book of Ecclesiastes, which does not subscribe to an afterlife of any kind.  Looking back over the posts of the blog from the past five years I’m surprised to see I haven’t said much about Ecclesiastes – surprised because it is one of my favorite books of the entire Bible.  I’d like to give a bit of an overview, and that will take two posts.  I have lifted these reflections from my book God’s Problem.


Ecclesiastes has long been one of my favorite books of the Bible.  It is normally included among the “Wisdom” books of the Hebrew Scriptures, because its insights into life come not from some kind of divine revelation (in contrast, say, to the prophets) but from a deep understanding of the world and how it works.  Unlike other Wisdom books, such as Proverbs, however, the wisdom that Ecclesiastes imparts is not based on knowledge acquired by generations of wise thinkers; it is based on the observations of one man as he considers life in all its aspects and the certainty of death.  Moreover, in some sense Ecclesiastes is a kind of “anti-Wisdom” book, in that the insights it gives run contrary to the traditional views of a book like Proverbs, which insists that life is basically meaningful and good, that evil is punished, and right behavior is rewarded.  Not so for the author of Ecclesiastes, who calls himself the Teacher (Hebrew: Qoheleth).  On the contrary, life is often meaningless, and in the end, all of us — wise and foolish, righteous and wicked, rich and poor — all of us die.  And that’s the end of the story.

There is no better way to …

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