I have some comments on the recent posts.
The passage PP cites in Isaiah about the Rephaim in Sheol is just one of several passages in the OT about the denizens of the underworld, and it is also important to note that the notion of the Rephaim as shades is found in Phoenician and Canaanite texts as well, using the very same name for the dead. This shows that the Israelites did share similar notions of the afterlife with their "pagan" neighbors. In fact, the name Rephaim itself derives from a root rp' "to heal" (cf. the rendering iatroi "healers" in Psalm 88:10 LXX, Isaiah 14:9 LXX; also cf. Raphael, who has a healing function in Tobit, and Orpheus in Greek mythology), which relates to the popular belief that the blessings of the dead Rephaim can bring health. This belief may be attested in 2 Chronicles 16:12, concerning the "healers" King Asa consulted for his foot disease. Now, what is interesting about this matter is that the Society entirely obscures the texts referring to the postmortem existence of the Rephaim by mistranslating the word (through an etymologically different root rph "sink low") as "those impotent in death," or "impotent ones". This phrase is better suited for the annihilationist eschatology of the WTS than "healers" (death renders one impotent, i.e. lifeless and without existence). And so, in fact, they turn this splendid counterevidence against their characterization of Hebrew beliefs in the afterlife into evidence supporting their position:
***w94 3/15 p. 22 "Feed the Mouth, Not the Feet" ***
You may know of a rich and influential man who has died and whose family has thereafter suffered, although they fully performed all the customary funeral ceremonies. If that man is alive in the spirit realm, why does he not help his family? He cannot do so because what the Bible says is true—the dead are indeed lifeless, "impotent in death," and therefore unable to help anyone.—Isaiah 26:14.
What Isaiah 26:14 is really saying is not that there isn't any postmortem existence in Sheol, but that those consigned to it won't return to the world of the living. The text is actually a denial of the hope later conceptualized as the resurrection: "The dead will not come to life, their ghosts (= Rephaim) will not rise" (JB), i.e. those who are in Sheol will always stay in Sheol. Although the Society claims that the state of the dead inside Sheol is one of "complete inactivity" (cf. Insight, Vol. 2, p. 597), this is simply not how the Rephaim are described in the OT. Isaiah 14:9 notes that when the Babylonian king arrives to Sheol, "Sheol beneath us will be astir to greet your arrival", and the "Rephaim of all the rulers of the world" are to be "roused" and they will "get up from their thrones". Dead kings have thrones in Sheol?! For their part, the Society dismisses all this as "poetic" metaphor (cf. Isaiah book, Vol. 1, p. 183), but not so fast.... this is also exactly how the Canaanites described the dead Rephaim as well. In a remarkable text discovered at Ras Shamra, the death of King Niqmad IV of Ugarit (c. 1200 BC) is described in very similar language. Just as the dead kings are "roused" in Isaiah, so do the new king Ammurapi III and his queen Tharyelli summon the Rephaim kings by name to greet the newcomer: "You are summoned, O Rephaim of the netherworld, you are summoned, O council of the Didanites! Invoked is Ulkan, the Rapha. Invoked is Taryman, the Rapha. Invoked is Sidan and Radan, invoked is Thar, the eternal one. You are invoked, most ancient Rephaim! You are all summoned, O council of the Didanites. Invoked is Ammithtamru the king, etc." (KTU 1.161, 1-34). The text goes on to mention the offerings that were made to the summoned Rephaim, again indicating a belief in a postmortem existence of these dead ones. Nor is Isaiah 14 the only text to refer to some meager activity on the part of the Rephaim. Job 26:5-6 notes that before Yahweh "the Rephaim tremble beneath the earth," i.e. tremble in fear at Yahweh's might. In comparison to the Canaanite texts, the Rephaim in the OT are however less active and are not honored with feasts and sacrifices. This reflects the henotheistic bent of most biblical texts. The Rephaim exist in Sheol, they have some limited activity, but they cannot praise God (cf. Psalm 88:10).
The dead are also known under other names in the OT. Occasionally, the term 'lhym "gods" is used to refer to the dead, and this is a traditional usage stemming from Canaanite religion. The Baal Cycle refers to the Rephaim as 'lm "gods": "Shapsh [the sun goddess], the shades (rp'm) are under you, Shapsh, the ghosts ('lnym) are under you, the gods ('lm) come to you, behold! the dead (mtm) come to you" (KTU 1.6.vi.45-48). This text draws on the common belief that at night, the sun passes through the underworld so that it can rise in the east the next day. Similarly, Ugaritic king lists refer to their deceased kings as "gods" and 'lm is used to refer to the dead in Phoenician inscriptions. In Psalm 106:28, the phrase "sacrifices of their dead (mtym)" refers back to the "sacrifices of their gods ('lhym)" in Numbers 25:2. A clearer instance of this usage can be found in 1 Samuel 28:13, in which the dead Samuel is referred to by the medium as among the "spirits ('lhym) rising up from the ground". By this, Saul understood 'lhym as a term referring to the spirits of the dead, for he asked the medium what Samuel's appearance was (v. 14). This practice of necromancy is sarcastically condemned in Isaiah, where the term 'lhym again is used to refer to dead ghosts: "And should men say to you, 'Consult ghosts ('wb) and familiar spirits (wyd'ny) that whisper and mutter,' by all means a people must consult its gods ('lhym) and, on behalf of the living, consult the dead, to obtain a revelation and a testimony. Without doubt this is how they will talk, since there is no dawn for them (i.e. they will themselves be in Sheol)" (8:19-20). The medium of En Dor in 1 Samuel is also described as consulting 'wb and wyd'ny (28:7-13), and these terms are also used together in Leviticus 20:27 and Deuteronomy 18:11, which states that the Israelites are not supposed to "consult ghosts (ws'l 'wb) nor familiar spirits (wyd'ny), nor attempt to communicate with the dead (wdrs 'l-hmtym)". Note that the text does not construe the spirits as demonic imposters of the dead, but as the dead themselves. The Hebrew 'wb is cognate to Arabic awaba = aaba "a soul which returns (from the underworld)", while yd'ny has the etymological sense of "knowers" or "revelators" (cf. the third millenium BC god Wada'anu worshipped at Ebla), a connotation also likely arising from necromancy. Note that the OT does not condemn the belief of a postmortem existence of the dead, it condemns the practice of consulting them as sources of revelation (which should properly come from Yahweh).
M.J....You might also want to check out the texts in Numbers, which I referred to earlier. These concern the uncleanliness that results from going near or touching a dead corpse. What is interesting is that when touching is involved, the reference is to "the dead [body] pertaining to any human soul" (b-mt l-kl npsh 'dm, 19:11) or "the dead [body] of any human soul that is dying" (b-mt b-kl npsh h-'dm 'shr ymwt, 19:13). Here it is the corpse itself that is the focus; it is not the nephesh that is touched but something dead associated with it, i.e. the corpse. The LXX understands the Hebrew similarly: "Everyone touching the thing having died (tou tethnékotos) of the soul of a man (apo psukhés anthropou)" (19:13 LXX), where the preposition apo has the sense of separation (i.e. the corpse seperated from the soul) or the partitive (i.e. the corpse of the soul). When touching is not involved but mere presence near a corpse, the nephesh is the focus instead of the corpse: "For the entire period of his consecration to Yahweh he must not go near a soul of a dead [body] (npsh mt). As the TDOT points out, "in Nu. 6:6 npsh mt cannot mean 'dead nephesh' but only 'nephesh of a dead body' " (p. 515) because of the genitive (cf. Leviticus 21:11). What is very curious about Numbers 19 is that the reference to the nephesh is to cases in which the released spirit of the corpse can be physically contained. Thus, the situation in v. 14 is the case of a person dying inside a tent. Verse 15 mentions open vessels "that have not been closed with a lid or fastening". The ancient view would have been that before going to Sheol, the spirit seeks to return to physical life and would enter jars or other confined spaces or entities that it could enter. This is thought to lie behind the prohibition against gashing oneself in mourning the dead (Leviticus 19:28), opening wounds on one's skin could potentially allow a spirit to enter one's body, and explain why the prohibition against touching corpses or even going near them were mentioned so many times (cf. Leviticus 21:1, 22:4, Numbers 5:2, 6:6, 11, 9:6-13, Haggai 2:13, etc.). I believe the rabbinic view (likely deriving from older Judaism) is that the spirit hangs around the corpse for several days until the body begins to rot, at which time it gives up and enters the underworld.
I think the WTS says Elijah just got swept up into the sky (not literal heaven) and his life was taken away (killed) by God until the resurrection
Hellrider...Right, except that he was prophesied as returning at the eschaton in Malachi, and this was the eschatological expectation mentioned throughout the gospels in the NT. The Society similarly undermines the belief concerning Enoch, that he was similarly taken up into heaven where he has served as the heavenly scribe (writing the deeds of people into the books of life, to be revealed on Judgment Day). The Society invents its own explanation, that God put Enoch into a trance and killed him mercifully. It is amusing that they resort to this, while accepting the data on Enoch in Jude 14-15 which derives from the very same source (1 Enoch) that described Enoch's heavenly journeys.
And Elijah would have had to be "changed" in some way, either his body must have been left behind, or he would have had to be changed
The account in 2 Kings mentions no body being left behind. The idea that one can shirk off one's earthly "garments" in heaven and don heavenly ones is attested in 2 Enoch and Ascension of Isaiah.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is explained away as symbolism. Pretty wild symbolism. But when it gets down to it, all you have to do is point out that Jesus was making a point using the very beliefs of the Jews of his time.
Actually, it is even worse than that. In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus is represented as using the eschatological beliefs of the Pharisees (which he accepted) to lampoon the eschatological beliefs of the upper-class Sadducees, who did not believe in an afterlife (described in v. 22-25) and resurrection (described in v. 31). Note that the rich man wants to inform his family that there is in fact an afterlife (v. 27-28), because they did not believe that such a fate lies ahead for them. These Sadducees, because they did not believe in a future judgment or afterlife (cf. Josephus, Jewish War 2.8.2-14 "they reject the belief of the immortality of the soul and the punishments and rewards of Hades"), aspired towards wealth and enjoyments in the present life and likely adopted an Epicurean philosophy (as they were more likely Hellenized than the Pharisees, and the Essenes), such as the one espoused in Ecclesiastes and in Sirach. So in the parable, Jesus sends up this philosophy by revealing that, lo and behold! the poor Sadducees will go to Hades and suffer torments, and once there they cannot go back and warn their loved ones that this is the REALITY, that what they had believed (i.e. that there is no postmortem existence in an afterlife) was wrong after all. So.... it is clear in reading the parable which of the two positions Jesus was claiming to represent reality. He is saying that those who ignore the warnings about postmortem judgment and punishment and live selfishly at the expense of the poor will find themselves sorely mistaken. This is the same point in the Parable of the Rich Fool in Luke 12:13-21, where Jesus again reveals the emptiness of the Epicurean philosophy: "I [the rich man] will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?" (v. 19-20).