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Question 109.

Dear Fr Christopher,

I read in Chapter 9 verses 5-8 of Ecclesiastes the following:
For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, For the memory of them is forgotten. Also their love, their hatred, and their envy have now perished; Nevermore will they have a share In anything done under the sun. Go, eat your bread with joy, And drink your wine with a merry heart; For God has already accepted your works. Let your garments always be white, And let your head lack no oil.
When Solomon (Son of David, King of Jerusalem) writes "but the dead know nothing", does he mean that it is the deceased body which is without life that knows nothing or is it the soul that has departed from the body that knows nothing? It also seems that in this world it is very easy to forget those who have departed to the other world since Solomon also writes: "for the memory of them is forgotten". I know that now we have memorial prayers/services on the 1st, 3rd, 9th, 40th, and on every anniversary of a family member's death. Were there any funeral/burial services/memorials conducted back then at the times of the Old Testament Prophets, that would help the departed souls on their journey to the other world? I also know that up until the crucifixion and the resurrection and Christ's descent into Hades, that all souls would go to Hades and that the first one to inherit Paradise was the Thief on the Cross that repented. So even if certain types of burial/memorial services/prayers were offered for the dead, would they be of any assistance to them despite these facts. I ask this because I haven't read all the Old Testament Chapters like I have with the New Testament.
I also read in Chapter 10 verse 20 the following: "Do not curse the king, even in your thought; Do not curse the rich, even in your bedroom; For a bird of the air may carry your voice, And a bird in flight may tell the matter.
Is this bird an actual bird or is it symbolic of something else? Could it maybe be referring to an angel that is in flight and conveys the matter to God?

Regards, John

Answer to Question 109.


Dear John
Ecclesiastes is speaking of the knowledge the living have of this world and that once dead knowledge of this world fades away.  In verse 5 of Ecclesiastes is it saying that the living have knowledge that some day they will die, but the dead are deprived of this knowledge because they have passed over to another life and no more have knowledge of what happens on earth. It is always speaking of earthly things and when is says that there is no longer any reward to them, it is not referring to the rewards of the afterlife, but of the fruits of one's labour in this life, the rewards of earthly achievements. It is these things that the dead will lose memory off and not that the living will lose the memory of the dead. This is verified by verse 6. The earthy passions that are associated with life: love, hatred, envy, are no longer passions that influence the dead, these things have now perished for the dead and those in Hades no longer have anything to do with earthly life and the things done under the sun. Verse 7 and 8 are like a conclusion to the vanity of earthy things. If once dead there is no knowledge of earthly things then in reality they are all in vain and so proceeds to tell man that while he is living to enjoy the fruits of his labour, to eat his bread and drink his wine, to live life as a festival by wearing his finest garments and by anointing his head with perfumed oil, because God is pleased with the work of his hands.

Chapter 10 verse 20 is a warning to be very careful of what you say about the king and in general of those who had power because spying was very well organized and even someone you trust might be a spy and report to the king what you have said. The bird is symbolic and is similar to what we say today that the walls have ears. In other words say absolutely nothing and trust no one.          

Concerning funerals and memorials for the departed, the Old Testament does not give us any details how these were performed or of the beliefs of the Jews at that time. We know from the New Testament that Jews were divided in their beliefs and that the Pharisees believed in life after death and the resurrection of the dead whereas the Sadducees denied that there was life after death. Nevertheless the Jews in general considered it important to bury the dead and not leave the carcass to be eaten by wild animals and the fowl of the air. The wealthy took care to have hewn out caves and we know that great importance was given that the dead person was laid to rest with his forefathers. Abraham purchased the field of Ephron with the double cave to bury Sarah and where he also was buried and subsequent measures were taken by later patriarchs to ensure that they would be buried there.

Some kind of prayers must have been offered as well as readings from the Torah and the singing of psalms but there is nothing to suggest that the ritual was to help the departed soul on his journey to the other world. Those who believed in the resurrection of the dead believed that the departed soul slept and was not active and would remain in this sleep until the coming of the Messiah and the resurrection of the dead that would follow. This belief would also account for why Ecclesiastes writes that the dead have no knowledge of what happens on earth.

A period of mourning followed the death of a person. This was usually 7 days but with people of importance like Aaron and Moses the mourning period was 30 days. Thus the person was not simply buried and forgotten, he was remembered according to his deeds and very possibly remembered annually, but we have no evidence of memorials or that the Jews believed in praying for the dead and their deliverance from sin other than in the Book of 2 Maccabees 12: 39-45 where Judas and his company offered a sin offering for those who had been slain and made a reconciliation for the dead, that they might be delivered from sin.     

With love in Christ
Fr. Christopher