On the one hand, one could arguably say that David seemed to have believed that the dead were unconscious, based on what he said in Psalm 146:4 (YLT):

His spirit goeth forth, he returneth to his earth, In that day have his thoughts perished.

On the other hand, Saul, David's contemporary, believed that the spirits of the dead were conscious and could be consulted and talked to. Otherwise, he would've never wasted his time seeking assistance from a medium, as per 1 Samuel 28:7-11 (YLT):

7 And Saul saith to his servants, `Seek for me a woman possessing a familiar spirit, and I go unto her, and inquire of her;' and his servants say unto him, `Lo, a woman possessing a familiar spirit in En-dor.'
8 And Saul disguiseth himself and putteth on other garments, and goeth, he and two of the men with him, and they come in unto the woman by night, and he saith, `Divine, I pray thee, to me by the familiar spirit, and cause to come up to me him whom I say unto thee.' 9 And the woman saith unto him, `Lo, thou hast known that which Saul hath done, that he hath cut off those having familiar spirits, and the wizards, out of the land; and why art thou laying a snare for my soul -- to put me to death?' 10 And Saul sweareth to her by Jehovah, saying, `Jehovah liveth, punishment doth not meet thee for this thing.' 11 And the woman saith, `Whom do I bring up to thee?' and he saith, `Samuel -- bring up to me.'

David seemed to have believed that the dead were unconscious. Saul seemed to have believed that the dead were conscious. Does that mean that David and Saul had different afterlife theologies?

Were there different competing afterlife theologies on sale in the "spiritual marketplace" of that time?

6 Answers 6


There certainly were different theologies on the marketplace in ancient Israel! (e.g. see Leviticus 18:21) Israel's prophets spent a lot of time trying to keep people away from that marketplace.

This does not necessarily mean that Saul & David held to different theologies.


I've argued elsewhere that Psalm 146 does not speak of unconsciousness in death--Sheol is not what this Psalm is about.

The text isn't a discussion about the process of firing neurons, but rather it has in mind the intentions a person has--what will they do if not prevented by death from doing so?

I propose a plausible (and simpler) meaning is this: whatever plans you make, once you're dead you will have no power to carry them out (contrasted with the Lord, who is under no such limitations).

David has not given us an afterlife theology that requires unconsciousness in death.


Dottard makes excellent points about the questionable nature of Saul's beliefs. However, Saul was also a very well-informed Israelite and when he sinned, he did not sin ignorantly.

There are at least two points in 1 Samuel 28 that suggest--even granting that Saul was unstable--the prevailing worldview in Israel was that the dead are conscious (though neither is absolutely decisive):

  1. In verse 8 Saul manifests his belief that the deceased Samuel is somewhere where he can communicate
  2. In verse 19 "Samuel" indicates "to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me", which Saul readily understands to mean he (Saul) is going to die. This works well with later Jewish writers who held that Sheol was a place where the dead meet; this does not work so well if Samuel was in a temporary state of non-being (note that this is not a reference to the grave--Saul believes he's talking to a spirit, not a corpse).

That the people who visited the witch with Saul (see verse 8) found the story credible enough to relate (it is unlikely that the witch was keen to broadcast this story publicly, and Saul himself was dead only a few hours later), suggests that not only Saul, but those who were with him, held the prevailing worldview presupposed by Saul's visit.

The worldview of Saul & his servants tentatively supports the consciousness of the dead.


If David does not hold that the dead are unconscious, and Saul holds that the dead are conscious, then, as Darth Vader put it, there is no conflict.

(note that this is true even if one or both of them is wrong)

  • This is a circular argument - you assume what you want to prove and then use that to prove the point. The very fact that Saul acted very differently late in his reign vs early in his reign toward spiritualists and mediums should raise our suspicions. What would the dead prophet engage in an illegal act? None of this makes Bible sense. However, I suppose that it possible that Samuel in Sheol was allowed to disobey God not to communicate with Saul?
    – Dottard
    Jan 28, 2022 at 10:06
  • @Dottard can you clarify where you see circularity? That Saul was a well-informed Israelite? I don't suggest the deceased Samuel actually spoke to the living in this chapter, but I attempt to extract what Saul & his companions' actions tell us about their worldview (realizing it probably wasn't Saul who told this story to the scribe who wrote it down). Feb 2, 2022 at 19:47
  • This reads like a justification for your starting belief that people are conscious in death and that flavors all the flow of logic. Saul was deranged and desperate for information and thus was gullible. Desperation and gullibility are a (literally) deadly mix.
    – Dottard
    Feb 2, 2022 at 20:29
  • @Dottard It doesn't really matter if Israel thought that the dead were conscious and capable of being contacted. It's not as big of a deal as one might think. Check out my answer to see why. :) Saul's contemporaries also believed that God sent evil spirits to torment people(I Samuel 16:14-16). That doesn't make their beliefs correct.
    – Rajesh
    Feb 2, 2022 at 20:30
  • 1
    @Rajesh - I agree; it is more important to observe what the prophets taught.
    – Dottard
    Feb 2, 2022 at 20:34

Recall that Saul, as he aged, became increasingly mentally unstable - among other things, he had become psychotically paranoid about David and tried to kill him many times, sometimes at the expense of protecting the country! He had earlier expelled all the mediums and spiritists from the land (1 Sam 28:9) and thus had to ask help to find one who still practiced the illegal craft.

Early in his life, Saul was a prophet (1 Sam 10:11, 19:24). However, Saul's rebellion against God became so great (1 Sam 15:11, 17-19, 22, 23, 35) that God refused to speak or communicate with him (1 Sam 28:6, 15). Thus, in desperation, Saul decided to consult a necromancer - a highly illegal act, strictly forbidden in the law!!

Saul knew this because he had "killed the mediums and spiritists in the land" (1 Sam 29:9, see also Deut 18:9-13). This shows that whatever Saul believed about death had changed from when he was younger.

Thus, it is entirely possible/probable that Saul, in his deranged and desperate state harbored strange ideas about a number of things, including death and the afterlife.

Therefore, given a choice between David and Saul (in his last year), I would far better rely on the statements of David over Saul!


Ancient People Believed Many Things

It's probable that the prevailing worldview of Israel during the time of Saul was that the dead are, in some manner or another, conscious and capable of being contacted(as shown in @HoldToTheRod's answer). Is it a problem that they believed that? Does that mean it's true or that we should also believe what they believed? Not necessarily. Throughout the ages, the Israelites believed many things that, in retrospect, were plainly incorrect (they were an ancient civilization, after all). For example, they believed in a highly inaccurate cosmology vastly distinct from the one we have today. They believed that the earth was flat and circular (not spherical), having foundations underneath in the vast abyss of the deep (Isaiah 40:22 [cf. Isaiah 22:18, where the actual Hebrew word for a spherical object is used], Job 9:6, Job 26:10, Psalm 75:3, Psalm 102:25, Proverbs 8:27). They believed in a solid firmament (called heaven) that kept the waters above the sky separated from the waters below the sky so that land could exist, and that there were windows in this firmament that can be opened to flood the land, and that this firmament had foundations supporting it (Genesis 1:7-8, Genesis 7:11, Genesis 8:2, 2 Samuel 22:8, Isaiah 24:18, Job 26:11, Job 37:18, Psalm 148:4-6, Ezekiel 1:22-26). They also believed that the kidneys, not the brain, were the center of thought and feeling (Psalm 7:9, Psalm 16:7, Psalm 26:2, Psalm 73:21, Proverbs 23:16, Job 16:12-13, Jeremiah 11:20, Jeremiah 17:10, Lamentations 3:13, Revelation 2:23).1

Why Not Correct Them?

So why didn't God ever correct them on these matters? Why didn't He tell them that the Earth is actually a sphere? That there are no waters above the sky? That there are no windows in heaven? That the brain, not the kidneys, is actually the center of thought and feeling? Because being ignorant of the truth is part of human nature, and when not pertinent/significant to our relationship with Him, God is not required to help us out of our ignorance. That's not to say, of course, that God never helped us out of our ignorance when it wasn't necessary. God revealing the truth to us about the consciousness of the dead is just one example of God helping us out of our ignorance when not pertinent to our relationship with Him. The point is, what Israel's views were on the consciousness of the dead was not very pertinent to their relationship with God; it's not very pertinent to our relationship with God (that Israel had faith in Yahweh and kept His commandments was most essential; that we have faith in Yeshua and keep His commandments is most essential).

So yes, Saul and his contemporaries most likely believed that the dead were conscious in some manner or another, and that they could be contacted. They also believed that Yahweh sent evil spirits to torment people (1 Samuel 16:14-16). Does this indicate that their belief that the dead were conscious and capable of being contacted (or that God sent evil spirits to torment people) was true? Not necessarily. The fact that Saul and his contemporaries believed that the dead were conscious does not in any way necessitate that the dead are actually conscious. David, on the other hand, possibly believed that the dead were unconscious, or at the bare minimum knew that the dead were fully incapable of having any sort of association with the living whatsoever, and vice versa.

God Progressively Reveals Things

What do I mean when I say that God progressively reveals things? Do I mean that newer revelations can contradict and replace/nullify older revelations? No. God's revelations will always be thoroughly consistent with each other; successive revelations necessarily produce a fully coherent framework (we will see that here apropos the state of the dead). Yes, Saul and his contemporaries most likely believed that the dead were conscious and capable of being contacted (well Saul undoubtedly), but why did they? Well, because God never revealed to them, or their predecessors, the truth about the state of the dead! I cannot find a single statement made by Yahweh (or any of His inspired writers/prophets), made before or during the time of Saul, that speaks about the state of the dead (about their consciousness or lack thereof). How do you expect the Israelites (during the time of Saul) to know that the dead are unconscious and thus incapable of being contacted... if God hadn't revealed to them that it is so?

It's pretty straightforward; God had not yet revealed to them the truth about the state of the dead. Eventually, God did reveal the complete truth about the state of the dead (in Ecclesiastes), i.e. that the dead are thoroughly unaware and unconscious; but this was long after Saul (and David) had passed away. The majority of scholars date the writing of the book of Ecclesiastes to somewhere around 250 B.C., around 750 years after Saul would have lived! Neither Saul nor David could have read Ecclesiastes, hence how could they have known for a fact that the dead were unconscious? Although I must say, David (and others inspired by God to write Psalms), had a much clearer picture of the state of the dead; I cannot say for sure if he knew that they were fully unconscious/unaware. Perhaps, perhaps not. Either way.

Here's The #1 Point

Here is, by far, the most significant point: While God might have allowed the Israelites to believe that the dead were conscious (even allowing some such as Saul and his contemporaries to believe that they were capable of being contacted), you know what's one thing God never once allowed them to believe? That the righteous go to heaven and the unrighteous go to hell; more accurately, that the righteous go to one compartment of Sheol to be in bliss and the unrighteous go to another compartment of Sheol to be in torment. In fact, quite the opposite! Whatever the Israelites did believe about the dead, it utterly opposes any notions of heaven and hell (or individual compartments of Sheol, one dedicated for the righteous who live there in bliss, and another dedicated for the unrighteous who live there in torment).

I want you, for one moment, to completely forget everything you've ever thought, believed, or assumed about the state of the dead. If you were to then read each of the following passages, would you ever in a billion years come out with the notion that the dead are either being tormented in hell (compartment of Sheol for the unrighteous) or experiencing bliss in heaven (compartment of Sheol for the righteous, i.e. paradise/Abraham's bosom)? We will see that such notions are thoroughly foreign to the Bible.

  • Genesis 3:9 By the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread, until you return to the ground—because out of it were you taken. For dust you are, and to dust you shall return.” (What does God say the fate of humankind is? To return to the dust. Does dust remind you of noise or activity [of which there would be in heaven or hell], or does it remind you of silence and lifelessness? Also, notice how God does not say, "until your body returns to the ground, because out of it was your body taken; for dust your body is, and to dust it will return." WE go to the ground, not our bodies; we do not go to be with God, but our spirits [i.e. the spirits that belong to us, not the spirits that are us] go to be with God.)

  • Psalm 6:4-5 Turn, O Yahweh, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love. 5 For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? (David really does not want to be dead. He wants God to deliver his life, for he fully believes that, while dead, he is incapable of praising or remembering God.)

  • Psalm 9:5 You have rebuked the nations, You have eliminated the wicked; You have wiped out their name forever and ever. (Has God sent the wicked to eternal torment in fire for eternity or has He eliminated them? You can't have both. David clearly goes with the latter.)

  • Psalm 16:10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. (David seems as though he really doesn't want to be in Sheol. But why not? Would he not be in heavenly bliss in Abraham's bosom/paradise?)

  • Psalm 21:9 You will place them in a fiery furnace at the time of Your appearing. In His wrath Yahweh will engulf them, and the fire will consume them. (What image comes to mind when you hear about fire consuming something? If you were to throw, say, a notebook into a bonfire, do you expect that the notebook would stay intact [even if just partially] for eternity? Or do you expect the notebook to be demolished; reduced to ashes? The fire of Yahweh will demolish the wicked because that is what fire does; it demolishes!)

  • Psalm 22:15 My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth. You lay me in the dust of death. (Here's dust being metaphorical of death again. Notice how David says, "you lay ME in the dust of death", and not, "you lay my body in the dust of death". Once again, a human person is said to be in the dust; like dust, silent without any activity.)

  • Psalm 30:9 “What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? (The theme of "dust" being lifeless and silent is being hammered down once more. I'd say that if I went to paradise to be with God upon death, there would be profit in my death, no?)

  • Psalm 31:17 O Yahweh, let me not be ashamed, for I have called on You. Let the wicked be put to shame; let them lie silent in Sheol. (Notice how David does not say, "let them lie in torment in Sheol", rather he says, "let them lie silent in Sheol". Torment was not anywhere near David's mind when he thought about the wicked dead; quite the opposite! I hardly imagine that you can be silent while being tormented by fire day and night...)

  • Psalm 37:20 But the wicked will perish; the enemies of Yahweh are like the glory of the pastures; they vanish—like smoke they vanish away. (The wicked will perish and vanish like smoke? It is beyond unimaginable that one could ever read eternal torment into this passage.)

  • Psalm 37:38 But wrongdoers will altogether be destroyed; The future of the wicked will be eliminated. (As you can see, transgressors will be tormented; they will have an eternal future in hellfire. Wait, my bad, that's not what it says. It says that wrongdoers will be destroyed, and subsequently so too any future they might have. Being tormented in hellfire for eternity certainly seems like a future to me.)

  • Psalm 49:15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me. Selah ​(If when the righteous die and go to Sheol, they go to be with God, why is it that God needs to ransom a person's soul from Sheol in order to receive them? It's almost as if God is not in Sheol.)

  • Psalm 88:10-12 Do you perform wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah 11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? 12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? (Why doesn't God perform wonders for the dead? When Lazarus died [Luke 16:19-31], God undoubtedly performed wonders for him; He sent His angels to bring him up to the bosom of Abraham! But if the righteous dead are in paradise with God, why doesn't He perform wonders for them. Is it perhaps that they are incapable of perceiving them? This fits perfectly with what is said afterward; not only are God's wonders not known in the darkness of death, but neither is His love, nor His faithfulness, nor His righteousness; nothing is known in the land of forgetfulness.)

  • Psalm 90:3 You return man to dust and say, “Return, O children of man!” (Who returns to dust? Man, not man's body, returns to dust.)

  • Psalm 94:16-17 Who will rise up for me against the wicked? Who will stand for me against the workers of iniquity? Unless Yahweh had been my helper, I would soon have dwelt in the abode of silence. (The Psalmist is saying that if Yahweh had not protected him from the wicked, he would have soon died, or in his words, "dwelt in the abode of silence." The dead dwell in the abode of silence. That does not remind me of either heaven or hell, or should I say, one compartment for the bliss of the righteous, and another for the torment of the wicked. The Psalmist presents death as a place with no noise or activity.)

  • Psalm 94:24 He has brought back their injustice upon them, And He will destroy them in their evil; Yahweh our God will destroy them. (God has brought the injustice of the wicked upon them, and will torment them because of their evil; He will torment them for eternity. Oh wait, my bad again, that's not what it says.)

  • Psalm 103:14 For He knows our frame; He is mindful that we are dust. (Once more, WE are dust; not our bodies are dust.)

  • Psalm 104:29 When you hide your face, they are dismayed; when you take away their spirit, they die and return to their dust. (Notice how a distinction is made between us and our spirit; when our spirit [i.e. spirit that belongs to us, not is us] is taken away, we die and return to dust. Not, when we are taken away, our bodies die and return to dust. We are not our spirits, and our bodies are not what return to dust; we are what return to dust.)

  • Psalm 115:17 The dead do not praise Yahweh, nor do any who descend into silence. (This Psalm is almost a combination of Psalm 6:5 and Psalm 94:17. Death is once more said to be silent, with no praises of Yahweh coming out from it.)

  • Psalm 146:4 When his spirit departs, he returns to the ground; on that very day his plans perish. (Notice how the Psalmist does not say that we depart, and that our body returns to the ground. It says our spirit [i.e. the spirit that belongs to us, not is us] departs, and that we [us, human persons] return to the ground. Some would have it say, "when he departs, and his body returns to the ground"; though it says the exact opposite! The spirit that belongs to man [not the spirit that is man] is what departs, and the man himself returns to the ground whence he came from. It is that clear and unequivocal.)

  • Isaiah 38:17-18 Surely for my own welfare I had such great anguish; but Your love has delivered me from the pit of oblivion/nothingness, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back. For Sheol cannot thank You; Death cannot praise You. Those who descend to the Pit cannot hope for Your faithfulness. (The pit of oblivion and nothingness? Oblivion is defined as "the state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening." Nothingness is defined as "the absence or cessation of life or existence." How much more explicit about death does Isaiah need to be? Does the next verse work? Isaiah says that the dead cannot thank, cannot praise, and cannot hope... Do I have faith that Yeshua will deliver me from the pit of oblivion!)

  • Ecclesiastes 3:19-21 For the fates of both men and beasts are the same: As one dies, so dies the other—they all have the same breath. Man has no advantage over the animals, since everything is futile. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? (Do all bodies return to the dust or do all creatures return to the dust? Once more, we human beings are dust; not our bodies. We return to the dust; not our bodies. The spirits that belong to us are what rise upwards to God for safekeeping [cf. Ecclesiastes 12:7, Luke 23:46, Acts 7:59], but our spirits are not synonymous with our very being; they are our possession. It's the spirit OF man, not the spirit THAT IS man.)

  • Job 10:9 Please remember that You molded me like clay. Would You now return me to dust? (Does Job say, "would you now return my body to dust"? No, he says, "would you now return ME to the dust." Once more, human beings, not bodies, return to the dust. We are dust; not our bodies. There is not a single place in all of scripture where the dust metaphor is used in conjunction with our bodies, but always with our very being, our entire existence as human persons.)

  • Job 14:10-15 But a man dies and lies prostrate. A person passes away, and where is he? 11 As water evaporates from the sea, And a river becomes parched and dried up, 12 So a man lies down and does not rise. Until the heavens no longer exist, He will not awake nor be roused from his sleep. 13 “Oh that You would hide me in Sheol, That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You, That You would set a limit for me and remember me! 14 If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my struggle I will wait Until my relief comes. 15 You will call, and I will answer You; You will long for the work of Your hands. (What conception do the words "water evaporates from the sea" and "river becomes parched and dried up" conjure in your mind? Noise and activity? Bliss or torment? Or do you envision decimation and stillness? Job is analogizing such a scenario with the circumstances of those who die. The dead are "dried up and parched" and "evaporated", i.e. still and inactive. That kind of reminds me of a person in deep sleep. Those who are asleep aren't up about doing anything; they aren't making conversation, solving differential equations, or cooking a meal. In fact, they're completely unaware of their surroundings. Perhaps that is why Job compares death to sleep. Because the dead are in an inactive, motionless, unaware state; just as those asleep are. Many don't realize just how absurd and meaningless the analogy of death and sleep becomes when you interpret "asleep" to mean experiencing either bliss in a heavenly paradise with God or day-and-night torment in an unquenchable fire; could you be anywhere near asleep in either scenario? I've heard some argue for Job disbelieving in the possibility of a resurrection. It is beyond inconceivable that Job would not have believed in the possibility of a resurrection judging by his words in verse 15; "you will call and I will answer." Does that remind you of anything? It reminds me of John 5:25 and 28-29, where those who hear the voice of Yeshua [i.e. Yeshua calls them] will come out of the tombs and live [i.e. they answer His voice by coming to life]. Job had faith that if God were to call him from his state of death, Job would answer and come to life. The only thing Job is wondering about is whether or not God WILL do that, not whether or not God CAN do that.)

  • Job 17:13-16 If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness, 14 if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ 15 where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? 16 Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?” (Sheol is depicted as darkness, with no hope in it. Job does not expect to go into the dust along with his hope. But notice that Job does not say that he has no hope at all, but simply that the hope that he does have does not go with him into the pit. Job is not denying hope; he's denying that hope goes along with him into Sheol. While the hope that you and I have does not go with us into Sheol, it does not need to, as the hope that we have in Yeshua transcends both life and death [cf. Romans 14:8, Philippians 1:20, 1 Thessalonians 5:10].)

  • Job 34:14-15 If He were to determine to do so, If He were to gather His spirit and His breath to Himself, 15 Humanity would perish together, And mankind would return to dust. (This is perhaps one of the most unambiguous and incontrovertibly straightforward statements needed to obliterate any notions of spirits being man or bodies going to the dust. If God were to remove the vital life-sustaining spirit and breath of mankind, mankind would perish altogether and return to the dust. It does not say that we would go to God; somehow people take Ecclesiastes 12:7 to mean that we humans go to God upon death, even though nowhere in all of scripture are we [us, human persons, living beings] equated to our spirit/breath [that which gives vitality and sustains a human being]. It also does not say that our bodies/only the physical part of us would return to the dust; it unequivocally says mankind would return to the dust.)

  • Daniel 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Many of those who are experiencing either bliss in paradise with God or being tormented in unquenchable fire will awake, some to... wait, I feel like I made an error somewhere. Oh, it says that many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake. Do the words "dust" and "sleep" conjure up notions of heavenly bliss or day-and-night torment? Or do they conjure up notions of quietude and dormancy; silence and inactivity? How one can interpret "sleep in the dust" as "bliss in paradise with God" or "unending torment in fire" is entirely beyond me. Daniel 12:2 makes two clear statements; (1) that the dead are asleep and (2) that they are in the dust of the earth. Both of these are metaphors for the state of the dead. The dead are "asleep" because, like those asleep, they are unaware of themselves and their surroundings; the dead are "in the dust of the earth" because, like the dust of the earth, they are silent and lifeless. It's as straightforward as that; there's no equivocation or ambiguity.)

As you can see, while God may have allowed the Israelites during the time of Saul to believe in the consciousness of the dead, there is one thing He never allowed them to believe; that there are separate compartments in Sheol, one for the righteous where they will experience heavenly bliss with God and another for the unrighteous who will be tormented in fire with no relief. Such notions would have been entirely foreign to the mind of any Israelite, whether Saul or David.

See How It All Comes Together?

I had also said something else before; "successive revelations necessarily produce a fully coherent framework (we will see that here apropos the state of the dead)." Have we seen that? 100%! Remember, Saul, who lived in the 11th century BC, was very limited in his knowledge about the state of the dead, that is, the knowledge he had was completely incorrect (he believed not only that Samuel was conscious but that he was capable of being contacted). David, living in the 10th century BC (at least for 30 years, until he died in 970 BC), would have had much more knowledge, and he certainly did judging by some of the psalms he wrote. But did he fully know the state of the dead? I cannot say for sure. Isaiah was written during the 8th century BC (300 years after Saul died). And Job was written around the 6th century BC (500 years after Saul died).

All of the passages we read (excluding the one in Daniel) were written before Ecclesiastes, which was most likely written in the second half of the 3rd century BC (750 years after Saul died). Judging solely by what we have read so far, one can very easily guess that the dead are unconscious. But God's purpose is not to leave us guessing. His purpose is to make sure we have the full, complete truth about the state of the dead. It's as though everything that has been said so far has been building up to the finale; the pinnacle of it all! God is about to reveal the whole truth, one that will, along with everything else we've learnt so far, construct a fully coherent framework. God is going to reveal something that is 100% consistent with all preceding revelations. Let's read it.

  • Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 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. 6 Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun.

  • Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

That's why there is no remembrance of God in death! Why His wonders, love, faithfulness, and righteousness are not known; the dead do not know anything! That's why death is called the land of forgetfulness; no one remembers anything, because they are without knowledge or thinking ability. That's why the dead are said to be dust; they are silent and lifeless. It's why the state of the dead is analogized to sleep; they are dormant and inactive. It's also why the dead cannot praise, cannot thank, and cannot hope; they are fully unconscious, incapable of performing such feats which require mental faculties. It's why those who die descend into silent darkness, and "dwell in the abode of silence"; there is no activity or noise or work for those who are dead, as they are fully unaware of anything. It's why David hated the thought of going to Sheol; I'd certainly hate being totally lifeless and unconscious/unaware. This is also why death is called the "pit of nothingness/oblivion"; because the dead are nonexistent, fully unaware of anything that is happening. Everything fits together perfectly, like pieces of a puzzle. Ecclesiastes was the last puzzle piece needed to construct a fully articulate conception about the state of the dead. There is nothing more to be done.

In Conclusion:

Yes, Saul and David had different afterlife theologies. One (David) was closer to the truth than the other (Saul), though neither had the complete truth. Were there different competing afterlife theologies on sale in the "spiritual marketplace" of that time? There are competing theologies about any subject on sale at any time, perhaps more so in our day than ever before (that's consistent with the fact that there are nearly 8 billion people living on this planet)! Although, in the case of Israel, it's not so much that there were competing theologies as it is that there was simply very limited knowledge at that time about the state of the dead. In all the books preceding 1 Samuel, there is not a single statement about the state of the dead (i.e. about their consciousness or lack thereof). There are statements about where the dead go (e.g. Genesis 37:35, Genesis 42:38, Genesis 44:29, Genesis 44:31, Numbers 16:30, Numbers 16:33). But none about their current state of consciousness. That explains why Saul believed that Samuel (who had died) was capable of being contacted, and why his contemporaries didn't view Saul's belief as anything out of the ordinary.

No matter what, we are not obliged to believe the same things Saul and his contemporaries believed, simply because they believed them; otherwise, we'd have to believe that God sends evil spirits to torment people (1 Samuel 16:14-16), and that the earth is flat and circular with foundations in the abyss of the deep, and that there is a solid firmament in the sky, keeping the waters above from drowning the land, and that the kidneys, not the brain, are the center of thought and emotion. Of course, that Israel believed all these things is not in any way a problem, as it wasn't greatly significant to their relationship with God. Being ignorant of the truth is ingrained into our nature, our imperfect, sinful nature; and God knows this, and He does not hold it against us, which is why we should be all the more thankful when God reveals the truth to us!

Hope this helps!


1 I realize that some may be confused about my particular view of the Bible. I don't believe in Biblical inerrancy; if by inerrancy one means that the Bible is incapable of ever making a single historical or scientific mistake. I do, however, believe that the primary messages conveyed by the Bible are always fully true, that is, that the essence of what the Bible teaches is completely accurate. For example, the Genesis account states that God created everything in the universe in 6 days. Do I believe that God created everything in the universe in 6 days? No. Do I believe in the message that the Genesis account is trying to convey, namely, that God is the Ultimate Creator of all things, the One who, through the power of His Word, brought forth an ordered reality for His creation to live in and enjoy? I do 100% and I don't doubt it! Likewise, when Jesus says that He is the One who searches the kidneys and hearts, do I believe that Jesus actually searches a person's kidneys to find out their thoughts? No. Do I believe the essence of Jesus' teaching here, namely, that He is the One who searches and comprehends the emotions and thoughts of man? Again, I do 100% and I don't doubt it!

  • Continuing with the idea of progressive revelation, do you think the New Testament Apostles had even greater revelation on the afterlife? What about the Apostolic Fathers? (+1, very elaborate and detailed answer.)
    – user38524
    Jan 30, 2022 at 18:06
  • Regarding David having no expectations of consciousness in the afterlife, what are your thoughts on this question: Is to die gain or not? Paul (Philippians 1:21-24, 2 Corinthians 5:8) vs. David (Psalm 6:4-5, 30:9). Do you think Paul had more revelation than David?
    – user38524
    Jan 30, 2022 at 18:09
  • Thank you very much! :) "Continuing with the idea of progressive revelation, do you think the New Testament Apostles had even greater revelation on the afterlife?" See what I said here: "Do I mean that newer revelations can contradict and replace/nullify older revelations? No." If the Apostles' revelation was that the dead are conscious and being tormented/experiencing bliss, then that would contradict what God hitherto revealed in the Hebrew Bible. It's a good thing that they never had such revelations.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 30, 2022 at 18:11
  • It's a good thing that they never had such revelations. - then how come the Apostolic Fathers thought otherwise? Check out this question: What is the view of soul sleep adherentes on statements from the Apostolic and ante-Nicene Fathers that seem to support post-mortal consciousness?
    – user38524
    Jan 30, 2022 at 18:12
  • "Do you think Paul had more revelation than David?" 100%! As I said in my answer, David probably did not absolutely know that the dead are unconscious, but he did have an idea. Paul, who was very, very experienced in the scriptures, and would have read all the passages I showed in my answer(including Ecclesiastes), and thus would have fully known the state of the dead. He definitely had more revelation than David.
    – Rajesh
    Jan 30, 2022 at 18:13

Shaul שָׁאוּל (when uninspired by YHVH [1 Samuel 28:6]) sought inspiration from הָאֹבֹת "The-Ghosts" or אוֹב (Medium) "Ghost" which can only speak through humans (pretending to speak from under the earth [Isaiah 29:4], [Isaiah 8:19]). Since הָאֹבֹת "The-Ghosts" are always humans who trick you by impersonating others, Torah forbids them [Leviticus 19:31].

Regarding sad delusions of Shaul, we learn : "The בעל אוב, the controller of the spirit אוב, as the necromancer is called (cf. I Samuel 28:7), is identical with the פיתום (in Greek: πύξωυ); he is one who speaks out of his arm-pit; ידעני is one who puts a bone of an animal the name of which is ידוע into his mouth and the bone speaks (Sanhedrin 65b)" [ Rashi on Leviticus 19:31].

Clearly for Shaul ( 1 Samuel 28, 1 Chronicles 10:13-14) the belief in YHVH & Torah was not enough to guide his decisions. Yes - Shaul believed differently than David about speaking to Mediums. | If Shaul & David believed different things about the afterlife in a fundamental sense (regarding voices of Ghosts), that only teaches us (based on Torah) that David lived righteously placing his fate in the Hand of YHVH [Psalms 31] - not in the voice of ghosts like the delusional Shaul.

  • I'm not sure how this answer the question. Does this mean that David and Saul believed in different things or not?
    – user38524
    Jan 27, 2022 at 17:33
  • Sorry, I meant to say that if they believed different things about the afterlife in a fundamental sense. For example, did David believe in Soul Sleep and Saul believe in a conscious post-mortal existence?
    – user38524
    Jan 27, 2022 at 17:53

Perhaps both are correct, in a sense. I believe the justified in the Old Testament went to paradise in Sheol [Luke 23:43; 1 Peter 3:19-20; Luke 16:22-23] and were held there until Christ resurrected as well as bore and paid for their sins. I believe they later were taken to the third heaven.

I do not believe Gehenna is in or under the earth, or that it's the same as Sheol or Hades. I believe Gehenna is the lake of fire, and that it completely destroys and annihilates body and soul (no eternal conscious torment). But I believe that the wicked are unconscious and dead and are awaiting their resurrection to the Great White Throne Judgment where they will be judged and where most of them will die a second time, at that point actually having their souls destroyed.

So I believe in soul-unconsciousness or soul-sleep for the wicked, but eternal life for the justified.

P.S. The "lake of fire" is likely an extra-dimensional and cosmic holding tank of evil.

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    – agarza
    Jul 5, 2022 at 13:06

Let's get to the heart of the matter here--Either 2 Timothy 3:16-17 means what it says, or it doesn't. If all Scripture is God-breathed, and it's all profitable for the categories Paul delineates, and yet, there seems to be contradictions in certain sections, that would denote a problem with translations, understanding/comprehension, both, or, some other issue. A human problem, not a Scripture problem.

That said, We know that 1.) Jesus told the thief on the cross that on that day, the thief would be with Him in Paradise. Debating on whether or not that means "in Heaven/in God's presence", or, in a compartment or side of Sheol, is another issue (which is tied into the asked question here, but not the final point). And, 2) Paul said, by way of contrast, that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord--since being here, "in the body" is to be away from Him. It seems pretty clear that, regardless of what some might draw from the OT, there is LIFE beyond the physical existence; The Blessed Hope, as it were. Revelations also makes it clear that John witnessed the souls of martyrs under the Alter in Heaven crying out to the Lord to avenge their blood. I could include Peter's instructing on Jesus' proclaiming to "spirits in prison/Tartarus", but I'm sure others would try to refute that by claiming a special situation with Jesus that doesn't apply to others (not the proclaiming, but the conscious existence).

This would then indicate that King Saul was correct to some extent in his apparent belief that the soul/spirit of dead people could be contacted through some occult practice. That Samuel did show up (came up out of the earth), speak to Saul with recognition, and knew what Saul's point of death was, suggests very strongly that he was given information, along with retaining some from his mortal life. There is nothing that I've ever encountered in any Biblical text that suggests that this is allegory, poetic language, a misrepresentation of the occurrence, an 'impersonation' of Samuel, or any other concept beyond it being just what was written. God allowed Samuel to be brought forth, in spite of what the witch was doing (she's quite literally afraid of what she sees, which indicates that it was not what she normally saw, and it caused her to feel like she was in danger of some type).

So, if there is language of oblivion/destruction/unconsciousness in OT writing, it needs to be interpreted in light of Scripture. If the NT shows us that we exist beyond just the mortal life in the body (and it certainly does), these passages have to be interpreted in that light. In fact, almost ever passage listed in this response exchange is understood in Biblical scholarship to be of Poetic (Psalms, Job), or, Prophecy styles. Ecclesiastes, as more of the "wisdom' style, nonetheless was most likely written near the end of Solomon's life, after he had apostatized, and seems to be coming back around to his original love/devotion to God (Yahweh). By this I'm getting at the point that Solomon comes across as rather defeated, but ultimately convinced that trust in the Lord was/is the best course for life.

It seems to me that the talk of either oblivion or unconsciousness/unknowing in those OT passages is meant to convey the hopelessness of humans without trust in God. That there are passages that convey saints understanding (and, fearing) this concept is almost certainly: Examples of a healthy fear of not obeying God; recognition that, outside of God, these people deserved this sort of fate; a part of the progressive revelation mentioned; and, a portion of Mercy for future saints who would read--part of God's Providence in Scripture.

That's my $.02

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    – agarza
    May 10, 2022 at 12:54

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