The Death of Deaths: A Karaite Perspective
Previously I had touched on this topic, discussing how as a Zadokite, my expectations post-death were without hope of resurrection, absent of cognizant spiritual succession, and certainly not an expectation of lying around on couches while young beautiful Hori pop grapes into my mouth while surrounded by seven rivers flowing with wine. Those are the beliefs of other faiths and even though some Karaites adhere to the first option like their Rabbanite brethren, it certainly was not part of the Sadducean understanding. The Pharisees and their descendants, the Rabbanites vehemently condemned the Sadducee belief (or lack of one) but in so doing they failed to appreciate the logic of the arguments expounded by both Zadok and Boethus when they tried to stop what they saw as a spreading falsehood. And because of this, these two high priests that attempted to restore the true belief have been condemned for all time as Rabbanites recite the Amidah in which they curse both men for an eternity. Sanctimonious, self-idolizing, pompous Rabbis that have used their usurped authority to place curses on two men elected by God for over two thousand years. Then let them curse me too for I’m about to divulge the reasoning and rationale that both Zadok and Boethus used in presenting their argument. Their argument of truth, for as everyone should know, the word for truth is EMET, made up of the first, middle and last letters for the Hebrew alphabet, because Truth is unchanging from the beginning of time until the end of time and not even the Rabbis can change that.
In The Beginning
In punishment for eating the forbidden fruit, God pronounced the infamous ‘MOT TAMOOT' as evidenced in Genesis 2:17. The English that we have become familiar with reads, “And from the tree of knowledge of good and evil thou shalt not eat; for on the day thou shalt eat thereof thou shalt surely die.” And because most read the English and not the Hebrew original, ‘thou shalt surely die’ has become the accepted translation of Mot Tamoot. But as both Boethus and Zadok pointed out, that was not the case since both Adam and Eve ate of the fruit and they did not die on that day as was forecast. Instead, religious leaders and philosophers ascribed a completely different and unintended meaning that nowhere was promised, that being that God created man to be immortal and because of their defiance they were no punished with death. Or as Christians refer to it as mankind’s original sin. Of course Christian scholars have taken the tenet of original sin to the extreme saying that not only was death the punishment but man was condemned to go to Hell for his defiance and only through the intercession of Jesus has mankind been saved from this inevitable fate. That in itself is another story and one I’ll deal with later. But for this teaching I shall deal with the error of the immortality assumption.
Firstly, the actual translation of Mot Tamoot is ‘dying, thou shalt die” which as Zadok and Boethus pointed out originally meant that any promise of an eternal spirit had been removed. Or more simply put, ‘In death you shall find every part of you dies.’ God’s so-called punishment was finality. This being the case, then the question asked of both priests was whether or not there had been a promise of an immortal soul following death prior to the pronouncement of the punishment. They both answered that was not the case, only that man prior to obtaining knowledge did not have the truth of such matters and wished to believe that he could live on past the destruction of his mortal frame. The punishment for seeking knowledge was that in the end we will find out some hard truths that we may have wished we never knew. Pressed further about having at least some reward for life, both Zadok and Boethus attempted to give some comfort in relating that the Torah speaks of our essence or a souls returning from where they originally came, the Shekinah. We would become part of the Shekinah and from the Shekinah would spring forth new life but it would not be our life, nor our essence. What we had once been would be completely gone but that is the way of all things.
Even Solomon, wisest of all men was pressed on this issue and his answer was hardly more comforting. In Ecclesiastes 12:7 he commented “The dust returns to the earth as it was but the spirit shall return to God who gave it.” Though he proceeded both priest by almost 800 years, it was obvious that King Solomon knew that there’d be no resurrection, no restoration of the body. It would be gone and that which was our spirit would be incorporated into that part of God from whence it came, that being once again the Shekinah.
And almost as if anticipating the belief in Original Sin that would arise from Christianity, where mankind would bear the sin of Adam for an eternity only to have it washed away by the intercession of Jesus, it was written in Deuteronomy 24:16, “Fathers shall not die for children, nor children for fathers.” Clearly there was no such thing as a hereditary and eternal sin borne from generation to generation. There was no Original Sin that hung over mankind’s head. The only thing that Adam did pass on to us was knowledge or the pursuit of knowledge which eventually would be a curse to us all.
Faced with the horrible concept that we were here only for a short time with no reward after death, the Pharisees hurled insult after insult at both Zadok and Boethus. They ridiculed them saying that if this was the case then there would be no reason for a man to choose a path of righteousness since in the end the evil man would end up exactly in the same situation as the good man. An accusation to which both priests said that would be true if it had not been for the fact that Adam ate from the tree of knowledge and in so doing gave us the ability to discern good from evil. Now it was a matter of choice, a matter of our free will to do what was right in the eyes of the Lord.
Of course the Rabbis and Pharisees scoffed at this answer saying that if that’s all there was then mankind would obviously choose the less strenuous path, the path of evil since its reward seem to come with less effort. Both priests were shocked to hear that these men whom made constant efforts to prove to the people how much more righteous they were than the Sadducees would admit that without reward they would so easily be swayed towards the dark road. And Boethus made his most alarming statement for which the Rabbis have never forgiven him whereby he stated, “There are no rewards or punishments. There is only oblivion but in that oblivion a man can find the ‘death of deaths’ or the Mot Tamoot.” What did Boethus mean by this? He was referring to certain sentences found in Leviticus. In 22:3 he expounded the Lord said, “So each man who has uncleanness upon him, his soul shall be cut off from my presence.” And exactly what God’s presence meant he could clarify with a quote from Deuteronomy 32:50, “And dieth in the mount whither thou goest up and be gathered unto they people as Aaron thy brother died in mount Hor and was gathered unto his people.” To both priests the finality was obvious; the clues easily deciphered. It was well known that neither Aaron nor Moses had their bodies gathered by their people and buried. Each had chosen to die alone in an unknown place where their bodies wouldn’t be discovered and then enshrined like that of the Egyptian pharaohs to be worshipped for an eternity as physical manifestations of godhood. That being the case then the comment that they were to be gathered unto their people would appear confusing but not so if it merely meant their souls would be dispersed amongst all the others that had entered the Shekinah. The punishment for those that were iniquitous is that they wouldn’t be gathered into the Shekinah. Their souls would be excluded, doomed to be eternally separate, not knowing the apparent bliss that joining the Shekinah would have brought. And even when the Pharisim attempted to disprove these conclusions because the thought of living the life they had chosen without a reward was inconceivable, Boethus reminded them of the words from Jonah 4:3, “And now o’ Lord, do thou take my soul from me, form my death would be better than my life.” The oblivion promised of having one’s soul taken and their essence extinguished was far better than the harshness of living; this promised bliss of reuniting with the Shekinah and losing one’s individuality and consciousness of self-being was more rewarding than life itself.
It is the punishment that both Zadok and Boethus mentioned which worried the Pharisees most. Because the Pharisees believed in the permanence of the soul, to be informed that any soul that maintained its incorporeal identity after death would only do so if it was condemned and banished by God meant that what they had perceived as a reward was in fact the severest form of punishment possible. And here we are 2200 years after Zadok and Boethus made their statements for which they were condemned by the Rabbanites, yet more than ever today’s pursuit of comprehending the afterlife would appear to be proving them right. A myriad of near death experiences talking of the bright light that beckons to them, the overpowering feeling of bliss as they sense the letting go of their essence and the absolute rapture as the felt that they were being incorporated into something far greater than themselves. They had touched the Shekinah and truly tasted the Mot Tamoot, the death of deaths, the finality of all they once were. Similarly we have paranormal sciences attempting to measure the unimaginable, restless spirits that they can only be described as lost souls, doomed to wander, angry at the situation which binds them and their misery and torment manifests itself in a variety of ways which only serve to horrify us. How different are these specters from the punished souls of which Boethus spoke? As we find the truth now, as it was back then, the everlasting EMET which never changes, then we will have come full circle to the evidence that over two millennia ago these two priests presented in an attempt to preserve that which the Tanach had made clear to them and for which they were condemned by those that refused to listen.