In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Death and Burial

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Death in Ancient Egypt
  • Burial in Ancient Egypt
  • Mesopotamia, General Works
  • Mesopotamian Cults of the Dead
  • Burial Practices
  • Mythology
  • Hittite and Neo-Hittite Cultures
  • Religio-Historical Topics
  • The Royal Dead
  • Necromancy and Cults of the Dead
  • Mourning Practices
  • Theological/Canonical Topics
  • Canonical and History of Interpretation Approaches
  • Literary Approaches

Biblical Studies Death and Burial
Christopher B. Hays
  • LAST REVIEWED: 29 September 2014
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 September 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0140


The present bibliography is structured according to a comparative approach to death and burial in the Hebrew Bible and its ancient Near Eastern (ANE) environment. The conversation is enriched by intrabiblical analysis, but in general, the beliefs and practices expressed about death in the Bible make far more sense and come alive more readily when viewed in light of their cultural environment. The constraints of the project required a selective approach. I have omitted entries on relevant topics in reference works such as the Anchor Bible Dictionary, The New Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible, Civilizations of the Ancient Near East, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Archaeology in the Ancient Near East, The New Encyclopedia of Archaeological Excavations in the Holy Land, The Oxford Encyclopedia of Ancient Egypt, and the Reallexikon für Assyriologie. Hopefully these standard resources are familiar. One further outstanding reference work with much material on these topics deserves mention: the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (2d ed.; Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter W. van der Horst, eds.; Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 1999). In some cases, whole topics have been omitted because they are covered in the sources in General Overviews, and they otherwise have a large body of (mostly periodical) literature associated with them that would be impossible to select from. Two examples are child sacrifice and tomb inscriptions.

General Overviews

Early ambitious syntheses were offered in Spronk 1986 and Mettinger 2001, finding extensive cross-cultural similarities about afterlife beliefs in the ancient world. Lewis 1989 offered a more careful analysis, but the synthetic views were challenged particularly in Schmidt 1994. Hays 2011 takes stock of the debate almost two decades later, incorporating newer data. Hallote 2001 is an introductory-level discussion focused on archaeological data.

  • Hallote, Rachel S. Death, Burial, and Afterlife in the Biblical World: How the Israelites and Their Neighbors Treated the Dead. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2001.

    A brief, introductory overview, focusing on burial practices and archaeological data.

  • Hays, Christopher B. Death in the Iron Age II and in First Isaiah. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 79. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 2011.

    An analysis of beliefs and practices surrounding death in the Iron Age ancient Near East, organized by region. Argues for both native and foreign impetus for Israelite and Judean cults of the dead. Through analysis of Isaianic imagery, argues that death was one of the major rhetorical themes for the prophet and his early tradents.

  • Lewis, Theodore J. Cults of the Dead in Ancient Israel and Ugarit. Harvard Semitic Monographs 39. Atlanta: Scholars, 1989.

    An excellent study that, along with Spronk 1986, helped to reinvigorate the debate. Incorporates both texts and archaeological data. Concludes that cults of the dead existed in both Ugarit and Israel, with a particular emphasis on the popular roots in the latter case.

  • Mettinger, Tryggve N. D. The Riddle of Resurrection: “Dying and Rising Gods” in the Ancient Near East. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 2001.

    Surveys evidence on various deities from the ANE into Christian times, concluding that while many deities died and rose, there is no “type” to be identified. YHWH is not a god who dies and rises, but the accounts of Jesus draw on longstanding Mediterranean traditions.

  • Schmidt, Brian B. Israel’s Beneficent Dead: Ancestor Cult and Necromancy in Ancient Israelite Religion and Tradition. Forschungen zum Alten Testament 11. Tübingen, Germany: Mohr Siebeck, 1994.

    Argues that Israel had no indigenous cult of the dead deriving from longstanding Levantine tradition, but that such cults were a result of Neo-Assyrian influence.

  • Spronk, Klaas. Beatific Afterlife in Ancient Israel and in the Ancient Near East. Alter Orient und Altes Testament 219. Neukirchen-Vluyn, Germany: Neukirchener Verlag, 1986.

    Summary and advancement of a previous generation’s relatively “maximalist” conclusions about cults of the dead in the Levant, arguing for highly developed beliefs in the afterlife and the powers of the dead in Ugarit and Israel/Judah. Particularly thorough in use of Ugaritic texts.

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