The Zadokim (Sadducees) were the legitimate priests of Israel and were much celebrated in the histories of the Jewish People. The Cohen Hagadol (high priest) Zadok was prominent during the lives of David and Shlomo remaining loyal to the Davidic family and to Hashem. The Prophet Yekhezkel (Ezekiel) would later endorse this priestly party to return to the leadership as the legitimate priests for the Second Temple (Yekhezkel 40:46, 43:19). This endorsement is not simply limited to their family lineage. The reasons the House of Tsadok is so celebrated in the scriptures are their strict adherence to the Torah and their service to Hashem (Yekhezkel 44:15, 48:11). Unlike other families of priests, Benei Tsadok rejected pagan practices and strange foreign rites and beliefs in favour of a strict reading of the scriptures. Nehemiah 11:11 confirms that the prophecy was fulfilled, when a descendant of Hilkiyah (Hilkiah) was placed in charge of the Temple. Hilkiyah was the Zadokite High Priest in the time of King Hizkiyahu (Hezekiah) of the (southern) Kingdom of Yehudah. Note the cycle of prophecy and fulfillment here.
The Mashiach (Messiah)
I will begin with the Messianic prophecies. No prophecy is more potent then that of Yeshaiyahu (Isaiah) chapters 7-9. We read of a future king who will be called Immanuel (G-d is with us). Note Yeshaiyahu 9:6: “And his name will be called Wonderful Counselor, G-d’s Great Man (warrior), and Minister of Peace.” No passage in the scripture comes without context, however. What is the context of these passages? We begin with the commencement of this particular episode in Chapter 7. Ahaz King of Yehudah (the southern kingdom) is concerned because Pekah, the son of Remaliah, has overthrown the King of Yisrael (the northern kingdom) and has made an alliance with King R’tson of Aram. In earlier years, King Hazael of Aram had defeated both Yisrael and Yehudah. The alliance between these two kingdoms to the north was highly disconcerting. Later, these two powers would try to coax Yehudah into an alliance against Assyria, which would have been devastating. Against the backdrop of this geopolitical crisis, there is a domestic crisis as well: King Ahaz has no male heirs. The Prophet Yeshaiyahu comes with a message of soothing to King Ahaz that he need not be concerned about this alliance or the succession crisis. The Assyrians are gathering strength still farther north and will soon sweep down and destroy both of these kingdoms. Better that Yehudah should live to fight another day, and they will. The Prophet also addresses the lack of a male heir.
The vision received by Yekhezkel (Ezekiel) in chapter 37 verses 1-14, is one of several designed to impress upon Yekhezkel and the Israelites the power of prophecy and the limitless power of Hashem. In this particular vision, Hashem takes Yekhezkel out in a wind or “in spirit” to show him something; in other words this is a vision, not something that physically happened. Yekhezkel is shown a valley and dry bones therein. Hashem asks him if these bones are alive, Yekhezkel notes that Hashem knows better then he that they are lifeless. Hashem calls upon Yekhezkel to prophesy over them. Soon, the bones rise and assemble into people; sinews and muscles flow over them, and soon they are as men. Hashem then brings them back to life.
Hashem concludes by imparting the lesson of the vision. Verse 11 includes this quote:
“Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; see that they say: Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.”
The House of Israel, that is the Israelites living in that time, have complained of being dejected and cutoff from Hashem’s blessings. These Israelites were exiled by the Chaldeans (Babylonians) and Assyrians to modern day Iraq; now they are scattered over the entire region. Yerushalayim (Jerusalem) is in disrepair and the Temple is dilapidated and needs to be rebuilt. The Israelites are facing a very real state of dejection about very tangible and real world issues. The vision addresses their concerns in the very language they use to complain of their dejection. Verses 12 and 13 continue:
12 “Therefore prophesy, and say to them: Thus says your Lord YHVH: See, I will open your graves, and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel.
13 And you will know that I am YHVH, when I have opened your graves, and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people.”
The Israelites living in that time complain that they are as dead bodies and bones in graves. The ‘grave’ thus becomes their chosen metaphor for the exile. Hashem promises to raise them (the Israelites living in that time) from the grave and return them to the Holy Land. Hashem will demonstrate His awesome power by bringing the Israelites out of exile and returning them to the land; that they will know He was behind their return and they will serve Him dutifully, as their fathers did not.
Verse 14 concludes:
“And I will place My breath in you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; and you will know that I YHVH have spoken, and performed it, said YHVH.”
To whom is this message given? The Israelites of that time, they are the ones to whom Hashem is speaking through Yekhezkel. It is those people whom he is addressing and their concerns, in that time. The people will return to the land and live there again with Hashem’s renewed blessing. In the remaining verses of the chapter yet another vision is given, this time, the piling of sticks to represent the reunification of the nation as one entity. Both of these visions came to pass when the Israelites returned from the Exile (out of their graves) and had new life breathed into them in the Holy Land. They were one nation once again, no longer separate tribes or a nation divided north against south. The metaphor meets a satisfying conclusion in the return from Exile.
It is worthy of note that Yeremyahu 7:31-33, whose prophecies precede those of Yekhezkel, makes mention of the “Valley of Slaughter” at Tophet, where the wicked practice of Molekh was performed. In verse 33 there is a reference to the carcasses of the nation being left out in this valley to be picked clean by animals and none of them to be shooed away. The nation had been so disobedient that Hashem would utterly destroy them:
31 “They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in fire; which I did not command you, neither did it come into My mind.
32 Therefore in the days to come, said YHVH, it shall not be called Tophet any longer, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they shall bury [their dead] in Tophet, for lack of room elsewhere.
33 The carcasses of this people shall be food for the birds of the skies, and for the creatures of the earth; and no one shall frighten them away.”
In Yekhezkel Hashem takes the Prophet to just such a valley of now dry and picked-clean bones which He resurrects to life in the vision. This is just one example of how the Prophets weave various themes together, and how Hashem will offer an image of destruction and later reverse it into one of hope.
The Torah makes death an unclean thing. Dead bodies and bones are not to be touched. Death is the ultimate punishment. All of its commandments address the living during this life. If there is to be an afterlife, the Torah certainly gives no indication of it. The story of Shaul seeking out Shmuel’s spirit is often cited with regard to the afterlife. This episode, found in 1 Shmuel chapter 28 involves Shaul going to a diviner. The Torah forbids us from seeking out the dead, diviners can manipulate the living by giving them “messages” purported to be from the dead. Why does the diviner feel her life is in jeopardy in this episode if it is not that she knows her activities are forbidden? In this unique case, Hashem chooses to send Shaul a vision of Shmuel to explain why Shaul has been forsaken. Hashem would certainly prefer to give a message to Shaul from a man whom he knew and trusted, since Shaul had refused to listen to Hashem. This is far from proof of an afterlife, but is instead yet another example of Shaul’s malfeasance.
There are also those who believe that the references to She’ol in the Torah and elsewhere in the scriptures constitute a reference to the afterlife. She’ol means “dark place” or “pit” and in context refers to the grave. B’reishit (Genesis) 42:38 gives the word a meaning of the grave in context:
“Then he [Yakov] said: ‘My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he [Binyamin] only is left; if harm were to befall him on your journey, then will you will bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave. [sh’olah – she’ol]”
In Yeshaiyahu (Isaiah) the word refers once again to the grave, going along with maggots “beneath the trees,” (see Yeshayahu 14:8) and the imagery of decomposition. Verse 14:11 states:
“Your pomp is brought down to the grave, and the noise of your prayers; the maggot is spread out beneath you, and the worms cover you.”
Verse 9 of the same chapter mocks the concept saying that the grave is opened for the former kings who have been raised from their thrones:
“The grave beneath you is moved to meet you at your coming; the shades are stirred for you…”
That the shades (rephaim) are stirred for them; often mistaken for spirits of the netherworld, these likewise refer to darkness, the grave, and the process of decomposition in context. Given the large number of anthropomorphic descriptions of She’ol, that is the attribution of human characteristics to the concept, a number of scholars believe that this may refer also to a Canaanite deity.
I have already written a critique of Daniel elsewhere. The latter chapters of the Book of Daniel refer to the events that surround the Maccabee Revolt. Chapters 7-12 address the rise of Alexander, the breakup of his kingdom and the rise of Antiochus Epiphanies. Daniel was not a prophet, he received visions that were to be sealed until the time that events those visions described had come to pass. That we can read this book means that our ancestors believed that these events had indeed come to pass.
This book only barely made the canon. Given the scriptural hierarchy of the Torah followed by the Neviim (Prophets and Histories), then by the Kethuvim (writings), Daniel cannot be a source for major doctrine in our belief system. Our beliefs must all be founded in Torah, then explained by the Prophets. What is found in neither the Torah nor the prophets cannot be added by a book in the Writings; which is made up of prayers, laments, proverbs, and later histories.