I’m going to start going through the passages from the last post that I pulled out for examination from the list of occurrences in the OT for “the dead” (metim). Recall my working hypothesis:
The term “the dead” refers to those things that can and do die (they are inherently mortal, having determinate lifespans, and must do certain things [like eat and breathe] to keep existing). The most notable example, of course, is human beings, and so metim most often refers to human beings. The metim, then, are not the spirits (‘ob / ‘obot) that can be conjured. The metim do have some sort of disembodied existence and can be contacted (hence the prohibition), but don’t seem to be reliable sources of information. This would mean that the ‘ob / ‘obot would be non-human spirits.
Deut 18:11 – (more literally / my translation): “or a spellbinder, or one who asks a spirit (ʾob) who has knowledge (yiddeoni), or one who inquires of the dead (metim)”
Deuteronomy 18 is a well-known passage that deals with certain forbidden divination practices. Notice here that there is an apparent difference between asking a spirit (ʾob) for information and inquiring of the dead (metim). That is, the spirits being contacted and the dead being solicited seem to be different groups. The spirits have certain knowledge of the “other side” that human mediums would seek to tap into. We are not given this detail about the dead, which would be consistent with the passages below in Ecclesiastes. I don’t see anything in this passage that mars my hypothesis.
Deut. 26:14 (ESV): “I have not eaten of the tithe while I was mourning, or removed any of it while I was unclean, or offered any of it to the dead (metim). I have obeyed the voice of the Lord my God. I have done according to all that you have commanded me.”
This passage is consistent with my hypothesis. It would be incorrect to see “the dead” here as non-human spirits or demons, since there is a good deal of archaeological evidence for a “cult” of the dead in biblical Israel. There are traces of this in the Old Testament. We may get to that in detail, but for now I’ll only say that what scholars mean by “cult” of the dead is that Israelites, like basically all people, did certain things to honor or “service” the dead and maintain some sort of connection to them. Before we dismiss this, we ought to admit that we do the same thing, even in our scientific age. For example, we take flowers to the grave of loved ones, perhaps even on specific days. Why? Perhaps we imagine the deceased would appreciate the gesture, or perhaps we think it scandalous if a grave goes unattended (it’s disrespectful to the deceased). Do the dead really appreciate flowers? Do they keep track of how they are respected once they’re dead? Will they get upset with us if we bring the wrong thing or don’t bring anything at all? I think you get the picture. Israelites would leave food and wine at graves, at times even pouring or dumping the items into a grave through a hole designed for such purpose. But enough…I don’t want to get sidetracked. My point is that the metim in this verse are still the human dead. Incidentally, two excellent scholarly books on this subject matter are: Israel’s Beneficent Dead: Ancestor Cult and Necromancy in Ancient Israelite Religion and Tradition and Judahite Burial Practices and Beliefs About the Dead (Jsots Series No 123).
Deut. 28:64 – Excluded from the discussion. I marked this because of the odd translation in the original PDF file. Now I know why it was translated “few”-because this is a different “metim“. Like English, Hebrew has homographs-words that are spelled exactly the same way but which have divergent meanings. In English, for example, we have examples like “run” (verb) and “run” (noun – as in a “run” in your pantyhose or a “run” in baseball); “chuck” (a slang verb for “throw”) and “chuck”) the key used to tighten a drill. There are MANY such examples. In this case, the metim used here is a word for warrior or fighting men, so it’s excluded from our discussion.
More in a bit . . .