Here is the short list of passages (from the last post) we need to consider:

Deut 18:11; Deut. 26:14; Deut 28:62; Psa 88:5; Psa 88:10; Psa 106:28; Psa 115:17; Eccl 9:3; Eccl 9:5; Isaiah 8:19; Isaiah 26:14; Isaiah 26:19

Continuing on in our efforts to parse the dead (metim) … I once again offer 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 (ʾob / ʾobot) 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 ʾob / ʾobot would be non-human spirits.

Last time I posted about Deut 18:11; Deut 26:14; and Deut 28:62.  Let’s try and get through more of the list.

Psalm 88:5; Psalm 88:10 –

3 For my soul is full of troubles,

and my life draws near to Sheol.

4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit;

I am a man who has no strength,

5 like one set loose among the dead (metim),

like the slain that lie in the grave,

like those whom you remember no more,

for they are cut off from your hand.

6 You have put me in the depths of the pit,

in the regions dark and deep.

7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,

and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah

8 You have caused my companions to shun me;

you have made me a horror to them.

I am shut in so that I cannot escape;

9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.

Every day I call upon you, O Lord;

I spread out my hands to you.

10 Do you work wonders for the dead (metim)?

Do the departed (rephaim) 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?

It’s pretty clear that the dead (metim) in 88:5 refers to the human dead. The wider context clearly casts the dead as “the slain that lie in the grave.”  In 88:10, though, there is an issue: are the dead in 88:10 synonymous with or alongside the rephaim?  If the former, the dead may be non-human (or, better, more than human) mortals. Briefly, the rephaim are, most generally, the dead kings or great warriors of antiquity.  Sources within and outside the Bible confirm this identification. In the biblical case, however, the rephaim are related (literally) to the giant clans in the Old Testament. These clans are in turn identified as descendants of the nephilim (Gen 6:4), who were offspring of human women and divine beings (the sons of God).1 There is nothing about the Hebrew that compels the conclusion that the terms are synonymous, and so my working hypothesis is still intact. Even if metim can refer to rephaim, it is clear that the giants of the OT were mortal-they could be killed-and so it wouldn’t be odd for the term to apply to them as well.  Though our topic (differentiating terms for the human dead, ghosts / spirits of the human dead, and non-human Underworld spirits in the biblical worldview) relates to the question of Sheol and the afterlife, I don’t want to get sidetracked on that.  I have another working hypothesis on that (scholars have widely disagreed), so that’s for another time.

Psalm 106:28 – Like Deut 28:62 in the previous post, this is a reference to sacrifices for the human dead. In this case, living people are condemned for eating from the animal sacrificed as an offering to the dead.

Psalm 115:16-18

16 The heavens are the Lord’s heavens,

but the earth he has given to the children of man.

17 The dead (metim) do not praise the Lord,

nor do any who go down into silence.

18 But we will bless the Lord

from this time forth and forevermore.

Praise the Lord!

There’s nothing in this text that would indicate that the dead (metim) are anything but the human dead.

Eccl. 9:3-5

3 This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead (metim). 4 But he who is joined with all the living has hope, for a living dog is better than a dead lion. 5 For the living know that they will die, but the dead (metim) know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.

The same can be said for these verses-the dead (metim) here appear to be the human dead. This verse is interesting as well in that it says “the dead know nothing.” One wonders why they were contacted, and how this verse fits into the prohibition against contacting the dead.  We’ll hit necromancy in a future post on the present topic. In fact, the verses below deal with necromancy.

Isaiah 8:19

And when they say to you, “Inquire of the mediums and the necromancers who chirp and mutter,” should not a people inquire of their God? Should they inquire of the dead (metim) on behalf of the living?

This verse refers to the human dead being contacted. It’s pretty straightforward.  We’ll see it again when we hit necromancy.

Isaiah 26:13-19

13 O Lord our God,

other lords besides you have ruled over us,

but your name alone we bring to remembrance.

14 They are dead (metim), they will not live;

they are shades (rephaim), they will not arise;

to that end you have visited them with destruction

and wiped out all remembrance of them.

15 But you have increased the nation, O Lord,

you have increased the nation; you are glorified;

you have enlarged all the borders of the land.

16 O Lord, in distress they sought you;

they poured out a whispered prayer

when your discipline was upon them.

17 Like a pregnant woman

who writhes and cries out in her pangs

when she is near to giving birth,

so were we because of you, O Lord;

18 we were pregnant, we writhed,

but we have given birth to wind.

We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth,

and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen.

19 Your dead (metim) shall live; their bodies shall rise.

You who dwell in the dust, awake and sing for joy!

For your dew is a dew of light,

and the earth will give birth to the dead (rephaim).

This passage again takes us into the question of whether the term (metim) can refer to rephaim and not only the human dead. In Isaiah 26:14 it appears that the metim and the rephaim are identified with each other. This isn’t certain, but it looks that way, since both “they’s” in v. 14 likely refer back to v. 13-the other lords that ruled over Israel.  This may refer to kings of old (and perhaps of giant clan lineage) that ruled over Israel but which were killed off.

I would argue, though, that in Isaiah 26:19 the dead are humans-specifically, human followers of Yahweh (“YOUR dead”-speaking of Yahweh).  These believers will rise / be resurrected.  In contrast the earth (the ʾerets in Hebrew) will ABORT the rephaim.  The word ʾerets is the normal word for “earth” or “land,” but it is also a synonym for Sheol. The verb here is naphal. In the Hiphil stem in means to “drop” and is used elsewhere as a euphemism for miscarriage or abortion.  This passage is in what is known to scholars as Isaiah’s “little apocalypse” (Isaiah 24-27). I take it as a reference to events associated with the Day of the Lord, when the evil spirits will be expelled or released from the Pit before their final defeat (cf. Revelation 9).

In the next post, I’ll take this material and (pardon the pun) flesh out a taxonomy (so far) of the Underworld.

  1. Yes, I know there are other views of Gen 6:1-4, namely that the sons of God are the sons of Seth and that the nephilim are possessed human kings. These views have glaring weaknesses that I’ve written about at length. If you want to see these views go up in flames, subscribe to my newsletter archive at and read the pertinent chapters in the draft of the book I’m working on that is accessible “as is” on the archive page. I won’t be responding to comments on this blog telling me how the giant view is wrong, since that would be re-inventing the wheel.