On the Nature of the Soul


For a comparison of Buddhist and Hebrews
souls click here

THE HEBREW VIEW: The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh and it
literally means "breath." Animals as well as human beings were created with this
life breath as a gift from God (Gen. 2:7; 7:22, 6:17; Ecc. 3:19). The Hebrew
is also connected with the life-blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11), and if
the breath and/or blood leaves the body or stops circulating, then the soul is

Rather than a dualistic view like Plato’s–i.e., an immaterial, immortal soul
separate from, but within a material body–the Hebrews believed that the soul is
a psycho-physical unity. It is sometimes called a "somatic" (Gk. soma=body)
soul to emphasize the fact that there is no soul without the body and vice

We have to conclude, then, that the Hebrew soul was thoroughly mortal, and
that this life was the most important for human beings, and that the afterlife
was essentially the non-life of Sheol (the "Pit") where everyone goes, exists as
a shadow, and is alienated from God. Note this passage from Job: "Before I go,
never to return, to a land of darkness and gloom [Sheol]" (10:21, Anchor

THE NEW TESTAMENT: The somatic soul of the Hebrews continued to have a
profound influence, even though Greek dualism is strong as well. Late Judaism,
especially under the Pharisees, eventually accepted the idea of eternal life,
Heaven, and Hell, and this idea passes into Christianity. The Hebrew "somatic"
view dominated particularly in the idea of the resurrection of the body. This is
alien to Platonic and Hindu views of the soul, which celebrates a disembodied
soul and rejects the body as ultimately evil.

The New Testament uses the Greek word psyche for soul (it means
"breath" too), and, interestingly enough, there are animal souls here, too (Rev.
8:9). And, even more intriguing, Jesus, when he dies, is said to "ransom" his
soul (Mk. 10:45) or to give up his "spirit" (pneuma, Jn. 10:30; Lk.
23:46; Matt. 27:50). Neither soul nor spirit can be immortal if this is the
case. Does God, in the Resurrection, bestow immortality on Jesus as well?


HOMERIC-HEBRAIC: The human soul is essentially mortal and must live in a
body to have any integrity or meaning. There is only a shadowy, meaningless
afterlife in Hades or Sheol.

JUDEO-CHRISTIAN: The human soul is naturally mortal, but immortality is
"bestowed" upon it by divine miracle, which resurrects the body and enables it
to live with the soul forever. (Note that the Hebrew idea of psycho-physical
unity wins out over Greek dualism.) Interestingly enough, this immortality must
be granted to everyone, otherwise eternal damnation in Hell would make so sense.
(After Vatican II Roman Catholics have returned to something like Sheol for the

PLATONIC-HINDU: The human soul is naturally and essentially immortal; it
is uncreated and eternal. The soul passes from one body to another through a
series of many incarnations. After paying off its sin (karmic debt), the soul is
liberated from somatic existence and lives in a totally blissful state.


A thing can be destroyed only by separating its parts.
The soul has no parts.
Therefore, the soul cannot be destroyed.

Both premises can be disputed. Think, for example, of ways of destruction
other than separation into parts, such as a light burning out
and having no intensity left.  The second premise begs the question about
the nature of the self.  The self that we can observe by introspection is,
as both the Buddha and Hume observe, a collection of feelings, cognitions,
emotions, dispositions, and awareness.  To assume that the soul is simple
and not compound is to place your desired conclusion in the premises.

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