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Hebrew law had strict requirements relating to defilement through contact with dead bodies. The high priest could not go near the dead (Lev 21:11); neither could a Nazirite during the days of his separation to Jehovah (Num 6:6). Individuals who touched the dead were unclean seven days (19:11) and had to perform a purification ritual or face death (19:13). Hyssop dipped in water was sprinkled upon the defiled person and the place where the man died (19:18).

Mourning for the dead was common. This involved donning of special apparel and anointing with oil (2 Sam 14:2), weeping in a house of mourning, and eating and drinking for the dead (Jer 16:5-8; 22:10). Ezekiel was forbidden to remove his shoes or cover his lips when his wife died (Ezek 24:17). Burial of the dead was the usual custom (but note 1 Sam 31:12).

The dead are forgotten (Ps 31:12) and, in a sense, without knowledge (Eccl 9:5). They do not praise the Lord (Ps 115:17). Their abode is “the dark places” of Sheol (143:3). Glimpses of the resurrection of the dead appear in the OT (Isa 26:19; Dan 12:2).

In several instances ֝רְפָאִ֗ים appeal parallel to the dead as the inhabitants of Sheol (Ps 88:11; Isa 26:14). The exact meaning of the word is not known, though perhaps is related to רָפָה, H8332, “to sink, relax.” In Ugaritic they appear as the “deities, shades of the dead.”

The return of spirits from the dead (1 Sam 28:8f.) was accomplished through the “lady of the ’ôḇ.” This enigmatic term is prob. related to Hitt. api, referring to the sacrificial pit where necromancy took place.


J. Gray, “The Rephaim,” PEQ 84 (1949), 127-139; J. B. Payne, The Theology of the Older Testament (1962), 443-463.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Used in several senses:

(1) as a substantive, denoting the body deprived of life, as when Abraham speaks of burying his dead (Ge 23);

(2) as a collective noun including all those that have passed away from life (as Re 20:12). In several passages dead in this sense is used in contrast to the quick or living (as Nu 16:48). This collective mode of expression is used when resurrection is described as "rising from the dead";

(3) as an adjective, coupled with body, carcass or man, as De 14:8 the King James Version;

(4) most frequently it is used as a complement of the verb "to be," referring to the condition of being deceased or the period of death, e. g. 2Sa 12:19; Mr 5:35;

(5) in the sense of being liable to death it occurs in Ge 20:3; Ex 12:33; 2Sa 16:9;

(6) as an intensive adjective it is used in the phrase "dead sleep," to mean profound sleep simulating death (Ps 76:6);

(7) figuratively "dead" is used to express the spiritual condition of those who are unable to attain to the life of faith. They are dead in trespasses, as in Eph 2:1, or conversely, those who by the New Birth are delivered from sin, are said to be dead to the Law (as Col 2:20, etc.). A faith which does not show its life in the practical virtues of Christianity is called dead (Jas 2:17);

(8) in Ro 4:19; Heb 11:12, "dead" signifies the senile condition of loss of vigor and virility.

The passage in Job 26:5, wherein in the King James Version "dead things" seem to mean things that never had life, is more accurately translated in the Revised Version (British and American) as "they that are deceased," i.e. the shades of the dead.

There are few references to the physical accompaniments of the act of dying. Deborah has a poetical account of the death of Sisera (Jud 5:24 ff), and in Ec 12, where the failure of the bodily faculties in old age culminates in death, it is pictorially compared to the breaking of a lamp extinguishing the flame ("golden" being probably used of "oil," as it is in Zec 4:12), and the loosing of the silver chebhel or chain by which the lamp is suspended in the tent of the Arabic.

The dead body defiled those who touched it (Le 11:31) and therefore sepulture took place speedily, as in the case of Lazarus (Joh 11:17-39) and Ananias and Sapphira (Ac 5:6-10). This practice is still followed by the fellahin.

The uselessness of the dead is the subject of proverb (Ec 9:4) and the phrase "dead dog" is used as a contemptuous epithet as of a person utterly worthless (1Sa 24:14; 2Sa 9:8; 16:9).

Alex. Macalister