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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Pre-Existence of Souls

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PRE-EXISTENCE OF SOULS .

‘Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:

The soul that rises with us, our life’s star,

Hath had elsewhere its setting,

And cometh from afar.’

Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality

The idea expressed in these lines has been prominent in many religions cultured and crude alike. That it had Jewish adherents is clear from ( a ) Wis 8:19-20 , written by some Jewish thinker influenced (as, e.g. , Philo, a believer in the same doctrine, was conspicuously) by Platonist study; ( b ) the reference of Josephus to Essene doctrines; ( c ) the Talmud. That traces occur in the OT is doubtful. The idea can be more easily read into, than gathered out of, such passages as Job 1:21 (cf. Sir 40:1 ), Ecclesiastes 12:7 , Psalms 139:16 . Cf. also Revelation 4:11 b. But something very like it occurs John 9:2 . Had the man been born blind because of his own sin ? In His reply Christ finds no fault with the question as such. The objection that such an idea would be unfamiliar to the disciples is weakened by considerations as to the advanced thought of the Fourth Gospel; moreover, the Book of Wisdom (see above) is clearly re-echoed in NT. Some think that the question rose from Jewish ideas as to pre-natal consciousness . See Genesis 25:22 (strife), Luke 1:41-44 (joy). Non liquet must be the verdict. The subject re-appears in Origen’s speculative teaching and, indirectly, in related controversies.

H. F. B. Compston.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Pre-Existence of Souls'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/p/pre-existence-of-souls.html. 1909.

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