Ghosts in the Ancient World

Expert in theology and biblical languages Mike Heiser discussed ghosts & spirits in the Bible and other ancient literature.The Old Testament occasionally writes of spirits of the deceased and differentiates them from demons. But mostly, the Bible makes prohibitions against contact with the dead (necromancy), such as with a medium. One exception is the incident involving Saul and the Witch of Endor.

Belief in disembodied spirits and the underworld was prevalent across many ancient cultures such as in Israel, Egypt, Mesopotamia and Assyria. Interactions between the living and their family ancestors was common place-- in Mesopotamia, the dead were thought to lead normal leaves and even pay taxes, he noted. In the Egyptian concept of the afterlife, the "akh" was a spirit or ghost that could dwell in our realm.

The underworld (called Sheol by the Hebrews) had its own "cosmic geography" with both good and bad areas, such as the abyss, pit, meadows, and fields, and was inhabited by a range of beings, including angels, demons, and departed spirits, he detailed. Heiser also touched on his study of Sitchin, UFOs and ETs. 


Mike Heiser received his Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible and ancient Semitic Languages from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He is currently Academic Editor for Logos Bible Software, a company that creates ancient language research software and digital resources for studying the ancient and biblical world. Mike is a member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Institute for Biblical Research, the International Organization for Septuagint and Cognate Studies, the American Academy of Religion, and the Evangelical Theological Society. In 2005, Mike was named by Fate Magazine as one of the 100 Most Influential People in Ufology. 

There was widespread belief in ghosts in ancient Egyptian culture in the sense of the continued existence of the soul and spirit after death, with the ability to assist or harm the living, and the possibility of a second death. Over a period of more than 2,500 years, Egyptian beliefs about the nature of the afterlife evolved constantly. Many of these beliefs were recorded in inscriptions, papyrus scrolls and tomb paintings. The Egyptian Book of the Dead compiles some of the beliefs from different periods of ancient Egyptian history. In modern times, the fanciful concept of a mummy's coming back to life and wreaking vengeance when disturbed has spawned a whole genre of horror stories and movies.

In the early period of ancient Egypt, the concept of the Khu or luminous part of man emerged, part of the human but also a separate entity. Khu was the soul, symbolized by the crested ibis. The Ba, or soul, of later Egypt was its direct descendant. It was only in the decadent Greek and Roman periods that Khu became seen as a malignant ghost that entered the bodies of the living to torture them.[1]

In later periods, the Egyptians developed the idea of five components of the soul representing the heart (the seat of thought and emotion), the shadow, the name, the soul ba and the spirit (Ka). The Ba is everything that makes a person unique, a concept similar to "personality", while the Ka gives life. Death occurs when the Ka leaves the body. After death, the Ba and Ka are reunited to form the Akh, represented by a bird-like hieroglyph.

If the proper funeral rites were executed and followed by constant offerings, the Akh could later be reanimated. The Akh is close to the western cultural concept of a ghost or spirit, since the Egyptian believed that the akh could reach beyond the tomb to have positive or negative effects on the living. The Akh even developed into a sort of ghost or roaming "dead being" during the Ramesside Period (when the tomb was not in order any more). An Akh could do either harm or good to persons still living, depending on the circumstances, such as causing nightmares, feelings of guilt or sickness.

Similar concepts have been observed in Indonesia and in the Solomon Islands, possibly transferred by travellers in the ancient world
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