Dialogue on the Threshold

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Sunday, 20 January 2013

The twittering dead

Of the ferryman across the "Waters of Death" there is no trace in the Old Testament. Spirits are supposed rather to "fly away" to their abode (Ps. 90:10). The bird-like form assumed by the soul for its journey was a wide-spread belief of antiquity, and appears probably in the word "twitter" that is used of the voice of ghosts in Isa. 8:19; 29:4. This idea was not unknown to the Babylonians. In Ishtar's Descent (obv. 10) we read of the shades, "They are clothed like a bird in a garment of feathers."

Lewis Bayles Paton, "The Hebrew Idea of the Future Life. III. Bablyonian Influence in the Doctrine of Sheol", The Biblical World, Vol. 35, No. 3 (Mar., 1910), p. 164.

Isa. 8:19: οἱ κενολογοῦνται "the twitterers", lit. "the empty-talkers"

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