The earliest discovered burial sites are those of Neanderthal man, though according to researcher George Constable, they "were not credited with deliberate meaningful burial of their dead until more than a half-century after their discovery." The well-known anthropologist and archaeologist Louis Leaky said of the discoveries that their grave sites were intentional and thus indicates the Neanderthals displayed a keen self-awareness and a concern for the human spirit.
With all their diversity of beliefs, the major religions are in accord in one great teaching: Human beings are immortal and their spirit comes from a divine world and may eventually return there. Since the earliest forms of spiritual expression, this is the great promise and hope that religions have offered to their followers.
The ancient Egyptians were preoccupied with the specter of death and the problem of how best to accomplish passage to the other side. There was never an ancient people who insisted upon believing that death was not the final act of a human being, that "it is not death to die," with more emphasis than the Egyptians.
Earliest discovered burial sites of Neanderthal man.
The Egyptians did not believe that mummifying a body would enable it to come back to life in the next world. They knew the physical body would remain in this world, but they preserved it, believing that the spirit of the person needed its body as a kind of base or reference point.
In the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region in northern China, Chinese archeologists have discovered a pyramid which they have dated to be more than 5,000 years old. Archaeologist Guo Dashun stated that the three-stepped pyramid belongs to the Hongshan culture period of 5,000 to 6,000 years ago, during the Stone Age.
For the past three hundred years, Western science has been fixated upon the concept that everything in the universe is subject to physical laws and exists only in terms of mass and energy—matter being transformed by energy into a variety of conditions and shapes that come into existence only to pass away eventually in time and space. Death, therefore, is the end of existence for all who succumb to its ultimate withdrawal of the life force.
The Near-Death Experiences and the Afterlife website (http://www.near-death.com) presents a comprehensive overview of the near-death experience and views of the afterlife from the standpoint of all world religions including Christian, New Age, Jewish, Hindu, Atheist, Buddhist, and Muslim. There are also NDEs, (near-death experiences) of children, of those who are blind and those who committed suicide.
The great Epic of Gilgamesh, which dates back to the early part of the second millennium B.C.E., portrays an ancient Mesopotamian king's quest for immortality and his despair when he learns that the gods keep the priceless jewel of eternal life for themselves. From clay, the gods shaped humankind and breathed into their nostrils the breath of life.
The legends of the dead told by ancient or tribal people are perhaps the most accurate indicators of their religious thought. And from what can be assumed from the burial rites of early humans, they pondered the same kinds of questions concerning the afterlife as humans do today.
Reincarnation, the belief that the soul of a man or woman who has died will later be born again into another physical body, is an ancient doctrine, ancient even at the time of the Greek and Roman empires. Plato (c.
The Chinese Taoists believe that after death, the soul crosses a bridge to the next life where it undergoes a process of judgment. Once on the other side of the bridge, judges in ten courts decide whether the deceased person has lived a good or bad life.
In England, until the fourteenth century, the Christian Bible was considered the preserve of the priestly classes. The Vulgate was a Latin translation by Saint Jerome, read and interpreted only by the clergy, as the Church deliberately discouraged common people from reading vernacular bibles.
Since the earliest days of organized religious expression there have always been those who preferred seeking the individual mystical experience as their personal doorway to other dimensions of reality and the world beyond death. These mystics found the doctrines and dogmas of structured religion to be too inhibiting, too restrictive, and not at all conducive to the kind of personal relationship with the holy which they so desperately sought.
Some speculate that the phenomenon of past lives can answer troubling questions in the present and explain deja vu, a feeling that one has seen or heard something before. Many people report that they have walked down a street in a strange city and been overwhelmed with the sudden familiarity of its shop windows, sidewalks, and store fronts.