An excavation in Turkey has uncovered an 8th century burial stele, which claims to hold the soul of the deceased. The inscription on the well-preserved stele demonstrates what archaeologists consider the oldest regional example of a belief in a soul separate from the body.
Humanity is famous for its belief in a spirit - the part of our beings that lives on after our bodies die. Expectation of an afterlife has been around for far longer than this simple funeral stone from the 8th century B.C. Job, who roamed the Middle East sometime near the 20th century B.C., expressed his belief in a resurrection when he wrote, "And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:" (Job 19:26)
Even evolutionary scientists recognize that spirituality is a fundamental part of mankind; it is a very special characteristic that distinguishes ancient humans from animals. The Neanderthals, those ancient Europeans, are now recognized as fully human because they made tools and musical instruments, and especially because they buried their dead.
While spirituality is as old as humanity, this stele is special because it shows a belief in the soul as something separate from the body. The Jews believed the body and soul were unified. This man had his burial stele created with the belief that his soul would reside in the stele after his death, perhaps because his body would be cremated. He instructed his descendants to continue to bring him food for his disembodied soul, and the stele shows a picture of him happily feasting.
The 8th century was an extremely important time for Israel just down the road from Turkey. Israel's kings continued to lead the Northern Kingdom into idolatry, and in 722 B.C., the Assyrians conquered Samaria and wiped the Northern Kingdom from the earth. The stele is of great interest to linguists and religious historians because it offers insights into the culture of ancient Turkey, which had integrated with the culture(s) of the lands around it.
Soul or Spirit?
What is the difference between a person's spirit and his soul? Many people use the terms "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably, but the two words do have distinct meanings in the Bible.
Soul: "And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." -Gen 2:7
The term used in Genesis 2:7 is nefesh, which is best translated "living being." In Hebrew, it is equated with the breath of life, the essence that makes man alive. The soul is not separate from the body; it is the human's innermost being. It is our self-consciousness. It is how we connect to our thoughts and emotions.
Spirit: The word "spirit" in the Hebrew is ruach, which is similar to, but distinct from the soul. It denotes a wind or breath, and is considered the seat of the emotions, but especially of moral character. It is how we connect to God.
"The Spirit Itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God." -Romans 8:16
We not only have a spirit, but as the "children of God," God's Spirit leads us and guide us through our human spirit.
As Nan puts it in Faith In the Night Seasons:
"God gave us a body to interact and be conscious of the world and others around us; He gave us a soul that we might be conscious of ourselves, our own thoughts, emotions and desires; and He gave us a spirit so we could communicate and fellowship with God and be conscious of His will. In other words, our spirit is our 'link' to God."
The 5th Dimension
Non-theists cannot decide exactly why humanity throughout the world and throughout the ages has consistently believed in the soul/spirit and some form of afterlife. Meredith F. Small, the Human Nature Columnist for LiveScience.com, made the assumption that the "soul" is an invention of the human mind when she wrote recently :
"The idea of a soul, or any kind of human spirituality, might simply be the product of too much brain and too much free time.
"It might also be an evolutionary strategy that takes us away from the anxieties of self-consciousness. Once fully modern humans knew they could die, it probably made sense to pretend that no one really died but that some part of us lived on into the cosmos. "
Evolutionary biologists consider it purely scientific to reject the reality of the spiritual and to explain every human decision and activity, - and every alleged spiritual experience - as having some evolutionary purpose.
Yet, quantum physicists have far less problem with the idea of the spiritual than do biologists. Physicists understand that there is an underlying fabric that connects every quark in the known universe, and that there are several more dimensions than we can see and touch. While we cannot touch our 5th dimension with our five senses, we humans have still sensed it through the millennia. We don't often hear God speak with our ears, but we do hear Him in the "still small voice" that speaks directly to our spirits.
Right now we are trapped within the 4 dimensions of time and space. One day in the near future, we will push past the veil of separation. As John says in his first epistle:
"Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. " -1 John 3:2
Funerary Monument Reveals Iron Age Belief That The Soul Lived In The Stone - Science Daily
The Human Soul: An Ancient Idea - LiveScience
Faith in the Night Seasons: Our Human Spirit - Koinonia House
Rethinking Neanderthals - Smithsonian magazine