‘Can These Dry Bones Live?’

Questions of Belief in a Future Life
  • Michael Wheeler


That we must all die, a commonplace which George Eliot discusses in Middlemarch (ch. 42), is simply the first fact of life. That the dry bones which God showed Ezekiel can live, on the other hand, demands of the faithful the utmost ‘will to believe’. An examination of Victorian conventions associated with the deathbed and the grave, concepts of judgement, and ideas of heaven and hell, reveals that the whole subject of death and the future life was both a compelling and a profoundly difficult one for theologians and preachers, poets and novelists. Some of the radical truth-claims of the New Testament which had always seemed either enigmatic or contradictory now became questionable in the light of the Higher Criticism. It was also difficult to reconcile, say, St Paul’s teaching on the resurrection of the body with a sentimental organicist treatment of the English country churchyard which ‘naturalised’ death, and thereby softened its impact.


Future Life Funeral Ritual Biblical Story Analogical Thinking Poetical Work 
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© David Jasper and T. R. Wright 1989

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  • Michael Wheeler

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