Although belief in the afterlife is a mainstay of rabbinic Judaism, the Hebrew Bible is largely silent on the topic. However, notes Hayyim Angel, two of America’s most prominent academic Bible scholars have argued that the Tanakh does indeed endorse belief in the hereafter. Angel explores the questions of why this concept gets so little attention in the Bible, why the talmudic rabbis gave it greater attention, and the implications for contemporary Judaism. He takes as his point of departure the story of the Garden of Eden:
There were two trees at the center of Eden. The Tree of Life seems supernatural. Were Adam and Eve to eat from it, they would have become immortal. . . . [N]early every ancient mythology had a tree, a plant, or something else “of life.” This mythology reflects the obsessive quest for immortality in the ancient world.
In stark contrast, . . . the Torah decisively downplays the Tree of Life. That tree becomes significant to the narrative only after Adam and Eve sin by eating from the Tree of Knowledge and are expelled from the Garden of Eden. [Only then does] God send cherubim to prevent Adam and Eve from eating of the Tree of Life. . . .
Even though the [idea of a] Tree of Life was prevalent in other ancient literatures, the Tree of Knowledge is otherwise unattested. The Torah is a revolution in human history, shifting focus away from nonexistent mythical fruits that give immortality and replacing them with an emphasis on developing a genuine relationship with God. It teaches that we must live religious-moral lives and take personal responsibility for our actions. The ultimate vision of the prophets is a messianic world, which will achieve a perfected, religious-moral society, [rather than immortality].