ON THE NATURE OF THE SOUL
THE HEBREW VIEW: The Hebrew word for soul is nephesh and it literally means "breath." Animals as well as human beings were created with this life breath as a gift from God (Gen. 2:7; 7:22, 6:17; Ecc. 3:19). The Hebrew nephesh is also connected with the life-blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:11), and if the breath and/or blood leaves the body or stops circulating, then the soul is dead (Num. 6:6; Lev. 19:28).
Rather than a dualistic view like Plato's--i.e., an immaterial, immortal soul separate from, but within a material body--the Hebrews believed that the soul is a psycho-physical unity. It is sometimes called a "somatic" (Gk. soma=body) soul to emphasize the fact that there is no soul without the body and vice versa.
We have to conclude,then, that the Hebrew soul was thoroughly mortal, and that this life was the most important for human beings, and that the afterlife was essentially the non-life of Sheol (the "Pit") where everyone goes, exists as a shadow, and is alienated from God. Note this passage from Job: "Before I go, never to return, to a land of darkness and gloom [Sheol]" (10:21, Anchor Bible).
THE NEW TESTAMENT: The somatic soul of the Hebrews continued to have a profound influence, even though Greek dualism is strong as well. Late Judaism, especially under the Pharisees, eventually accepted the idea of eternal life, Heaven, and Hell, and this idea passes into Christianity. The Hebrew "somatic" view dominated particularly in the idea of the resurrection of the body. This is alien to Platonic and Hindu views of the soul, which celebrates a disembodied soul and rejects the body as ultimately evil.
The New Testament uses the Greek word psych‘ for soul (it means "breath" too), and, interestingly enough, there are animal souls here, too (Rev. 8:9). And, even more intriguing, Jesus, when he dies, is said to give up his soul () or his "spirit" (). What are the implications of this?
THREE VIEWS OF THE SOUL'S NATURE AND DESTINY
HOMERIC-HEBRAIC: The human soul is essentially mortal and must live in a body to have any integrity or meaning. There is a shadowy, meaningless afterlife in Hades or Sheol.
JUDEO-CHRISTIAN: The human soul is naturally mortal, but immortality is "bestowed" upon it by divine miracle, which resurrects the body and enables it to live with the soul forever. (Note that the Hebrew idea of psycho-physical unity wins out over Greek dualism.) Interestingly enough, this immortality must be granted to everyone, otherwise eternal damnation in Hell would make so sense.
PLATONIC-HINDU: The human soul is naturally and essentially immortal; it is uncreated and eternal. The soul passes from one body to another through a series of many incarnations. After paying off its sin (karmic debt), the soul is liberated from somatic existence and lives in a totally blissful state.
AN ARGUMENT FOR THE IMMORTALITY OF THE SOUL (based on Plato)
A thing can be destroyed only by separation into its parts.
The soul has no parts.
Therefore, the soul cannot be destroyed.
Objection 1: Cannot something be reduced to nothing, as in blowing out a flame, without breaking it into parts? Analagously, this would mean that the soul might fade out after several incarnations.
Objection 2: The self-soul that we can observe introspectively has many parts. As the Buddha argued, the self is nothing but a bundle of emotions, thoughts, dispositions, and awareness.