Immortality. Although a belief in a future life of some kind is found amongst even the most savage races, and may almost be said to belong to the consciousness of humanity, the notion that the soul is immortal is a refined conception which does not make its appearance till a comparatively late stage in the progress of civilisation. It is doubtful how far it was present to the mind of the ancient Jews. Some critics maintain that no distinct notion of an eternal life can be traced farther back than the Babylonish captivity; whilst Balaam's prayer (Numbers xxiii. 10) and various passages in the Psalms of David, as well as the whole tenor of their hopes and aspirations, are brought forward in support of the opposite opinion. It is also held that our Lord's words in Matthew xxii. 29-33 show that there had been a revelation of the immortality of the soul even in the days of the Pentateuch. In the ancient religion of Egypt the immortality of the soul was supposed to depend on the preservation of the body, and for this reason corpses were embalmed and entombed with great care. The realm of Ormuzd seems in many respects to have occupied in the ancient religion of Persia the same position which in that of Egypt belonged to the region where the just dwell for ever with the god of light. In Greece the belief in the immortality of the soul was the outcome of philosophic speculation.
It was firmly held by the Platonic Socrates, who in the Phvedo expresses his conviction in the most beautiful and glowing language. The Platonic doctrines became known to the Hellenistic Jews of Alexandria, and their influence has been traced in Ecclesiasticus, Wisdom, and other books of the Apocrypha. But in Greek philosophy the freedom of the soul from the limitations of matter is presented from an intellectual rather than a religious point of view, and it was only with the Christian revelation that it became recognised as the crowning-point in the moral scheme of the universe.