There are a vast number of differing viewpoints; mine is just one more.
Please note, a huge portion of scholarship is hostile. That is, the scholar goes into the question assuming the worst and isn’t surprised to find evidence supporting their view. You won’t catch me playing games with that. I come to the same vast collection of evidence with a bias, too, but mine is conscious.
My bias rests on my spiritual experience; I am convinced I’ve met God Himself, that His Spirit lives in me. A part of my bias is utterly certain my intellectual organization of that belief is mine alone, and could be of only limited interest to others. When this world is done and we face God in His own higher reality, all our silly mental organizations will wash away like dust in the rain of His ineffable truth. What we gather here in our minds cannot be called “Truth” because this entire universe is temporary and false. This approach to understanding things comes from outside my intellect; my brain had to absorb and adjust it’s calculus of things to accommodate this.
My understanding of the Old Testament includes a recognition of my personal fallibility. It also assumes I don’t need to know the “absolute truth” of things because it simply doesn’t matter that much. I need only a working understanding, a way to organize my operations on this plane so that I can maintain a sense of peace with God in my spirit. I participate in scholarly discussion and try to play by their rules, but I don’t take things all that seriously. I’m not expecting to know all the details, because no one does. The experts know only what they have encountered and what they can make of it. As I work out how to approach my project (ACBM), the critical element for me is accountability to the reader for faithful execution of God’s calling on my life, not some pretense of grand expertise. I’m trying to offer enough substance to feed your spiritual search for your own answers so you can organize your mind to obey whatever the Spirit of God demands of you.
Some people don’t have that spiritual fire. Some imagine they do when they don’t. I can’t judge, but I cannot avoid an awareness of the difference it makes. Just so, not every figure in the Old Testament had a spiritual awareness. It’s a factor in what they said, and a factor we must consider when we evaluate the evidence to discern what folks might or might not have believed. To imagine there was a single orthodox theology is simply stupid, a form of intellectual dishonesty. Thus, we discern at least two threads of thinking in the Old Testament narrative; one was spiritual and one was pretty worldly. Complicating it more would be folks like Solomon, clearly aware on a spiritual level, yet unable to stay faithful as his life declined into increasing disobedience to God. What a man can know and what he can do are not the same.
On top of this, we run into a broad refusal of folks to understand the huge difference between how the West and East approach things, right down to the very meaning of language as a means of communication. Does it not seem funny how we realize modern people use figures of speech from mythology, but don’t allow biblical figures the same latitude? We often speak today of the world as flat, when almost no one actually believes that. Just so, a common mythology of expression pervaded the language of the Old Testament, especially in the word sheol. Some of the common folks literally believed that mythology; certain central figures clearly did not believe it. Such is the way of any real society anywhere and anytime in human history.
Finally, we have rather blunt statements in the New Testament that the revelation of God before Christ came in bits and pieces. It was not all truth all at once in some primordial event back near the Garden of Eden. It was as much as God felt mankind needed to know at the time. It was growing corpus of understanding that waxed and waned. If you are paying any attention at all, you realize God called Abraham out of Mesopotamia at a time when that revelation was very sorely occluded by a vast cloud of mythology. It was time to clear things up, and Abraham went to school. The eventual result was the calling of an entire nation as an incubator for revelation. The name “Israel” is more about a mission than about a people.
All of that so I can say this: Those in the Old Testament who were spiritually aware did, indeed, understand there was an afterlife. Their choice of words and figures of speech indicate they knew death was divided between those in the presence of God and those who were somewhere else. It’s not as if Christ burst on the scene with a totally new theology about death and Hell and Heaven. At the same time, only a fool would deny He used figures of speech that the Hebrew people learned from other cultures. In the Gospels, “paradise” in the mouth of Jesus was a word clearly borrowed from Persian. He borrowed it because the common Aramaic of His people didn’t offer a better word for what He was indicating. The truth was not new, nor was the idea itself.
The ancient Hebrew people were spooked by the idea of handling sacred things with negligence. The same goes with names for sacred things; it extends to things they might say about sacred things. There was precious little idle talk about the Spirit Realm because it was considered dangerous to blaspheme God. So we don’t find much discussion of what they might have believed about things above the Realm of the Flesh until much later. Even Jesus was careful to use parables because He bluntly said only a living spirit could handle that kind of truth in the first place. The truth was above human speech because it was above human intellect. The point in bothering to teach was to train the mind to serve the spirit, to subject the intellect to that higher realm as a faithful servant, not as the executive.
Jesus did not bring foreign ideas into Hebrew theology; He brought foreign language for ideas already there. The ideas may not have been fully formed in previous times, but the truth was always inherent in so much of revelation as God permitted. Men and women whose spirits were awakened to life would have recognized what Jesus said as true, even if He had gone backward in time to say it to them. He would have chosen different figures of speech, naturally, but the message itself would remain unchanged. He was God in the flesh; His message would have been consistent with everything coming before. The only inconsistency is in humans who try to process revelation into obedience.
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. 😉