Last Judgment

Last Judgment
judgment (def. 8).

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 a general, or sometimes individual, judging of the thoughts, words, and deeds of persons by God, the gods, or by the laws of cause and effect. In some religions (e.g., Christianity) the judgment is of both the living and the dead; in others (e.g., certain primitive religions in Africa) the judgment in which God rewards or punishes men according to their actions occurs only after death.

      The Western prophetic religions (i.e., Zoroastrianism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islām) developed concepts of the Last Judgment that are rich in imagery. Zoroastrianism, founded by the 6th-century-bc Iranian prophet Zoroaster, teaches that after death the soul waits for three nights by the grave and on the fourth day goes to the Bridge of the Requiter, where his deeds are weighed. If the good outweigh the bad, the soul is able to cross the bridge to heaven; if the bad outweigh the good deeds, the bridge becomes too narrow for the soul to cross, and it plunges into the cold and dark abyss of hell. This is not the end, however, for there will be a final overthrow of Ahriman, the prince of demons, by Ahura Mazdā, the Wise Lord, who will resurrect all men, preside over a Last Judgment, and restore the world to goodness.

      Early Judaic writers emphasized a day of Yahweh, the God of Israel, which is also called the day of the Lord. This day, which will be a day of judgment of Israel and all nations, will inaugurate the Kingdom of God (God, Kingdom of).

      Christianity, further developing the concept of the Last Judgment, teaches that it will occur at the Parousia (the Second Coming, or Second Advent, of Christ in glory), when all men will stand before a judging God. In early Christian art the scene is one of Christ the judge, the resurrection of the dead, the weighing of souls, the separation of the saved and the damned, and representations of paradise and hell. Romanesque artists produced a more terrible vision of the Last Judgment: Christ is shown as a stern judge, sometimes carrying a sword and surrounded by the four mystical beasts—eagle, lion, ox, and winged man—of the apocalypse; the contrast between paradise and hell is between the awesome and the ferocious. In the gentler, more humanistic art of the Gothic period, a beautiful Christ is shown as the Redeemer, his right side undraped to reveal the wound of the lance, and both wounded hands raised high in a gesture that emphasizes his sacrifice. He is surrounded by the instruments of his Passion—cross, nails, lance, and crown of thorns. The intercessors are restored, and the scene of the Judgment is treated with optimism. In the 16th century, Michelangelo produced a radically different version of the Last Judgment in his fresco in the Sistine Chapel in Rome (1533–41): a vengeful Christ, nude like a pagan god, gestures menacingly toward the damned.

      Islām likewise is rich in its imagery and conceptual expansion of the doctrine of the Last Judgment. The Day of Judgment is one of the five cardinal beliefs of Muslims. After death, persons are questioned about their faith by two angels: Munkar and Nakīr. If a person has been a martyr, his soul immediately goes to paradise; others go through a type of purgatory (q.v.). At doomsday all persons will die and then be resurrected to be judged according to the records kept in two books, one containing a person's good deeds, and the other his evil deeds. According to the weight of the book that is tied around a person's neck, he will be consigned to paradise or hell.

      In addition to the Western religions and some primitive religions, ancient Near Eastern religions had developed beliefs in a Last Judgment. In ancient Egyptian religion, for example, a dead person's heart was judged by being placed on a balance held by the god Anubis. If the heart was light, thus indicating a person's comparative goodness, the soul was allowed to go to the blessed region ruled by Osiris, god of the dead. If the heart was heavy, the soul might be destroyed by a hybrid creature called the Devouress.

      In the Asian religions (e.g., Hinduism, Jainism, and Buddhism) that believe in reincarnation (q.v.), the concept of a Last Judgment is not uncommon.

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Universalium. 2010.

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