If grace did not enter the world and the gates of heaven were not open until Jesus died on the cross, why did the Jews pray for the dead as noted in 2nd Maccabees? The second book of Maccabees is a typical area of stricture we Catholics point to in defending purgatory. Did these Jews believe in purgatory? Where did they think you went after death? Did they know that the gates of heaven were not open?
The text itself tells us why they prayed.
He also took up a collection, man by man, to the amount of two thousand drachmas of silver, and sent it to Jerusalem to provide for a sin offering. In doing this he acted very well and honorably, taking account of the resurrection. For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. (2 Maccabees 12:43-44)
They prayed so that their sins would be forgiven and they would be resurrected form the dead and have eternal life.
The Maccabeeans later became the Pharisees. These believed in the resurrection of the dead. Contrast this with the Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection.
There was grace in the world for as long as human persons were in the world. God grants grace from the Cross of Jesus Christ without regard to time or place. Thus, Mary was sanctified at her Immaculate Conception by grace from the Cross.
The ancient Jews did not have such clear-cut concepts about the afterlife as we have. They certainly believed in Heaven and Hell. But they did not have clear doctrines on Purgatory, or the particular judgment, or the exact reasons that persons go to Heaven or Hell. Maccabees points to a belief among the Jews that prayer could somehow benefit the dead, but they did not realize how that would work.
Yes, the ancient Jews believed in purgatory. They did because purgatory is real. You could research all the evidence of this that there is if you had a mind to, and there is more than in 2nd maccabees.
Before the Resurrection, there was no entrance into Heaven (as you said) so the righteous who were to inherit eternal life went to a place normally called Paradise. This was a good place but not Heaven. They were taken to Heaven when our Lord Jesus Christ rose from the dead and opened the gates of Heaven.
With all this in mind, if a soul still had to be purified before entering Heaven, they would have gone to purgatory before entering Paradise. That is why they prayed for the dead.
They did not believe that someone who had been condemned was able to be transferred from the Resurrection of the wicked to the Resurrection of the righteous by their prayers.
This is my understanding. I am prone to error. I do believe this is correct, though. You are free to research it more, but remember to stick to what the Holy Catholic Church teaches.
As for them not knowing about the gates of Heaven, that IS a good question. I don’t know the answer. They were certainly aware of the Beatific Vision as King David was, and sought it just as we do now.
…8When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O LORD, I shall seek.” 9Do not hide Your face from me, Do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; Do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation! 10For my father and my mother have forsaken me, But the LORD will take me up.…
Love between God and His creation portrayed in Psalms is a priceless treasure. But whether or not King David knew he would have to wait for the Messiah before he would behold the Beatific Vision, I do not know. He just knew it was his end goal.
Peace in Christ