"a brief, pithy, and as it then appeared to him, unanswerable argument against the immortality of the human soul"
Death and the Maiden (1517)
Public DomainDeath and the Maiden (1517) - Credit: Hans Baldung

That the soul is eternal is a major creed governing Puritan thought: if it were not so, there would be no afterlife, and thus no salvation or retribution. To deny the soul’s immortality, therefore, is to effectively deny God. The reaffirmation of this holy truth was a popular theme for Puritan writers, including Richard Baxter (author of Of the Immortality of Man’s Soul (1682)) and Richard Sibbes (The Saints Hiding-Place in the Evil Day (a.1635)). In general, the Bible backs their views, but if Dimmesdale wanted to base an argument that the soul is not immortal on scripture, he could have turned to Ezekiel 18:4: “the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”

Allegory of Immortality (a.1546)
Public DomainAllegory of Immortality (a.1546) - Credit: Giulio Romano