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Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife

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A New York Times bestselling historian of early Christianity takes on two of the most gripping questions of human existence: where did the ideas of heaven and hell come from, and why do they endure? What happens when we die? A recent Pew Research poll showed that 72% of Americans believe in a literal heaven, 58% in a literal hell. Most people who hold these beliefs are Chri A New York Times bestselling historian of early Christianity takes on two of the most gripping questions of human existence: where did the ideas of heaven and hell come from, and why do they endure? What happens when we die? A recent Pew Research poll showed that 72% of Americans believe in a literal heaven, 58% in a literal hell. Most people who hold these beliefs are Christian and assume they are the age-old teachings of the Bible. But eternal rewards and punishments are found nowhere in the Old Testament and are not what Jesus or his disciples taught. So where did the ideas come from? In clear and compelling terms, Bart Ehrman recounts the long history of the afterlife, ranging from The Epic of Gilgamesh up to the writings of Augustine, focusing especially on the teachings of Jesus and his early followers. He discusses ancient guided tours of heaven and hell, in which a living person observes the sublime blessings of heaven for those who are saved and the horrifying torments of hell for the damned. Some of these accounts take the form of near death experiences, the oldest on record, with intriguing similarities to those reported today. One of Ehrman’s startling conclusions is that there never was a single Greek, Jewish, or Christian understanding of the afterlife, but numerous competing views. Moreover, these views did not come from nowhere; they were intimately connected with the social, cultural, and historical worlds out of which they emerged. Only later, in the early Christian centuries, did they develop into the notions of eternal bliss or damnation widely accepted today. As a historian, Ehrman obviously cannot provide a definitive answer to the question of what happens after death. In Heaven and Hell, he does the next best thing: by helping us reflect on where our ideas of the afterlife come from, he assures us that even if there may be something to hope for when we die, there is certainly nothing to fear.


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A New York Times bestselling historian of early Christianity takes on two of the most gripping questions of human existence: where did the ideas of heaven and hell come from, and why do they endure? What happens when we die? A recent Pew Research poll showed that 72% of Americans believe in a literal heaven, 58% in a literal hell. Most people who hold these beliefs are Chri A New York Times bestselling historian of early Christianity takes on two of the most gripping questions of human existence: where did the ideas of heaven and hell come from, and why do they endure? What happens when we die? A recent Pew Research poll showed that 72% of Americans believe in a literal heaven, 58% in a literal hell. Most people who hold these beliefs are Christian and assume they are the age-old teachings of the Bible. But eternal rewards and punishments are found nowhere in the Old Testament and are not what Jesus or his disciples taught. So where did the ideas come from? In clear and compelling terms, Bart Ehrman recounts the long history of the afterlife, ranging from The Epic of Gilgamesh up to the writings of Augustine, focusing especially on the teachings of Jesus and his early followers. He discusses ancient guided tours of heaven and hell, in which a living person observes the sublime blessings of heaven for those who are saved and the horrifying torments of hell for the damned. Some of these accounts take the form of near death experiences, the oldest on record, with intriguing similarities to those reported today. One of Ehrman’s startling conclusions is that there never was a single Greek, Jewish, or Christian understanding of the afterlife, but numerous competing views. Moreover, these views did not come from nowhere; they were intimately connected with the social, cultural, and historical worlds out of which they emerged. Only later, in the early Christian centuries, did they develop into the notions of eternal bliss or damnation widely accepted today. As a historian, Ehrman obviously cannot provide a definitive answer to the question of what happens after death. In Heaven and Hell, he does the next best thing: by helping us reflect on where our ideas of the afterlife come from, he assures us that even if there may be something to hope for when we die, there is certainly nothing to fear.

30 review for Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife

  1. 4 out of 5

    Jenna ❤ ❀ ❤

    A comprehensive and scholarly book that explores our ideas of the afterlife I think it's safe to say that just about every one of us has thought about what happens when we die. Many simply accept what it is they were taught growing up: they'll be reincarnated, they'll go to heaven (and not hell because they believe the "right" way), they'll cease to exist. Others think more deeply on the subject. I'm in the latter group, having been raised fundamentalist baptist and assured of a fiery hell where A comprehensive and scholarly book that explores our ideas of the afterlife I think it's safe to say that just about every one of us has thought about what happens when we die. Many simply accept what it is they were taught growing up: they'll be reincarnated, they'll go to heaven (and not hell because they believe the "right" way), they'll cease to exist. Others think more deeply on the subject. I'm in the latter group, having been raised fundamentalist baptist and assured of a fiery hell where all but the select few who believed exactly like us would spend eternity in utmost torment, an idea I eventually rejected. As a young adult, I spent a lot of time thinking about the afterlife (among other things), even though it terrified me to allow myself to question any of the things I had been taught. Still, in spite of my fear, I couldn't not think about the truth claims I had been told I had to accept. I decided that if there is a god, then it would want me to use the brain it gave me (well, at that time, it was still God with a capital G and "He", not it) in order to figure out what the truth was for myself, not merely accept something someone else told me. In fact, how could I even claim to really believe in something that I hadn't thought through myself? The view I came to have - that there is nothing after our bodies die - is not the popular view in America, nor perhaps even in much of the world. In America, 72% believe in a literal heaven, 58% in a literal hell. Maybe the majority are right and I am wrong? I cannot say for sure, no more than anyone can. None of us can know for sure. In the absence of any proof either way, I believe what makes the most sense to me, which is that we don't have a "soul" that is separate from our bodies; there is nothing eternal about us. When our body dies, we cease to exist. This idea could be sad to many who believe they will enjoy eternity in Heaven, but it can also be a relief to those who worry that maybe, somehow, they don't believe everything the "right" way and thus will be thrown in that fiery lake of hell, to suffer for all time. To help make sense of the afterlife and what we each of us really believe (as opposed to what it is we were taught, whether or not it ends up being the same), it is helpful to examine where all the different ideas of an afterlife came from.  And this book is a good place to start. In Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife", New Testament scholar Bart Ehrman goes back to ancient times to explore the evolving ideas of what happens when we die. While we cannot know what the majority of people thought, we can at least scrutinize what philosophers claimed and wrote about. Mr. Ehrman investigates the writings of ancient people such as Socrates, Lucian of Samosata, Lucretius, Aristophanes, and Epicurus.  He quotes extensively from Homer, Plato, and others of Antiquity.  Mr. Ehrman then moves to the ancient Jews, exploring the Hebrew Bible (the Old Testament of the Christian Bible), looking at what they believed. It may come as a surprise to some to learn that "There is no place of eternal punishment in any passage of the entire Old Testament".  In fact, "Nowhere in the entire Hebrew Bible is there any discussion at all of heaven and hell as places of rewards and punishments for those who have died." It is only in the relatively late book of Daniel that we encounter the idea that there will be a resurrection of the dead at the end of time.  We then move to the New Testament, examining Jesus' teachings and what we can know of what he thought would happen. Looking closely at Jesus' teachings, we see he believed that while some would live eternally with God in paradise, others would simply cease to exist. There was no hell or eternal suffering. Punishment came in the form of simply not being given an eternal body. Wicked and ungodly souls would be annihilated, never to exist again nor enjoy the glories of God's kingdom. As Bart Ehrman notes,"The apostle Paul had different views of the afterlife from Jesus, whose views were not the same as those found in the Gospel of Luke or the Gospel of John or the book of Revelation." It is interesting to see the changing beliefs, even from the earliest gospel of Mark to the latest of them, the gospel of John, and then what Paul preached/believed. It is also interesting to see those changes through several apocryphal books that did not make it into the official Bible but were widely circulated amongst early Christians. There is a chapter decoding the book of Revelation too, which I found most interesting! It had nothing to do with some literal apocalypse millennia in the future. Indeed, the author indicates "his account is symbolic and in fact gives keys to the interpretations of his symbols". Mr. Ehrman also explores the teachings of various early Christians such as Augustine, Tertullian, and Cyprian.  One thing is clear: beliefs of what happens after we die changed with the times. Modern beliefs were built on earlier ideas, transforming through the ages.  While Mr. Ehrman as a historian mostly refrains from making truth or value claims, he does tell us exactly why he has come to believe there cannot possibly be a place of eternal suffering and punishment such as hell. That should be a comfort to those who have been brainwashed into believing they will be tortured for all time if they so much as question the validity of what they were taught. When we see that Jesus himself did not subscribe to such an idea, there is no reason that modern Christians have to accept what later Christians came to believe about the afterlife, those horrific scenes of torture they painted. It does not mean people must abandon their faith, but it does mean they can be freed of their fear of endless suffering.  No matter what one believes of the afterlife, Heaven and Hell is a most interesting look at how ideas have always changed... and probably always will. If you're interested in the subject matter, ancient beliefs and philosophy, or just want to explore your own ideas of an afterlife, you will find much to learn and consider in this book. 

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jessaka

    Imagine There’s No Hell December 1965. San Pablo, CA. I was studying the bible with one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who was trying to tell me that there was no real hellfire. It sounded good, but I was not sure if I should believe her or not. She suggested that I find a King James version of the bible, one with margins. and check out the words, “Shel” and “Hades” which are the Hebrew and the Greek words for our English word “Hell.” I went to the Richmond library, found a King James bible with marg Imagine There’s No Hell December 1965. San Pablo, CA. I was studying the bible with one of the Jehovah’s Witnesses who was trying to tell me that there was no real hellfire. It sounded good, but I was not sure if I should believe her or not. She suggested that I find a King James version of the bible, one with margins. and check out the words, “Shel” and “Hades” which are the Hebrew and the Greek words for our English word “Hell.” I went to the Richmond library, found a King James bible with margins, and sat down to read it. Both Sheol and Hades were translated as “the common grave of mankind.” I was satisfied. The Jehovah’s Witnesses also be3lieve that God’s kingdom would be a paradise on earth, and that the wicked would die, just die, not burn for eternity. The Witnesses also used reasoning: “If you had a child would you punish him by putting his hand in a fire?” “No,” I said, “That would be cruel, even Sadistic.” “Then,” my teacer, Mavis, said, “Why do you think that God would punish us, his children, in a burning fire?” Six months later I had joined the Witnesses, and I remained one for four years before being asked to leave. Ostracized. Since then I had also questioned as to whether a loving God, one who loves unconditionally, would kill anyone of his children. I could not conceive of it, but I could believe that he would save everyone, somehow. A few years later I moved to Berkeley, California and walked up the hill from my apartment to what we all called “Holy Hill,” Berkeley’s Christian seminary. I found a minister and asked him about “Sheol” and “Hades,” telling him what I had learned. He said, and I paraphrase, “There is no hellfire, but if I preached this, people would walk out.” Then, I talked with a rabbi as to the meaning of the word “Sheol,” and his statement went like this, “We, the Jews, didn’t know what Sheol meant. We thought maybe it could be a watery deep. We do not know what happens after we die. We just love God.” I was deeply impressed by anyone who would love God without knowing if there were a reward or not. A while back, I learned of Bart Ehrman, the bible scholar who is a member of the Jesus Seminar, the group that had published the book, “The Five Gospels.” I had that book in my possession, and I had learned when reading it that what Jesus had preached had been mostly preached before. There was not much that was new. Since then I had read other books by him, or tried, one that I had finished dealt with the issue of suffering. Lately, I had wished that he would write a book on the history of hell. I just wanted his opinion. I knew my own: there is no hell. Then the other day I learned that he had just published this book. I bought and read it immediately. So. the bible scholar, Bart Ehrman also learned that Hades means “the common grave of mankind,” and he explains away scriptures, like the one on Gehenna, just as the Witnesses had done, but in a more scholarly manner. The beginning chapters of this book dealt with the Greek philosopher’s views on the afterlife. Plato’s version was that man had a Soul, and that it was immortal and was more real than the body. I like this view. Ehrman then went on to explain Jesus’ beliefs, which were apocalyptic. He taught that his kingdom would be on earth and that his disciples would still be alive when this happened. He also taught that the wicked would die. Just die. No everlasting punishment, no hope for a resurrection. When his disciples realized later that they would not be alive to see his kingdom, they changed their beliefs. Plato’s beliefs filled the gap. And this is where the bible became confusing. First, Jesus’ teachings were changed, and then Paul preached a different message. Then even the Christians became confused. Some of them believed in one thing, others, another. While God is said to not be a God of confusion, everyone was confused, everyone but Paul who thought that he had all the right answers. Next, I learned that even the church fathers had their own beliefs and argued them as well. Let’s face it, no one knows what will happen after we die, even if we think we do. While I do believe in a Creator, I do not believe in the bible. If there is a personal God, I do not understand why He allows suffering. I have not even heard of a good reason for why there is suffering in the world. And it could be that the mystics get glimpses of God when meditating, and that He is a God of Love, and that there is a reason why things are as they are. But like the teachings on the afterlife, we just don’t know and may never know. For some of us, it is enough to realize that the universe had a Creator and that we get to enjoy this creation. For others, the suffering is too great to believe in any Creator, much less a personal one. Then there are those that just accept reasons as to why suffering exists. I used to be one of those people. Now, I don’t know what to believe and maybe it doesn’t matter.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ross Blocher

    As a former Christian who remains thoroughly interested in the Bible, the story of heaven and hell is one of my favorite conversation topics: it's the kind of stuff they don't unpack in Sunday school or preach in sermons, and most Christians simply aren't aware of how complex the biblical position really is. I was excited to see Bart Ehrman weigh in on the topic with Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, as he is a great writer and an astute and even-handed New Testament scholar (it takes As a former Christian who remains thoroughly interested in the Bible, the story of heaven and hell is one of my favorite conversation topics: it's the kind of stuff they don't unpack in Sunday school or preach in sermons, and most Christians simply aren't aware of how complex the biblical position really is. I was excited to see Bart Ehrman weigh in on the topic with Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, as he is a great writer and an astute and even-handed New Testament scholar (it takes work to avoid similar books with ideological presuppositions). Ehrman was able to provide broader context, solidify some details and disabuse me of others that I'd collected piecemeal over the years. After framing the topic and sharing his own history with belief, Ehrman gives us a mostly chronological account of humanity's struggle with mortality. Referencing pre-Biblical traditions, he jumps from culture to culture and text to text to convey some of the earliest beliefs about what happens to the body and soul after death. When it comes to the afterlife, Genesis was not in the beginning by itself, so it's important to visit earlier and independent lines of thought, such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, Egyptian and Persian beliefs, the writings of Homer and the Greek philosophers, and so forth. What emerges is an ever-evolving debate over which components of a person either corrupt or remain incorruptible, how long an afterlife must last, where it might be located, whether we get restored bodies or new bodies or no bodies, and how justice can prevail when good people die poorly and the bad go unpunished. Ehrman does a great job of disentangling elements we often lump together so we can see how the questions are answered from one writer to the next. One of the biggest shockers for Christians, who have been taught to read the Bible with an assumption of consistency, is that the Old Testament (the Jewish Tanakh, roughly) does not present a concept of the afterlife, and certainly not a consistent one. God doesn't promise eternal life, but rather increased offspring and unblemished livestock. Ehrman brilliantly addresses some of the weird outliers, such as Enoch (who was taken away by God), the Witch of Endor and the summoning of Samuel (one of my favorite stories), Job, the dry bones of Ezekiel and the concept of Sheol. He clarifies timelines of authorship and points out pieces of text that were authored later than traditionally thought (I'm looking at you, multiple Isaiahs and Daniel), and how they line up with evolving thought and the influence of other cultures (such as with Israel's captors in the Assyrian captivity and Babylonian exile). I was surprised at how much information Ehrman was able to glean from the intertestamental Apocrypha and other non-canonical books, pseudepigrapha, and gnostic traditions. In many cases they provided transitional forms between the Old and New Testament thoughts. He then of course delves into the teachings of Jesus, and how an early gospel (say, Mark) differs considerably in its views on the afterlife from a later gospel (say, John). Again, these are contradictions that Christians are taught to resolve and smooth over, but the text becomes so much clearer (and more interesting!) when you begin to disentangle them. It's important to know your Gehenna (not a burning trash heap!) from your Hades (I always puzzled at the Greek underworld's presence in the Bible). Ehrman continues to track these thoughts and debates through Paul and later Christian writers, gospels that did not make it into the Bible, as well as - of course - the ever-puzzling Revelation, which offers its own visions of destruction, the pit, and the New Jerusalem. He doesn't stop there, though, and we also visit the innovations of early church fathers and beyond as Christianity seeks to smooth the rough edges of afterlife belief into smooth consensus. This is essential reading for anyone interested in the Bible specifically or in belief generally. After borrowing it from the library, I bought myself a copy as well as one for my sister and another for a pastor friend who gave a long series on these topics from a Seventh Day Adventist perspective. It's probably one of those rare books I'll read again, because this is just the type of information I love to have at my fingertips.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Raymond

    I learned alot from this book. Ehrman has written another well researched study. It is so fascinating to me that our modern ideas of heaven and hell came from the Greeks (Plato, Homer, and Virgil) and not from the Bible and Jesus. Ehrman tells this history of the afterlife by using Biblical texts, non-canonical texts (1 Enoch, Maccabees, 1 Clement, etc.) and other pieces of world literature like the Epic of Gilgamesh. Ehrman does a great job bringing in the historical contexts of verses and what I learned alot from this book. Ehrman has written another well researched study. It is so fascinating to me that our modern ideas of heaven and hell came from the Greeks (Plato, Homer, and Virgil) and not from the Bible and Jesus. Ehrman tells this history of the afterlife by using Biblical texts, non-canonical texts (1 Enoch, Maccabees, 1 Clement, etc.) and other pieces of world literature like the Epic of Gilgamesh. Ehrman does a great job bringing in the historical contexts of verses and what they would have meant at the time of its writing. He uses that context to explain that Jesus and his disciples focused on the resurrection of the body at Judgment Day not heaven and hell, which came later in Paul's writings. The chapter on the Book of Revelation was good, puts the book in its context, tells that it was a response to the Roman empire and not a prophesy of the end times. It a fascinating book, interesting to see where all the ideas of the afterlife come from but especially that the views have evolved over time.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Boissonneault

    What happens after you die? No one knows, of course, but that hasn’t stopped people throughout history from making extraordinary claims backed with extraordinarily little evidence. The history of this wild hypothesizing is the subject of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. Ehrman is in a unique position to tell the story. As a New Testament scholar, he’s spent his entire career critically examining the Bible and the development of early Christianity. But he’s n What happens after you die? No one knows, of course, but that hasn’t stopped people throughout history from making extraordinary claims backed with extraordinarily little evidence. The history of this wild hypothesizing is the subject of Bart Ehrman’s latest book, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. Ehrman is in a unique position to tell the story. As a New Testament scholar, he’s spent his entire career critically examining the Bible and the development of early Christianity. But he’s no Bible thumper; over the course of his life, his burgeoning knowledge of the subject led him to eventually abandon the faith, moving from fundamentalist to liberal Christianity and eventually to atheism. Ehrman is therefore among the most knowledgeable atheists on the planet regarding Christianity, having earned both master’s and PhD degrees in the textual criticism of the Bible and having written over 30 books on the subject, including three college textbooks. Apparently, Ehrman’s increasingly sophisticated understanding of Christianity correlated perfectly with his move to eventually reject it. As Penn Jillet wrote, “Reading the Bible is the fast track to atheism,” and studying it for a living—in an intellectually honest manner—should all but guarantee the transition. In Heaven and Hell, Ehrman traces the evolving nature of the Western mind’s picture of the afterlife, not from the perspective of a believer, but from the perspective of a well-informed but disinterested observer. Ehrman covers early Greek, Jewish, and Christian conceptions of life after death and how this has changed over time within the Judeo-Christian tradition. While the book is filled with fascinating stories, anecdotes, and analysis, for our purposes we can focus on Erhman’s (probably unsurprising) main thesis, which is that most Christians majorly misunderstand their own faith regarding the afterlife (in addition to much else). Ask the majority of Christians today, and they’ll tell you that after you die your soul escapes your body and ascends to heaven or descends to the depths of hell depending on whether you lived a good life or held the appropriate beliefs. But, as Ehrman shows—leveraging his extensive research in Biblical criticism—this view is not only incorrect, it also contradicts the teachings of Jesus himself! In brief, Ehrman shows that a careful reading of the words of Jesus in the New Testament reveals that Jesus was part of a long line of Jewish apocalypticists. Jesus did not believe, nor did he ever say, that the soul leaves the body at death and travels to either heaven or hell. Consistent with Jewish teachings, Jesus prophesied an imminent day of judgment where God would raise the dead, defeat the evil forces in the world, and create a utopia on earth to be enjoyed by the righteous while the wicked would be annihilated forever. But this was not something people had to wait 2,000 years for. As Jesus said: “Some of those standing here will not will not taste death before they see that the Kingdom of God has come in power.” (Mark 9:1) And: “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away before all these things take place.” (Mark 13:30) A major fact often overlooked when reading the Bible is that the authors were consistently writing about their own times and context, and, as Ehrman repeatedly reminds us, it is always a mistake to read the author as prophesying events that are to occur thousands of years later. The most honest reading of Jesus’s words suggests that he thought judgment day was imminent. Neither Jesus, nor the Jewish apocalypticists, thought that the soul traveled anywhere without the body. They believed that the body required the soul and the soul required the body, and that God could either resurrect the body for eternal life on earth or else annihilate life altogether. Jesus never speaks of any separate realm of heaven or hell, or of eternal punishment, and while he did speak of an eternal fire that the wicked would be thrown into, he did not say that they would burn forever. So where did the idea come from, that the soul leaves the body at death and journeys to some mysterious location of eternal bliss or torment? It comes from—like much else—the ancient Greeks! In a weird twist of irony, most practicing Christians today are really Platonists in disguise. Soul/body dualism is not a biblical idea, it is a Greek idea. Plato invented the idea that the soul is superior to the body and that, after death, it is the soul that lives on, as the soul is, by its very nature, immortal. Christians at some point decided that Plato knew better than Jesus and adopted the Platonic view. So why did this happen? Because the day of judgment never came (as it was supposed to during the time of Jesus), so people had to adapt their beliefs and find another way to justify the bad things that happened to the faithful. People believe in the afterlife for a host of reasons, including the natural desire to extend one’s life indefinitely, to reunite with loved ones, or to simply placate a fear of death and the unknown. But they do so for another reason altogether: namely, the desire for justice. People noticed that it is often the case whereby the wicked are rewarded for their sins and the righteous suffer for their piety. They eventually asked how this can be, particularly when one believes in an infinitely just God. Christians realized long ago that the only way to square this paradox required the administration of justice in another realm (since apparently the day of judgment wasn’t happening anytime soon). To do this, they stole a simplified version of Plato’s philosophy and imagined that their souls left their bodies at death to unite with God in heaven (instant gratification) and that their enemies’ souls would not simply be annihilated—as Jesus and the Jews taught—but rather would be tortured FOR ETERNITY. Torture for all eternity seemed like a reasonable punishment, apparently. As Ehrman wrote, “Seeing your enemies horribly tortured for eternity is apparently considered one of the greatest joys possible.” The early Chrisitan author Tertullian seemed to take particular joy in the prospect of divine retribution. He wrote: “What a spectacle. . .when the world. . .and its many products, shall be consumed in one great flame! How vast a spectacle then bursts upon the eye! What there excites my admiration? What my derision? Which sight gives me joy? As I see. . .illustrious monarchs. . . groaning in the lowest darkness, Philosophers. . .as fire consumes them! Poets trembling before the judgment-seat of. . .Christ! I shall hear the tragedians, louder-voiced in their own calamity; view play-actors. . .in the dissolving flame; behold wrestlers, not in their gymnasia, but tossing in the fiery billows. . .What inquisitor or priest in his munificence will bestow on you the favor of seeing and exulting in such things as these? Yet even now we in a measure have them by faith in the picturings of imagination.” Not exactly consistent with the Sermon on the Mount or the command to love your enemies, but this is just another example of most Christians’ tendency to deviate from the teachings of the historical Jesus. And so most practicing Christians ought to call themselves Platonists, unless they are willing to realign their beliefs according to what Jesus actually taught: bodily resurrection on earth on the day of judgment. This is unlikely to happen because, as Ehrman demonstrates, Christians always have and always will adapt their beliefs according to the circumstances or to popular culture and NOT according to a critical reading of Jesus’s actual words (even Jesus’s direct disciples seem to have modified his teachings). Of course, the Juedo-Christian view of the afterlife (or the Platonic view) is not the only ancient view. As Ehrman shows, Epicurus and the ancient Greek atomists saw through all of this in the third century BCE. Epicurus (along with his predecessor Democritus) held the prescient view that all that exists are atoms and the void, and that the soul—a particular arrangement of atoms—was simply annihilated at death. This is not only the most likely scenario, but it is also the precise reason why we shouldn’t fear death—and why we should come to appreciate life even more. As Epicurus said: “Accustom yourself to the belief that death is of no concern to us, since all good and evil lie in sensation and sensation ends with death. Therefore the true belief that death is nothing to us makes a mortal life happy, not by adding to it an infinite time, but by taking away the desire for immortality….Death, the most dreaded of evils, is therefore of no concern to us; for while we exist death is not present, and when death is present we no longer exist. It is therefore nothing either to the living or to the dead since it is not present to the living, and the dead no longer are.” Or, to think of it in another way: “Look back at the eternity that passed before we were born, and mark how utterly it counts to us as nothing. This is a mirror that nature holds up to us, in which we may see the time that shall be after we are dead.” If we’re honest, there’s really not much more to say on the subject than that.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Clif Hostetler

    This book provides a very readable account of the history of speculations about what happens to human individuals after death. The book begins with an attention grabbing description of Hell taken from the non-canonical Apocalypse of Peter which was written in the 2nd century CE—the description given for Heaven is shorter. Following that beginning shock the reader is given an account of the afterlife from Gilgamesh (c. 2112 – c. 2004 BC) and Homer (c. 750 BC). Their descriptions are rather bla This book provides a very readable account of the history of speculations about what happens to human individuals after death. The book begins with an attention grabbing description of Hell taken from the non-canonical Apocalypse of Peter which was written in the 2nd century CE—the description given for Heaven is shorter. Following that beginning shock the reader is given an account of the afterlife from Gilgamesh (c. 2112 – c. 2004 BC) and Homer (c. 750 BC). Their descriptions are rather bland and provide no difference between the fate of good and bad people. As time passed there was increased concern for justice after death which is apparent in the writings of Plato (c.424-348 BC) who further developed the concept of the immortal soul that would continue to live free of the encumbrances of the body after death—philosophers do well per his description. By the time of Virgil (70-19 BC) the idea of justice prevailing through punishment and reward after death is more fully developed. There are obviously numerous similarities between the voyages to the afterlife of Odysseus and Aeneas, but one cannot help but be struck especially by the impressive differences. Some six or seven centuries after the Homeric epics, Virgil does not populate Hades with shades that all experience the same boring and pleasure-free existence. He writes of hellish torments for some and heavenly glories for others. Most have to be punished for their sins before being given a second chance at life. Why such a change from Homer? What has led to this invention of heaven and hell? It is hard to say what among the enormous changes in the political, social, and cultural worlds between seventh-century Greece and first-century Rome might have effected the shift in thinking. But it is relatively easy to see what happened in the realm of ethical thought. Equity had become an issue. Thinkers came to believe that no one can live a life of sin, hurting others, offending the gods, pursuing only self-aggrandizement, enjoying, as a result, wealth, influence, and pleasure, and then die and get away with it. No: everyone will have to face a judge. The wicked, no matter how powerful and revered in this world, will pay a price in the next. Those who have done what is right, however, will be rewarded. (p.78) Then the book shifts its attention to the Hebrews. Many readers will be surprised to read the following quotation near the beginning of the book's discussion of the Old Testament. There is no place of eternal punishment in any passage of the entire Old Testament. In fact—and this comes as a surprise to many people—nowhere in the entire Hebrew Bible is there any discussion at all of heaven and hell as places of rewards and punishments for those who have died. (p.108)The book goes on to explain in considerable detail that the same is true for the historical Jesus. What the Hebrews developed—and Jesus believed—was the concept of the bodily resurrection of the dead coming during an apocalyptic direct intervention by God in human affairs by setting up the "Kingdom of God" on earth. The early letters by the Apostle Paul continued that expectation, but by the time of his later letters his thinking began to shift.As it turns out, it is possible to trace a trajectory in our surviving Gospels away from the deeply apocalyptic teachings of Jesus in Mark and Matthew, to less apocalyptic teachings in the later Gospel of Luke, to non-apocalyptic teachings in the still later Gospel of John, to anti-apocalyptic teachings in the non-canonical Gospel of Thomas, written a couple of decades after John. In short, the words of Jesus, over time, came to be de-apocalypticized. (p.229) The theories of Heaven and Hell were further developed in the still later non-cononical scriptures. I found it interesting that the threats of Hell were aimed at non-Christians in the early Christian Era but became more focused on heretical Christians after Christianity became the state religion. As a matter of fact, the very worst punishments in Hell were thought to be reserved for theologians who didn't believe in the bodily resurrection or did not believe that the Eucharist elements were the actual body of Christ. Many Christians today will be surprised to learn that at one time the orthodox teaching considered the belief of the soul going to heaven or hell immediately after death to be heretical. I guess that sort of belief sounded too much like Gnosticism. (view spoiler)[ Apostles' Creed does NOT say “I believe in Heaven and Hell.” What it does say is, “I believe in … the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.” (hide spoiler)] The author concludes the book with an Afterword in which he describes his own best guess about the experience of death. He expects death to bring a state of deep unconsciousness that will be similar to the unconsciousness he experience prior to birth.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brian Griffith

    I really enjoyed this survey of our evolving myths on the afterlife. Ehrman traces the incremental shifts over time, from picturing death as an eternal underworld of shades (in the Hebrew Bible) -- to claiming that the righteous shall be bodily resurrected on a day of judgment (in the Jewish apocalyptic literature and the Gospels) -- to teaching that all souls are judged at the time of their death and go in spirit to either heaven or hell for all eternity -- to explaining that the dead suffer on I really enjoyed this survey of our evolving myths on the afterlife. Ehrman traces the incremental shifts over time, from picturing death as an eternal underworld of shades (in the Hebrew Bible) -- to claiming that the righteous shall be bodily resurrected on a day of judgment (in the Jewish apocalyptic literature and the Gospels) -- to teaching that all souls are judged at the time of their death and go in spirit to either heaven or hell for all eternity -- to explaining that the dead suffer only until their debts of sin are paid before ascending to paradise. Ehrman closely examines the influence of classical Greco-Roman, Jewish, and early Christian literature or philosophy, but he pretty much ignores Egyptian or Persian influence. Still, I think it's a fantastic examination of our religious heritage, showing in well-documented detail how our supposedly "fixed" traditions have always been evolving, in a process Joseph Campbell described as "creative mythology."

  8. 5 out of 5

    Linden

    Most of us have a preconceived notion of what happens after death. Nothing? Punishment or reward in heaven or hell? Ehrman presents an academic yet accessible perspective on the topic, exploring views of pagans, Jews, Christians, Greeks, and Romans. We also learn about the early Christians and their views on martyrdom, and why St Augustine is not really "the father of purgatory" as he has been called. Most of us have a preconceived notion of what happens after death. Nothing? Punishment or reward in heaven or hell? Ehrman presents an academic yet accessible perspective on the topic, exploring views of pagans, Jews, Christians, Greeks, and Romans. We also learn about the early Christians and their views on martyrdom, and why St Augustine is not really "the father of purgatory" as he has been called.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Tanja Berg

    The rating is for the level of interest I managed to keep through the book, which was meager at best and bored most of the time. This is of course colored by my atheist perspective, believing that there is nothing that will happen after I die and that I will be as bothered by this as I was by non-existence in 1976. Most certainly I will not burn in hell - whatever your religious inclination think I deserve - there will be no body to perceive pain anyway. The book explores how the views of heaven The rating is for the level of interest I managed to keep through the book, which was meager at best and bored most of the time. This is of course colored by my atheist perspective, believing that there is nothing that will happen after I die and that I will be as bothered by this as I was by non-existence in 1976. Most certainly I will not burn in hell - whatever your religious inclination think I deserve - there will be no body to perceive pain anyway. The book explores how the views of heaven and hell have evolved through the millennia and how little the Bible and Jesus says about the after life, if you scrutinize it. Hell bears as a strong resemblance to Hades and there is no doubt that the Hellenistic (Greek) view of the world has been strongly influential. Among others. My thoughts were drifting while I listened, in quite other directions - mostly the hell of my own creation here on earth - so if you want the full lesson, you should read the book. Or at least skim it, there are some interesting bits, interspersed between philosophy. The author concludes with my own beliefs - there is very little to fear from death. If you want to compare it to anything, then to full anesthesia. One second you're going under for an operation, the next you're waking up. While you were gone you felt nothing, not even the passage of time, and no pain - nothing. I remember and interview with a vet that I listened to when I was 12, and still deeply indoctrinated with Christianity, who said that "death is the most inoffensive state there is". When asked if it can be compared to dreaming she answered "certainly not, there is no brain activity." I was stunned. I remembered the words, but I didn't truly process them until decades later. Of course I understand that concept of non-existence is horrifying, it is to me too. But I will likely not even know that I have died, and having blinked out of existence, it is certainly a comfort to know that there is no hell waiting for me. Heaven wouldn't be any better, because any existence not constrained by time loses meaning. I intend to live my best life now, because it's the only one I've got.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Veronica Watson

    3.5 Not comprehensive but convincing. As someone whom is interested in the history of beliefs, ideas and philosophies, this progressional explanation of Jewish and Christian thought regarding the afterlife is a great scholarly work to add. Writing: B Research and Accuracy: B Hypothesis: A

  11. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    3.75* I've always been fascinated with religion and the afterlife. The amateur shrink in me thinks it's due to being brought up by strong, religious women with 3 different faiths. One of my grandmothers is Catholic, the other one is Buddhist, and my mother is Evangelical Christian. I was brought to the Buddhist temple and also went to Sunday school. While I did not attend mass, my Catholic grandmother and aunts were very detailed about hellfire and brimstone and what happens to sinners in this l 3.75* I've always been fascinated with religion and the afterlife. The amateur shrink in me thinks it's due to being brought up by strong, religious women with 3 different faiths. One of my grandmothers is Catholic, the other one is Buddhist, and my mother is Evangelical Christian. I was brought to the Buddhist temple and also went to Sunday school. While I did not attend mass, my Catholic grandmother and aunts were very detailed about hellfire and brimstone and what happens to sinners in this life and the next. Looking back now, they took much inspiration from Dante. So, one can see how this book appeals to me. This is a well-researched book that explores how Christianity's notion of an afterlife has evolved through the years. For some, the body dies and awaits judgment and resurrection in a distant future. For others, one's soul goes immediately to heaven or hell depending on how one lived his life on earth. What about purgatory? Where did this concept come from? Through the various religious works over the years, from the Bible to the Gnostic Gospels to the works of Plato and the Church Fathers, the author dissected and presented how the belief in an afterlife has evolved throughout history. After reading this book, I find myself examining myself and my beliefs. It provoked a lot of critical thoughts that may not be comfortable for some people.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Marks54

    Bart Ehrman has written a superb history of the afterlife - a history of heaven and hell. The title of the book provides an example of what is both strange and intriguing about it. Heaven and Hell are both ideas that in their theological uses have clearly meant to identify ultimate, unchanging, and timeless locations. Heaven, whatever it is claimed to be, does not evolve - it just is. Similarly with Hell. Apart from whatever origin story one adheres to, its very concept is of an absolute and ine Bart Ehrman has written a superb history of the afterlife - a history of heaven and hell. The title of the book provides an example of what is both strange and intriguing about it. Heaven and Hell are both ideas that in their theological uses have clearly meant to identify ultimate, unchanging, and timeless locations. Heaven, whatever it is claimed to be, does not evolve - it just is. Similarly with Hell. Apart from whatever origin story one adheres to, its very concept is of an absolute and inescapable and unchanging place - of torment in some views or nothingness in others. So the notion of a “history” of Heaven and Hell comes about as close to being a fundamental inconsistency or contradiction as it is possible to be. They are outside of time and yet are the subjects of a history, in which at one point virtually nobody held ideas of either while at a subsequent time millions structured their lives so as to live righteously and avoid sin so as to earn Heaven and avoid the fires of Hell. Sounds like a worthy book topic to me! I was raised a Catholic and recall some of the later versions of the Baltimore Catechism - which provided some initial encounters with ideas of Heaven and Hell. I do not recall when I first began to wonder where the detailed accounting of salvation ledgers came from, but I do remember Father Arnall’s sermon in “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man”. That is a book that one grows into but the vision of hell was gripping, even for a high school student. Many of Mr. Ehrman’s were not new to me. I read lots of history and these are topics that have received some coverage in the past, such as Plato’s influence. Pelikan’s history raises all sorts of related issues of eschatology but is almost too detailed. If one reads through Dante’s Inferno and does not wonder where the organizational details of hell came from given the paucity of biblical referents, then one is not paying attention. What I never picked up, however, was how we get from the early church to the Baltimore Catechism and where the elaborate social control mechanism actually came from. This is where Mr. Ehrman’s book excels. In particular, Ehrman is a master of non-canonical works of the Church Fathers - that is the epistles, gospels, apocalypse, and the like that did not “make the cut” and get selected into the theological body of work that is formally approved and that most believers spend some time studying. So knowing of the Gnostic Gospels will be informative of what early believers thought of heaven or hell, even if most people today have barely heard of them. This is also a clever and compelling motivation for a more popular book. It is thorough, well written, and well argued. Professor Ehrman even provides guidance of how to read the apocalyptic literature and how to keep your Sts. John distinct from each other. I do not know where I will use this knowledge next, but the book is filled with cool tidbits. Perhaps someone can put these works online in a searchable database? I have never been personally troubled about afterlife stories or related accounts of heaven and hell. Nobody has yet provide a credible account of how one could access such details and come back to relate them to others. I guess that’s why they call it faith. This means that the details of heaven and hel must be more social constructions than anything else. This is the case, even though large numbers of people still believe in heaven and hell, if the polls are to be believed. How these stories developed and came to be adopted and believed is a worthwhile topic, especially given their importance to people. Mr. Ehrman is a fine guide who does not threaten you with damnation if you disagree with him on some point.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Marina

    This is the second book I’ve read of Ehrman’s, and I enjoyed it. Maybe not as much as How Jesus Became God, as I feel it was a more thorough(?) book, but the idea of the afterlife has been a source of curiosity if not fear for me since childhood and being shown the how’s and why’s of what I was taught to believe as absolute truth is definitely relieving. Reading the afterword was also a comfort to me, as I still live with the “instinctual fear” of hell and eternal torment as Ehrman says he does This is the second book I’ve read of Ehrman’s, and I enjoyed it. Maybe not as much as How Jesus Became God, as I feel it was a more thorough(?) book, but the idea of the afterlife has been a source of curiosity if not fear for me since childhood and being shown the how’s and why’s of what I was taught to believe as absolute truth is definitely relieving. Reading the afterword was also a comfort to me, as I still live with the “instinctual fear” of hell and eternal torment as Ehrman says he does & just being able to read his own personal view (which almost exactly matches my own) from someone who has also walked away from the faith is encouraging. All in all, I’m glad I preordered this book and can come back to it from time to time when I feel the need to be reminded that there is more than likely nothing to fear but fear itself.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Patricia

    This book was good, although I think the title should be changed to indicate that it's only a history of Christian ideas about the afterlife. I've read a lot of Ehrman's books, so this is what I expected, so I wasn't too disappointed, but I still would have been interested in a comparison to other religions. This book was good, although I think the title should be changed to indicate that it's only a history of Christian ideas about the afterlife. I've read a lot of Ehrman's books, so this is what I expected, so I wasn't too disappointed, but I still would have been interested in a comparison to other religions.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Grumpus

    The grumpus23 (23-word commentary) Is this life all there is? Is there a heaven and hell? This is a biography about what earliest man thought through today.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Thomas

    I think there are two things you need to realize if you’re going to get the most out of this book. The first thing you need to realize is that this is intended as a history of thought about and belief in the afterlife in the Classical Greco-Roman and Biblical Judeo-Christian worlds. There is pretty much nothing about the history of such thought in any of the other major religions or cultures. To be fair, a more inclusive book would’ve been quite a massive doorstop. This one should really have be I think there are two things you need to realize if you’re going to get the most out of this book. The first thing you need to realize is that this is intended as a history of thought about and belief in the afterlife in the Classical Greco-Roman and Biblical Judeo-Christian worlds. There is pretty much nothing about the history of such thought in any of the other major religions or cultures. To be fair, a more inclusive book would’ve been quite a massive doorstop. This one should really have been titled: Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife in the West. The second thing you need to realize is that if you are a believer, you’re going to have to find a way to suspend belief long enough to hear what the author has to say. He makes plain that he is a born-again-not-really-born-again-anymore Christian if he still identifies as a Christian at all. He approaches the Bible with the view that it is the work of men alone and interprets it accordingly. Ehrman doesn’t hold back but he also doesn’t do it in a malicious all-religion-is-fairytale-so-you’re-an-idiot-for-believing-in-anything kind of way, so you have a chance to get something out of this book. This is definitely an interesting read. It goes through three different main lines of thought when it comes to the afterlife. The first is the idea is that there is no afterlife. When you die you actually die and you’re not coming back. Game over, man. Game over. This belief was far more popular in the biblical world than most people today realize. The second idea is the resurrection. Sometime after you die, you may be brought back to life, perhaps with an opportunity to live in an everlasting paradise. The third idea is the notion of the immortality of the soul. This belief was far less popular in the biblical world than most people today realize. These three beliefs, along with endless variations, such as reincarnation, were mashed up against each other and mashed together in all kinds of interesting ways. And of course, one can’t forget the great debate about what kind of afterlife there ought to be and what sort of rewards for the faithful and punishment for the wicked seems fair, hence the question of heaven and hell. The thing that really caused me to pick up this book in the first place is the knowledge that the popular notion of an immortal soul that goes straight to either a heavenly reward or a fiery hell for the rest of eternity is not actually found anywhere in the Bible whether you believe it was the word of God or of men. I always found that comforting because whatever you might think about the notion of heavenly bliss, the idea that anyone can sin egregiously enough to deserve being tortured for the rest of eternity by an allegedly loving God is pure madness. On that particular point, I wasn’t disappointed. I found that the author approaches the issue in a fair-minded and thorough way. There was a lot of stuff that started to get a little tedious for me at times. If you dismiss the Gospels as unreliable, there’s no way you can ever know for sure what the historical Jesus actually believed about anything. Also, I found a lot of the debates and reasoning of the people in that era on the subject to be kind of tedious and silly. Maybe it’s the arrogance of hindsight. I imagine I would have been just as ignorant if I’d lived back then. Whether it challenges your core beliefs or not, knowledge is never a bad thing. This was worth my time.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Socraticgadfly

    This book is mendacious from the introduction on. And, along with that, I swear that Ehrman gets worse with each book he writes. I speak not as a "fundagelical," but as a non-Gnu Atheist secularist with a graduate divinity degree myself. And, lest conservative Christians don't get it, I've bolded that. When this book first came out, I'd heard that Ehrman was essentially preaching (sic) the idea that Jesus and Paul believed in and preached a JW (as in Jehovah's Witnesses) version of the afterlife, t This book is mendacious from the introduction on. And, along with that, I swear that Ehrman gets worse with each book he writes. I speak not as a "fundagelical," but as a non-Gnu Atheist secularist with a graduate divinity degree myself. And, lest conservative Christians don't get it, I've bolded that. When this book first came out, I'd heard that Ehrman was essentially preaching (sic) the idea that Jesus and Paul believed in and preached a JW (as in Jehovah's Witnesses) version of the afterlife, that the blessed go to heaven and the damned are annihilated. And I laughed. As I said, "mendacious from the introduction." Ehrman makes that claim at the start, in what's technically titled a "preface," not an "introduction." I quote: "Jesus of Nazareth inherited this view and forcefully proclaimed it. Those who did God's will would be rewarded at the end, raised from the dead to live forever in a glorious kingdom here on earth. Those opposed to God would be punished by being annihilated out of existence." Here's why I laughed. It's called Matthew 25, specifically, the passage known as "The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats." I quote: The Sheep and the Goats 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Note that phrase "eternal punishment." NOT "annihilation." And annihilation is not eternal punishment for Ehrman because he says it's not at the end of his preface. Next, we're going to quote Mark 9:43-48, which in turn quotes Isaiah 66 (I believe there's likely three Isaiahs, not two): 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44] [b] 45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46] [c] 47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where “‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’[d] Sounds like eternal punishment to me. So, how's Ehrman deal with this? First, he hints that the Matthew parable might not have been said by Jesus, although he then says that's not likely. Even if not, it was his first followers who said it, NOT "the early church." Second, he claims that because it's a parable, we shouldn't understand all of it literally, and he then selectively applies that to the eternal punishment. BUT, he then goes literalistic to back this up. He claims that because the opposite of "life" is "death," then the opposite of "eternal life" HAS TO BE "eternal death." As for Mark 9 (and parallels) and specifically the Isaiah 66 quote, he then goes back to literalism. He notes that it's within a context of Yahweh talking about dead bodies in Gehenna. It is indeed, but Jesus is quoting it in a larger context, and that context is to talk about eternal life vs eternal punishment. Also, it's quite arguable, per Francesca Stavrakopoulou, that Ehrman misinterprets "tophet," which is what's really meant when Gehenna in the Tanakh is being discussed, whether the actual word is used or not. See here: https://www.academia.edu/7656412 Beyond this, if Ehrman wants to go literalistic, I'll trump him. "Dead" is "dead." It means insensate. Therefore, the state of being dead can't be subject to an eternal anything. It is true that Jesus himself has what sounds like death (drowning by millstone) in the same passage as eternal punishment. But, he concludes with the punishment. And so, related to that, Jesus saying, "fear the one who can also kill the soul" should be understood in the context of Jesus viewing the bottom line as eternal punishment. And, if Ehrman wants to go parabalistic, I'll trump him by moving outside the bible. Zeus sent a vulture to the shackled Prometheus every day to rip out his liver but then got said liver to magically renew, fresh for another ripping the next day. Eternal punishments that would come off as deadly if not for miraculous renewal were known outside the bible. Other things, such as his interpretation of Revelation's lake of fire? Ehrman again tries to be literalistic yet have his parabalistic cake and eat it at the same time there as well. Finally, let's go back to the end of that preface I referenced. Again, I quote: "On a more personal level — in fact, in the most personal terms possible — a fuller understanding of where the ideas of heaven and hell came from can provide assurance and comfort because, contrary to what I once thought, even if we do have something to hope for after we have passed from the realm of temporary consciousness, we have absolutely nothing to fear. I believe this assurance, on a practical level, can free us to appreciate and enjoy our existence in the here and now, living lives full of meaning and purpose in the brief moment given us in this world of mortals." Look, per the JWs reference I made above, if Ehrman wanted to write a book called "Why I Think Charles Taze Russell Was Right," and with that, indicate that his interpretation of a number of bible passages was personal and perhaps idiosyncratic, to put it mildly, fine. But that's not the book he chose to write. And with that, I think I'm officially at the point of disrecommending Ehrman. Don't read him. Yeah, it's too bad Gnus and mythicists still pick on him at times, but this book, following on the two-star one on how Christianity allegedly trumped paganism, which itself is horribly ill-informed, means I have zero sympathy any more for the cult of Ehrman. (Emphasis added to the original post, as was "and mythicists," which is the real issue, per a commenter below asking me to rate a Richard Carrier book.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Cathryn Conroy

    We humans do not know as an absolute scientific fact what happens after death, but we can pretty much surmise that it is one of two things: 1. Nothing. We are dead. Our existence ceases. It is finished. Over. Done. Sweet everlasting dreams. 2. There is an afterlife. The idea of an afterlife—be it a literal heaven or hell, who goes to which, is it our body and our soul or just our soul that lives on—has a long and storied past, dating back to the Greeks and Romans. Theologian and professor of relig We humans do not know as an absolute scientific fact what happens after death, but we can pretty much surmise that it is one of two things: 1. Nothing. We are dead. Our existence ceases. It is finished. Over. Done. Sweet everlasting dreams. 2. There is an afterlife. The idea of an afterlife—be it a literal heaven or hell, who goes to which, is it our body and our soul or just our soul that lives on—has a long and storied past, dating back to the Greeks and Romans. Theologian and professor of religious studies Bart D. Ehrman explores this long, somewhat convoluted, sometimes hilarious, sometimes frightening, sometimes reassuring, sometimes absurd history. And that is just what this book is: a HISTORY of the various beliefs of the afterlife from the Greeks and Romans to the Jews and the Christians. This is not a theological treatise advocating one belief over another; it is a historical exploration of this very human yearning that our life here on Earth can't be all there is. Since the point of the book is to examine how views of the afterlife came to be and how they changed over the centuries, it is ideal for both believers and nonbelievers. In addition to many delightful descriptions of heaven, as well as terrifying ideas of hell (including detailed explanations of the torture that awaits sinners), the book explains in easy-to-understand ways what the Bible REALLY says about the afterlife. The Hebrew Scriptures have various ideas that radically changed over the generations. Meanwhile, the difference between what Jesus says in the four Gospels about the afterlife vs. what Paul says in his many letters to the churches are quite different. I read the Bible every day, and I never noticed this discrepancy! Bonus: Chapter 11, which focuses on the New Testament book of Revelation, is alone worth the price of the book. It is the most straightforward, intelligent, and truly understandable explanation of this most confounding and confusing book in the Bible.

  19. 5 out of 5

    dami✩彡

    10/30/21 after five months, i'm finally done reading this exceptional book! for starters, i'm a practicing agnostic. i can say it's a daunting task to be one for having been born into a deeply devout Catholic family but it's a decision i'm most proud of, mostly because i don't have to gaslight myself in every single thing i do anymore—and i'm at peace with that. the concept of heaven and hell, of postmortem rewards and punishments, was never mentioned in the old testament nor was it ever preached 10/30/21 after five months, i'm finally done reading this exceptional book! for starters, i'm a practicing agnostic. i can say it's a daunting task to be one for having been born into a deeply devout Catholic family but it's a decision i'm most proud of, mostly because i don't have to gaslight myself in every single thing i do anymore—and i'm at peace with that. the concept of heaven and hell, of postmortem rewards and punishments, was never mentioned in the old testament nor was it ever preached by historic Jesus himself (with full-blown context provided), but why did it reach the "surface" and became the dominating ideology is a nutshell of what heaven and hell: a history of the afterlife is about. i saw this book mentioned on a tiktok video of an atheist theology undergraduate (i think that's what he calls himself) and found it intriguing.. i started reading this book without any expectations but upon finishing it, i felt as if someone had opened my eyes. now, we all have our own set of fears, especially with regard to religion. i still instinctively fear the thought of eternal torment even after reading this book because it's what i've been taught since i was young, and it's extremely hard to brush off. but here's what i believe in after months of on-and-off reading while semi pondering about this book: death isn't something to be afraid of. im also unsure if there really is a divine God, mostly due to personal reasons and having had four semesters of theology classes which only left me with more questions than answers. however, if there were indeed a divine being ruling over the entire universe who's loving, nurturing, and kind, i doubt he would let his children suffer eternal torment. honestly, reading this book makes me want to ask priests in our uni to know their views on the matter. also if i remember it correctly, i heard priests in our cathedral talk about heaven and hell most of the time. i mean, surely they know about the history of afterlife, but why continue to preach it diba? medj magulo lang pi

  20. 4 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    My first encounter with Bart Ehrman was his Misquoting Jesus, which I was given as a gift and found to be an excellent read. I've read almost everything he's published since then. His work is never "bad," but its strengths are uneven. Lost Christianities, like Misquoting Jesus, was brilliant. Other titles, like Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene feel less substantial: some interesting ideas spun out into a book-length work when they could have been effectively presented in a briefer fashion. Heaven My first encounter with Bart Ehrman was his Misquoting Jesus, which I was given as a gift and found to be an excellent read. I've read almost everything he's published since then. His work is never "bad," but its strengths are uneven. Lost Christianities, like Misquoting Jesus, was brilliant. Other titles, like Peter, Paul, and Mary Magdalene feel less substantial: some interesting ideas spun out into a book-length work when they could have been effectively presented in a briefer fashion. Heaven and Hell is interesting, but it does fall into that second category, a book that feels longer than it needs to be in order to make its points. Heaven and Hell explores the evolution of the Christian concept of the afterlife going back to pre-Christianity, the early Jewish world, as well as Greece and Rome. As always, Ehrman's writing shakes up what seemed to be solid ground, showing us that what seems obvious today wasn't always obvious. Heaven and Hell offers a multitude of perspectives on the afterlife, from viewing it as annihilation to a sort of grey half-life to eternities of great cruelty or reward. The material is fascinating, but I didn't need 352 pages to understand what Ehrman is presenting. I would have enjoyed some deeper digging with more detailed historical and textual discussion to fill out those 352 pages. I received a free review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley. The opinions are my own.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    There's more about hell here than heaven, because as we all know, "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens." (St. David Byrne) The journey to Hell has always been more interesting. Ehrman's rather academic treatment describes how Hell's landscape was explored by early Christians, and before that by the Greeks (though the Greek Hades seems rather mopey compared to Dante's inferno.) Ehrman's specialty is the history of early Christianity, so it's natural that he focuses on Judeo-Christian con There's more about hell here than heaven, because as we all know, "Heaven is a place where nothing ever happens." (St. David Byrne) The journey to Hell has always been more interesting. Ehrman's rather academic treatment describes how Hell's landscape was explored by early Christians, and before that by the Greeks (though the Greek Hades seems rather mopey compared to Dante's inferno.) Ehrman's specialty is the history of early Christianity, so it's natural that he focuses on Judeo-Christian conceptions of the afterlife, though I was hoping that he would at least touch on the ideas of other cultures. As it is, this book is not only an introduction to Judeo-Christian perspectives on the afterlife, but a nice intro to early Christian thinkers like Origen and Tertullian as well. And to be fair, Heaven does get a fair shake, but ideas of the afterlife were primarily motivated by a desire for justice rather than mercy, so Hell gets the lion's share of the attention.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Faith

    I wanted to like this book but I felt that it didn't really give a lot of new info about the subject. To be fair, my undergraduate degree was in religious studies. However, I think the information about the views of the afterlife in the Western tradition are well known. That brings up my second issue with this book: it's focused exclusively on the Western religious traditions. I would have loved if Ehrman had a discussion about how Eastern religions view life after death. Having a survey of how I wanted to like this book but I felt that it didn't really give a lot of new info about the subject. To be fair, my undergraduate degree was in religious studies. However, I think the information about the views of the afterlife in the Western tradition are well known. That brings up my second issue with this book: it's focused exclusively on the Western religious traditions. I would have loved if Ehrman had a discussion about how Eastern religions view life after death. Having a survey of how various religion traditions view death (and a potential afterlife) and how they possibly came to these views would have been fascinating to read. Instead, I feel that Ehrman wrote this book to convince literalist Christians (who I doubt will actually read this book) that heaven and especially hell are later constructs that much of the ancient world didn't believe in. This might be interesting for this audience. However, I doubt it will be a new discovery for typical readers of Ehrman's books.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paul Vogelzang

    Thanks to the publisher for sharing this book. I've read several by Dr. Bart Ehrman, who I've interviewed for work with Smithsonian. I always enjoy Dr. Ehrman's books and his unique way of making God, Jesus, religion understandable. Dr. Ehrman always offers me a different perspective, his newest, about after we die, gives me more to think about. Thanks to the publisher for sharing this book. I've read several by Dr. Bart Ehrman, who I've interviewed for work with Smithsonian. I always enjoy Dr. Ehrman's books and his unique way of making God, Jesus, religion understandable. Dr. Ehrman always offers me a different perspective, his newest, about after we die, gives me more to think about.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Super accessible and well-written history, albeit an entirely western one. I expected a wider survey of more recent developments in philosophies of the afterlife too but the book centred almost entirely on interpretations of the Bible in the centuries immediately succeeding the death of Christ. This specificity is definitely a strength of the book but I was disappointed to not see any discussion of Islamic interpretations. Ehrman clearly writes about what he knows, rather than attempting to wade Super accessible and well-written history, albeit an entirely western one. I expected a wider survey of more recent developments in philosophies of the afterlife too but the book centred almost entirely on interpretations of the Bible in the centuries immediately succeeding the death of Christ. This specificity is definitely a strength of the book but I was disappointed to not see any discussion of Islamic interpretations. Ehrman clearly writes about what he knows, rather than attempting to wade into unknown territory in order to produce a vast history. I also think the conclusions could’ve been more impactful and concise, rather than just returning to a slightly more detailed rehash of the introduction. Ultimately a great read though and Ehrman approaches a potentially bleak subject with tongue-in-cheek humour and a reassuring, rational voice. As an agnostic I didn’t expect to be so drawn to the descriptions and explorations of Biblical text, which is testament to how much of an easy-read the book is.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    In Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, Bart D. Ehrman, a historian of early Christianity, explains how the ancient Greeks understood death and how that understanding evolved among the early Christians. Death is the end turns into death is a pit for shades, which then turns into a resurrection of bodies on Earth. (As Paul grows older, he begins to reconsider.) Eventually, Christians decide that the body dies but the spirit endures. What's more, it is evaluated and rewarded or punished. W In Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, Bart D. Ehrman, a historian of early Christianity, explains how the ancient Greeks understood death and how that understanding evolved among the early Christians. Death is the end turns into death is a pit for shades, which then turns into a resurrection of bodies on Earth. (As Paul grows older, he begins to reconsider.) Eventually, Christians decide that the body dies but the spirit endures. What's more, it is evaluated and rewarded or punished. What happens to souls if they do not immediately ascend to Heaven? Purgatory. The history mostly fizzles out a few hundred years ago, and I was left wondering whether Purgatory is still a thing. After reading James Clavell's Shogun last summer, I resolved to read more about the history of Catholics. The last book I read, Ross Douthat's To Change the Church, is deeply committed to the ideal of an unchanging (or very slowly changing) faith and set of norms. But, after reading Heaven and Hell, I was left with the feeling that maybe we should think about Christianity in the same way that William Gibson thinks about science fiction novels: they are not prophetic texts but are better read as responding to the culture and historical conditions that give rise to them. 3.5.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nelson Zagalo

    Reading "Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife" (2020) made me realise that Heaven and Hell is not fable, or stories, it is game, basic mechanics of reward and punishment. As such, I realised that the foundation of the discussion of the afterlife is less about a signification and more about a quantification. Over the centuries, the definition of the afterlife has gone little beyond proposing a linearity with two poles, high and low, where the higher the better. It is irrelevant what it mea Reading "Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife" (2020) made me realise that Heaven and Hell is not fable, or stories, it is game, basic mechanics of reward and punishment. As such, I realised that the foundation of the discussion of the afterlife is less about a signification and more about a quantification. Over the centuries, the definition of the afterlife has gone little beyond proposing a linearity with two poles, high and low, where the higher the better. It is irrelevant what it means, since the point reached is for all time, thus only the amount of suffering or contentment obtained becomes important. Ler o texto completo em Português no blog: https://virtual-illusion.blogspot.com...

  27. 5 out of 5

    Nathan

    I disagree with many of the claims Ehrman makes, but he has compiled a helpful sampling of historical resources on the question of heaven and hell that must be dealt with in our study of eschatology.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Anthony

    I always enjoy Prof. Ehrman's books. The only issue I have is that I've read so many (add well as listened to many of his lectures and talks) that a book like this is bound to cover material I'm at least painfully familiar with. This is expected though since his most often subject matter overlaps quite a bit in both time and subject matter. But the advantage is if this is your first book by him, it'll be a complete and very comprehensible experience. And, of course, new research and discoveries I always enjoy Prof. Ehrman's books. The only issue I have is that I've read so many (add well as listened to many of his lectures and talks) that a book like this is bound to cover material I'm at least painfully familiar with. This is expected though since his most often subject matter overlaps quite a bit in both time and subject matter. But the advantage is if this is your first book by him, it'll be a complete and very comprehensible experience. And, of course, new research and discoveries address always being made in the field of biblical history, so the material bears repetition more often than not. This is an exceptionally good book since it delves deep into the history of ideas about the afterlife, starting from when there was none, and relating it to non Judaeo- Christian ideas also prevalent during the times and their possible influence on Christian ideas, especially as more Gentiles than Jews became Christians. And then again when Christianity became the dominant religion in the Mediterranean rather than a minority.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    Universal Survey-tion AT A GLANCE: A flawed but engaging look at the Christian afterlife. CONTENT: Bart Ehrman, a noted textual scholar, acts as our Virgil through the afterlife. After covering such diverse material as Mesopotamian mythology and Platonism, Jewish and early Christian writings are then parsed for their insights. This is exemplary when he's focusing on the authors surveyed, though often less so when he inserts his own insights. It must be noted that he is setting out to undermine the C Universal Survey-tion AT A GLANCE: A flawed but engaging look at the Christian afterlife. CONTENT: Bart Ehrman, a noted textual scholar, acts as our Virgil through the afterlife. After covering such diverse material as Mesopotamian mythology and Platonism, Jewish and early Christian writings are then parsed for their insights. This is exemplary when he's focusing on the authors surveyed, though often less so when he inserts his own insights. It must be noted that he is setting out to undermine the Christian orthodoxy of his youth (as described in the foreword). He is less careful here than in his academic works, and his famous axe-grinding is on full display. He ends the book with a David Bentley Hart-esque conclusion in an afterword that feels unnecessary. NARRATOR: John Lloyd sounds a bit stilted at first but I quickly became accustomed to it and his voice is fine. It begins with Ehrman and then throws you for a loop by switching narrators. OVERALL: While possibly misleading to those unfamiliar with Ehrman, this is a useful introduction to Christian views on the afterlife.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Malum

    Fascinating look at the evolution of the ideas of heaven and hell through (mostly Western) history. I would have liked a bit more about Gnosticism (of which there were a few throwaway lines), Islam (which is briefly mentioned in the epilogue), and East/South East Asian religions (such as the Pure Land of Shin Buddhism and the Deva Loka of Jainsim, which aren't mentioned at all) but, with a background as a Christian scholar, I can't blame Ehrman for staying in his wheelhouse. Fascinating look at the evolution of the ideas of heaven and hell through (mostly Western) history. I would have liked a bit more about Gnosticism (of which there were a few throwaway lines), Islam (which is briefly mentioned in the epilogue), and East/South East Asian religions (such as the Pure Land of Shin Buddhism and the Deva Loka of Jainsim, which aren't mentioned at all) but, with a background as a Christian scholar, I can't blame Ehrman for staying in his wheelhouse.

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