Cover image for Heaven and hell : a history of the afterlife
Heaven and hell : a history of the afterlife
First Simon & Schuster hardcover edition.
Physical Description:
xxiii, 326 pages ; 24 cm
Guided tours of heaven and hell -- The fear of death -- Life after death before there was life after death -- Will justice be done? : the rise of postmortem rewards and punishments -- Death after death in the Hebrew Bible -- Dead bodies that return to life : the resurrection in ancient Israel -- Why wait for the resurrection? : life after death right after death -- Jesus and the afterlife -- The afterlife after Jesus' life : Paul the Apostle -- Altering the views of Jesus : the later gospels -- The afterlife mysteries of the book of revelation -- Eternal life in the flesh -- Tactile ecstasy and torment in the Christian hereafter -- Who will inherit the blessings? : purgatory, reincarnation, and salvation for all.
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?


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Book 236.2 EHR 0 1
Book 236.2 EHR 0 1

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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 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.

Author Notes

New Testament scholar Bart D. Ehrman grew up in Lawrence, Kansas and graduated from Wheaton College in 1978. He earned his Masters of Divinity and PhD from Princeton Theological Seminary and has taught at Rutgers University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he is the James A. Gray Distinguished Professor. He has published more than 20 scholarly and popular books, including three New York Times bestsellers, plus numerous articles and book reviews.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this enlightening survey of human understanding of the afterlife, Ehrman (How Jesus Became God), professor of religious studies at UNC Chapel Hill, offers a persuasive analysis of how the current evangelical Christian understanding of eternal life and eternal damnation developed as well as a well-reasoned critique of that perspective. Ehrman begins with the Epic of Gilgamesh (written around 2100 BCE), continues through the ancient Greeks, and covers canonical and extracanonical Hebrew and Christian texts as he details humanity's long-standing preoccupation with death and the fear of what follows. He documents wide-ranging theories: Homer's vision of a bleak, dreary existence in Hades; Virgil's belief in hellish torments and heavenly glories; Plato's position on the soul's immortality; the ancient Israelites' view that death is the end, but not to be feared; and later Jewish belief in resurrection and a Day of Judgment. Calling into question many evangelical notions of damnation, Ehrman posits that neither Jesus, the apostle Paul, nor the author of Revelation believed in hell. Rather, the punishment for sin was annihilation, while the righteous received everlasting life . Ehrman's eloquent understanding of how death is viewed through many spiritual traditions is scintillating, fresh, and will appeal to scholars and lay readers alike. (Mar.)

Booklist Review

Ehrman, whose writings on Christianity have attracted a significant popular audience, here roams further afield into the realms of heaven and hell. This is a wide-ranging survey that takes readers back to early notions of an afterlife, through the writings of the Greek philosophers, Jewish prophets, and earliest Christians. Of course, none of these groups had a singular idea about the afterlife, and Ehrman takes pains to show the differences and similarities in the various schools of thought. The book is at its best when it gets into Ehrman's wheelhouse: early Christianity and the Jewish influences surrounding it. He discusses in detail Jesus' view of an apocalyptic ending and the afterlife, as well as how views of the end-time evolved after the world didn't end as quickly as Jesus had predicted. Perhaps even more influential were the theories of the apostle Paul, who heightened and refined what would happen to believers after death. Later Christian writers embellished even further, leading to the fear of a fiery eternity still prevalent today. Ehrman's twin strengths are deep knowledge and an accessible style. This displays both in spades.--Ilene Cooper Copyright 2019 Booklist

Kirkus Review

A study of the development of Christian concepts of the afterlife.Ehrman (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina; The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, 2018, etc.) skims the surface in this offering for general readers. Having built an academic career on examining the veracity of the Bible, the author uses his platform to argue that ideas of heaven and hell lack meaningful merit in the Scriptures. Ehrman begins with an overview of how the afterlife was treated in other ancient Western literature, such as the works of Homer and Plato, before moving on to the Hebrew Bible. Ehrman seems convinced that many readers will be surprised to learn that heaven and hell appear differently, if at all, in the course of Old Testament literature. He demonstrates that, at best, the ancient Hebrews believed in a vague afterlife. More likely, they believed that existence for individuals ended with death. By the time of Jesus, a natural desire for justice from the travails of life had led to a more developed concept of afterlife for the good while the bad met only with extermination. Turning to the teachings of Jesus, Ehrman is clear that "Jesus did not teach that when a person died they would go to heaven or hell." Furthermore, he argues, "one of my theses is that a close reading of Jesus's words shows that in fact he had no idea of torment for sinners after death." The author brushes off scriptural references that seem to contradict these conclusions as unreflective of the words of "the historical Jesus." Likewise, he discounts any ideas about hell attributed to Paul as later additions by other authors, an approach that echoes Erhman's arguments in such previous works as Forged. The author concludes that although death is the ultimate mystery, he doubts it brings anything but oblivion, and he urges his readers to find comfort in their coming, dreamless sleep.A readable book of popular Christianity that offers little new theologically. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Library Journal Review

Ehrman (religious studies, Univ. of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Misquoting Jesus) is a skilled and erudite revealer of patterns and oddities found in the bible. Here, he turns his talents to questions of the afterlife. It's rare to encounter something fresh and new about this topic, but Ehrman has a gift for distilling new findings in biblical scholarship and conveying these ideas in accessible ways. He explicates the evolution in our understanding of ultimate justice and relates the concept of an eternal abode to the enigma of mind-body dualism. Ehrman's account may lead readers to reconsider some cherished preconceptions. Expect delightful, informative examinations of ancient ideas about heaven and hell; ideas that have evolved as human needs and desires have also evolved. VERDICT Recommended for those who appreciate popular approaches to religious studies and anyone curious about their final destination.--Denis Frias, Mississauga Lib. Syst., Ont.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgmentsp. xi
Prefacep. xv
Chapter 1 Guided Tours of Heaven and Hellp. 1
Chapter 2 The Fear of Deathp. 17
Chapter 3 Life After Death Before There Was Life After Deathp. 35
Chapter 4 Will Justice Be Done? The Rise of Postmortem Rewards and Punishmentsp. 57
Chapter 5 Death After Death in the Hebrew Biblep. 81
Chapter 6 Dead Bodies That Return to Life: The Resurrection in Ancient Israelp. 103
Chapter 7 Why Wait for the Resurrection? Life After Death Right After Deathp. 127
Chapter 8 Jesus and the Afterlifep. 147
Chapter 9 The Afterlife After Jesus's Life: Paul the Apostlep. 169
Chapter 10 Altering the Views of Jesus: The Later Gospelsp. 191
Chapter 11 The Afterlife Mysteries of the Book of Revelationp. 213
Chapter 12 Eternal Life in the Fleshp. 233
Chapter 13 Tactile Ecstasy and Torment in the Christian Hereafterp. 253
Chapter 14 Who Will Inherit the Blessings? Purgatory, Reincarnation, and Salvation for Allp. 271
Afterwordp. 291
Notesp. 297
Indexp. 313