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Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition

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A New York Times best-selling scholar's illuminating exploration of the earliest Christian narrated journeys to heaven and hell   “[An] illuminating deep dive . . . An edifying origin story for contemporary Christian conceptions of the afterlife.”—Publishers Weekly   From classics such as the Odyssey and the Aeneid to fifth-century Christian apocrypha, narratives that descr A New York Times best-selling scholar's illuminating exploration of the earliest Christian narrated journeys to heaven and hell   “[An] illuminating deep dive . . . An edifying origin story for contemporary Christian conceptions of the afterlife.”—Publishers Weekly   From classics such as the Odyssey and the Aeneid to fifth-century Christian apocrypha, narratives that described guided tours of the afterlife played a major role in shaping ancient notions of morality and ethics. In this new account, acclaimed author Bart Ehrman contextualizes early Christian narratives of heaven and hell within the broader intellectual and cultural worlds from which they emerged. He examines how fundamental social experiences of the early Christian communities molded the conceptions of the afterlife that eventuated into the accepted doctrines of heaven, hell, and purgatory.   Drawing on Greek and Roman epic poetry, early Jewish writings such as the Book of Watchers, and apocryphal Christian stories including the Acts of Thomas, the Gospel of Nicodemus, and the Apocalypse of Peter, Ehrman demonstrates that ancient tours of the afterlife promoted reflection on matters of ethics, faith, ambition, and life’s meaning, the fruit of which has been codified into Christian belief today.


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A New York Times best-selling scholar's illuminating exploration of the earliest Christian narrated journeys to heaven and hell   “[An] illuminating deep dive . . . An edifying origin story for contemporary Christian conceptions of the afterlife.”—Publishers Weekly   From classics such as the Odyssey and the Aeneid to fifth-century Christian apocrypha, narratives that descr A New York Times best-selling scholar's illuminating exploration of the earliest Christian narrated journeys to heaven and hell   “[An] illuminating deep dive . . . An edifying origin story for contemporary Christian conceptions of the afterlife.”—Publishers Weekly   From classics such as the Odyssey and the Aeneid to fifth-century Christian apocrypha, narratives that described guided tours of the afterlife played a major role in shaping ancient notions of morality and ethics. In this new account, acclaimed author Bart Ehrman contextualizes early Christian narratives of heaven and hell within the broader intellectual and cultural worlds from which they emerged. He examines how fundamental social experiences of the early Christian communities molded the conceptions of the afterlife that eventuated into the accepted doctrines of heaven, hell, and purgatory.   Drawing on Greek and Roman epic poetry, early Jewish writings such as the Book of Watchers, and apocryphal Christian stories including the Acts of Thomas, the Gospel of Nicodemus, and the Apocalypse of Peter, Ehrman demonstrates that ancient tours of the afterlife promoted reflection on matters of ethics, faith, ambition, and life’s meaning, the fruit of which has been codified into Christian belief today.

30 review for Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition

  1. 4 out of 5

    Sarah-Hope

    There's a good bit of interesting material in Bart Ehrman's Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition. He opens with early Greek and Roman depictions of hell (and sometimes paradise), moves on to early Christian texts, then finishes by discussing the issue of several texts' positions on whether salvation will be all-inclusive or by invitation only. Whether one practices a faith or not, there's a lot to chew on here in terms of the best goals and values There's a good bit of interesting material in Bart Ehrman's Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition. He opens with early Greek and Roman depictions of hell (and sometimes paradise), moves on to early Christian texts, then finishes by discussing the issue of several texts' positions on whether salvation will be all-inclusive or by invitation only. Whether one practices a faith or not, there's a lot to chew on here in terms of the best goals and values to govern one's life—and one can spend a good bit of time pondering what the social norms and expectations might have been in societies that embraced different versions of these texts.. The problem I had with the text was that it fell into an odd betwixt and between space in terms of its readership. Much of the first three chapters felt written for a non-scholarly audience, despite Ehrman's tendency to quote texts in Greek or Latin. Then in chapter four, Ehrman's discussion moves on to minutae that are hard for a lay reader to follow, particularly if that reader doesn't have access to the texts Ehrman is discussing (an Ethiopian apocalypse, two very brief Greek fragments of that text, and later, related texts). At this point he backs up his arguments with detailed charts examining textual similarities and differences in an attempt to determine which is based on the earliest version of that narrative, and which bits are emendations or deliberate omissions. If you're a scholar of early Christianity, you may find his explanation of methodology and his survey of earlier work in the field worthwhile, but it doesn't make compelling reading for the uninitiated, who aren't familiar with the texts and can't place the specific bits of text included in the charts within the larger context of the documents they appear in. Chapter six, the final chapter, returns to some of the more accessible issues featured in chapters one through three—in this instance the development of explanations for the time Jesus spent between execution and resurrection. Did he visit hell? If he did, did he enter it as teacher or as irresistably godly force? Did he save all hell's residents or just a chosen few? The answers to those questions are significant not just for individual Christians of the time, but also for the faith itself during its early years, when conversions seemed to come more easily when stories of the eternal punishments of hell played a central role, rather than the blessings of heaven. If you're a scholar of early Christianity, you know better than I do whether this book will interest you. If you're a lay reader who dabbles in the subject, you'll find interesting material here, but I strongly recommend giving yourself permission to skip the sections/chapters that don't speak clearly to you. I received a free electronic review copy of this title from the publisher via NetGalley; the opinions are my own.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Tanja Berg

    A very thorough comparative take on the different views of heaven and hell, mostly from ancient Christianity. The Jews don’t have a hell. This should not be your first book on early Christianity, read some of the other books by the author first. You will be a bit lost if you’re not familiar with the writings that didn’t make it into the Bible. This book would have a quite narrow, scholarly interest. From a personal perspective, this book is one of many I’ve read on the theme of how Christianity A very thorough comparative take on the different views of heaven and hell, mostly from ancient Christianity. The Jews don’t have a hell. This should not be your first book on early Christianity, read some of the other books by the author first. You will be a bit lost if you’re not familiar with the writings that didn’t make it into the Bible. This book would have a quite narrow, scholarly interest. From a personal perspective, this book is one of many I’ve read on the theme of how Christianity came to be and is, simply to understand myself and my upbringing better. It’s incredible how few questions I asked as a child and teenager, growing up in a Baptist missionary family. I struggle now, to hold my tongue, when people I know say that God is good. From the Bible he is petty, jealous and vindictive. If you want to read a book by the same author, pick up “God’s problem” that extensively discusses suffering and how this is incompatible with a compassionate god.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Ryan

    In 2020 Ehrman released Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. He examined these concepts, chronicled their development, and pointed toward how a ending gives meaning. Journeys to Heaven and Hell focuses on these ideas in early Christianity and their development from sources such as the Odyssey, Aeneid, Jewish writings, and Christian apocrypha. He shows how early Christianity’s ideas of the afterlife weren’t static, nor were they isolated from the culture around them. The tours Ehrman detai In 2020 Ehrman released Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. He examined these concepts, chronicled their development, and pointed toward how a ending gives meaning. Journeys to Heaven and Hell focuses on these ideas in early Christianity and their development from sources such as the Odyssey, Aeneid, Jewish writings, and Christian apocrypha. He shows how early Christianity’s ideas of the afterlife weren’t static, nor were they isolated from the culture around them. The tours Ehrman details touch on many themes that connect the past to the very things society is struggling with today. Thanks to NetGalley and Yale University Press for an ARC of this book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Terese

    I've struggled with finishing this book as well as writing a review for it. Firstly, I wanted to read this because the first couple of chapters are essentially a thesis I wanted to write at University (comparing journeys to hell in Homer and Virgil). These chapters are amazing and so much fun to read for that reason. Where I was slightly turned off from this title was that for the Christian and Jewish texts I didn't feel like there was enough excerpts from the original language, which - granted - I've struggled with finishing this book as well as writing a review for it. Firstly, I wanted to read this because the first couple of chapters are essentially a thesis I wanted to write at University (comparing journeys to hell in Homer and Virgil). These chapters are amazing and so much fun to read for that reason. Where I was slightly turned off from this title was that for the Christian and Jewish texts I didn't feel like there was enough excerpts from the original language, which - granted - is probably a niche preference and won't hinder anyone elses enjoyment of this. But as these texts are less known I would have wanted a richer textual background for readers themselves to compare and consider the linguistic aspect of these texts. That would probably have made it less reader friendly however, so I can understand why this wasn't an option. That said, I do think the text is quite accessible to readers who are interested in these texts but are less interested, or not versed in, classical languages. At chapter 3 the book passes into the Christian tradition which, fine is in the title, but when the main point is a large "Journeys to Heaven and Hell", I wanted a longer discussion on these journeys before getting more to the tradition and effects on ethics part of it. I felt a bit cheated when it seemed over too soon. Again, this is a personal preference and may not be a problem for other readers. Chapters 1-2 were still five-stars for me, the rest... not terribly interesting. Possibly I have something of a bias against Ehrman, having read several of his books already and feeling like I know his style and where his points and conclusions are going already, so I just couldn't invest myself in the portions on the early Christian tradition. I don't feel like I trust him as a source there, based on other material. All in all, this is interesting but beyond the first couple of chapters it just wasn't for me. I do kind of want to read it again and just consider the portions I liked, and those I disliked, but realistically I know I probably won't. Very thankful for Yale University Press and Netgalley for providing an ARC of this title, all opinions are mine.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melody

    Journeys to Heaven and Hell by Bart D. Ehrman is a study about heaven and hell and how our views of heaven and hell were influenced by classics like the Odyssey and the Aeneid. This book also includes the views of heaven and hell from early Jewish writings and apocryphal Christian stories. I found this book to be extremely thorough and very well-researched and annotated, but it was a little too deep for me. I especially enjoyed this passage towards the end of the book: "Delving into the ancient Journeys to Heaven and Hell by Bart D. Ehrman is a study about heaven and hell and how our views of heaven and hell were influenced by classics like the Odyssey and the Aeneid. This book also includes the views of heaven and hell from early Jewish writings and apocryphal Christian stories. I found this book to be extremely thorough and very well-researched and annotated, but it was a little too deep for me. I especially enjoyed this passage towards the end of the book: "Delving into the ancient Christian afterlife journeys means exploring this imagination in the minds, or at least the words, of others--other authors, editors, scribes, and even, before all that, oral storytellers. But these imaginations never come in or out of a vacuum. They come in relation to the world and lived experience. They come in relation to history and culture. They come in connection with other people, their thoughts, views, perspectives, commitments, priorities, beliefs, practices, and histories." Thanks to NetGalley for the free digital review copy. All opinions are my own.

  6. 5 out of 5

    M.K. McDaniel

    Heavens! This is an elaborate, extensive, and thorough discussion, dissection and description of Hell. It is not for the faint of heart or the casual reader. A tad on the dry side at times and freaking frightening on others. I personally experienced that nasty realm during a Near-Death Experience and had a tough time getting to the end of this book. For anyone wanting to find material that blows a lot of the authenticity of the Bible out of the water, this is your book.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Safezone Safezone

    Nice

  8. 5 out of 5

    NephriteON

  9. 4 out of 5

    Brett V. Forsgren

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bcoghill Coghill

  11. 5 out of 5

    Dan Ust

  12. 5 out of 5

    Evan Baas

  13. 5 out of 5

    David Hoefer

  14. 5 out of 5

    Walter Harrington

  15. 5 out of 5

    Bobby Newman

  16. 5 out of 5

    Darrol Pierson

  17. 5 out of 5

    Pat

  18. 5 out of 5

    Grandpa

  19. 4 out of 5

    Rod Olson

  20. 5 out of 5

    Dan Graser

  21. 5 out of 5

    David Garrick

  22. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Powers

  23. 5 out of 5

    Fred Schultz

  24. 5 out of 5

    Rick Barnhill-Dilling

  25. 5 out of 5

    Shawn Durham

  26. 4 out of 5

    Max T

  27. 5 out of 5

    Logan Brown

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brandon

  29. 5 out of 5

    Brian Wall

  30. 4 out of 5

    Henri

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