Heaven and Hell : A History of the Afterlife

Heaven and Hell : A History of the Afterlife


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 and 58% believe 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 these ideas come from?

In this "eloquent understanding of how death is viewed through many spiritual traditions" (Publishers Weekly, starred review), 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 those who are 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 notions of eternal bliss or damnation widely accepted today.

In this "elegant history" (The New Yorker), Ehrman helps us reflect on where our ideas of the afterlife come from. With his "richly layered-narrative" (The Boston Globe) he assures us that even if there may be something to hope for when we die, there certainly is nothing to fear.

Similar Books

ISBN 10: 0060859512
ISBN 13: 9780060859510

26 Aug 2011
Bart Ehrman

ISBN 10: 0061778192
ISBN 13: 9780061778193

10 Apr 2015
Bart D. Ehrman

ISBN 10: 0061173940
ISBN 13: 9780061173943

15 Apr 2010
Bart D Ehrman

ISBN 10: 1501136712
ISBN 13: 9781501136719

05 Mar 2019
Bart D Ehrman

ISBN 10: 0300257007
ISBN 13: 9780300257007

14 Jun 2022
Bart D. Ehrman

ISBN 10: 0062012622
ISBN 13: 9780062012623

06 Mar 2012
Bart D. Ehrman

ISBN 10: 0195182499
ISBN 13: 9780195182491

27 Oct 2005
Bart D. Ehrman

ISBN 10: 019512474X
ISBN 13: 9780195124743

19 Jul 2001
Bart D. Ehrman

ISBN 10: 0061173924
ISBN 13: 9780061173929

15 Mar 2009
Bart D. Ehrman

ISBN 10: 150119240X
ISBN 13: 9781501192401

01 Jan 2019
Richard Friedman

ISBN 10: 0062104551
ISBN 13: 9780062104557

13 May 2014
Candida Moss

ISBN 10: 1400033802
ISBN 13: 9781400033805

08 Feb 2005
Charles Freeman