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Publisher's Summary

A New York Times best-selling 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 percent of Americans believe in a literal heaven and 58 percent 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.

©2020 Bart D. Ehrman (P)2020 Simon & Schuster Audio

What listeners say about Heaven and Hell

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It may not be what you expect

No, not the afterlife. The book.

Ehrman is a scholar of Biblical literature and this book is a journey through the world of those ancient texts, showing how beliefs of the afterlife evolved over time. If you expect a comparison of world religions or definite answers to your questions, this is not that book. If you are interested in the historical and philosophical depth of books which became part of the Biblical canon and those which did not (and were later termed heretical), if you are interested in how these beliefs evolved over centuries, and if you question where your beliefs come from, this is that book. Many don't realize early Christians and early Christian writings confessed beliefs about universal salvation with no eternal damnation, or total nonexistence. None of these beliefs survived because it was easier to teach good boys and girls go to heaven if they do what the Bible says and bad boys and girls go to hell and church traditions continued to describe what good or bad meant and the rituals you did to prove you were one and not the other.
If you are not a fan of philosophy and literature, this will drag. If you are, this will be stimulating.

24 people found this helpful

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Best accessible, academic overview on the topic

By "on the topic", I mean from an historical & textual academic perspective on the early biblical Christian views on the afterlife.

Perspectives on the afterlife have been diverse and hotly debated for millennia, and pre-date the Christian biblical texts and traditions.

Even within Christianity, there has been a vast range of perspectives from the very beginning. And that diversity of beliefs and teachings has only increased as time has progressed.

Ehrman does an impressive job of condensing vast swaths of content into a digestible sized book. He provides an excellent primer on the context and development of the various historical and textual trends that highlight the breadth and range of teachings over the millennia.

Readers should be aware that this is not a theological work. And it's not intended to be a theological work. It is merely an accessible, academic overview of the historical record.

10 people found this helpful

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Thank you so much, Bart D. Ehrman.

I was raised in a Christian household. A household where I was not aloud to have my own opinions because a man of God needs to have his house in order to lead others. I went to a church that taught that the bible was the inspired word of God and it was all true. Where it was taught that if a child died before they were baptized, they went to hell. That women have no right to teach men. That homosexuality is an abomination and punishable by eternal damnation. That parents should not want happiness for their children, they should want salvation for them. A church where predestination was the way of this existence. I was taught to fear God's wrath. I struggled. I didn't see myself as evil.. But that didn't matter. If I was not saved, I was damed. I eventually came to the only logical conclusion.. if my father was correct.. If the bible was the infallible word of God.. Then God simply did not want me. And who am I to question.. I left at that house and that church at 18 years of age to follow my own path.. Be it a damned one.

I cannot claim to have read the entire bible, but I hope to someday make that claim. I have taken classes in philosophy of religion and ethics. I have read many works of Joseph Campbell. I have read books like The Lakota Way and others on world religions. And with Audible I have listened to many of the wonderful Great Courses. This is where I first had the pleasure of listening to Mr. Ehrman..

I know many will not like what he has to say in this book and in others. And you certainly don't have to. But it is a wealth of knowledge and I intend to listen to more of his books.

Thank you, again, Bart D. Ehrman. I appreciate your words. I appreciate your knowledge. If I could, I would shake your hand.

8 people found this helpful

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Thorough Examination of the Bible and Apocrypha

This is a very thorough examination of the after life. It examines what Jesus taught, old testament insight, the maccabees as their tortured, other apocryphal books and greek philosophies. Professor Ehrman's views are insightful and make us reexamine what the after life meant in ancient times and what it has come to mean post Jesus/The Roman Empire.

8 people found this helpful

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Kudos × 10!

Ehrman filled my cup to the brim! Could it be any better? "I think not"

7 people found this helpful

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essential reading and listening

either you choose to understand what's been ingrained since birth regarding your family's religion or you choose not to understand. I am of the former ilk and find this work to be both thorough and fair given the sources for heaven and hell are all but minimally man-made.

6 people found this helpful

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a bit disappointing

I have them all.... all of his books and was waiting hard for the new one - it left me a bit disappointed though..I don't know I thought he could have made that one a bit broader..comparing with other cultures,, religions.. - changes of how people viewed the afterlife over time - he kept to his field of expertise though.- ok understandable for a scientist... narration cosi cosi

6 people found this helpful

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Interesting

Great review of how history and cultures have shaped Christian views, and general views, of the afterlife, assuming there is one

5 people found this helpful

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Great Book.

Great book. Outstanding narrator. Controversial, but it makes you think. Well worth the reading time.

5 people found this helpful

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If you are someone scared of dying, you need this

Loved it. Went through it in less than a week. Raised evangelical, I thought H&H were as real as this life. Not to say they are not real at all, but knowing more about the history of it's development as an idea, prepares you better to know what you actually believe to be true, or more like a wish.

Erhman hit it out of the park.

2 people found this helpful