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My Major Anxiety for my Book. Are People Interested in the Afterlife?

As an author (such as me, for example) thinks ahead to the next book, he has a number of worries, concerns, and anxieties that crop up.  This is all part of the process – deep and cutting anxiety is what ends up inspiring quality.  Otherwise, we would just dash off books without a care in the world, and they would be completely mediocre, not-well thought out, uninteresting, not grappling with the really complex issues in ways that are clear and easy to understand.

Wait a second.  That’s how most books are!

Seriously, one has to grapple with innumerable problems, issues, and concerns from virtually the beginning of a book project.  Some of these concerns are small, but at the outset they tend to be large, big-scale.  Then, the more one works on a book, the smaller (and more specific) the issues get.  These small ones are of huge importance, because it is getting the small things right that makes an OK book good, a good book really good, and a really good book fantastic.

I’m still at the early stage of my book on The Invention of the Afterlife: A History of Heaven and Hell (as I am tentatively calling it; who knows what the thing will actually be called?  At this stage, the title is the least of my concerns.  Whatever I end up suggesting to the publisher will be taken under advisement, before they start floating other, probably better, titles and subtitles. )  Anyway, I’m at the early stage.  And right now, as of this week, I’m having one very major anxiety.   I’m beginning to wonder if people are interested in reading about the topic.

I’m not saying that people aren’t interested in the afterlife.  Most people think a lot about death, and about what comes after – even people who have very clear ideas about the matter.  My mother, for example, is in a facility where the very elderly spend most of their time thinking about it, and – given its geographical and social location – many (most?) of them are firmly convinced that when they die they’ll go to heaven and have a one-on-one with Jesus.

Other people are convinced that when they die, the lights will go out, and that will be the end of their personal existence.  But they still think about it, and wonder a bit, and try to convince themselves that it will be OK.

Yet other people, of course, have a wide range of views.  And some (many?) don’t really give it much thought, even if the rest of us think they should.

So that’s a given in my thinking.  But that’s not the issue I’m concerned about.  I’m concerned about whether people really want to read a book about it.  I know that some people love the new and popular genre of the Near Death Experience Account.  Lots of books like that sell well.  But are people interested in knowing where the much more widespread views of heaven and hell came from?

The reason I’m wondering is rather personal.   I’m noticing a lot less traffic on the blog since I”ve started talking about the issue.   There is not as much controversy, not as many objections, not as many people commenting at all, not as much interest, so far as I can see.  I take that as a bad sign.  Is this one of those topics that people think about but don’t want to *have* to think about, and certainly don’t want to spend their time reading about?

I’ve had this experience before.  A few years ago I was gung-ho about writing a book on the origins of anti-Semitism, where I would try to show that its roots are actually Christian, that before Christianity appeared on the scene there was never any widespread opposition to Jews for being Jews (I do know the notable, possible, exceptions, of course!  Think, Antiochus Epiphanes.  But even that was a bit different….).  The idea that Jews were enemies of God and needed to be opposed originated with Christians.  I think that’s terrifically interesting, and I think it’s demonstrable.  And I wanted to write a trade book about it.   But my publisher insisted that even though people are very deeply concerned about issues connected with anti-Semitism, they find the topic a real downer and simply don’t want to be reminded about how horrible it is by reading about it (nearly as much, for example, as reading about amazing Near Death Experiences!).  So the publisher suggested I try something else.

I may at some stage do the anti-Semitism book (I know a number of people on the blog want me to), but that’s not my point here.  My point is that sometimes an author is really interested in something that other people aren’t interested in (in fact, that is *generally* the case!); and other times the author is really interested in something that other people are indeed also really interested in, but they just don’t want to read about it.  And I’m anxious about whether that’s the case here.  If it’s not, I wonder about the rather tepid reception to the topic on the blog….

I’d be interested in your opinion.  Now would be a good time to give it!

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Controversy Sells!
Too Much Money and the Afterlife



  1. Lev
    Lev  September 12, 2017

    Whilst I have a passing interest in what other religions, ancient and modern, teach about the afterlife, my main interest is how the beliefs on the afterlife developed within 2nd temple Judaism and early Christianity. You’ve done a great job of explaining how Jewish thought developed (I loved the Maccabees run through), but I wasn’t that interested in the ancient Greek accounts (even though they were sometimes amusing and illuminating).

    N T Wright seemed to catch a lot of attention when he reasserted how the early church believed the resurrection at the return of Christ was the ultimate afterlife destination – that heaven was merely a glorious waiting room, rather than the end, and was barely mentioned by Paul who spent most of his discussion of the afterlife on the resurrection.

    I think that interests people because it confounds their expectations – that many people (especially non-Christians) believe the early church taught that heaven (or hell) was ‘it’ – and don’t realise the early church taught a final judgement would occur, the saints would rise up from the dead in glorified, physical bodies and live eternally under a new heaven on a new earth, personally governed by the returned Christ, who would reign with his apostles administering perfect justice.

    Perhaps a new approach to understanding the afterlife would be to see how the early church developed their understanding of the apocalyptic teachings of Jesus (what would happen when the Son of Man returns) with the Pauline understanding of the (imminent) return of Christ, final judgement, the resurrection and eternal reign of Christ in the new world?

  2. flshrP  September 12, 2017

    I think that your book on the invention of heaven and hell will be received enthusiastically by those people (like myself) who have reached the conclusion that death is final, that the heaven and hell ideas are human inventions, that the focus of one’s life should be on the present and not on an imaginary future, eternal existence. Fleshing out the history of the heaven and hell ideas in a trade book has been a long time coming.

    I think you underestimate the power of your name recognition in the areas in which you have previously published your trade books. Just listing on the dust cover the names of your books that have made the NYT best sellers list will generate over 500,000 sales for your new book IMHO. The number of hits on your YouTube videos should reassure you that the audience is out there eagerly awaiting your next publication.

    Fear not. Courage. Excelsior.

  3. gwayersdds  September 12, 2017

    I for one would be very interested in how the concepts of an afterlife evolved. Somehow I think it must be hardwired in our genetic code. Why did prehistoric man bury bodies with grave goods meant for use in the next world. It may be that we as humans are so egotistical that we think that we simply cannot stop existing at the moment of death. We must be too important to just return to dust. Thus there simply has to be something to come after. I am reminded of the lyrics from a song, I do not remember the group, that said ” I know there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell”. Maybe we think that the concept of nothingness after death is too terrifying to contemplate so we create an afterlife to ease the terror. Thus, I would love to read your future book.

    • flshrP  September 14, 2017

      ” Somehow I think it must be hardwired in our genetic code.”
      Our species, along with the Neanderthals and possibly other hominids, are the only primates who understand that we will die some day. Our higher level of consciousness compared to our genetic cousins (chimps, the great apes, etc) is undoubtedly the reason we have this awareness of our own mortality and these other primates do not. So to that extent maybe the idea of an afterlife is in our genetic code.

      But believing in an afterlife (i.e. denial that death is final) is undoubtedly a product of our two most basic drives, namely, fear and greed. Our most primitive fear is fear of non-existence. And our most intensely felt greed is to have an afterlife of eternal pleasure. These are the two buttons that religion uses to indoctrinate and control us–the stick and the carrot. And fear and greed are both undoubtedly in our genes since the survival benefits of these drives are obvious.

    • mannix  September 15, 2017

      “And When I Die” Blood , Sweat & Tears
      Yer welcome

      • heisenberg  September 18, 2017

        “And When I Die” by Peter, Paul and Mary.
        Yer welcome

  4. stonecold51  September 12, 2017

    I think the Afterlife is a very interesting topic and I am excited about your new book !

  5. crucker  September 12, 2017

    Personally, I’m very interested in this book, and will definitely buy it if you publish. For me, this is one of the more interesting topics you could write about.

    I’ve been a regular reader on the blog for the past couple years or so, but I’ve only commented a handful of times or so. For me, the absence of a comment does not mean an absence of interest.

  6. Boltonian  September 12, 2017

    Not uninterested – just more interested in other areas of your bailiwick. The origins, development and ultimate triumph of Christianity, for example.

  7. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  September 12, 2017

    I think people are interested in the origins of heaven and hell and the development of views for the afterlife but may be more interested in what you haven’t posted about just yet; the developing views in early Christianity to what it is today. What will those views show exactly? Will they show that the afterlife is indeed an invention inside the human mind? That’s the fear I’ve seen mentioned more than once on the blog. I believe that’s what your editor was aiming for with the title. I have loved and hated that title, but I think you underestimate its power to spark interest if it’s the least of your worries. It really is a good title by the way, but what you explained to be writing about and what the title represents never matched up in my mind. If the content matched the title, I believe it’s a winner, but are you willing to go down that road?

    I will be straight up honest (as I always am lol) Homer is a great classic, but it’s about as exciting as watching a clock tick away. It’s boring and I have no interest in it. (a couple of other people have expressed this to me as well) That’s not your fault in any way. I had no idea when you began explaining the developing views that it would be so unrelateable. I think some of these classics only appeal to a small number of people.

    I think the afterlife is of great interest but what about it creates conversation? Did God tell the early Christians what would happen when they died or did this all develop some other way? Is Jesus really coming back? If Christians can’t prove the afterlife is real, can there still be an afterlife? Is there evidence for NDE’s and reincarnation? Or any other current trends (Year Million)?

    Those questions generate the fear that the afterlife may not exist. I believe it does exist, but I’ve also found myself being uncomfortable when you touch on certain topics that I disagree with because of my own fears. This is what it’s all about in my opinion. So, I think your editor was bang-on with the title. I don’t see how you can take yourself out of the hot seat when answering these questions in your book. I guess it’s a matter of if you find it worthwhile or if you’d rather do something else.

  8. godspell  September 12, 2017

    I think the problem might be that the in both cases, it’s a very personal thing. What one thinks about the afterlife, and what one thinks about one of the oldest and most notorious prejudices (and who is to blame for it). For the record, I think the Old Testament is pretty strong evidence that the ancient Hebrews were having their problems a long time before the advent of Christianity (and that they were sinners, as well as sinned against), but that doesn’t mean Christianity doesn’t deserve a major share of the blame for anti-Jewish feeling. I’d certainly agree that afterwards, it took on a more personal character–a family feud.

    However, I think you might have paid some note to the fact that Hitler intended to destroy Christianity just as much as the Jewish people (some atheists continue to try and use his cynical public statements to prove otherwise, but the historical record is quite clear now, and those people should read Hitler Ascent by Volker Ulrich).

    Pretty nearly all the people who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust were either practicing Christians or had a Christian upbringing. Not going to find a lot of confirmed atheists on the Avenue of the Righteous. Atheists were not persecuted in that time period for not believing in God, but rather for believing in Marx, who was (of course) a Jew.

    It’s a complicated touchy subject that can offend people of almost any belief, or none. I think your publisher did you a solid there. It can be addressed quite well in more general books about the rise of Christianity. But here, it really sounds like you want to say there’d be no anti-semitism without Christianity, and quite honestly, there’s no way you could ever prove that. And the worst expressions of mass hostility towards Jews came from the pagan Romans, the anti-Christian Nazis (heavily influenced by Nietzsche and a very bad reading of Darwin), and the atheist Marxist-Leninists. Christianity was never racially oriented in its anti-semitism, which is no excuse, but it is something that bears mentioning. As does the fact that racism and bigotry is everybody’s problem, an inherent flaw in the human program that we all need to work on, rather than saying “It’s their fault!”

    Here–I think you should go ahead full speed. I have no idea what makes a best-seller in your field. Does anyone? But I think people might like to know more about how this belief evolved during the rise of world civilization (remembering that it seems to go back thousands of years before anybody wrote anything down, and possibly ‘thousands of years’ is an understatement).

    And I would suggest a better title would be The Evolution of the Afterlife. We don’t know enough to say how it was invented. Gilgamesh and Homer are not where it began. They are, in fact, rather late entries in the discussion.

  9. adnbob  September 12, 2017

    Having read most of your trade books, I’m quietly looking forward to your History of Heaven and Hell more than most. I do worry that you’ll spill your beans on the blog but suggest that you keep plugging away on the new book…the topic is really a good one that needs your insights. I’d really like to have it right now.

  10. DavidBeaman  September 12, 2017

    I am not personally interested in these posts. I scan them, but I don’t read them carefully as I do most of your other posts.

    I am more interested in the topic of antisemitism coming out of Christianity and the church. Christians are so ignorant and gullible to their authority figures. How could any Christian be antisemitic knowing that Jesus was a Jew and never intended to start the church?! Oh yeah, they don’t want to know that and neither does the church want them to know it.

    I am proud to be a heterodox bishop who advocates for Abrahamic faith as does your colleague James D. Tabor.

  11. Todd  September 12, 2017

    I wonder why the primary focus of Christianity today seems to be “getting into heaven” rather than a compassionate concern for humanity in the here-and-now, especially since the Bible says so little about the afterlife. It seems that this is what Christianity is all about nowdays. Being “saved ” seems to focus on “going to heaven.”

    Example: a couple of years ago a prominent politician stated that the church should stay out of politics and do its job of “getting people into heaven.” Another example is often found in obituaries that will tell us that “so and so has now returned to the loving embrace of his heavenly father,” etc.

    I am interested in what is taught about this in the original sources and how it has changed so much in common Christian teachings that the primary purpose of being a believer is to get into heaven after death.

    Yes, please explore this in Your book.

    • DavidBeaman  September 15, 2017

      A lot of people fear ceasing to exist. They want to continue on forever. Furthermore, a belief in an afterlife in a better place helps dull the sting of death when a loved one dies.

  12. Jessie  September 12, 2017

    With all due respect, Professor – you may be overthinking this.

    One of the first posts where you dive a little more deeply into the origins of the afterlife occurred on August 27th – the week before Labour Day. Now that September has arrived, many people are back to their work/school routine and have less free time to visit the blog.

    Give it time, and talk to your publisher. I think with the right timing and promotions, you’ll have another sought after book on tour.

    Of course, my advice and a toonie will get you a coffee. (ie. It isn’t worth much.)

    Best wishes for your latest project.

  13. peterstone  September 12, 2017

    I certainly plan to read the book once it appears. Hope that’s of some help.

  14. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  September 12, 2017

    Additional note: I think the comments will pick up when focusing more on Christianity and what we’re most familiar with, then expanding on that. And my guess is that today’s Post will generate lots of comments as well!

  15. Judith  September 12, 2017

    I’m interested! Actually, anything you write I’m interested in because you make it interesting and I want/need to know about whatever that is. It frustrates me that I do not know how to forward your posts to those who would love them, too. Yesterday’s would have been especially appreciated by my son, Patrick. You would think giving him a subscription to the blog would take care of that problem but he still believes the Bible is the Word of God and probably would not read the posts on a regular basis. Still, if I could forward an occasional post, then that might begin the process of his evolving into the kind of Christian I am now.

  16. Daniel  September 12, 2017

    I am extremely interested in seeing this book develop and be published. I’ve even gone to the book store before looking for something along these lines but didn’t find what I was seeking.

  17. Wilusa  September 12, 2017

    I admit I haven’t been interested in topics like The Odyssey…I find them boring. But I realize those posts are related to the scholarly book you’re planning, not the trade book. When I think about it, I’m not sure what recent posts (if any) *have* been about the trade book!

    I know I, believing in reincarnation, would be especially interested in Origen…why he thought of it, and why his views were either condemned, or dismissed and allowed to be forgotten. (Did he believe *all* humans, or only some, were incarnations of “semi-fallen angels”?) I find it hard to believe anyone would embrace the idea of reincarnation without having heard *evidence* for it…someone’s having believable memories of a previous life.

    As for “Heaven” and “Hell”…I’m certainly interested in how the concepts developed, but I’m not sure how lengthy a description would hold my interest.

  18. Jana  September 12, 2017

    I’m excited about your next book Dr Ehrman .. can’t wait for it to be published! As thorough a researcher you are with an easy to read writing style (I’m a layman and still grappling with concepts) as well as truthful, it will be an enlightening read!! I’ve got a lot of catching up to do now that the rains have stopped and internet more reliable. (btw: Although located on the Atlantic/Gulf side, we felt the 8.1 earthquake on the Pacific … Chiapas .. woke me up and I watched my house walls tremble)

  19. Kernes  September 12, 2017

    my hobby is the study of US history, origins of religion in the south, and the relationship of theology to politics, the civil war & current events, so I look forward to your study of beliefs in an afterlife.

  20. Ana  September 12, 2017

    I think that origin of views of heaven and hell is kind of old trash. Sort of like where the views of flat Earth originated from. I might be wrong. It depends on personal level of education on the subject. On the other hand if you can provide some new and interesting perspective it may be worth presenting such views.

  21. turbopro  September 12, 2017

    In and of itself, I am interested in how, why, and where the ideas of the afterlife originated. So, if you write about it, I intend to read it.

    To be honest, whether or not others are interested is neither here nor there to me.

    And on that NDE thingie, perhaps when I have some free time I’ll give Dr Sam Parnia’s “AWARE” study (2014) a read. It seems, though, that, well, it’s more or less “nothing to see here folks, move along.”

  22. caseyjunior  September 12, 2017

    I am extremely interested in both The Invention of the Afterlife and a book about the Christian origins of anti-Semitism. Please go ahead.

  23. whubbla1  September 12, 2017

    I would be interested, and suspect that others would, too. My reading, for example, has declined lately due to the start of the school year and other things, not so much the blog content. So a longer or seasonally adjusted trial period might be in order.

    Also, though it’s outside your specialty, I think it is interesting to consider how modern (mostly Christian) Americans have adapted their notions of the afterlife in the past few centuries. A lot has changed, I think, between the ancient innovations of notions of an afterlife and now, even if people think they’re drawing from something biblical or more immediately post-biblical. Point being, I think the closer connection you can draw between ideas that are at play now, in the US, and what your ancient subjects did, the book would have broader appeal.

  24. epicurus
    epicurus  September 12, 2017

    I’ve dutifully read each post on the afterlife, but I admit my heart sank a bit each time I saw the title of the post, and I did toy with not even bothering to read. I never wondered why until you brought up the question. I feel like I should be interested, just like I’m interested in how we got our views of Jesus or the end times. But sadly, I’m not.

  25. jrauch  September 12, 2017

    I rarely comment on this blog but I do very much look forward to reading your blog each day. I had to make an exception today because I really want to help to persuade you to continue with your book on the “invention of the afterlife”! I believe this is the most interesting topic that you could possibly write about. I absolutely am looking forward to reading the book. Please continue Bart!!

  26. UCCLMrh  September 12, 2017

    Even in progressive churches, pastors are extremely reluctant to question parishioners’ views of afterlife, so an assumption remains that heaven/hell are necessary and unquestionable elements of Christianity. A book of the kind you describe would offer evidence supporting alternative views, which would be extremely helpful to many questioning people. Unfortunately, for your purposes, that says that such a book would be an important contribution, like God’s Problem, not that it is necessarily likely to sell well. I don’t know whether it might sell well. I hope you write it.

  27. jwesenbe  September 12, 2017

    I would be interested in such a book. Knowing where these ideas come from is very appealing to me. Most people seem to give no thought to what they believe regarding these topics, just take most of it at face value, never doubting for fear of eternal damnation. If you know how these ideas developed over history you can form your own beliefs on where the truth may lie.

  28. Petter Häggholm  September 12, 2017

    I’m looking forward very eagerly to the book—I may be biased, of course, since I’ve already read several books on the topic (especially the invention of Hell) and am looking forward to your perspective.

    Tangentially, I also wonder what Christians *today* really think about the afterlife. It’s easy enough to find stats on major denominations and read their dogmatic statements, but just because the official line is “extra ecclesiam nulla salus”, that doesn’t preclude the possibility that most Catholics actually might believe in universal salvation—for example. Even the famous Pew Religious Landscape survey doesn’t shed much light, and IIRC it’s also limited to Americans. But of course, we look to you for history rather than contemporary sociology of religion… In my ideal world, there’d be an appendix for historical perspective where you find surveys not easily found via Google by us laymen…

    I’d also be absolutely fascinated by the book on anti-Semitism and I really hope you get to it at some point.

  29. Franz Liszt  September 12, 2017

    I think part of the problem is that most of the laymen interest in the afterlife lies with evangelical types, whereas (I would assume) the typical audience to your work is less interested in what appears to be essentially a mainly theological point. That being said, I personally am interested in such a work, and I’m curious about your findings on some questions

    I guess I might as well ask one here now. I believe that the first New Testament writers, with the exception of the author of Revelation, did not believe in the view known as eternal conscious torment, but believed either annihilationist [as held by Irenaus and Ignatius] or universalist views [as held by the author of Revelation of Peter], and that overtime the current traditionalist view won over these other alternatives, even though it was probably a misreading of phrases like “eternal punishment” by later Christians like Tatian. Do you think that theory holds up?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2017

      Revelation talks about people being tormented forever in the lake of fire, e.g.

      • Franz Liszt  September 14, 2017

        Yeah that was why I included “with the exception of the author of Revelation” in my comment.

  30. rivercrowman  September 12, 2017

    My born-again neighbors are already heaven-bound. Few will think to add your new book to their church library. However, I believe nonbelievers who have read your other books will snap it up.

  31. epistememe  September 12, 2017

    I’ll start with this and come back with more thoughts when I have the time to write.


  32. Pattylt  September 12, 2017

    I am interested in this due to my general interest in the how and why most religious ideas form and develop. I’m fascinated by why people felt they needed to be saved from their sins and felt that their nature was completely sinful instead of basically good with some bad behavior now and then! I’m not sure many people want to face a history where it is evident that heaven and hell weren’t always what we think of it being now. Then again, many people don’t like any of their religious views challenged and your books have done that, too. I don’t have an answer for you other than I am looking forward to this topic and as you pointed out, there isn’t much out there on it.

  33. DavidNeale  September 12, 2017

    I’m extremely interested in the topic of your new book, and am very much looking forward to reading it. It’s really interesting to me how modern Christian notions of the afterlife (which of course are extremely heterogeneous) have diverged from what the earliest Christians believed and taught. And the history of apocalypticism and Jewish afterlife-beliefs is also fascinating to me.

    And I think this is of fundamental practical relevance. The afterlife figures strongly in most Christians’ thinking, and most of us ex-Christian atheists devote some thought to it as well.

  34. Hank_Z  September 12, 2017

    I thought your afterlife book would Be for a scholarly audience. If so, how much does it matter if we (mostly non-scholars) are excited about it?

    As for me, I’ve had much less interest in this topic than most others. I’m 68 and was raised by fundamentalist Christian parents who traveled around the U.S. providing music for revival meetings. I heard more than 5,000 sermons on heaven and (mostly) hell during my first 11 years. Later as a senior in high school, I concluded the Bible and Christianity were bunk and became an agnostic/atheist. I heard so much about the afterlife when I was young that I have almost zero interest in it. Especially since I think the odds the afterlife exists are almost zero.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2017

      I”m writing two books, one delving into scholarship on an important narrower issue, and a popular book on the broader one.

  35. fishician  September 12, 2017

    I think it’s a great topic. In particular I wonder why Christians are so fond of the eternal torment idea when the NT seems to suggest the more compassionate alternative of destruction of the unsaved.

  36. Apocryphile  September 12, 2017

    I’m not sure what to think about the apparent lack of interest on the blog. I hadn’t noticed it myself, but then, I’m a fairly new member, and obviously can’t see the traffic stats. I myself am very interested in how views of the afterlife originated and developed in the ancient world and what we can glean about prehistory from archaeology, anthropology, etc…. but I’m probably not representative of the general population in this regard. 😉 I think you’re correct in speculating that most people would rather not think about death (especially in our modern, western culture) any more than they have to. I also think most people would be put off if they thought the premise of the book was to show the afterlife as being merely a human “invention” or mass self-delusion (even if they themselves don’t have any conception of what it would be like!)

    I really hope you decide to carry through with the book – it sounds fascinating, and I’m sure I would learn a great deal from it and from you!

  37. Eric  September 12, 2017

    I don’t think lack of disputatious commentary or comments necessarily is a sign of low interest.

    Perhaps your blog audience knows a lot less about the subject and backgrounds than they do of some other topics?

    I for one am looking forward tot his book, and find it fascinating.

  38. wostraub  September 12, 2017

    Hi Bart — In my opinion, the after-life issue is a two-edged sword. It’s almost certainly the primary driving force for Christian belief in America today, but at the same time the thought of death is depressing, however strong one’s faith may be.

    As a scientist and skeptic, I’ve read all of your popular books and some of your academic papers as well, so I know I’ll be buying whatever you put out on the subject. As for others, it may involve a little pulling away of the curtain and exposing the fraud or lunacy behind it all, so I would anticipate a little reticence on their part. It’s a tough choice, but I’d go for it. Good luck.

  39. mail77  September 12, 2017

    I would be extremely interested in your new book “The Invention of The Afterlife”. I have found bits and pieces on the development of these ideas, but I think a book like this written by a scholar with your credentials would be invaluable. I would preorder it if I could.

  40. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  September 12, 2017

    Something else I just thought of–when you originally began posting about this book idea, my general feeling was that it would show how Christians borrowed their ideas of heaven and hell from other cultures and religions as well as being a product of their social and political climate. That is a focused purpose and an important one.

    NDE’s, reincarnation, etc…What do the evidences point to? You’ve said here and there that you don’t believe in either. My expectation is that you will set out to prove it in your book. They’re also sources of conflict because I don’t believe NDE’s are just a bunch of chemical reactions in the brain. Others have expressed their beliefs in reincarnation, so the fact that you’re on the opposing side is what makes it interesting and relevant.

    What I was trying to say earlier and may have come off a bit crass (sorry about that), is that I think you got stuck a little bit with some earlier posts, so if you were planning to write 50 pages on *that* maybe only write 5 instead because you can see by the comments it’s not of great interest.

    I’d like to see you flesh out your ideas more before deciding what to do. I hope you’ll write the book, but again, I think it needs a focused purpose and that’s probably going to be controversial. I don’t see any way around it in order for the book to be successful.

    My other comment was a novel too–feel free to skip, ignore, or delete!

  41. Stylites  September 12, 2017

    Most days, but not all, I believe in an after life. Maybe I have been on too many ghost tours. Then of course there are still some others where “I would rather be in Philadelphia.” It really does not seem to matter what my mood is at the time. I always find this topic of existential Interest regardless of whether it is a Qoheleth or a John 20:27 kind of day. I have found the posts you have done on it both fascinating and enlightening. I solemnly promise to both buy and thoroughly read the book when it is published. I loved your stories and insights on Christianity and wealth, a solemn reminder that we cannot take it with us, and furthermore, regardless of what does or does not happen, we do not need to do so. I guess a lot of people are uncomfortable with this topic, but death is the great equalizer. We all will encounter it. Let us do so with our eyes wide open.
    And while your at it, please do that book on Christianity and anti-Semitism. “The price of mental health is facing reality.”

  42. TheologyMaven  September 12, 2017

    I’m very interested. I think people especially old people, of which I am one, as we get closer to the other life, get more curious about it- and who reads books these days? Old people. To me, it’s particularly interesting to look at the differences and similarities between the afterlife as depicted in NDE’s and people speaking through mediums compared to traditional Christian beliefs.

    There are so many interesting things mto explore, Origen’s mental meanderings, the universalist stream of Christianity, and so on. Yet, there is also a dark “you’re going to hell forever” stream still today even in popular culture (Book of Mormon the musical “spooky Mormon hell dreams.)”

    Where did this idea (Hell forever) come from? How does it still thrive in the Christianities of today? If we asked Christians would they really believe it (this is more of a social science question).

    And I think there are pragmatic pastoral reasons for looking into it. My hospice chaplain friends tell me that there are people they work with who are afraid of going to hell. It’s easy for us universalists or atheists to poo-poo that but the fear is very real to them. To me, a compassionate God punishing people forever is a silly and problematic idea. Where did it come from? Why did Christians get it and Jews not?

    The metaphysics of how we are to be judged and by whom I think is also important to people’s worldviews. People have told me that I’m immoral because of my views on “x” social policy. I believe that’s between me, my informed conscience and God and/or my spirit guides. If you’re a materialist and can’t threaten people with hell, how do you make claims about the negative consequences of. others’ behavior (e.g. “the world will be destroyed and your grandchildren will blame you).

    So I think that it’s both interesting and important.. But perhaps more the idea of Hell and not so much the gauzy “afterlife.”

  43. Jeff
    Jeff  September 12, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I think you should keep the antisemitism book on your to-do list AND make it a priority. Here’s why:

    For many years (the years that I was an evangelical Christian) I vociferously rejected the notion that European antisemitism (or any antisemitism, for that matter) has its roots in Christian anti-Judaism. “No no no” I would say, “Christianity IS Jewish! Christians LOVE Jews because, well…we worship the same god and…and the history of the Jews–going all the way back to Abraham–is the very foundation of Christianity! We are GRATEFUL to the Jews for the enlightenment we gain from their scriptures and how those writings prepared the world for the coming of Christ! REALLY!” I simply could not understand why my Jewish friends gave me the jaundiced eye whenever I went on about this.

    Eventually, after delving more deeply (and more analytically) into the gospels (armed with guidance from your layman-accessible publications) I realized that my assertions were unadulterated poppycock. As a devotional-only reader of the gospels I never noticed the implicit–and sometimes appallingly explicit–anti-Judaism therein. And how it got increasingly worse with each successive gospel (probably due to exasperation with the persistent skepticism of those stubborn first-and-second-century Jews). Now I am convinced that, not only are the gospels to blame for the blight and horror of modern antisemitism but that it is the most execrable and bitter fruit thereof.

    Today’s evangelical advocates, apologists and institutions endeavor to keep this issue in the shadows (For example, they will extol Martin Luther’s reformation but would not DREAM of mentioning his odious treatise “The Jews and their Lies”.) I see this as a HUGE problem and can think of no better remedy for it than the pen of Dr. Bart Ehrman. I hereby preorder 10 copies of your future book “A History of Antisemitism”. EXCELSIOR!

  44. SelfAwarePatterns  September 12, 2017

    I’m interested in the afterlife, but for me that interest is broader than just how it developed within Christianity. The posts I’ve found most interesting were the ones that talked about the views from the Odyssey and in pre-exilic Israel. I’m also interested in how it developed in ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, or any other culture whose views we have any record of.

  45. Alfred  September 12, 2017

    I think ‘people’ don’t have any preferences for book topics. There are just larger and smaller potential audiences. Where I live (New Zealand) I am guessing I am in a very small minority as a Bart Ehrman fan. This is one of the least religious countries there has ever been in history and even religious people, on the whole, are not very interested in religion. (I mean this in comparison with the US). So potential audiences vary from country to country. I think that here there might well be a bigger audience for a book on the afterlife because the concept creates no anxiety for the vast majority of people. Books by our country’s leading theologian, Lloyd Geering, whose views on the Bible and afterlife are similar to your own, have been very popular. So press on please. Write a book that does well in this market!

  46. Dchellberg  September 12, 2017

    I had a job/schedule change that altered my Internet usage. My not keeping up with the blog was a result of this not a lack of interest.

  47. jafile  September 12, 2017

    Hi Bart…Jason File here, I think it’s a fantastic idea for a book. I’ve been using James Tabor’s essay “What the Bible says about Death, the Afterlife, and the Future”, and I think the info is really essential for understanding both the ancient world and the formation of Christian doctrine. So I really like the idea, & would look forward to reading the finished book.

    Hope you have been doing well…

    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2017

      Hey Jason!! Nice to hear from you. Hope all’s well and life’s good!

  48. petegoodlion  September 12, 2017

    I think the origins of the theory of an afterlife is extremely interesting. It would be very interesting where the world would be if we were more concerned in making this life like heaven instead of waiting to see if heavenly life comes after death. I’m anxious for your book to be written and released.

  49. James Chalmers  September 12, 2017

    Does God exist? We enter an evidence-free zone, since it’s dogmatically assumed all the good stuff is (somehow) God’s doing, and all the bad stuff not. How the world goes is seen pretty much the same way by believers and non-believers. It’s just that believers add a “done by Him” to the good things of life.
    Similarly, all the evidence is that consciousness ceases upon physical death. But the notion of our extinction is hard to grasp, since we have no experience of it. (Sleep we wake up from and drift in and out of.) We may think we have evidence–encounters with ghosts, NDEs–but this isn’t the sort that holds up in court and or gets published in scientific journals. (I leave aside the smart people who’ve succumbed to varieties of pseudo-science.)
    From what you report, I gather that people in ancient times, though they didn’t quite come to grips with the fact of extinction, did face up the death equating to the cessation of the familiar good life, life worthy of desire, and saw it as the common fate of all alike. In our culture–the American more than the European–belief in desirable sort of afterlife prevails, and unsurprisingly, many, maybe most, of us think we’ll end up in the good place. Those most concerned about dying probably don’t want to hear that the idea of a good place is fairly recent and not really very Biblical. Their beliefs about the afterlife, if they think there is one, can’t possibly be evidence-based (in any serious sense of evidence) and evidence that their belief is of dubious origin I don’t suppose would be welcomed.
    I think you have a long row to ahead. But I’m not sure you should lay down your hoe. Maybe instead take a sharp polemical turn, and contend that till Christian times people were made of sterner stuff and faced up to death in a fairly realistic way, and then Christians first contrived to get completely wrong Jesus and Paul’s message of imminent resurrection (bad news for most) and then bought into a blatantly immoral notion that the great preponderance of humanity were to be consigned to a very bad place for all eternity–but this immorality mitigated by the fact that at some level what we believe about the afterlife doesn’t matter too much, because this world so dominates thoughts of an unseen next one, and the fact that belief in the afterlife actually functioned (as you’ve blogged recently) to support a this-worldly morality, but this worldly in a way that demands a radical improvement on existing conditions–a world where most were poor and often wretchedly so, often exploited and oppressed and in great need of a better world.

  50. ardeare  September 12, 2017

    I am interested x 1000. Recently, I watched an episode on tv (can’t remember the station or title) where they showcased a “lost” tribe in the Amazon rain forest. The native tribe believes that the deceased souls of brown people leave their mortal bodies, travel through the air down the river, then are lifted into the sky to spend eternity. Adversely, they believe when white people die, their souls leave the body, travel through the air down the river, then are dropped into the river where they are never heard from again. I think I need to order a DNA test!

  51. Icanoedoyou  September 12, 2017

    Personally, as a former Evangelical and one who thought he had all the answers regarding the afterlife, I find this topic fascinating and I’ve been reading all the posts and comments with great interest. It’s become my new “quiet time” in the morning!

    Of course, the people you probably want to hear from most are those who have checked out for a while.

    Since this is my first post here, let me thank you, Bart for your writings. I have read many of your works and they have been a great inspiration to me as a former Bible teacher and church elder who is now trying to understand the world from a different perspective. Keep on fighting the good fight!

  52. Hormiga  September 12, 2017

    I’m a “the lights will go out” sort, at least pending credible evidence to the contrary.

    However, I am interested in the history of religion as it affected the development and present state of society, and Heaven&Hell are obviously a big part of that in the here and now as we experience it in the US.

    So yes, I’d be very interested in your book on the topic.

  53. J--B  September 12, 2017

    Well – I would definitely buy both the book on the afterlife and the book on anti-Semitism – but I’m not a near-death-experience enthusiast. Absent controversy, I doubt the new book will be a blockbuster, but, who knows, perhaps the fundamentalists will mount yet another crusade against it.

  54. JoeBTex  September 12, 2017

    The evolution of collective thought about what happens after you die says a lot about a civilization’s maturity or lack there of. You, Dr. Ehrman, are the one to do this work. I can’t wait to get a copy of “The Invention of the Afterlife: A History of Heaven and Hell”.

  55. RJTINGEY  September 12, 2017

    I’ve noticed that many of my non-religious friends assume that the hope of the (good) afterlife is the point of being Christian; however, in many church discussions (at least in the Episcopal Churches I’ve been to here in California) it rarely comes up. I can’t say that it’s a burning religious question for me. But it certainly is a matter of great interest historically and in literature! I’d love to know more about the history, and what you’ve written so far is fascinating!

    You write the book; I’ll buy it…

  56. seahawk41  September 12, 2017

    Hm. I see your dilemma. I’ve been reading the posts re the afterlife, but have not commented. But then I don’t comment a whole lot. I do think the subject of how our beliefs re the afterlife developed is an interesting one. Would I buy the book? Almost certainly. Would other people I know? Not sure. Would I recommend it? Probably. I can’t say much more than that.

    Here is an example: I just received Richard Friedman’s new book The Exodus (Kindle edition), and I’ve been eagerly awaiting it ever since I knew it was on its way. I’ll likely recommend it to several people I know, including the pastor of my church. At this point in time I think I’d be in the same position re your book on the afterlife.

  57. leo.b@cox.net  September 12, 2017

    This is off the top, so excuse me in advance. I have always had a strong yearning to try and understand an afterlife and what it would entail. I have been a little disappointed in the last few blogs because I feel what you have presented as writings about the afterlife all appear to be simply fiction writing by fiction writers to make some points somehow, but not with the idea that they had a lock on the afterlife. And so, it seemed (to me only maybe) that you were presenting logical arguments on what they were writing about. And, I don’t understand using logic on fiction. I have no idea if this makes any sense, but it is the reason I have lost a little interest in these particular posts. I do love the blog as a whole.
    Having said all that, I would be interested in reading a book involving how the concept of the afterlife got started in much the same way as ‘How Jesus Became God’ was researched and written.

  58. obrienma  September 12, 2017


    As someone who suggested another topic for this book when you solicited input from us, I have become very intrigued by this topic through the blog posts (rather than the tentative title). The stories you have shared, with your gift for putting them in context and explaining why they are significant, have piqued my interest about how much I will learn about the evolution of this invention. I also think that the tentative title is tantalizingly provocative: the *invention* of the afterlife. Didn’t Jesus tell us we would be with him in heaven? 🙂 How dare you use the term invention! I think the marketing department could do a lot with that…

  59. randal  September 12, 2017

    I’m looking forward to the book. I’ve been very interested in the subject.

  60. chtimarc  September 12, 2017

    I think it’s a great idea for a book. I find the subject rather fundamental from a historical and theological standpoint as it shaped, and continues to shape, a fundamental part of christian understanding of the world.

  61. BrianUlrich  September 12, 2017

    I have read this blog less frequently since you started writing about this topic. The reason is that I don’t approach the topic with as much familiarity as I do other matters that you post about, and so don’t have much context into which to place a few blog posts. The book would be different, since I would be rapidly able to create the context which shows these narratives discussed together to have a coherent story.

    I guess what I am saying is that I like the small posts in their ability to illustrate part of a big picture I already have in my mind, but for this topic, I lack the big picture, and therefore expect to forget what I get from the individual afterlife accounts you are posting.

    It might also be a factor that you have been posting mainly about non-Christian beliefs when your audience is mainly hungry for the Christian stuff.

  62. kadmiral
    kadmiral  September 12, 2017

    I for one definitely can’t wait to read this book. I think the working title is great (the only better title the publisher might suggest would be “Misquoting the Afterlife” LOL)

    It seems the controversial edge comes when your work is juxtaposed directly against mainstream Christian thought, something you do so well. Perhaps the recent posts have lacked this? But not that your posts always have to be like that, nor should they—it seems the nature of the posts have been more sharing what you have been discovering in your research in general—not necessarily related to the Christian version of the afterlife.

    Just my 2 cents. But I I have enjoyed all these posts.

  63. BrianUlrich  September 12, 2017

    Another thought: Who buys your books and reads this blog? An awful lot of people see it not as “Christianity in Antiquity,” but as “The Bible.” You might be failing to reach that audience somehow.

    Depending on the percentage of blog members who have academic connections, it might also matter that you started this thread just as the semester was starting.

  64. Adam0685  September 12, 2017

    At the end of the day, unless a book gets national media attention, nobody really knows if a book has a good chance of being a good or best seller in today’s competitive book market and in light of the very high number of books published every month. Who would have guessed that a book on textual criticism would be a NYT best seller 🙂

    The book sounds interesting to me…interesting enough to buy

  65. doug  September 12, 2017

    I really love your books. OK, here comes the “but” – I’ve read your recent blogs on the afterlife, and I just haven’t been interested in them. I hate to be a downer. I’m sorry.

  66. NancyGKnapp  September 12, 2017

    I am intensely interested in the implications for faith. I am hanging on by a thread. A closer look at the big bang made me realize that Christianity’s definiition of God is inadequate. Your question of God’s lack of response to suffering confirms that. Yet Jesus seemed to have a relationship with the Spirit, and Paul seemed to believe in an afterlife based on the ressurection, of course, which I’m no longer sure about. Is believing in the afterlife like believing in Santa? Can one dismiss God as we have known Him and yet remain a follower of Jesus and perhaps have some sort of spiritual connection with hiim?

  67. CarlWeetabix  September 12, 2017

    Hmmm… I have to say that I have enjoyed your posts about the afterlife and the topic is definitely interesting, however, being completely honest, the truth is when I read a Bart Ehrman book, I am looking for a bit of controversy. I’m looking for things I can use to contest my religious friends’ views, if not my own latent struggles with my religious upbringing (in fact, in many ways I have to credit you for helping me get past my religious emotional baggage)(thank you). To me a Bart Ehrman book is both educational and a good book to piss off someone who thinks they have Christianity nailed.

    Of course as an author and a researcher you may not want to just be stuck the single meme of creating religious controversy, however again, honestly it’s what I find most draws me to your books. I’m always looking to find some gem that helps show that contemporary and historical views of Christianity are flawed. In that sense I do think there is a lot to mine in the afterlife. For instance, if Jesus or early Christians clearly had a different view about the afterlife than modern Christians, then that would be good fodder. Similarly, showing how the Christian view of the afterlife doesn’t really jibe with the earlier Jewish view on Sheol. Or for that matter, anything that puts a damper on the modern view of heaven or hell.

    Or, on that line, who’s going to go to heaven or hell. Your recent posts have been interesting not only because they are about the afterlife, but because they show that the modern preoccupation with faith over deeds is at least somewhat misplaced. I think there is a lot to mine there about those who think they are going to “get in” versus what the bible implies about it and what it takes to be a “good Christian”.

    Similarly, what support is there for the view that anyone can get in versus, the Calvinist or Jehovah’s Witness view that your fate was chosen before you were born? How do these two views jibe with scripture? Why be “good” if you’re not one of the chosen already? For that matter, if God knows everything, then he also knew when he created you, you were going to let him down, so why send you to hell for something that either he literally planned, or knew about in the first place? Why is faith or repentance a “get out of jail free” card for some? Or is it? Where do modern born agains get this wrong and where do they get it right? Maybe you could show contrarian views about where people are so sure that they will get in (or others won’t) to heaven.

    Then there is what Christianity/Judaism has stolen from other religions in terms of the afterlife. Is there for instance some evidence that implies the Christian view of the afterlife isn’t really a Christian invention, but an amalgam of multiple religions? What is taken, what is original? What are the origins of the early Christian views of heaven and hell?

    What the Christian afterlife is supposed to be like would be interesting – is it “in heaven” as incorporeal beings? Or is it on earth as resurrected corporeal beings? If the former, what are you going to see/do? Whether corporeal or non-corporeal, is it going to be as boring as it sounds? The whole heaven thing is left really gray. As far as hell goes, going over the sort of perverted glee that many authors like Dante have could be engaging, particularly if you can show that the view is misplaced. How does the view of eternal damnation jibe with a perfectly good god? How does it jibe with the ideas of Christian’s being “good” when they are ok with damnation of billions of other religions? Is there any hope of ultimate rescue from hell?

    You could of course go over whether bodily destruction prevents resurrection (eg: cremation, cutting off the head). Also is suicide a guarantee of not getting to heaven? Or lack of baptism?

    Perhaps not completely on topic – reviewing the odd assortment of existing but largely ignored demi-beings that inhabit heaven (or hell) could be eye opening. Christians tend to gloss over the fact that despite there only being “one god”, there is quite the pantheon of demi-god-like beings that the bible notes here and there that occupy heaven. For instance, though not a perfect example, things like the Nephilim.

    In any case, when I read a Bart Ehrman book I am generally looking to learn something new and something that is going to challenge contemporary beliefs. That does not in any way preclude adding in other religions’ views of the afterlife, as it is very interesting information, but ideally I would want to see it tied to (or how it isn’t tied to) how the beliefs of Christianity and Judaism evolved.

    All that said, even if you wrote a book simply about the various beliefs in the afterlife that wasn’t controversial, I would buy it. You are always a great read and a learning experience. However, without controversy I can’t guess one way or another if it will be a success (I mean that sincerely in both directions). With controversy, it asks for attention and has been something you’re very good at. Piss people off by showing them what they don’t want to hear, and people stand up and listen, even if they disagree.

    In that regards, a book on anti-semitism would be a good book. It may not be uplifting, but it is likely to rattle some cages. And as Trump has shown, controversy sells.

  68. Thomasfperkins  September 12, 2017

    Other than comparing Plato’s view of the afterlife to Paul’s, this is not a topic that I have seen discussed before. I am in a pure learning mode now and do not know enough to post an opinion. Maybe others are in my position. I am sure I will buy and read the book if you publish it.

  69. hoshor  September 12, 2017

    I am very interested in the subject. Although none of us can prove what will actually happen, I think the history of what people thought and taught is quite interesting. I think it makes for good discussion with other people who are narrow minded on the subject and never gave it much thought beyond what they were taught.

  70. tompicard
    tompicard  September 12, 2017

    Dr Ehrman,
    I also noticed the markedly fewer comments recently compared to, for instance, your fairly recent series of posts on suffering/theodicy. So maybe it should tell you something.

    I can only speak for myself but these posts on the Odyssey, Lucien,Acts of Thomas impress me as all equally mythological and imaginary. Though kind of interesting, the point is too obvious that these passages are satire or intended to teach ways to behave now rather than being intended to be accurate descriptions of what I should expect after my last breath. On the other hand NDE’s might conceivably tell me that (I am not sure).

    I am interested in your take on Jesus’ belief about the afterlife. but you haven’t gotten to that yet.
    Like the story in Acts of Thomas, Jesus point in Matt 25 was not meant as an accurate description of afterlife it was meant to describe proper behavior now. And to a lesser extent I might be interested in Paul’s take on the afterlife, if it was same as Jesus or maybe different.

    What do you think he meant when he said that to God Abraham and Isaac and Jacob were all living ?

  71. LarryG  September 12, 2017

    My vote is for both; the book on anti-Semitism and the one on the after life.

  72. gchrist4  September 12, 2017

    I’ll chime in on your question and I’m only giving my opinion because you asked. I still read your blog every night but I am much more interested in your Bible discussions. I grew up having to go to a fundamentalist Baptist school and church (fire and brimstone fundamentalists if you know what I mean) and had to memorize Bible verses and have it beat into me six days a week. Now I’m an agnostic but I’m fascinated with seeing behind the curtain and how the sausage gets made with your dissection of the Bible and how we got it and what are the problems with it and all that. I am searching for what really happened and what’s the truth behind Christianity and how it started and grew, etc. I would love to read a book by you telling us your best educated guess at “ what really happened” or put together a storyline of what probably did and what most likely didn’t really happen in the Gospels. I’m not saying I hate your book idea or that I even dislike it but I would be much more excited about a book that gets me closer to having all the questions I have about the Bible and Christianity answered or more clearly understood. That’s the stuff that fascinates me. Also, you’re a good man for having this blog. As busy as your schedule is to do this for charity is a true act of kindness and giving. And I really enjoy reading it to boot.

  73. dragonfly  September 12, 2017

    I’m very much interested in the origins of heaven and hell. I look forward to the book being released. I also look forward to the triumph of Christianity being released too. When’s that due? Possibly some people may feel scared that if the concept of heaven evolved for very specific human reasons, it may not be what really happens, and they can’t afford to know that. I would think there would still be plenty of people who would want to read the book though. But I could be wrong, I often am.

  74. Steven
    Steven  September 13, 2017

    I will absolutely purchase the book as soon as it is released, and have several friends who will as well. Please continue!

  75. Rogers  September 13, 2017

    People are indeed interested in books on the subject of the afterlife but since the 1970s, due to the ever increasing ability of medical technology to achieve resuscitation of people that have died, the most popular coverage of the subject is in research of the Near Death Experience phenomena. The word “Near” in NDE is really kind of a misnomer because we’re always talking here about cases of people that have actually died due to the heart ceasing to pump blood and the neural system ceasing to function (e.g., the pupils fail to reflexively respond to light stimulus indicating even the low level brain stem has ceased functioning).

    If one has never delved into that subject area, I advise starting with the book written by Dutch cardiologist Dr. Pim van Lommel. And most especially be sure to check out the NDE case of Pam Reynolds. Of course, by now there are Internet databases of thousands of NDE cases and numerous studies performed over the decades.

  76. bonesdoll  September 13, 2017

    I did a little study on hell and the lake of fire once and found what I was taught and what the bible says are never always the same, so I’m interested. It as the old saying goes learn from the past to help inform the future. 😎

  77. 4Erudite  September 13, 2017

    Yes, I think generally people do care about the afterlife. It seems to me that most major religions depend on it as a ‘carrot’ on the stick.

    I have often thought about searching scriptures and various cultural beliefs for information addressing the afterlife. If there is enough real intellectual information out there, I for one would find it interesting to read. Where the idea came from, how it has evolved, and what OT and NT biblical references say about the afterlife…the history of, and support of, an afterlife would be interesting reading.

  78. zipzom  September 13, 2017

    The belief that there is an afterlife be it heaven or hell is considered by some people to be just a fairy tale for those afraid of death. Perhaps there is nothing once the brain ceases functioning. Others claim to have had near death experiences. Still others claim to believe in heaven because of what the bible says where the ideas originated from ….
    Is there an afterlife? I would certainly like to know what evidence there is and would be interested in reading a book that questioned this issue.

  79. nwoll  September 13, 2017

    I’ve read How Jesus Became God and your textbook, The Bible: An Historical and Literary introduction. Most of your other books don’t interest me. However, I’ve been really looking forward to your book on the origins of the beliefs on the afterlife. It may be my most anticipated book right now. I come from a fundamentalist Christian background and part of my journey involved the issues of reconciling the biblical views of heaven and hell. (Actually, not reconciling them).
    So I, for one, am interested. Please continue.

  80. GTGeek88  September 13, 2017

    Could the lower traffic be for other reasons? Harvey and Irma, for example? Maybe other distractions? Do the atheists around here care? It’s good to know where these ideas came from, whether you believe them or not, but if I had to guess I would suspect that this would be one of your slower selling books, if you do decide to publish it.

  81. nbraith1975  September 13, 2017

    Bart – I believe the majority of people who believe in an afterlife can be split into many groups. Organized religions such as Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, etc. all believe in a different kind of afterlife. There are also many people not affiliated with any religious group that believe in an afterlife of some kind. And I’m sure there are even people who don’t believe in any kind of God that still may have doubts about the afterlife – as it relates to the meaning or purpose of life in general.

    The problem is, there is no real consensus about the afterlife; and when you factor in all the religious and philosophical interpretations people may have about it, a “History of Heaven and Hell” may be to narrow an approach – as it sounds mostly “Christian.”

    Another factor is that while you may be able to document the “invention” of the afterlife in Christianity and other religions, you can’t prove empirically that there is no afterlife. In which case I think potential readers may not give much attention to your book – thinking you are trying to prove them wrong about their personal beliefs and opinions.

    I would read the book, but I don’t believe it will be interesting to a broad range of readers on either side of the afterlife issue.

    Another thought is that the title implies you are a non believer in the afterlife. This may put-off Christians from reading it as well as others affiliated with religions that do believe in an afterlife. I would suggest the title be in the form of a question like “Is the afterlife an invention of man?.”

    As far as a book on the origins of anti-Semitism, WRITE THE BOOK! The truth needs to be told and I think that the timing is perfect in today’s environment

    I found these articles you may find interesting:





  82. maodell  September 13, 2017

    Is your book purely looking at the Christian view of the afterlife through showing how such notions evolved through the Jews and other peoples in the Mediterranean? As an idea, could it also cover a chapter on the views of other cultures on a more global scale and see if there are any similarities? Maybe even comment on modern ideas, e.g. that we are living in a virtual reality and will wake up somewhere else when we ‘die’? Just some thoughts.

    • Bart
      Bart  September 14, 2017

      yes, it will be dealing with the formation of the Christian views of heaven and hell, not those of other cultures / religions (except as they bear on Christianity). My idea is to keep it focused, not diffuse. I just think that works better

  83. Stephen  September 13, 2017

    I can only speak for myself but I’m very interested. As far as a tepid response it is late summer. I just got back from a two week vacation myself and my family is in Georgia so I’ve been mostly thinking about hurricanes.

    That book on anti-Semitism needs to be written. The publisher is simply myopic. I still meet people who think Adolph Hitler invented anti-Semitism.

  84. JohnMuellerJD  September 13, 2017

    What I like most (via your blog, books, debates, lectures) is the historical information you provide pertaining to things that I presumed were true, or that I simply never questioned, and how you provide detailed historical information as to why they are not what I had believed, or at least why I should look at things differently. For example, I was raised Catholic and watched tons of Jesus movies growing up, but it was not until several years ago that I first learned (thanks to you) that the adulterous woman story in John didn’t appear in his gospel until centuries later (I am still trying to figure out why all the prior scribes decided not to add such a wonderful well known and true story…maybe I will submit that as a mailbag question 😉). While I still read every post on your blog, your recent stories of the afterlife don’t rock my world like some of the other information you provide (i.e., differences in Acts and Paul, differences among manuscripts). This is probably because I didn’t grow up with any solid foundation of what heaven is like and hence, there is no real foundation to rock and I assume it would be all over the board back then as it is now. Whereas, I had no doubt that Jesus said, “let he who is without sin cast the first stone” or that the travels of Paul in his letters and Acts must have been consistent.

    Anyway, I did feel growing up that I had a good idea of who Satan is and what hell is like. Hence, I would definitely be more interested in learning more about the origins of hell (maybe the general public as well?), but most specifically, historical evidence of what Jesus most likely believed about hell or the devil (I mean, Jesus did meet Satan and according to a creed I recited every week growing up he hung out in hell for a couple days after he died), and how/why hell evolved as evidenced by later Christian writings.

    So my opinion, only because you asked…and you may be the first to ever done so, I am definitely interested in reading about Satan and hell during the time of Jesus, how Jesus felt about it, how it is portrayed in early Christian writings, and how/why it evolved in early Christianity. I am really not interested in the heaven side because I plan on finding that out for myself firsthand by the end of this century.

  85. jhague  September 13, 2017

    My interest is in the development of heaven and hell from a Jewish and Christian aspect. I find it amazing that initially there may have been no thought about the afterlife, then everyone goes to the same dismal place forever, then the good go to heaven and the bad go to hell. It seems that there originally was a focus on our lives on earth, then the focus changed to we have to live a certain way in order to be rewarded with heaven or otherwise be punished in hell. I also find it interesting that the Christians I know today for the most part will never change their beliefs in a literal heaven and hell.

  86. ebushong  September 13, 2017

    I would certainly be interested in reading about that.

  87. Keith  September 13, 2017

    Personally, I’m really looking forward to this book as I find the topic fascinating. It’s amazing to me how many people think that widely held beliefs about the afterlife (a horned devil presiding over a torture chamber, St. Peter welcoming newcomers at the pearly gates, etc.) have a basis in the bible. It seems to me that even many of the folks that consider themselves religious think the stories presented by Dante and Milton are ‘gospel’ and I think you’d be providing a real service by outlining how and why thoughts about the afterlife changed.

  88. ddorner
    ddorner  September 13, 2017

    Personally, I’m very interested. I think being able to learn how the ideas of the afterlife developed or changed over time would be fascinating. Particularly in the context of how views of the afterlife developed in early Christianity. It would be interesting to know what Jesus, Paul and the early church fathers had to say about it and what differing traditions might have existed.

  89. Brandman0485  September 13, 2017

    I will certainly buy the book when completed. I’m a Lutheran and I really enjoy the material you put out because it challenges me to not be a “sucker” if you will and believe everything I’m told. I actually asked my pastor about what happens exactly when we die and pointed out some biblical differences that you have brought to my attention and I was shocked to find out that he could not give me a clear answer but rather a theologically developed one that had several holes and some wiggle room.

  90. cjfleischmann  September 13, 2017

    I have not been on to catch up with your blog, but just read the entire afterlife thread to date. I hope you do write the book, as I find the topic very intriguing and educational. As an aside, I read with interest your accounts of the Odyssey, as I have never had an opportunity (or much previous interest) in reading it myself.

  91. rich-ilm  September 13, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman –
    My two cents…I think this book will do well. Your previous excellent work has made you an author that many people will buy whatever next book you write. I think the reason there may not be as much controversy on this issue is that most of us on the blog probably generally accept the idea that there wasn’t a real heaven/hell doctrine in early judaism, and that the apocalyptic desire to explain why bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people resulted in the development of the idea of an afterlife to do the judging, even if we don’t know the specifics. Outside the blog, though, it’s still tremendously important. When I was a believer, fear of hell was a significant motivator. There are many people I know who are still caught in the grip of Pascal’s wager on this score. I would love to have a resource to more thoroughly counter that argument, so I welcome the effort.
    Just for the record, I don’t think your publishers’ questions (March 8 post) about how afterlife belief affects other beliefs (such as possibly climate change and regulation that you mentioned) are particularly helpful. I think we can probably imagine how thinking the rapture is just around the corner would lead one to be less concerned about sustaining the environment for 1k years, but in today’s partisan politics, there are so many variables and motives that go into those motivations besides what one believes about the afterlife that I’m not sure how productive that would be. If they want something more than just the history of the development of afterlife belief, my vote would be to focus on the implications to the christian concept of heaven/hell and why that is no longer something to be feared.

  92. csisco  September 13, 2017

    This is just one guy talking, but YES! Please write this book! I’ve been looking forward to it since the first time you wrote about it.

  93. dvhcmh  September 13, 2017

    I suspect that most people who read your books and blog are interested specifically in Jesus. Many, like me, are probably trying to figure out who he was. The “afterlife” book may not appeal to such people as much as your others do, though at this point I myself am likely to read anything you publish.

  94. Ciucciface  September 13, 2017

    Hi Bart
    You wouldn’t have noticed anything from my footprints on your blog; I have continued to read all your posts, as usual, but yes I did find myself speed-reading some and yes I probably am less interested in this topic. Not sure why, perhaps because nobody has a clue about what actually happens when we die and therefore I am indifferent to the fantasies of ancient people? I am however, interested in how and why the belief in the afterlife developed from the OT to the NT and how that influenced Christianity and consequently world history and myself. It is also interesting to see where today’s Christian teaching on this topic misses the mark.
    I think books about NDE’s possibly sell well because of the “belief” that the author had *actually* experienced death and therefore is presumed to know what he/she is talking about!

  95. Jeff
    Jeff  September 13, 2017

    Regarding Martin Luther’s treatise “The Jews and their Lies”, here are some excerpts”

    “What shall we Christians do with this rejected and condemned people, the Jews?”
    “I shall give you my sincere advice.”
    “First to set fire to their synagogues and schools…”
    “Second, I advise that their houses also be razed and destroyed…”

    Uncle Adolph was a big fan.

  96. Eric  September 13, 2017

    Oh, and your discussion of Lucian interested me enough to go out and secure his complete works which I am reading (some of) now.

  97. Carl  September 13, 2017

    As a Christian (heretic) I believe in an afterlife, but I also believe that Jesus died for *all* people. So I am of the opinion that most portrayals of heaven and hell have an element of fear based speculation, and in this context no objections or controversies have surfaced.

    In any case I have a limited knowledge on this subject, so I am quite content to simply read along and build a foundational understanding. The posts are easy to follow and seem to be quite comprehensive. I really enjoyed the last post on the acts of Thomas (as a Christian message it’s right up there with the interpolation in John 8 in my opinion) It’s just that no additional questions/comments really come to mind.

    Most of my queries are Pauline specific too, e.g. It seems that Paul’s belief in a bodily resurrection was influenced by his understanding of Jesus as a 2nd Adam, and therefore a return to life ‘before the fall’ seems to be Paul’s version of the afterlife.. or not.

    So for me it’s a case of reading and learning, and waiting for the right posts to unleash a flood of questions of biblical proportions!

  98. flcombs  September 13, 2017

    I wouldn’t know about the overall book market for it. But I think as a topic it is of interest, especially how the views on the afterlife have evolved. For example with Christianity. My impression from here in the Bible belt is that many Christians think their current concept has always been consistent through out the Bible. It is useful to know and show how it has actually evolved and (if true) how it may align with similar evolution of concepts in surrounding cultures. Perhaps it isn’t as mystical as some claim.

  99. bknight  September 13, 2017

    Bart: Yes, I’m very interested in your book about the invention of the afterlife. What you’ve posted already here about it is fascinating. Please, by all means, write the book! — Bernie Knight

  100. Robert  September 13, 2017

    Personally, I am much more interested in the Christian theological roots of anti-Semitism, especially if there is a good treatment of the NT authors’ original Sitze-im Leben, the larger context of pre-existing Inter-Jewish polemics, and the sociological role of the first Christians as they were in the process of being excluded from what would become later mainstream rabbinic Judaism.

  101. mannix  September 13, 2017

    The concept of an afterlife may be a defense mechanism against the fear of death. It represents HOPE that there will be rewards for sacrifices and good deeds, and a kind of compensation for inequities suffered in this life. Those familiar with you know you don’t believe in its existence; the use of “Invention” in your proposed title signals that presupposition. It’s not so much people don’t want to learn about the subject (I also believe most are interested) that they don’t want to read about how “afterlife” became a myth!

  102. carole_wynn  September 13, 2017

    I must admit that I haven’t been reading the posts as I usually do. And I probably wouldn’t buy the book. I might change my mind if I heard you lecturing on the topic.

  103. talmoore
    talmoore  September 13, 2017

    The question isn’t whether people are interested in the afterlife. The question is who ISN’T interested in the afterlife. I’m an atheist who doesn’t believe in the afterlife at all, and I’m still endlessly fascinated by the subject.

  104. Robert  September 13, 2017

    From a personal point of view, I don’t think much about an afterlife. If I do think about it, I am reminded of what Albert Ellis, the psychotherapist, said to someone afraid of death: Being dead just means not being alive. You were not alive in 1850, and do you remember that as being a particularly bad year for you? On the other hand, I am interested in how these ideas of the afterlife and Heaven and Hell got started, and what the early Christians thought. I would like to read a book about these things.

  105. anthonygale  September 13, 2017

    I would buy the book and think others would be interested, but that might be an assumption influenced by the fact that I am interest in it. As someone who doubts the existence of heaven and does not believe in hell, I am interested in where the ideas came from, how they developed over time, and what influenced those ideas. I’m not sure what believers would think. Is it a more sensitive subject? Would people be more troubled and less (or more) inclined to read a book that says heaven was invented than by a book that points out differences (mostly minor) between the texts of the New Testament? I can’t say anything about the trends in your blog activity, but I can speak for myself that I read the blog daily for periods of time and am away for others. Sometimes that is because I am more interested in some topics than others, but other times I’m just busier and don’t think to check it. I am less inclined to comment on an older post and more inclined to follow up on threads in which I asked questions. Just because I don’t comment doesn’t mean I didn’t find it interesting. I wonder if there is at least some degree of chance affecting your blog activity. Just some thoughts.

  106. Tm3  September 13, 2017

    Truth be told most folks attend church because they want to go to heaven or something like heaven. No one wants to end up in hell. Debunking hell would be much more interesting. If demons were cast out constantly in the first century why aren’t we doing the same every Sunday in church? I would like to read what you think about the evolution of the concept of hell from fallen angels to the present. How the church used the concept of mortal sin and fear of eternal fire to keep the faithful in line. How did apocalyptic thinking create punishments for those not chosen etc.

  107. Tony  September 13, 2017

    As an atheist, this would not be a subject of much interest to me. I wonder who, exactly, the targeted audience would be. Perhaps that requires some more thought and research.

    A friend if mine, who likes the concept, had the following observation:

    A very interesting request by Ehrman about his proposed book The Invention of the Afterlife: A History of Heaven and Hell. I think he may have some legitimate concerns especially if he keeps his proposed working title. The word “Invention” in the title will kill his market by 2/3 right off the bat; but maybe not given we already know Ehrman’s views on religion and that 2/3s have already fled. I would read it only because it probably adds a bit of confirmation bias to my thinking. I know of the Maccabean theory (righteous Jews got slaughtered anyway so they must be getting their reward later—the afterlife) but it may be interesting to hear about other ideas on where the concepts if Heaven & Hell came from – such as the contribution of Zoroastrianism.

  108. mathieu  September 14, 2017

    I am interested in this topic. I would read the book because I am confident you are better at researching the historical data and are able to put it together in a coherent way that a non-scholar like myself can read and understand. I have poked around with this subject but didn’t have the patience to dig deeper.
    Thanks for tackling this subject.

  109. John  September 14, 2017

    You said you were going to write a scholarly book on the same subject next, You might do them the other way round and see what the interest is.

    I must say that, as someone who is interested in classical history, it is not a subject that grabs me,

  110. mmns  September 14, 2017

    As a matter of personal opinion, I think people would be intetested to know the true roots of the concept of afterlife specially the dualism of heaven and hell. If the discourse will be rooted in historiography, that would be as interesting as any other topic about early Christianity or rather the religions of late antiquity when looked at through the prism of historiography. As long as it isn’t overtly scholary imbued, it should appeal to as many readers, I would think!!

  111. Hickman777  September 14, 2017

    I for one can hardly wait to read your book on the afterlife. Regarding your suggested title, I suspect the book will sell more copies without the first words “The Invention of the Afterlife.” The second part reveals enough without stating your conclusion in advance, at least in the trade book version.

  112. SidDhartha1953  September 14, 2017

    Bart, I usually read the other comments and your replies before commenting myself, but I think repetition may be good in this case, assuming others have expressed my sentiments before me. While the bulk of book buyers may gravitate toward subjects that don’t require them to think too much (the kind Kierkegaard said one could peruse during the afternoon nap) there are some who look for books (and blogs) that challenge and even disturb. Those are the books I hope you will continue to write. I know you want to earn some money from your writing, and you deserve to! but I hope you can do that and continue writing what your gut tells you people ought to know, not what they want to hear.
    Personally, I think an account of the origins of notions of the afterlife is important and I hope you complete the project, particularly for those who are apt to be swayed by the Heaven is for Real nonsense. They may never read it themselves, but if people they know read your book and can pass on a reality check or two, that will be a deed well done.
    As for the Christian origins of anti-Semitism, there have been other books on the subject (The Burning Bush by Barnett Litvinoff and Who Killed Jesus by J. D. Crossan among them) that make a case for its Christian origins. If you can add to that by a more thorough examination of the texts that demonized Jews in the first place (Litvinoff is more concerned about how Jews were persecuted by Christian rulers in Europe and Crossan is trying to prove his thesis about a single passion source) that would be valuable.

  113. Gabe_Grinstead  September 14, 2017

    “If you write it, they will read” – I made it up. Probably not the first. 🙂

    Q: Would you cover beliefs regarding the afterlife for non-Abrahamic religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Sikh) as well? It seems like we would need to study all religions and parts of the world to get a comprehensive view. I must admit, there is a part of me that is irked by the lack of representation from religions that are not Abrahamic in origin. Granted, I know, based on population and influence, that Abrahamic religions have certainly had the most influence, but there is still a rich world outside of that box with fascinating ideas and beliefs.

    FYI – I am agnostic, so I am not trying to get my beliefs represented in this post.

  114. Chuck205  September 14, 2017

    I look forward to reading your book. I have found it very helpful to follow your thought process on the blog. I belong to two different book study groups and hope that one or both will be interested in studying and discussing the history of the afterlife and how it impacts individual theology of the afterlife.

  115. TracyCramer
    TracyCramer  September 14, 2017

    I am interested in the topic.

  116. heathtperkins  September 14, 2017

    Very much looking forward to this book. Will be a big seller. Not sure why someone would not be interested in such a book. Without the heaven and hell narrative, many Christians would keep their offerings and enjoy the beach on Sunday mornings. As someone who spends time in nursing homes, I can assure you that many people spend their final years thinking about this topic. They are not sweating over how Christianity developed over the first few centuries. Their thoughts are about their loved ones that have passed and if there’s something beyond. I’m certain the general population would be interested in this topic because it directly speaks to them and their core beliefs. What was discussed at the Council of Nicaea is interesting but doesn’t affect my core beliefs. Did Jesus say that I’m going to burning pit called hell if I didn’t believe or to a wonderful paradise in the sky if I believe? If he did, where did he say it? If he didn’t, where did this concept arise from? What did the early Christians believe regarding the afterlife? How has the concept evolved over time? As a former Christian, heaven and hell will always haunt me. The topic is all over the radio along with being on tv and in movies. It’s brought up at weddings, funerals, church, work and at countless other functions. How often has someone from your workplace walked up and asked your thoughts on Constantine? Unless you work in a religion or history department at a university, I suspect never. They ask if you believe in God, if you go to church, and if you believe in heaven and hell. That’s what people are interested in. I like the title also. Lots of afterlife books out there written by theists that are meant to reassure Christians that all their offerings and church attendance records are going to pay off in the end. The “invention” of the afterlife gets my attention. Please do us all a favor and write this book.


  117. silvertime  September 14, 2017

    I will buy your new book if it is published, and I look forward to that! I think that the concept of heaven and hell is what sells Christian religion, and other religions. Regarding the comments on Pascal’s Wager: If one takes the bet on believe, which religion does one choose(how about all of them). I have enjoyed the blog thread on this subject instead of some of the more technical ones. I think that most of your usual book buyers will be standing in line for this one. After all, this is what religion is all about

  118. FredLyon  September 14, 2017

    I took a well-attended course last year taught by Dr. Karen Borek at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., called, “Life After Death in World Religions and Secular Thought.” It concentrated primarily on the major faiths, i.e., Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hindism, and Buddhism, but included research into NDEs, thoughts on universal salvation, et al. I was disappointed that time did not allow touching on (minor) religions, e.g., Norse, Egyptian, Babylonian.

    I think a book on the afterlife would be fascinating, but, of course, not definitive. Most, but not all, Jews have the most practical viewpoint in my opinion, that is, we’re to concern ourselves with our actions in this life; God will deal with the afterlife. As the great prophets “Blood, Sweat, and Tears” sang, “I can swear there ain’t no heaven but I pray there ain’t no hell; but I’ll never know by living, only my dying will tell” (from “And When I Die”).

  119. Morphinius  September 15, 2017

    You can be certain that I want to know your thoughts on how the Christian understanding of the afterlife emerged and will buy the book. I would buy your other book on the origins of anti-Semitism, too. Although I am aware that the early Israelites (and later Sadducees) did not have a concept of an afterlife like many Christians do today, I have not had time to research how the transition occurred. Did the emergence of a personal afterlife coincide with a deeper fascination with angels, and even the transformation of Satan, from a prosecutor to an evil being?

    • Bart
      Bart  September 15, 2017

      It’s all part of the same development, in a sense. But it’s complicated.

  120. darndt  September 15, 2017

    Just joined because of this post! Re hell, I think moderate and former Evangelicals especially would be interested in
    1) Is Gehenna in Jesus’ teaching about just part of a warning of military distaster, or did Jesus really believe in hell?
    2) Did the gospel writers over-emphasize (or invent?) hell in Jesus’ teaching?
    3) Do theological explanations in terms of hell as separation from God really jive with what Jesus and the Bible say?

    Many mainliners would also be interested out of discomfort with hell. In my Anglican church, we had the reading for Mark 9:38-50 fall on “Back to Church Sunday”!

  121. thinkingwoody  September 15, 2017

    I for one am looking forward to reading your study on the afterlife. Please keep trucking on!

  122. Chasdot  September 15, 2017

    I’m personally interested in the topic, Bart, but it’s important from another reason. First, it combats Christian tribalism. In this time of horrific hurricanes, we see two options for Christians. They can give money to a civic organization such as the Red Cross which helps folks based on need. Second, they can give money to an organization that has a humanitarian part and also an evangelistic part. So, the giving money to second option offers those in need “half a loaf” since the evangelistic part takes resources also.

    Additionally, the book will push people into accepting those around them for who they are (nature vs. nurture). If the problems with our conceptions of the afterlife are laid bare, it can spur people on to love and understanding, and not, “well the reason you’re suffering now is because God’s trying to turn you away from your destiny of damnation.”

    I’ve read books by someone I consider the leading “evanglistic philosopher” who simply can’t deal with natural evil. He always has to return to moral evil in some form or other. If your book in some way helps folks to make a case for natural and moral evil by talking plainly about the afterlife, then I believe that your book serves a greater cause.

    I’m reminded of the story in antiquity where a king asks a wise man if he’s a great man. The wise man replies, “I don’t know, you’re still living.” So, it is with your body of literature. This book may be picked up by folks after you’re gone and it may change their lives for the better. Please write the book.

  123. rburos  September 15, 2017

    Your blog and your textbook–with its lists of recommended readings–really opened up the fascinating world of early Christianity studies and I will be forever your loyal reader and defender. I have several of your books on my shelves, and I watch your debates and presentations both on Youtube and the TC. I am looking forward to Triumph more than you can imagine, and selfishly HATE the clear rationality of releasing it in February.

    I am, however, not as enthusiastic about the afterlife. I would prefer instead to study koine, which probably says something. Your name will sell copies, and I’m betting the publisher (regardless of how good the book is) wouldn’t be willing to sell it under a pseudonym. Don’t get me wrong, I would read it eventually, just probably not during the first printing run.

  124. RonaldTaska  September 15, 2017

    Wow! You have gotten a lot of replies to this blog. I am very interested in reading about this subject because, in my heart, I always assumed the idea of heaven has been around forever pretty much unchanged and now I learn that heaven is rarely even mentioned in the Old Testament. That means the idea was invented and evolved with time. That is something I really needed to learn. I have also learned from you that many of the early ideas about heaven were farfetched and strange adding support to the idea that the idea of heaven is a human invention. So, I would suggest you keep going with this project.

    I still think the project that would be most helpful to many of us would be your autobiography outlining how your beliefs evolved as you put forth in some recent blogs.

  125. drumbeg  September 15, 2017

    All I can say is that I would love to read the book. Please keep writing!

  126. Rick
    Rick  September 15, 2017

    What I find most … interesting… are facts and arguments which belie “pat” traditional views. For example, historical Roman crucifixion (leaving the victim to rot) vs. the passion empty tomb narratives. Given traditional and conservative Christianities’ approach to our world I suppose most things I find interesting would also be controversial.
    Since fire and brimstone views of hell seem to be a significant coercion factor in conservative churches I would be very interested in a study tracing the coercive (versus explanatory) evolution of the afterlife. As an adjunct perhaps I would also like to see where the fire and brimstone themselves actually came from. Was it just from Gehenna and if so was it from the ancient child sacrifice by fire legends (Tophet in the Valley of Ben Hinnom) or the fact that the place became a dump with ever smoldering refuse as is common for trash heaps?

  127. DestinationReign
    DestinationReign  September 16, 2017

    I believe it has the potential to be one of your most read books, BECAUSE it ventures into territories different than your norm. It could generate surprise and curiosity from those who are your normal “critics,” and others not familiar with your work but who have an interest in the subject matter.

    The blog traffic issue may well be a result of the discomfort the topic brings, but so be it. Most people – skeptic, believer, or otherwise – basically only seek confirmation bias for their already-held views. Few walk the path of HONEST assessments of subject matter that is removed from their comfort zone. It’s a detrimental trait of human nature. (People listening to the same radio stations that play the same songs day after day, year after year, is a softer example of this trait.)That’s especially the case with issues of the “afterlife.” Most people just don’t want to apply the time or interest to pondering the idea that there is a whole lot more going on than what we perceive in this earth-plane. (And that’s almost certainly even truer with “skeptics.” Many would rather read 1,000 rehashed entries about Bible errors and contradictions than one that contemplates what happens at death.)

    It’s also interesting and endearing to see an author of renown confessing anxiousness about mass-response to a book project. (Some choose to remain in anonymity for that very reason!) I suppose it’s something that non-authors do not understand.

  128. RGM-ills  September 18, 2017

    I actually emailed you a couple of years ago with a several page word document on my making sense of it. So yea, I am interested. I don’t think you’d have agreed with it had you ever opened it up, but it is how I made sense out of the origin of words whether it is netherworld or underworld or just absence of light on the opposite side of the globe from the sun. There aren’t remnants of pillars in our secret societies for nothing.

  129. dkremer  September 20, 2017

    Let me add my voice to those looking forward to this new project. In my view it’s both an interesting topic and a return to what you do best: deep analysis plus historical insight.

  130. madmargie  September 22, 2017

    I think most Christians are in denial about the “origins” of the afterlife. They believe in it and think there is no ” origin” They consider it a reality.

    In my own experience, as a Community of Christ member, long ago a number of us who belong to the John Whitmer Historical Association, who study the origins of our church, learned that the origins of the Book of Mormon are nothing like our early history imagines. There have been numerous papers debunking it, but most members simply are not interested in “facts”. They prefer to believe the fiction. I believe that is how most Christians feel about the after life. Those of us who do not believe in an afterlife will be those who purchase your book.

  131. Simulacrum  October 1, 2017

    I know that many soldiers are concerned about the afterlife, and how they will fare having killed people in combat. I recently heard a presentation by Dave Grossmann, who was preparing soldiers for the reality of combat, and ensured them that they were not acting against God’s will, if they killed their enemies. He told them that the commandment Thou shallt not kill should rightly have been translated Thou shallt not murder from Greek and Hebrew. I wonder if you can shed some light on that, Bart?

    • Bart
      Bart  October 1, 2017

      It’s not that the original word means just murder and not kill — it’s that hte context suggests that. (God says “do not kill” and then he says “go kill all the Canaanites”; so one has to figure out what he means in each case.)

  132. treborpowers  October 8, 2017

    I have been a Christian all my life. As a teenager I read a chapter of the Bible every day (mostly the Gospels). About five years ago I reread C. S. Lewis’ the “The Great Divorce” and it changed my life. I found Lewis’ heaven is for loveless moral cowards who cheerfully turned their husbands, wives, children, and dearest friends over to the Gestapo to be dragged of to hell and as the people they supposedly loved were being dragged away they praised God for his infinite mercy. I had respected C.S. Lewis but now I think he is insufferably arrogant. He believes that if you pray to God then and only then can you do good in the world. This means Jonas Salk did no good in the world while Bush Jr. has done enormous good. I join your blog because I wanted to know how the notion of hell began. I was blind but now I see but what I see is that most of Christianity is built on a lie. “God love you unconditionally and he will torture you forever if you do not satisfy all the conditions.”

  133. treborpowers  October 8, 2017

    I have a title for your book. “Where the hell did hell come from.”

  134. Actual_Wolfman  October 12, 2017

    Good Afternoon Bart,

    A new member to the blog! I’m looking forward to reading the entries here on various topics. I think a book exploring the origins of heaven and hell would be interesting; hopefully others think so too.

    One question I have and sorry it’s unrelated to this post: Do you plan on podcasting sometime in the future?

  135. camrhoads  November 19, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, please write all three books over time: one on the origins of Christian antisemiticism; the tradeback book on the invention of the afterlife; and the scholarly one on heaven and hell. I would read all three with relish.

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