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Life After Death Discussions.

What We Know Today About Religions and the Afterlife (in the US): Platinum Guest Post by Sharon Friedman

I am pleased to be able to publish this Guest Post by one of our Platinum members Sharon Friedman.  Sharon has been a blog member for some five years.   Here is an intriguing post with some statistics to make you ponder and reflect on a topic near and dear to many of us. If you have questions comments, go ahead and make them!  Many thanks Sharon. ***************************** Often on the blog, people ask Bart “what did Christians or Jews think about some topic?” It’s definitely difficult or impossible to know that about the past.  We do know something about what they currently think.  Fortunately, groups like the Pew Research Center and NORC at the University of Chicago ask people religious questions.  Let’s look at that source of information for insights into our discussion of the afterlife, specifically what do Christians, Jews and Muslims currently think about heaven and hell? Pew does a Religious Landscape Survey about once every 10 years or so. It’s chock full of information.  There is a crosswalk between belief in heaven [...]

2021-05-27T17:27:17-04:00May 27th, 2021|Afterlife, Public Forum|

All Day Seminar (Online) for the Smithsonian: This Saturday!

Looking for some fun, excitement, and a change of pace this weekend?  On Saturday I will be doing an all-day seminar for the Smithsonian Associates, four lectures (two in the morning, two in the afternoon), each with Q&A to follow, on Heaven and Hell, based, of course, on the book.  Interested in joining in?  Ticket information, and so on, can be found here: The structure of the lectures will be different from the book.  Here is the line-up of the lectures. 9:30­–10:45 a.m.  Death After Death The earliest records of the afterlife in ancient Near Eastern, Israelite, and Greek cultures portrayed it as no life at all: death leads to only a dreary, uninteresting, eternally empty existence in which there is no joy, no pleasure, and no hope, as portrayed in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the Hebrew Bible, and writings of Homer. 11 a.m.–12:15 p.m.  Justice in the World Beyond Both Greek and Israelite cultures eventually developed the concept that this life cannot really be the end of the story and that the misery [...]

2020-09-09T09:50:34-04:00September 9th, 2020|Afterlife, Public Forum|

What Is the Unforgivable Sin? Readers’ Mailbag.

Important question this week! QUESTION: I wondered if you have written a blog which talks specifically about the 'unpardonable sin'. RESPONSE: Well, it’s been a while.  But I get asked this question a good bit, and almost always it is a fearful request – by someone who is afraid they’ve committed it.  So it’s worth addressing the issue again.   I think the NT is pretty clear on the matter, even though few people actually look carefully at what it says about it. In a famous passage in Matthew, Jesus talks about the “unforgiveable sin”:  “Therefore I tell you every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven; and whoever speaks a word against the Son of man, it will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven, either in this age or the ages to come.” (Matthew 12: 31-32). As you might imagine, over the Christian centuries there have been numerous interpretations of what that *one* sin was, especially [...]

2020-08-27T17:53:02-04:00August 27th, 2020|Afterlife, Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus|

Smith-Pettit Lecture – The History of Heaven and Hell

Here is a webinar that I did on July 29th, 2020, as the Smith-Pettit lecture for the Sunstone Digital Symposium sponsored by Sunstone Education Foundation.  It was on the "History of Heaven and Hell."  It was an unusual event for me: Sunstone is an independent organization located in Salt Lake City, Utah.  Sunstone does not have any official ties to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints but it does serve mainly them, bringing together traditional and non-traditional Latter-day Saints, promoting an atmosphere that seeks to value faith, intellectual, and experiential integrity. Moderating the event was Karin Franklin Peter, president of the Fifth Quorum of Seventy, who serves on the Council of Presidents of Seventy with the Community of Christ.  This is a branch of "Mormons" that split from the LDS over polygamy in the 19th century.  She received a bachelor of science in psychology and a master of arts in Christian ministry from Community of Christ Seminary at Graceland University, Independence, Missouri. I was introduced by Lindsay Hansen Park, an American Mormon feminist [...]

2020-08-21T18:56:40-04:00August 21st, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Bart’s Latest Attack on Christianity by Randy Alcorn

As you know, books on controversial topics get reviewed by all sorts of readers; some reviews are glowing and others are, well, nasty.  About a month or so ago several reader sent me an online review of my book Heaven and Hell on (check it out: it's a website dealing with issues connected with religious faith) by Randy Alcorn, a prominent evangelical author with a high public profile, who has written a number of books about Heaven from his faith perspective. You can check him out online: Randy Alcorn is the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries (EPM) and the author of more than 55 books, including Heaven and If God Is Good: Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil. More than 11 million copies of his books have been sold. They’ve also been translated into 70 languages. Randy's review was, shall we say, of the harsh variety.  But now that I'm getting older and the body-joints aren't working as well as in the days of my youth, my knee doesn't seem [...]

2020-06-21T10:10:49-04:00June 21st, 2020|Afterlife, Bart's Critics, Book Discussions|

Live Event on Wednesday Evening, May 6!

Join us for the third in a fascinating six-week series of virtual "book club" discussions! This week join NHC president Robert Newman and scholar Bart D. Ehrman to discuss Ehrman's book, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife Wednesday, May 6, 2020 at 7:00 pm ET Facebook Live _________________________________________________________________ Where do our ideas about heaven and hell come from, and why do they endure? _________________________________________________________________ In clear and compelling terms, Bart D. Ehrman recounts the long history of the afterlife, from the Epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Augustine, focusing especially on the teachings of Jesus and his early followers. He discusses ancient guided tours of heaven and hell, in which a living person observes the sublime blessings of heaven for those who are saved and the horrifying torments of hell for the damned. As a historian, Ehrman obviously cannot provide a definitive answer to the question of what happens after death, but by helping us reflect on where our ideas of the afterlife come from, he assures us that even if there [...]

2020-05-05T09:11:07-04:00May 5th, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions, Video Media|

Is There Any Point To Life? More on Ecclesiastes

I have been talking about the distinctive views of the book of Ecclesiastes, one of the real gems of the Hebrew Bible, a book that refuses to accept easy answers or blithe truisms about life, but faces reality head on.   No matter what we do or how we try to explain it away, life is short.  Very very short.  The author of course had no conception of what we know now about time in relation to lifespan.  What would he say if he knew that the world (what we would call the universe -- something about which also he had no knowledge) was not a few thousand years old but 13.8 billion? My guess is that he would say the same thing he already does, but possibly with a few more explanation points.   Given how incredibly brief our life is, even if we live to "old" age -- what's the point of it?  Is there a point?   I think there is.  And I find not just value but also hope in his reflections.   Here is [...]

2020-04-20T08:48:11-04:00April 20th, 2020|Afterlife, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Q&A on Heaven and Hell

The following is a Q&A that I have done with my publisher Simon & Schuster for the History in Five page.  You should check it out.  You will get a free ebook!   Here's the site:    You'll see, its an impressive array of authors with intriguing answers to questions about their books. Here's what mine looks like. Why write about the afterlife? What drew you toward the subject of heaven and hell? I was raised as in a Christian household and the literal realities of heaven and hell were taken very seriously.   My personal views intensified when I had a “born again” experience in high school, and eventually headed off to the fundamentalist Moody Bible Institute, where we were trained to evangelize “the lost” (that is, the vast majority of the human race): there was one way to heaven, and the results would be glorious; every other way led to hell and eternal torment. I no longer hold those views, but I have long been struck that so many other people in our world [...]

2020-04-14T09:09:07-04:00April 14th, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions|

Fresh Air Interview for Heaven and Hell: Airing Tuesday!

As most of you know, my new book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife, is due to come out in two days, on Tuesday March 31.  I am very lucky to say that I have done an interview with Terry Gross for Fresh Air that will be playing  that day.  If you’re not familiar with the show, it is probably the premier interview radio program in the country, with millions of listeners; it will be playing on your local NPR station and, of course, can be listened to online.  Check it out at It is an unfortunately very timely book just now.  But, as I’ve mentioned before, even though lots of people have more time to read now than ever because of our time of crisis, it is almost impossible for publishers to get the word out about their new books.  The only effective market strategies these days (I don’t mean corona-days but 2021-days in general) are social media (to a limited extent) and TV/radio media.  And TV/radio media is not interested [...]

2020-03-29T10:51:31-04:00March 29th, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions, Public Forum|

How To Begin with Heaven and Hell: An Excerpt

My new book is coming out next week – March 31.   Very exciting, even if it is coming out at the absolute worst time in modern history to publish a book that is not about either Donald or Disease.   But still, I’m excited.  And very oddly (I just checked) (OK, really, I don’t check every day; it’s been some weeks), it is now the top new release on Amazon on the topic of “reincarnation”!  HA!!  What a scream. OK, there’s not a lot of competition there in the reincarnation market, and even more odd, there’s not a lot about reincarnation in the book.  But there’s *some* --and not in places you might expect.  Plato!!  He was the first to popularize the view, at least in our written record.  And in the most famous and important theologian of the first Christian centuries, Origen.  But it never caught on in the Christian tradition – even though one constantly hears that it did.  It didn’t.  But still, Origen’s views are really interesting.  Among other things, he argued, with [...]

2020-03-22T11:29:02-04:00March 22nd, 2020|Afterlife, Book Discussions|

Guided Tours of Heaven and Hell in a Christian Mode

I've started a short thread describing the academic monograph I've started writing, Guided Tours of Heaven and Hell: Otherworldly Journeys in the Early Christian Tradition..  In my last post I describe  two o the most important forerunners of the tradition, the Greek Homer (Odyssey 11) and Roman Virgil (Aeneid 6) -- flat out fascinating texts that I've become obsessed with.  The Christian versions are similar in ways but also profoundly different.   Here is what I say about them in these reflections on my book-in-progress, written to help me clarify to myself where it's heading, how it will be structures, and why I think it matters. I start here by repeating the very end of the previous post to stir up your memory! ************************************************************** The account of the underworld in Virgil does more philosophical work than its predecessor, Homer's Odyssey, showing not merely that life should be prolonged, but that it must be lived properly (ethically and/or philosophically).    Virgil’s account is often read as potentially hopeful – there is the chance of eternal reward for upright [...]

2020-04-02T14:32:55-04:00December 21st, 2019|Afterlife, Book Discussions|

Guided Tours of Heaven and Hell: My Scholarly Book

I mentioned that I have started writing my academic book on the early Christian versions of the guided tours of heaven and hell.  This will be very different from the trade book coming out in March -- an full eight-chapter scholarly analysis of material that I cover in a very brief overview fashion in one chapter of the trade book. As I've mentioned on the blog before, when I get to certain points of my work on a book, I like to produce for myself an account of what it is, where it's going, how it will be organized, and so on.   Now that I'm getting down to actually writing this thing after doing the research for it, I've started drafting up my summary of it, to emphasize its interest and importance, and to explain to myself how I'm imagining it working itself out, as a whole and then chapter by chapter.  My current understanding of the book is closely related to what I started imagining it to be, nearly three years ago; but it [...]

2020-04-02T14:33:02-04:00December 19th, 2019|Afterlife, Book Discussions|

Does Your Soul Go To Heaven?

In my previous post I discussed the beginnings of the Jewish idea of the “resurrection of the dead.”  This view is a pretty much commonplace today: in every Christian church that recites a creed today, and in many conservative churches that do not use creeds, it is believed that at the end of time there will be some kind of judgment and people will be raised from the dead. At the same time, I have to be frank and say that it seems to me that most Christians – at least the ones I know (not just scholars, but most Christians) – don’t actually *believe* in a future resurrection.  They think they die and go to heaven in their souls.  Their souls may have some kind of physical attributes: they have all their sense of hearing, seeing, etc., and they can be recognized as who they were so you’ll be able to see your grandmother there.  It’s true, even this has always caused problems for people who hold the idea.  Which of my many bodies [...]

2020-04-02T14:46:28-04:00August 21st, 2019|Afterlife, Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

An Alternative View of Suffering and the Idea of Resurrection

In yesterday’s post I was explaining why I do not think we need to point to Zoroastrianism as the source or reason for the views of “the resurrection from the dead” emerged within Judaism.   This view could have arisen within Judaism itself, because of some internal dynamics.  Here in this post I explain how it may have happened. I begin where I ended yesterday: in ancient Israel, as up to today, there have been people who think that the reason they suffer is because they have sinned and God is punishing them for it.   Suffering comes from God, to penalize his people for not living as they should.   This is sometimes called the “prophetic” or the “classical” view of suffering, because it was the view wide advanced by the Hebrew prophets in the Bible. Most people today, of course, realize it is never that simple.   Do we really want to say that birth defects, the death of a child, Alzheimer’s, or any of the other mind-numbing forms of suffering in extremis are punishments from God [...]

2020-04-02T14:46:35-04:00August 20th, 2019|Afterlife, Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

Resurrection from the Dead: Were Jews Influenced by Zoroastrianism?

I often get asked if ancient Judaism was influenced by Zoroastrianism or other kinds of Persian thought – especially when it comes to the specific doctrine of the “resurrection of the dead” and, more generally, the whole category of “apocalyptic thought.”  I used to think so!  Now I’m not so sure.  At all. I’ve talked about apocalypticism and resurrection on the blog before.  Here I’ll discuss where these ideas came from, before, explaining more fully what they ended up looking like.  This discussion is taken from an early draft of my forthcoming book Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife. ********************************************************* After the period of the classical prophets, Jewish thinkers came to imagine that in fact there would be life for the individual who had died.  For them, there was a possibility of life beyond the grave – real, full, and abundant life.  But in the original Jewish conception, unlike widespread Christian views today, the afterlife was not a glorious eternity lived in the soul in heaven or a tormented existence in hell, attained [...]

2020-04-02T14:46:42-04:00August 19th, 2019|Afterlife, Early Judaism, Hebrew Bible/Old Testament|

How Views of the Afterlife Changed

I’ve been explaining how the tours to heaven and hell – both of them Near Death Experiences – in the Acts of Thomas are meant to show the Christian alternatives to Greek and Roman views of the afterlife.   For early Christians it would not be a dull and boring, powerless and mindless existence for all eternity, as it is depicted in the oldest Greek sources, and it would not require hundreds of years of “purging” where the stains of wickedness are washed out through painful cleansing (e.g., through being thrust into fire or a violent whirlpool for centuries), as in Plato and Virgil.  It would be eternal joy or eternal punishment, one or the other, depending on whether you believed in Christ or not. Christians thus provided the ultimate and rather simply answer for life to the ultimate question about death.  But even here there was more than a simple binary (one or the other).  The punishments in hell in the Acts of Thomas for example, appear to be graded in order to be commensurate [...]

2020-04-02T14:46:57-04:00August 14th, 2019|Afterlife, Christian Apocrypha|

Who Has The Answer For a Happy Afterlife?

A few days ago I gave the opening part of the paper I read at a conference of New Testament scholars a couple of weeks ago, on the accounts of the afterlife in the Christian apocryphal book called Acts of Thomas (an account of Thomas’s missionary adventures in India), one of them involving a near death experienced that revealed the glories of heaven and the other a near death experience of the horrors of hell. Most of the paper involved contrasting those two visions with comparable journeys to the underworld in earlier, more famous accounts, Homer’s description of Odysseus’s vision of the underworld in Odyssey book 11; Plato’s account of the near death experience of a soldier named Er in the Republic book 10; and Virgil’s discussion of Aeneas’s travels to the realms below in the Aeneid book 6. I don’t need to describe these other accounts in detail here, since I’ve talked about them already on the blog some months ago; if you want to refresh your memory, they are here: [...]

2020-04-02T14:47:03-04:00August 13th, 2019|Afterlife, Book Discussions|

Some Very Strange Journeys to Heaven and Hell

This post is free for everyone, but most posts come only to blog members.  Joining the blog is easy and it gives you access to tons of material for very little expense.  All the money goes to charity.  so why not join. Last week I was in Marburg, Germany for the annual conference for the Society of New Testament Studies.  This is an international society at the top tier of NT scholars in the world, a closed society that no one can actually *join*.  You have to be nominated and voted in, and there are strict academic guidelines (in terms of qualifications and numbers of books and articles published, etc.).  I’m not saying I’m in favor of that system, but as we say these days (or at least were saying a year or so ago) it is what it is. I’ve been a member since the 1990s but actually haven’t been to one of the meetings since 1995.   But I went to this one because I was asked to read a paper and I’m really [...]

2019-08-07T03:49:25-04:00August 7th, 2019|Afterlife, Christian Apocrypha|

Death and the Meaning of Life

Different understandings about what happens to us at death embody and promote different views about what we consider to be the ultimate reality of life, what it is that we think -- at the deepest level of our being -- provides meaning for our existence and makes sense of the world we encounter while still breathing. I have given four examples from the ancient world.  Each of them portrays a different sense of ultimate reality, of one thing, in each case, that establishes, determines, and directs everything that finally matters for human existence in general – for all people who have ever lived – and for our specific existence in particular.   All four involve trips to the realms of the dead, in order to see what happens for those who are no longer living.  Each is meant to show what we should live for now, based on what the ultimate meaning of life is, what the very root and fabric of human existence consist of.  In this post I’ll talk about two of them. When [...]

2020-04-02T23:54:27-04:00April 30th, 2019|Afterlife, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture|

Paul in Hell. The Apocryphal Apocalypse of Paul.

You may have not noticed, since so much else has been happening on the blog lately (guest posts, a debate, etc.), but I have a very loose thread  going on my book on the guided tours of heaven and hell, a scholarly monograph that deals with the Christian versions of "katabasis" (the technical term for "going down" -- that is, someone going down into the underworld and then reporting what he saw) in relation to Greek, Roman, and Jewish versions.  The clear focus will be on the Christian texts, but to make sense of them it helps do see how they are similar to and different from those found in the surrounding cultures. My first chapter will provide a set of comparisons of several earlier narratives (Odysseus's encounter with the dead in the Odyssey book 11, Aeneas's  descent to Hades in Aeneid book 6, and the vision of Enoch in 1 Enoch 21-22) with the most famous and popular Christian account, the Apocalypse of Paul, which probably dates from the early fifth century but may [...]

2020-04-02T23:55:04-04:00April 26th, 2019|Afterlife, Christian Apocrypha|
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