Jesus, the Sheep, and the Goats

I have been talking about the criterion of dissimilarity for one ultimate reason: wanted to show why, in my opinion, a particular passage in Matthew’s Gospel goes back to the historical Jesus, the man himself.  I.e., it does not involve words put on his lips by later followers, but is something he himself actually said.  If you’re a little fuzzy on how the criterion of dissimilarity works, please read the preceding two posts.

The following has been taken from my undergraduate ...

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Explaining Jesus’ Apocalyptic Assumptions

One other aspect of Jesus’ teaching is important to emphasize before continuing on to consider his understanding of the afterlife.  That is the thoroughly apocalyptic character of his views.

I have discussed Jewish apocalypticism a number of times on the blog—including some months ago on the current thread.  I don’t want to repeat all that here in the same form, but I do want to summarize what the view is and discuss its underlying assumptions.

In a small nutshell, apocalypticists believed that ...

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Jesus’ Teaching About the Kingdom of God

I have explained how the idea of resurrection arose within early Judaism, and now I want to talk about the idea of afterlife in the teachings of Jesus.  To begin with, I need to stress that when Jesus talked about the coming kingdom of God – the core of his apocalyptic message – he was *not* referring to what happens to a person’s soul after she or he dies.

Here is how I explain Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom in my ...

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Reviewing the Afterlife

I want to return now to the main thread that I left off a couple of months ago about developing views of the afterlife in ancient Judaism and then in early Christianity.

I didn’t actually leave that thread – I simply moved deeper into a specific aspect of it.  If you’ll recall, the broader thread is simply about where the modern notions of heaven and hell came from; the specific aspect I’ve been covering involved the “otherworldly journeys” that you find ...

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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 ...

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A Satirical Lesson about the Afterlife

One of the things I’m planning to emphasize in my scholarly book on voyages to the afterlife, is that the overarching point of most of these narratives is not only (or even primarily) to reveal what will actually happen to people after they die, but to encourage them to live in certain ways now, while they can.  This is true not only for the Christian accounts but for pagan ones as well.

One of the most hilarious authors from Greco-Roman antiquity ...

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Looking at Hell

I have been talking about different views of what the afterlife entails.  In the broadest terms, some ancient people believed that everyone at death had the same fate: they lived on, not in their body but in their soul, in some kind of netherworld where nothing much ever happened.  It was a dreadfully banal and boring existence, that went on forever, the same for everyone.

Some ancient authors who had that view described visits to the underworld by the living, where ...

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Life in Hades

In my previous post I discussed Odysseus’s encounter with his mother in Hades, where we learn that the “spirits,” “shades,” “ghosts,” “souls” (they are called a number of things) there do not have any physical characteristics – no flesh or bones, even though they can be seen and can drink blood and are afraid of swords.   I think, at the end of the day, this is not a coherent picture.  If they can drink blood but don’t have bodies, where ...

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The Body and Soul in Hades

When Odysseus goes to the underworld, he meets with a number of people, but most interesting are his encounter with his own mother (who died after he had set sail, years before, with the Greek armies heading to Troy) and the great Greek hero Achilles, the greatest of the mighty warriors in the war.   The encounters are interesting because they show us how the realm of the dead was being imagined.   There is real pathos in both episodes.  In this ...

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The First Recorded Visit to the Realm of the Dead (in Western literature)

The first account we have of a living human making a trip to the realm of the dead in Western literature is in the Odyssey of Homer.  The Odyssey is about the ten-year attempt of the hero, Odysseus, to return home to Ithaca after the (also ten-year) Trojan war.   Many adventures and mishaps meet him en route.  At about the half-way point of the narrative, in book ten, he is on the island of Aeaea where he has encountered the ...

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