Journeys to Heaven and Hell: A Sketch of My Project

As I indicated in my previous post, I’ve decided to write a scholarly book on tours of heaven and hell in ancient Christian texts.  I am tentatively calling the book “Observing the Dead: Otherworldly Journeys in the Early Christian Tradition.”   I decided last week to come up with a 1000 word sketch of what I am thinking so far, about what the book would be and why it is needed.   This is just a draft for my own thinking, written ...

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My New Scholarly Project

I have a lot more to say about the development of the views of the afterlife in ancient Jewish and Christian thinking – specifically, about how we got from an understanding that there would be a resurrection of the body (the view I’ve been discussing) to the idea that when a person dies, their soul (not their body) goes to heaven or hell —  the view most (not the *vast* majority, of course) people have today.   It’s a good thing ...

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Physical Persecution and the Physical Resurrection of the Dead

In this post I’m thinking out loud rather than making a definitive statement.   A question occurred to me a week or so ago that, since I am on the road and rather unsettled just now, I have not had a chance to look into.  Maybe someone on the blog knows the answer.  Prior to the persecution of Jews by Antiochus Epiphanes in 167 BCE, do we have a record of *any* group of people in the entire Mediterranean world being ...

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A Resurrection for Tortured Jews (2 Maccabees)

I have pointed out that the notion of “resurrection” first appears in Jewish writings in the book of Daniel, and I am arguing that this notion is intrinsically connected with the apocalyptic view of the world that developed at the time.  In this view of the world, as I’ve laid it out on the blog before (e.g.: https://ehrmanblog.org/the-rise-of-apocalypticism/) the people of God suffer *not* necessarily because God is punishing them for their sins but because there are forces of ...

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Was Resurrection a Zoroastrian Idea?

I have been arguing that at some point before the middle of the second century BCE, Jewish thinkers developed the idea that death was not the end of the story, that people did not simply end up in the netherworld of Sheol for all eternity, a place of no pleasure, pain, excitement, or even worship of Yahweh.  Instead, at the end of the age, God would raise people from the dead, and the faithful would be rewarded with eternal bliss.

There ...

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Daniel and a New Doctrine of Resurrection from the Dead

Biblical scholars have long held that the first relatively clear and certain reference to a doctrine of “the resurrection of the dead” occurs in Daniel 12.   This is striking, since Daniel was almost certainly the final book of the Hebrew Bible to be written.  Because of the barely disguised allusions to Antiochus Epiphanes in the second half of the book, it is almost always dated to roughly the Maccabean period, in the 160s BCE.

As I have indicated, in the prophets ...

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A Resurrection of the Dead in the Prophet Ezekiel?

In this thread I have started to argue that a new view of the afterlife began to emerge within ancient Israel around the time of the Maccabean revolt.  For some Jewish thinkers it was no longer satisfying to imagine that God rewards the righteous and punishes the wicked in this life.  That clearly was not happening.

The oppressive policies of the Syrian monarch Antiochus Epiphanes showed that the people of God suffer precisely when they followed the law of God, not ...

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The Origins of Heaven and Hell

Where did the idea of a “differentiated” afterlife come from?  I’m not overly fond of the word “differentiated,” since it’s not one we normally use.  But for the moment I can’t think of a better one for the phenomenon I’m thinking of.

An “undifferentiated” afterlife is one in which everyone has the same experience: there is no difference between one person and the next.  It doesn’t matter if the person lived a good life, was kind to strangers, was meek, humble, ...

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Background to The Christian Afterlife: The Maccabean Revolt: A Blast from the (Recent) Past!

Back in April I was in the middle of a thread about the afterlife, and now, after this unusual hiatus, I am able and eager to return to it.  For those of you who were with us at the time, you may remember that this is the topic of the book I am working on now, that I have been reading massively about for most of the past year.  My views have developed, changed, and deepened since April.  I’ve had ...

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Returning from the Dead in the Hebrew Bible

In thinking about Sheol and death in the Hebrew Bible, it is worth reflecting on passages where the dead come back to life or are contacted by the living.  This does not happen much at all – a couple of instances of resuscitation and one of necromancy.

Probably the most famous resuscitation – the bringing back to life of a dead person – involves the prophet Elijah in 1 Kings 17:17-24.   Elijah has been helping an unnamed widow from the town ...

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