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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The Afterlife in the Hebrew Bible: Sheol

When trying to figure out where the Christian ideas of heaven and hell came from, an obvious place to start is with the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus himself held to the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures.   To be sure, there was not a completely fixed canon in his day, which all Jews everywhere agreed to.  But virtually all Jews we know of ascribed to the high authority (and Mosaic authorship) of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy); and most ...

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Eternal Life and Damnation

In my summaries of the Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of Paul, as a couple of readers noticed, there was a striking difference in emphasis.  Both of these early Christian texts (the first from the second century, the other from the fourth or possibly the fifth?) narrate guided tours of the realms of the blessed and of the damned, and both seem more interested in describing the torments of the lost than the ecstasies of the saved.

The former focuses ...

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Another Gory Account of the Afterlife: The Apocalypse of Paul

Yesterday I discussed the first surviving Christian account of a tour of heaven and hell, an apocalypse allegedly, but not really, written by Jesus’ disciple Peter.   Here is one other, this time allegedly, but not really, written by the Apostle Paul.   I have taken this description from my book Forgery and Counterforgery (which I have revised a bit to get rid of some of the scholarly jargon).

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Far more influential on the history of Christian thought than the Apocalypse of ...

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Touring Hell: The Apocalypse of Peter

I am about ready now (I think!) to dig more deeply into a thread on the Invention of the Afterlife – the tentative title of the book that I *hope* will be my next one.  I’ve been putting off starting the thread in earnest because, in fact, I don’t feel particularly ready for it.  I’m just at the preliminary stage of my reading and have many dozens of books I need to work through before I can even think about ...

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What I’m Thinking about the Afterlife

I became interested in writing this book about the afterlife a couple of years ago, when I realized with unexpected clarity – out of the blue (I don’t know what sparked my thinking) – that the views most people have are not from the Bible.  Many people, of course, do not believe in the afterlife at all.  But at least in my parts of the world (both where I grew up, and where I have lived my life, first Chicago, ...

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Does the Afterlife Matter for Other Things?

This past Friday I went up to NYC to meet with my editor, and the marketing team, at my new publisher Simon & Schuster, both to discuss the next book coming out in September AND to talk (with my editor herself) about the possible new book, the one I am tentatively calling The Invention of the Afterlife (dealing with the question of where the widespread views of heaven and hell come from, especially since they are not actually what the ...

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