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, ...

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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.  ...

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Enoch’s Vision of the Realms of the Dead

In discussing the research I’m doing on (human) journeys to the realm(s) of the dead, I have so far mentioned two in particular that occur outside of Christian circles and much earlier: the famous account of Odysseus’s vision of the dead in Homer’s Odyssey book 11 and Aeneas’s journey to the underworld in Virgil’s Aeneid, book 6.   These are very similar to one another (since Virgil was basing his account on Homer’s) but also very different: in particular, whereas in ...

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A Roman Vision of Heaven and Hell

In our world, most people who think about the afterlife suppose that when we die we either cease to exist or receive our due rewards (rewards/punishments).  I have pointed out that the latter view did not originate in Jewish or Christian circles, but in pagan, going back some time before the Greek philosopher Plato in the fourth century BCE.   The Greeks influenced their later conquerors the Romans in many, many ways, one of which involves their views of the afterlife.  ...

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Did Ancient Greeks Invent Heaven and Hell?

Back, for a post, to the scholarly project I’m now doing on the “katabasis” traditions in early Christianity – the stories of people being given tours of / visions of both heaven and hell.   Some readers of the blog may be confused about why, on a blog devoted to the study of the New Testament and Early Christianity, I would want to discuss the Odyssey of Homer or the Aeneid of Virgil, etc.   It’s because I very much want to ...

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An Early Otherworldly Journey

Back to my scholarly monograph on Otherworldly Journeys.   I pointed out in previous posts that when scholars became particularly interested in these various accounts in ancient Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian circles, they were particularly intrigued with the question of where the idea came from, that a living person could see the realms of the dead.  I then devoted a couple of posts to exploring why, in the 19th century, this was a matter of such interest.

I don’t at all ...

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The Passion for Origins

After I had engaged for a couple of months doing some real research and thinking seriously about my scholarly book on visions of and journeys to the realms of heaven and hell (tentatively entitled, for now, Otherworldly Journeys: Katabasis Traditions in Early Christianity), I thought I might start it all by doing a kind of history of research.   This is how scholarly books commonly used to start – especially books of German scholarship and American dissertations.  Chapter one would be ...

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The Original Obsession with Trips to the Afterlife

I have been interested in the early Christian texts that describe tours or visions of heaven and hell for a long time – I suppose since, when in graduate school, I first heard about the Apocalypse of Peter, which I have described on the blog before.   That’s not the sort of text we would have been reading at Moody Bible Institute.  (!)   But its description of the torments in hell – brief, yet lurid accounts of what will happen to ...

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My Next Scholarly Book: Visits to Heaven and Hell

As I have indicated on the blog before, I like to mix up the various kinds of research and writing projects that I do.  My time is not split evenly, but over the years I have written scholarly books for scholarly audiences, trade books for the wider reading public, and textbooks for college-level students.   Usually it’s one thing at a time, but as it turns out now I’m in the midst of three tasks – revising two of my textbooks ...

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Heaven and Hell, Finally

As I indicated earlier, I’m thinking about doing a series of posts on the various research and writing projects on my plate.   As of yesterday, my trade book on the afterlife is finished and moving into production (meaning that it will now go to a copy editor to deal with grammar and style, correct typos, etc.; it will then come back to me to review his/her suggested corrections; it will then….  and so it goes, till it comes out in ...

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