The Birth of Purgatory

I am interested in the question of where the idea of purgatory came from.   Roughly speaking purgatory is a kind of third place, between heaven and hell.   The abject sinners (or those who reject Christ, or whoever you think is destined for punishment) go to hell; the righteous saints go to heaven.  But what about those who will ultimately be saved but who have not lived a good (enough) life?  They go to purgatory.   This has been the standard teaching ...

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The Martyr Perpetua and Her Estranged Family

Yesterday I began to talk about the Martyrdom of Perpetua, one of the most interesting and moving texts to come down to us from early Christianity.   It is an account of a 23-year old Roman matron who is willing to die a gruesome death for her Christian faith.   Among other things, the text shows that her faith is far more important to her than her family.  In particular, she is shown in conflict especially with her father (no husband is ...

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The Martyrdom of Perpetua

A long time ago now I was pursuing a thread on the development of the Christian views of the afterlife but I got side tracked.  And then I got side tracked from my side track.  And then … well, it’s been a long time.  The thread died.  I need to bring it back to life.  So I’m hoping now to begin on the afterlife of the thread on the afterlife.

Over all these months I have continued to read, think, and ...

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My Scholarly Project on the Afterlife

Here is the research proposal that I sent in to various funding agencies hoping to get a leave for next year – including the National Humanities Center, which has given me a fellowship . As you’ll see, it is closely tied to the trade book I am working on about the origins of the Christian ideas of heaven and hell, but it deals with a specific issue at considerable depth.   For the fellowship application I called the prospective book “The ...

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Did Jesus Mean that Literally? Rewards and Punishments in the Afterlife

I return now to my thread dealing with the teachings about the afterlife in the New Testament.  One question that can naturally be asked is whether what is said about the afterlife in this, that, or the other passage is meant to be taken literally.    For example, I have discussed the famous passage of the “Sheep and the Goats” in Matthew 25, where the Son of Man at the end of history sits on his throne and divides the nations ...

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The Sheep and the Goats

Jesus’ teaching about the “separation of the sheep and the goats” is found in only one place in the New Testament, Matthew 25:31-46.  It is easily one of my favorite passages of the entire Bible, and as I have pointed out, in my view, it is a teaching of Jesus himself (not something put on his lips by Matthew or by Matthew’s source, M, or by an early Christian story-teller).  I think in fact, it well encapsulates Jesus’ entire proclamation.  ...

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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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