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Guided Tours of Heaven and Hell in a Christian Mode

I’ve started a short thread describing the academic monograph I’ve started writing, Guided Tours of Heaven and Hell: Otherworldly Journeys in the Early Christian Tradition..  In my last post I describe  two o the most important forerunners of the tradition, the Greek Homer (Odyssey 11) and Roman Virgil (Aeneid 6) — flat out fascinating texts that I’ve become obsessed with.  The Christian versions are similar in ways but also profoundly different.   Here is what I say about them in these reflections on my book-in-progress, written to help me clarify to myself where it’s heading, how it will be structures, and why I think it matters.

I start here by repeating the very end of the previous post to stir up your memory!


The account of the underworld in Virgil does more philosophical work than its predecessor, Homer’s Odyssey, showing not merely that life should be prolonged, but that it must be lived properly (ethically and/or philosophically).    Virgil’s account is often read as potentially hopeful – there is the chance of eternal reward for upright behavior, for example; but in fact it is entirely gloomy.  The vast majority of people have nothing to look forward to but purgatorial cleansing, before returning to the body, dying, and repeating the cycle over and again.

The Christians had a very different view, as embodied most succinctly in the two Near Death Experiences of the Acts of Thomas, one involving a trip to observe the glories of heaven and the other the grisly torments of hell.  Together the accounts convey a single point, rather graphically: the realities of death show that there are two options, eternal bliss or eternal torture, and it is a matter of personal choice.  Either a person believes in Christ and follows his teachings, to inherit paradise forever, or rejects Christ and lives in sin, leading to pure hell.

The theme is elaborated in different ways in ….

Want to know more about heaven and hell?  Keep reading.  But to do so you will need to belong to the blog.  On the other hand, belonging to the blog is pure heaven.  And the small membership fee you pay goes entirely to the charities helping those in need. 

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The Case Against Miracles
Guided Tours of Heaven and Hell: My Scholarly Book



  1. Avatar
    godspell  December 21, 2019

    I must confess, I’ve never read any of your scholarly works, only your mass market books, which are, of course, a lot less expensive (even the ebook versions of scholarly works tend to cost a fortune, and I understand the reasons for that)–but I work for a college library. I have little doubt this book will be added to our collection. Look forward to reading it.

  2. Avatar
    wje  December 21, 2019

    Good evening, Bart. Must be nice to be able to keep on writing and getting paid for it. Good for you. Get it while you can. A few posts back you turned us on to the clergy project. Fascinating website. Some of your stuff here got posted there. They mentioned that you were one of the original members or founders of this organization. Maybe you could post a few blogs on how you got started with this. Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  December 22, 2019

      Thanks! Of course, I do have a day job!

      I can’t remember how exactly I originally got hooked up with the Clergy Project. I suppose one of the founders contacted me, explained what it was, and I gave my enthusiastic support, knowing how hard it is for clergy to realize they no longer believe what they preach.

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    fishician  December 21, 2019

    Still odd to me that these Christian writers can conceive of God meting out such vicious punishments, and for all eternity! Practical question: trade books make money for the publisher by hopefully selling lots of copies. Scholarly books are not going to sell as many copies. So, do they just set the price higher to make their profit? Or is the process for publishing and selling scholarly books altogether different?

    • Bart
      Bart  December 22, 2019

      You know, despite having worked with both kinds of presses for so many years, I don’t really know how they crunch the numbers differently. Yes, scholarly books do tend to be a lot more expensive and to sell a whole lot less. So I suppose that’s how they make up their margins? Most of the American academic presses are connected with universities, and so they receive funding/subsidies from their parent. The process is similar in many ways, but academic presses do not hire marketing and publicity people to work with an author on his / her books, get their authors in front of media, promote the book, try to get it reviewed in the NY Times, and so on. But I really don’t know how the respective budgets break down. I should find out! (Part of the reason I don’t really know is that most of my academic publishing has been with Oxford University Press which also publishes trade and makes a lot of their money out of textbooks — unlike virtually all the other university presses – Yale, Princeton, Harvard, Columbia, Stanford, California, Chicago, etc. etc.)

  4. Avatar
    wwmay  December 23, 2019

    Irvin S. Cobb wrote a letter detailing his desired funeral arrangements. The document reads in part:
    “Above all I want no long faces and no show of grief at the burying ground. Kindly observe the final wishes of the undersigned and avoid reading the so-called Christian burial service which, in view of the language employed in it, I regard as one of the most cruel and paganish things inherited by our forebears from our remote pagan ancestors. In deference to the faith of our dear mother who was through her lifetime a loyal though never bigoted communicant of that congregation, perhaps the current pastor of the First Presbyterian Church would consent to read the Twenty-third Psalm, which was her favorite passage in the Scriptures and is mine since it contains no charnel words, no morbid mouthings about corruption and decay and, being mercifully without creed or dogma, carries no threat of eternal hell-fire for those parties we do not like, no direct promise of a heaven which, if one may judge by the people who are surest of going there, must be a powerfully dull place, populated to a considerable and uncomfortable degree by prigs, time-servers and unpleasantly aggressive individuals. Hell may have a worse climate but undoubtedly the company is sprightlier. The Catholics, with their genius for stage-management, handle this detail better. The officiating clergyman speaks in Latin and the parishioners, being unacquainted with that language are impressed by the majesty of the rolling, sonorous periods without being shocked by tressing allusions and harrowing references.”

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      Bewilderbeast  December 26, 2019

      I believe these guided tours are going to be WAY more popular than your guided tours to Italy and Israel. Specially if the buses are air-conditioned . . We all wanna know . .

      • Bart
        Bart  December 28, 2019

        Air conditioning depends on which place you happy to be.

        • Avatar
          Bewilderbeast  January 5, 2020

          Oh I’d like to peep into both. Then we are coming home, right? This is a return trip, I’m assuming, like all your others . . .

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