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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 a year from now).

I had announced that the book was actually finished months ago, and it was, kind of.   But we still hadn’t settled on a title, and the title mattered because in the Preface of the book I discussed the title as a way of introducing the thesis and themes of the book.  If the title changed, well, that made the discussion irrelevant.

We’ve settled now on the title.  I *had* been calling it “The Invention of the Afterlife,” which a lot of blog readers, and others, rather liked, and a lot of others thought was a bit too much “in your face.”   My editor thought so too.  So we played around with options.  For a while we thought about “The Afterlife: A History.”  Nice, succinct, to the point, rather stately and subtly interesting.  But we decided it didn’t have enough punch.  It didn’t really grab anyone to make them think they really had to read the book.

And so we’ve moved to something kind of in between the two options, and …

The rest of this post is for blog members, who get access to five posts each and every week, archived for the past seven years.  You too can get access to all this — just join the blog.  It won’t cost much, every thin dime goes to charity, and both you and the world at large will be much happier for it!

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My Next Scholarly Book: Visits to Heaven and Hell
Guest Post! Joel Marcus on His New Book on the John the Baptist

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Loring  March 5, 2019

    This sounds very interesting, Bart! I look forward to reading it, and will be signed up with Amazon for same day delivery. I find it intriguing that more people believe in heaven than hell. It seems like people’s views of the afterlife are shaped by self-interest. Do we have polling that shows whether this discrepancy between belief in heaven vs. hell changed significantly over time?

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  2. Avatar
    Judith  March 5, 2019

    Like the title and look forward to reading the book!

  3. Avatar
    nbraith1975  March 5, 2019

    “My strong conviction is that it is best not to wrestle with the Big Questions of life in ignorance, but with as much knowledge as possible.”

    Your statement helped make clear what I have been wrestling with since I began to question my Christian faith several years ago.

    After many decades and countless hours of research and Bible “study,” reading numerous books, attending Bible college and generally “defending” my faith; I have come to but one conclusion: Christianity is a propaganda driven mind control cult that preys on those searching for answers to life’s struggles; and ultimately the afterlife. Simply put, Christianity relies on the ignorance of its followers.

    Your work has been a great help in my journey out of ignorance.

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  4. Avatar
    AstaKask  March 5, 2019

    There are some former Christians and atheists who described how they were – and in some cases still are – tormented by the fear of Hell. Were you ever anxious about that?

    3
    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2019

      for years!

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      • Avatar
        Oikonomos  March 7, 2019

        Does “for years!” refer to your Christian days only? Because if it’s not too personal of and issue to ask about (and by all means ignore it if it is). . . do you ever occasionally have something of a “flashback,” as it were, thinking that may be your old beliefs might be real and you’re heading for divine punishment, even if it’s only brief and rare? There are people who have had similar experiences to your own who, despite all the scholarship, evidence, and philosophical arguments contrary to their old beliefs are so conditioned by the old ways of thinking that it comes back every now and again to nag them. If you had this problem, what helped you shake it off?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2019

          I used to have the flashbacks all the time. But not really any more, as I’ve come to understand more and more about these earlier beliefs and what they were based on

          2
  5. Avatar
    drumbeg  March 5, 2019

    I went to a catholic school but was one of the rare students there that was never baptized. I went to mass every week at school (did not take commune), prayed the rosary, and had bible classes, but my family never went to church or practiced religion in any way. They just hoped it was a good school.

    One day in class the teacher explained that all the people who have never been baptized were going to hell. Period. Forever. I am not sure where it came from inside me but I blurted out “I don’t believe that, I have never been baptized. How can that happen?” The teacher was shocked, because she was not aware at that moment that any students went to the school who were not catholic. She quickly changed the subject and I was haunted for a very long time about how a majority of people could believe such awful, even sadistic ideas about God, but even more so, for at least some time as a young kid, I was haunted by the question of whether or not it was true. Could God do that to so many people? Why?
    To be honest, it just keeps getting more surreal to know that this is a very real issue for how most people see their existence and in the light of (or dark of), structure their lives. I sometimes believe, but can never be sure, that the idea of hell was perpetuated as a way to control people. Of course there are other reasons but it has always been the insistence in conformity of belief that has pushed the idea of hell. Behavior has become secondary or none existent. There is so much that could be said about this subject. The ideas in this book are deeply important and I look forward to reading it and growing in my understating.

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    • Avatar
      drumbeg  March 5, 2019

      spelling corrections; communion…non-existent….understanding 🙂

  6. Avatar
    lmabe10  March 5, 2019

    Thanks for sharing! I have a question related to the research process. How do you organize your thoughts and sources, etc.? Do you use a particular software? Do you employ a specific methodology to make it easier to locate each piece of information as you need it? What does your note-taking process look like?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2019

      Ah, long answer to all that. Maybe I’ll post on it. (Seems like I did once: I’ll look it up!) (Short answer: I definitely don’t use software. For me it’s a waste of time and energy. But I’m naturally very well organized and efficient.)

  7. Avatar
    karlmalcolm  March 5, 2019

    Looking forward to publication of the new book. The title immediately made me think of the classic Black Sabbath song by the same name! Given the controversy in conservative evangelical circles back in 2012 with the publication of Rob Bell’s book ‘Love Wins’ (which I thoroughly enjoyed reading), I have two questions for Professor Ehrman: (1) will he be expecting a derogatory tweet from John Piper? (perhaps along the lines of “Depart, Professor Bart!”), and (2) did Professor Ehrman read ‘Love Wins’? If so, what did he think of the book?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2019

      Yup, I read it and mention it in my book. I thought it was interestig to see from a former evangelical but extremely light-weight (not much to it at the end of the day); still it wasn’t written for scholars.

  8. Avatar
    NancyGKnapp  March 5, 2019

    This looks to be a unique and comprehensive study of a question that we have all wrestled with. It should be on a shelf in every library and in our personal collections as well. I can hardly wait to read it.

  9. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 5, 2019

    Excellent summaries. Your approach reminds me of your “God’s Problem” where you outline that the Bible does not have a single, consistent view of suffering just like it does not have a single, consistent view of heaven and hell..

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  10. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  March 5, 2019

    I think the first summary should very definitely be published in the book. And from the second summary you should append: “The views of the Old Testament are different from those of Jesus, which differ from those of most of the authors of the New Testament. And the original Christians in fact did not think that a person’s soul goes to heaven for eternal bliss or hell for eternal torment. So where did that idea come from? My book tries to answer the question.

    No one, of course, can really know what happens after death. But many — possibly most – people are gripped by the question. My strong conviction is that it is best not to wrestle with the Big Questions of life in ignorance, but with as much knowledge as possible. Part of that knowledge involves seeing when and why common views of life (and death) arose, changed, and developed.

    And so, even though my book will not provide a definitive answer to what happens when we die, it will provide information to help people wrestling with their own mortality.”

  11. Avatar
    fedcarroll77  March 5, 2019

    This seems like a great overview of your new trade nook. Looking forward to the ending product.

    Off topic question though…. so I was going through Mark’s passion narrative. I come across in 14:51 about a young man clothed with only a linen cloth. This verse seems out of the norm of the total story. I have no idea why it is there in the first place. Then I get to the empty tomb in chapter 16:5. Where the women go into the tomb and find a young man dressed in a white robe. This might be a stretch but can we correlate both verses as meaning the same young man? Why are your thoughts on this Professor? To me this could be a stretch because it prompts the imagination, but I also cannot read over verse 51 as being unrelated or even irrevelant. There seems to something g there that the writer is trying to say. Not sure what it is though. Looking forward to your response.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2019

      Ah, probably the most debated verse in Mark’s Gospel. A full discussion would take too much space in a comment. I’ll think about posting on it. (Maybe I have already! I’ll check)

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  12. Avatar
    Ask21771  March 5, 2019

    What do you say to the claims that the forty years between jesus death and the writing of the gospel of mark werent a long enough time for the true stories of jesus to turn into the myths of the bible

    1
    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2019

      I think it’s a crazy idea. I’ve heard stories about me that are absolutely not true that started just a day later!! Anyway, this whole issue is the topic of my book Jesus Before the Gospels.

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      • Avatar
        DennisJensen  March 7, 2019

        Ask21771 5mr19 “claims that the forty years between jesus death and the writing of the gospel of mark werent a long enough time for the true stories of jesus to turn into the myths of the bible.”

        Bart 6mr19 “It’s a crazy idea.”

        But you are assuming that people like Peter and other eyewitnesses were not constantly repeating their stories to new (and old) believers. No, we have no solid evidence that they did, but we have none that they did not. But with that shouldn’t we assume that it is more likely that they did. If they were repeating the stories, much of your critique of the oral history goes out the window.

        Furthermore, there’s good evidence that Peter was Mark’s source. Papias, 120-130, said so. Sure, Papias was apt to believe some pretty bizarre stories that were circulating (he thought Judas’ body blotted to the width of a street, etc.) but that doesn’t mean his basic claims for his sources shouldn’t be accepted. Just because someone makes a mistake at some time in their life and believes some wild stories doesn’t mean you should discount his claims when he said he heard x from so and so or y from so and so. If he told us where he got the Judas story, we wouldn’t on that account doubt it. Again, Mark could have been written earlier in the 60s and Q (most of Jesus’ teachings) in the 50s. So I have to admit that I find some of your arguments weak.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 8, 2019

          I think you need to read my book Jesus Before the Gospels. It’s where I discuss all this at great length. (I deal a *lot* with eyewitness testimony)

          • Avatar
            DennisJensen  March 8, 2019

            Bart 8mr19. “you need to read my book Jesus Before the Gospels”

            I did read it. That’s why I’m bringing up this critique. I don’t think you adequately answered these points. You give a good case that many long term (and even some short term) remembrances can be mistaken, but you don’t adequately take into account cases where stories and teachings are constantly being repeated, as it seems most likely occurred at the beginning of the church.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 10, 2019

            Yes, that’s one of the main topics I cover in the book, based on what we know about the repetition of oral traditions over time.

            1
        • Avatar
          SidDhartha1953  March 16, 2019

          If Papias wrote between 120-130, how can he be a credible witness to the claim that Peter was Mark’s source? Peter had been dead nearly 60 years, so it’s unlikely that Peter had told him so. Mark (or whatever his real name was) wrote around 70, (or earlier, you suggest) which means the chances are slim to none that AKA Mark ever spoke to Papias. Papias either made it up or repeated a rumor he had heard from someone who heard it from someone….

          • Avatar
            DennisJensen  March 17, 2019

            Papias said that the Elder “used to say” that Mark got this from Peter: “as Peter’s interpreter [he] wrote down accurately as many things as he [Peter] recalled from memory . . . of the things either said or done by the Lord. . . . Peter . . . used to give his teachings. . . .” (Eusebius, Hist. Ecc. 3.39.14-16) The Elder could have been John the Apostle or someone else called John the Elder, either of whom could have been witnesses to Jesus’ life. If neither or if the Elder was not a witness to Jesus’ life, he was at least someone highly esteemed from the early church who would have likely known the origins of Mark’s Gospel. When Papias wrote this, he was speaking of events occurring years earlier when the Elder was alive when Papias had met him.

        • Avatar
          jeremymwest  March 18, 2019

          Professor Ehrman addresses this topic in several other posts on this blog in addition to his books. Using Papias as proof of authorship of the gospels is problematic at almost every level. He’s completely wrong about things he reports (the Judas tale and other quotations from Jesus), the things he reports about Mark and Matthew get key facts incorrect, and all of the info Papias received is hearsay collected by other people. It’s the worst possible witness you might want to put on a witness stand in court, and yet he’s constantly being trotted out as evidence for the reliability of the gospels.

          • Avatar
            DennisJensen  March 18, 2019

            jeremymwest 18mr19
            Sorry Jeremy but you are wrong on just about every point you bring up. I already mentioned the Judas tale and argued that this is not enough to dispute Papas’ credibility for his claim to the origins of Mark’s Gospel. You have no grounds to say he gets anything wrong about Matthew and Mark. He did not receive hearsay information but claims he got it all from a credible source well known in his day. If you just dismiss his account because all we have is his word, then what other ancient historical documents can be accepted? Don’t we just accept them because someone who is supposedly in a position to know says that the purported author did write them? Unless you can refute the specific arguments I’ve brought up and support the other claims you’ve made, your claim that he is the “worst possible witness” is just an empty claim. Bring up the arguments one by one and we can argue them one by one. Otherwise we will just end up talking through each other.

  13. Avatar
    fishician  March 5, 2019

    Like the last 2 posts about homosexuality, I think the afterlife is also an area in which people operate on assumptions and traditions that may or may not have any Biblical basis. Really looking forward to this book!

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  14. Avatar
    flcombs  March 5, 2019

    Looking forward to reading your new book even if “just for the hell of it…”

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  15. Avatar
    XanderKastan  March 5, 2019

    The theory that Luke originally didn’t have it’s first 2 chapters still would have the preface as original, right?

  16. fefferdan
    fefferdan  March 5, 2019

    Congratulations on the book! And congratulations to me for joining the blog! Seems to me that the biblical concept of the afterlife began as a shadowy netherworld [Sheol]. I’ve always loved the story of Saul’s communication with Samuel through the medium of Endor [who gets a bum rap when she’s called a witch]. The concept seems to have evolved to include the idea of heaven and hell , probably through cultural interactions with Zoroastrianism during the Babylonian Exile. The angelic world was described by prophets such as Ezekiel, and further developed in the intertestamental period until by the time of Jesus there were lively debates between the Pharisees, who said yes to the afterlife, and the Sadducees, who said no. Jesus sided with the Pharisees, but I’ve always been disappointed in his answer that life in the world to come involves no marriage [and presumably no sex]. In this case, I for one hope he [or whoever wrote this particular verse] was wrong!

    Question to Dr. Ehrman: why do you suppose Mathew does not include this story, but Luke and Mark do?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 6, 2019

      Welcome to the blog! The story is in Matthew 22:23-33, no?

      1
      • fefferdan
        fefferdan  March 6, 2019

        Oops… my search words were poorly chosen! Thanks.

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  17. Avatar
    mikezamjara  March 6, 2019

    What do you think of this suggestion for the title: “The path to the lakes of fire and the narrow gates: evolution of the afterlife in early christianity”. Maybe you could change the depctions of hell and heavens for another way the bible calls them. Whichever the title could be ¿What do you think would be the title pf the response to your book that the fundamentalists would write inmediaty?

  18. Avatar
    Paul  March 6, 2019

    Bart, Can’t wait to read it…. You may have mentioned previously, but I was wondering what books you read for your research? Could you list some of them?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2019

      I probably read 100 or 150. The two best thorough treatments by scholars are the books on Afterlife by Alan Segal (especially), and Jan Bremmer.

  19. Avatar
    sladesg  March 6, 2019

    I’ve been looking forward to this book for years now; I can’t wait!

  20. Avatar
    Apocryphile  March 6, 2019

    I like the new title! People are obviously familiar with the concepts of Heaven and Hell, and I think the subtitle will get them intrigued and “reel them in”. I agree with your editor that “Invention” would have been too in-your-face and would have turned off a lot of folks before they even picked up the book. In any case, the concept of an afterlife and its various cultural iterations wasn’t something that was ‘invented’ by someone, or reached through the consensus of some group. Its true origins are lost in the mists of prehistory, as are the origins of religion itself. Looking forward to reading this one!

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