I’ve been explaining how the tours to heaven and hell – both of them Near Death Experiences – in the Acts of Thomas are meant to show the Christian alternatives to Greek and Roman views of the afterlife. For early Christians it would not be a dull and boring, powerless and mindless existence for all eternity, as it is depicted in the oldest Greek sources, and it would not require hundreds of years of “purging” where the stains of wickedness are washed out through painful cleansing (e.g., through being thrust into fire or a violent whirlpool for centuries), as in Plato and Virgil. It would be eternal joy or eternal punishment, one or the other, depending on whether you believed in Christ or not.
Christians thus provided the ultimate and rather simply answer for life to the ultimate question about death. But even here there was more than a simple binary (one or the other). The punishments in hell in the Acts of Thomas for example, appear to be graded in order to be commensurate with sin. Different sins are given different penalties (the odd assumption seems to be that everyone has only one characteristic sin: some are adulterers, some are slanderers, some mistreat their parents… In my experience, at least, well, it ain’t like that…). And so thieves are hanged by their hands over eternal flames for all eternity; male adulterers by their genitals. So maybe some sins/punishments are worst than others.
Even more clear-cut, however, are the …
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