As I indicated in my previous post, I’ve decided to write a scholarly book on tours of heaven and hell in ancient Christian texts.  I am tentatively calling the book “Observing the Dead: Otherworldly Journeys in the Early Christian Tradition.”   I decided last week to come up with a 1000 word sketch of what I am thinking so far, about what the book would be and why it is needed.   This is just a draft for my own thinking, written for scholars more than for layfolk.  But it’s pretty clear and understandable I think, and can indicate how/what I’m thinking in the broadest terms at this point.  Tell me what you think!


My project entails an exploration of early Christian texts that narrate voyages to the realms of heaven and hell, depicting, often in graphic detail, the ecstasies of the blessed and the torments of the damned.   My overarching goal will be to elucidate not only various conceptions of the mysteries of the beyond, but even more to explore how such afterlife journeys embody and project richly varied Christian understandings of the goals and priorities of life in the present.

Similar stories of katabasis (“Descent”) and anabasis (“Ascent”) can be found in numerous ancient literatures from the very beginning – including famous accounts in both the Gilgamesh epic and the Odyssey.   Such …

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