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Life after Death in the Bible and Beyond: Webinar with Oxford Press

On April 20, 2020, I did a webinar for Oxford University Press.   I have published three textbooks with Oxford and the textbook division has started hosting these events, principally for college and university professors and their students, but anyone is welcome to sign up and join in.   When they asked me if I’d be interested, I thought it sounded like a great idea; and when they asked what I’d like to do it on, I told them the afterlife.  Of course!  It’s what I’ve been thinking about and doing all my research on for the last four years or so — not what *really* happens in the afterlife (for that I would need more experience, and I’m not eager to have it at this stage of existence, since, well, it will be my last experience and I won’t be able to write about it — but about where the ideas of the afterlife came from, especially those that have been prevalent for most of the past 2000 years.  They entitled the event “Life after Death in the Bible and Beyond.”

Members of the blog and readers of my most recent book will know most of my views about that, but the webinar format makes for a very interesting different kind of experience, much livelier than reading a book or a blog post.  At least from my point of view for as the presenter.  I summarized the major points in about 15 minutes, and then took questions from those tuning in.  That was a bit of a challenge, since there were 640 of them, but the moderator Clare Castro, Marketing Manager for Oxford University Press, took questions in writing either in advance or via Chat, and asked me some of the questions, and I answered them live.  The event took an hour.

There were tons and tons of other questions, so this week Clare and I will have to record another session (it won’t be live) where I do some more of those.   I’ll probably post that one later on the blog, but for now, here is webinar itself.

If you’re interested in my textbooks for further information on this topic or hundreds of others, they are The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to The Early Christian Writings, Seventh Edition; A Brief Introduction to The New Testament, Fourth Edition; and The Bible: A Historical and Literary Introduction, Second Edition.

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  1. Avatar
    Marble13  May 3, 2020

    Still finishing up your book,(fascinating ideas) and did listen to the webnar which was very interesting and helpful. Will look forward to your question/answer when put online. Thanks for your great work. Have a nice day.

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    rivercrowman  May 3, 2020

    Just ordered the 7th Edition of your New Testament textbook. Look forward to it.

  3. kt@rg.no
    kt@rg.no  May 3, 2020

    Well, that was witin the Christian doctrine for some Christian congregations the first centuries, and (perhaps) one of the earliest gospels written (Gospel of Thomas). One of many sayings related to the Kingdom which I like, and in relation to your post

    Saying no. 18
    The disciples said to Jesus, “Tell us, how will our end come?”
    Jesus said, “Have you found the beginning, then, that you are looking for the end? You see, the end will be where the beginning is.
    Congratulations to the one who stands at the beginning: that one will know the end and will not taste death.” .

    Beautifully said.

  4. Avatar
    Poohbear  May 3, 2020

    I wasn’t religious at the time, and it didn’t make me a believer, but I experienced the “near death experience” during a diving accident. That made me the third in my own family to have this experience. For a week before I had a heavy “premonition” this was going to happen.
    Both the premonition and my drowning experience reminded me of stuff I read about the world of twins. Beyond fashions of belief, I appreciate how strange the universe really is.
    The neuropsychiatrist Peter Fenwick did the early research on this topic. This video is utterly fascinating to watch, particularly with people who “experience” things when they have zero brain function.

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    jrohr  May 4, 2020

    What would greatly interest me: Do you think that Jesus’ contemporaries, when they heard him talk about Gehinnom/Gehenna really only thought about the valley in Jerusalem or did they think of the subterranean place of punishment as we find it in the Talmud and in 4 Ezra, which was written roughly at the same time as the later gospels? Of course, every saying of Jesus we have is filtered through Greek language and culture, so it is not necessarily completely authentic, but the usage of Gehenna in Matthew and Luke seems fairly consistent to me. I assume that Jesus may have talked to an audience that was primed to think of Gehenna as a hell-like place or purgatory, where sinners stay 12 months, as it is described in Rabinnical literature. Popular beliefs often have more supernatural elements to them than the “official” version of the religion, which is typically purer. In “Heaven and Hell” you don’t consider such a possibility. Could you explain your reasoning, why this is not relevant?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2020

      The problem is that the Talmud is many centuries later, 4 Ezra many decades later, and do not reflect the situation in Israel in the 20s CE. When Jesus does talk about the fate of the dead (as opposed to the fate of their corpses) he speaks of *destruction* — that is, annihilation. So no, I don’t think he sees it as a place of hellish torment. I don’t speak of popular beliefs that arose long after Jesus’ day in different countries and different contexts because I want to know what he meant in his own day and time.

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    WhenBeliefDies  May 4, 2020

    I really enjoyed this webinar, thank you for doing it and please do keep telling us when you are doing these kind of events. It was a lot of fun to watch along live with a cup of coffee watch along with friends 🙂

  7. Avatar
    JLoSLo  May 4, 2020

    When I watched the webinar it jolted my memory of an article I read in the journal Critical Inquiry many years ago about the phantasmagoria shows in the 1800s and how our conception of ghosts changed because of technology. Where once we thought of ghosts as physical beings, now because of photography and projecting lenses, they could walk through walls, they were translucent, they could fly, etc. So, I plan on reading your book but I wonder how external factors, in the way technology unconsciously changed our conception of ghosts, dictated ancient Jewish and Christian views of the afterlife. You know what I mean? With a volcano nearby, that’s a good model for the Lake of Fire.

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    John  May 4, 2020


    I was just wondering what happened to the Q&A posts you used to do at the week-ends. It was good to have something covered that maybe did not warrant a full post or series of posts. Anyway, something cropped up and it seemed like something worth covering as I could not find anything in the archive.

    It concerns the Criteria of Embarrassment/Dissimilarity. Could you say something about this including how historians might use it to assess such a claim. If that worked out, perhaps you could do some posts on the other criteria and techniques used by historians.

    In terms of background, this came up in discussion with a Christian who said that the story of the women at the tomb in Mark is good evidence that the tomb was empty because of the CofE. When I asked how that was justified, he said that women were not credible witnesses during those times so it must be true. I’m sure you’ve heard this before.

    Would appreciate hearing your thoughts on how and when this criteria can and should be used and also whether this is a reasonable way of assessing the story of the women at the tomb.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 4, 2020

      Yeah, I should think about reviving those. So many other things to post on! But it’s a good idea…. I’ve posted on it before, so before I get back to it, you might just do a word search on teh blog for dissimilarity, and you’ll find myexplanations and examples of how it can be used. But not, it doesn’t explain the empty tomb story — I explain why in several posts. Just search for “women at the tomb”

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    jennyadkins  May 4, 2020

    Question 1 of 3: Can you address the following Old Testament passages and whether they might be indicative that the author believed in an afterlife?

    2 Samuel 12:23 “But now he is dead. Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me.”

    How can David go to his son? He doesn’t say “I shall go to Sheol.” Could he have believed he would be reunited with his son, or go to the place where he was, not merely the state of death he was in?

    Isaiah 25:8-9, “He will swallow up death forever….It will be said on that day, “Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.”

    Hosea 13:14, “I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting?”

    How are we to read the prophets and not envision life after death, or the end of death itself?

    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 5, 2020

      My sense is that hte first one is meant metaphorically: David’s son doesn’t exist any more and so cannot come back from the dead; though David will soon join him in death. Hosea is referring to the nation, not an individual: they will not be destroyed but brought back to life. Isaiah 25 is a bit more complicated: it is in a section of Isaiah known as the “Little Apocalypse” (chs. 24-27) which were written by a different author at a later time fromt he rest of the context, and that embody apocalyptic themes such as those found in Daniel; it is not clear here completely, but it appears that hte author has in mind the apocalyptic notion that death itself will be done away with when God works his act of salvation; in apocalyptic texts that typically means that he will raise the dead, but that’s not clear from this passage at all. It may simply mean that he will reverse the death that came into the world with Adam and Eve.

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    jennyadkins  May 4, 2020

    Questions 2 & 3:

    2. Regarding that Jesus did not believe in a place of eternal torment, do you think that the authors of Matthew and Luke use the future continuous tense “will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” to support their belief in a place eternal torment? Does that tense indicate a prolonged sense of “weeping and gnashing” ?

    3. If Paul’s teachings of the afterlife evolved over the course of his ministry, are any of his eschatological views incongruous or contradictory? Or can they still be viewed in harmony, but with a progressive understanding that the latter teachings build upon the former?

    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 5, 2020

      1. No. They weep because they are being destroyed; 3. Yes, I think he imagined Jesus would return right away early in his ministry and that he would not die before it happened; later he realized he might die and that is when he developed the idea that he would go and live with Christ in the interval before the resurrection.

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    Osuaggiefan  May 19, 2020

    Once more I humbly object to the idea that the canonical New Testament explicitly states that Jesus believed in restored davidic style kingdom. “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, so that where I am, there you may be also.” Wherever Jesus was going according to the John gospel would be where his followers were going. After all he was the way 😉. Once again, our difference of opinion lies with what Jesus actually said vs what the gospels portray him as having said. Do you feel that the influences of your background still sway you to lean toward a premillennialism type disposition? I humbly suggest this, like your previous misunderstanding of baptisms significance, must be revised based on what the text actually says vs what has been erroneously taught. 😊

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    Mebarret  May 19, 2020

    I think this is a very important topic because many of us have grown up with the idea of heaven and hell, and the prospect of eternal suffering for those who aren’t saved. While I have become more of an agnostic, I still feel the influence of my earlier upbringing and suffer from fear about dying. I am a psychologist, and I intend to look into studies about the effects of religious beliefs on one’s psychological well being. Do Buddhists or believers in other religions suffer from similar fears? My sense from spending many years in Thailand and other Asian countries is that Buddhists don’t seem to have the same sense of dread about the afterlife.

    If anyone has some knowledge of research done in this area I would like to know about it. I will share anything I find in my research with members here.

  13. MohammedFawzi
    MohammedFawzi  July 7, 2020

    Dr Bart ..
    Why don’t we see your Books get translated into Arabic ?!

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