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Moving to My Next Book

As I mentioned some time ago, I’ve decided to slow down a bit and enjoy life a bit more.   Since 1992 – that is, over the past 25 years – I have written or edited thirty books.  I’m not going to stop.  But I’m thinkin’ it’s time to ease off a bit.  Is there a reason I publish a book a year?  Not that I can think of.

I’ve done it because it’s my passion.  Well, one of my passions.  I am a bit obsessed with the history of early Christianity and all that it entails.  My books have covered a wide range of fields within that broader area.  And I have tried to keep up publishing three different kinds of books: scholarly books for the academics; textbooks for the colleges students; and trade books for the general reading public.

It’s been hard to balance all that, especially since I’ve tried to publish a new trade book every two years.  I’ve had to do the other books in my spare time, such as it is, and as it turns out these other books are harder for me to do.  The scholarly books are *really* hard.  My last one, Forgery and Counterforgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics is a 600-pager that I’m more proud of it than of anything else I’ve ever written.  But it was an incredible amount of work, years in the making.

Anyway I’m not feeling as driven now to keep up the pace.  For this year and next, at least  I’m going to work on just one project.   The problem is that I’m not sure what it’s going to be.

I have spent the past six months reading about the afterlife.  At the end of this week I’m flying up to New York to talk with my publisher about whether they would be interested in a book on the subject.  I’m hoping they are, but there is really no way to know.

So here’s the deal….

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Views of the Afterlife
The First Textual Variant in the Gospel of Mark

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Comments

  1. Clyde Stewart  February 28, 2017

    I hope you can write the book on the afterlife.




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    • qaelith2112  March 2, 2017

      Agreed. I too am intensely interested in how these views developed over the ages. I’ve read a good assortment on how the Satan character developed but not so much on broader issues of the afterlife.




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  2. heathtperkins  February 28, 2017

    Bart,
    I’ve been telling everyone I know that you are contemplating writing a book on the afterlife. Both my Christian and non Christian friends alike seemed genuinely excited. The afterlife drives so much of our beliefs. I taught a class more than a year ago and everyone wanted to talk about the afterlife. I remember finding very little information concerning the historicity of heaven/hell outside of someone dying, going to heaven, and then returning to write a book or make a movie on the experience. Real history on the afterlife is hard to find. Many folks might not find the authorship of the Bible as interesting as I do, but I’m confident a book on the afterlife would peak their interest. Please write this book!
    Heath




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    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

      Your comment reminds me of the TV series “God” or “A History of God,” narrated by Morgan Freeman. It wasn’t about God: it was about humans and their beliefs about God. Whether such beliefs actually tell us anything about the alleged God is another matter. Likewise, I don’t think there is an history of the afterlife, just a history of people’s beliefs about the afterlife. No one has come back and reported on their life after death except by going way beyond the evidence of their “near-death experiences.” The only thing that has ever titillated by intellect are the autobiographical stories by Paramahansa Yogananda of his past lives in his “Autobiography of a Yogi.” But the transfer of souls in the process of reincarnation is a far cry from eternal life with God.




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  3. pruffin  February 28, 2017

    I, for one, am very interested in reading your articles on this topic.
    I think I know where it will end up, but getting there will be the thing.




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  4. tskorick  February 28, 2017

    That is a fascinating subject, and a cinch for any theology to make claims about because there is no way to prove or disprove them! 🙂 I think you’ll have your work cut out for you just defining the “soul.” I’ve heard every opinion from academics claiming it’s just a monitoring system evolved to protect their host bodies to philosophers claiming it’s data storage to physicists droning on and on about quantum field theory and the myth of identity. All have certain merit as well as certain giant gaping holes in their reasoning.




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  5. Todd  February 28, 2017

    When your new book, The Triumph of Christianity, is published, I will buy it. If you are able to publish a book dealing with the after life I will be very eager to read that as well…that is an issue which is highly prioritized in Christianity, but is in a state of intellectual confusion and misunderstanding, in my opinion. Please use all your strength and influence to convince your publisher that such a book is a worthwhile and profitable project. I will buy it, for sure !!




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  6. 3dees  February 28, 2017

    Please consider the following topic for a book or blog.

    In the New Testament, there are several references to “as prophecized” … where the New Testament writer found a prophecy in the Old Testament and adapted it to “prove” whatever miraculous point he/she was trying to make in the New Testament.

    I think a complete list and discussion of these adapted prophecies would be very welcome and interesting. (one short chapter per prophecy?) What did the prophecy REALLY refer to in the Old Testament and then how was it morphed into “proof” of a New Testament allegation. Obviously, the Virgin Birth is one such adapted prophecy. Where did this come from in the OT and what did it mean in its original context? I know you have referred to these in your lectures and books, but I would like to see a consolidated list and discussion.

    Thank you for your consideration of this idea. If, in fact, there already is such a book, will you please refer me to it?

    ps. my spell check is determined to change “prophecized” to “propagandize” …maybe that is the true definition of what the NT authors were trying to do!




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      Interesting idea!




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    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

      Not that the Jews themselves didn’t also later reinterpret passages in their scriptures, but some of the passages that Christians later claimed were prophecies were not prophecies to begin with or not in a future tense and none of them said anything explicit about Jesus but things about Jesus were read into them in order to join the dots where before there was no connection. The idea of the virgin birth seems to come from Isaiah 7:14. Most non-fundamentalist NT scholars think the proper translation there is “young woman,” not “virgin.”




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    • Kwolck  March 19, 2017

      I too love this idea.




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  7. talmoore
    talmoore  February 28, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, if I could offer a few suggestions.

    For starters, I don’t believe a book about the afterlife would be a hard sell. Simply compare the size of the “religion” section of any book store with the size of the “New Age/spiritual” section. Even those people who choose to identity as “spiritual” rather than “religious,” even those people are obsessed with the nature of the soul and the afterlife. I mean, just look at the success of The Purpose Driven Life. What does Warren suggest our ultimate purpose is? The afterlife in heaven or hell, of course. As military generals would say, it’s a target-rich environment. I can’t imagine it would be a hard sell.

    Also, this is a subject that, more than ever, needs to be discussed and debated in our national dialogue. When we have lawmakers and leaders making important political decisions based on their belief in the afterlife, it has tremendous, sometimes deleterious, effects on the country. For instance, one reason evangelicals are so quick to dismiss the effects of climate change is that many of them believe that God is in total control of whatever happens, and if He wants to destroy humanity again, He will, and if He doesn’t, then so be it. It’s the next life that should concern us, not this one. That’s a very, very, VERY dangerous level of religiously inspired dismissiveness. This is something that Sam Harris talks about regularly, that people’s belief in the afterlife makes them complacent and dismissive towards real problems in the real world. And these beliefs of others can have negative effects on the lives of those who don’t believe in an afterlife, people like you and me who are actively trying to make THIS world a better place, not just for us, but for posterity, as well. (Incidentally, did you ever get in contact with Harris?)

    Lastly, unfortuntely, I don’t think this is a topic you can adequately untangle and explore within simply the Judeo-Christian framework. The concept of the afterlife is so ubiquitous in all human cultures that it seems that the skills of a thorough-going anthropologist are needed. I mean, I have yet to read a sample of religious scripture from any culture that does NOT talk about the afterlife and the destiny of the soul to some extent. Even the relatively secular Confucians talk about sacrificing to the spirits of ancient kings and heroes. The Buddhist texts, which are not known to be particularly obsessed with the gods, still focus heavily on reaching an exalted state after death (Nirvana in Buddhism, Moksha in Hinduism). (The Dhammapada is a good intro into Buddha’s teachings.) The Zoroastrians seek a union with their supreme god Ahura Mazda after death, following a great eschatological drama suspiciously similiar to that of the Abrahamic religions. The Norse had Valhalla. And even the Greeks and Romans had Elysian and Elysium, respectively. Indeed, even Plato seems obsessed with the destiny of the soul after death. Plato’s description of divine judgment and the afterlife at the end of his Gorgias, for example, reads like something Augustine would write, being so detailed in its depiction of the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the righteous. So I guess what I’m saying is, to truly tackle this subject, you might need to take a dive into the world of comparative religion. It’s simply too vast a topic to do it justice otherwise.




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  8. RonaldTaska  February 28, 2017

    What in the world could be more important then the question of whether or not there is an afterlife? Isn’t this the ultimate question that is behind Christianity and most other religions? Since death worries all of us, what could be more important than whether or not there is an afterlife? So, I hope the trip goes well.

    That the afterlife is not part of the Old Testament has always puzzled me, but moving onto Jesus and early Christianity, what about the phrase attributed to Jesus about His going to prepare a place for us (John 14: 2-4)? Is that a view developed decades after the death of Jesus and not something actually said by Jesus? If so, where did the idea come from? I guess that is the purpose of the book.




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      Yes, it’s one of the many (most) puzzling statements in the NT! I hope to figure it out.




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    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

      I hope you look into why there is little on the afterlife in the Hebrew Scriptures. It should make one stop and think again about whether the question of an afterlife is as important as you think. Judaism evolved to have as its main emphasis Tikkun Olam–the healing or repairing of the world. Most Jews I know (non-Orthodox) do not concern themselves with the afterlife. They figure all they can do is to do the best they can in this life and the rest will have to take care of itself or God will take care of the rest. Personally, I don’t think it’s important at all. It’s too mysterious and has too many variants in the various spiritual traditions to think we can get to the truth of it all. Was it Bonhoeffer who said, “Some questions are not meant to be answered, but transcended”?




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  9. TWood
    TWood  February 28, 2017

    I’d bet that’d be your biggest seller yet… no doubt it’s a subject more people are curious about/interested in… Do you think Jesus and Paul believed in the annihilation of those who weren’t Christians?




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      I don’t think so, but am not sure yet.




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    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

      I don’t think Jesus knew what a Christian was. His mission was to the Jews.




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  10. Rockwine  February 28, 2017

    Rockwine

    Bart,
    I agree that the afterlife is a profoundly important topic. This applies to everyone but particularly to those who belong to the Roman Catholic Church. After the period of Constantine the church rapidly gained domination. Fear of hell was one of their powerful tools. The Fathers Of The Church had rejected women and condemned sex. In the eyes of the church even thinking about sex could be a reason for eternal damnation – a mortal sin. What was a red-blooded man to do?
    Violence emerged as the obvious solution. He could leave home with his fellow soldiers and murder heretics or pagans and probably rape their women as soldiers were meant to do. This of course was all blessed by the church. Thus the afterlife became a major weapon in the armory of the church. Unfortunately it is still very influential.
    In fact the triumph of Christianity and the obsession with hell has distracted people from consideration of vital environmental issues. Birth control a crucial issue in the survival of the human race is forbidden under pain or mortal sin.
    One last thought. Near-death experiences as they are often called could offer glimpses of life after life. As far as I can find out there are credible witnesses walking around today who can show solid evidence for death, experiences after death, and return to life.




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  11. Wilusa  February 28, 2017

    It seems to me (possibly a wrong impression) that you’re talking about two different things here.

    “Virtually everyone I know has questions or an opinion about what happens when we die. It is, well, rather relevant to us all. And I’m interested in writing a book about how the widely held beliefs about the afterlife came into existence.”

    “Most people I know (in Christian America) who believe in an afterlife think that when you die, your soul goes to heaven or hell, to be rewarded or punished…That’s what I’d like the next book to be about.”

    Are you going to be dealing with “widely held beliefs” (which definitely include reincarnation), or *only* the specifically Christian notions of heaven and hell (which are *not* “relevant to us all”)?




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      I’m not sure. But I certainly cannot deal with matters relevant to “all” people. That would require about a thousand books!




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  12. rburos  February 28, 2017

    I am personally more interested in The Triumph of Christianity than anything else you have written. It is the question I keep coming back to and am really grateful for your efforts (conceding the argument of whether or not the early church was right–how did they win?) Uffda September is such a long way off. . . But I would be very interested in learning if, for instance, the afterlife was either simply part of the sales pitch or an important and necessary theological development? If so, would a presentation of thoughts on the afterlife be an excursus from Triumph? Would one NEED to read Triumph in order to understand Afterlife?




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      I do mention views of afterlife in Triumph, but much the reason you mention.




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  13. AlaskaRoy  February 28, 2017

    Great topic! I’m sure that there would be a lot of interest in that book. You can tell you publisher that I said so. 😉




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  14. ask21771  February 28, 2017

    Is there any proof 2 Thessalonians was talking about the then immediate future and not the distant one




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      No *proof*. But the author is explaining to his readers why a few things have to happen before the end, and that would suggest that both he and they thought this information was relevant to them (living at the time)




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  15. doug  February 28, 2017

    How beliefs about an afterlife, particularly Christian/Jewish beliefs, originated and developed is of interest to me. I’d buy your book on that. Any controversies/differences in early Christianity (or before that) about what the afterlife would be like would be interesting, too (including people of that era who perhaps did not believe in an afterlife).




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  16. godspell  February 28, 2017

    There have always been a wealth of ideas about the afterlife within Christianity. The problem lies in the fact that what most people really want is to live an improved version of the lives they already have. Jesus preached that he who loses his life will save it, and he who saves his life will lose it. Most Christians have never understood this teaching. Perhaps most never will.

    A poem we New Yorkers see on the subway sometimes, as part of something called “Poetry in Motion”. This is what most Christians dream of. How much they really believe in it I could not possibly say. Nor am I sure whether the poet believes it, but he’s correctly interpreting the emotions involved.

    http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2011/09/03

    Anyway, it’s a great idea for a book, and I wish you luck with your pitch.




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  17. TBeard  February 28, 2017

    In any of your books have you covered in depth, the difference between how Jesus’ brother James viewed the faith, more from a Jewish standpoint, and how Paul viewed the faith? Am I correct to assume the main reason for today’s Christianity is because of Paul?




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    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      I haven’t, mainly because we have no direct access to the beliefs of James. And yes, Paul became immensely important eventually.




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  18. Hume  February 28, 2017

    I will give you 1 Million dollars if you write this book. It would be amazing.




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  19. Eskil  February 28, 2017

    I’m really waiting for this book. I think it should have potential to be a best seller.

    Christians all over the world are teaching their kids that there is Hell where all the bad people, non-believers, heretics, etc. will go and suffer. It will be a news to many that Jesus, apostles, Paul and other early Christians did not tell about Hell to their followers.

    I’m also waiting for Bart’s debates with conservative Christians that will try to convince listeners that Devil and Hell exists and that Christians should continue believing in them.




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    • Robby  March 1, 2017

      I’ve heard that Jesus taught
      more on hell then heaven.




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      • Eskil  March 3, 2017

        I assume that you are referrer to geennan? Even if “Gehenna” doesn’t mean the valley next to Jerusalem as explained by No-Hellers: http://what-the-hell-is-hell.com/topics/hellphotos/ no Christian denomination teaches that you can avoid hell by cutting off one of your legs and becoming crippled like Jesus does in bible: “if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life [zōēn] crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell [geenna]” Mark 9:45 http://biblehub.com/text/mark/9-45.htm

        And it seems that there is no heaven in the Bible either because “basileian tou Theou” and “zōēn aiōnion” could be understood something else as easily as geenna.

        Actually, I think that Bart’s book should be called “No hell below us, above us only sky – a history of the afterlife” 😉




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        • Kwolck  March 19, 2017

          Clever title, but I think Bart’s success is to a great extent due to the fact that he does not create confrontation with Christians or deny their belief from a faith perspective, but makes them better prepared Christians by addressing the intellectual and historical issues. I think he will choose a title that is interesting but not confrontational.




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          • Eskil  March 21, 2017

            Thanks for the feedback! It’s flattering to know that someone is actually reading my comments here.

            In my original comment, I’m naturally referring to John Lennon’s song Imagine in the proposal of the book title:

            “Imagine there’s no heaven
            It’s easy if you try
            *No hell below us
            Above us only sky*
            Imagine all the people
            Living for today”

            To me this is also the “broader significance” of the topic that Bart’s editor was asking for.

            Imagine has been voted multiple times as one of the best pop song ever. I would say that this hippie dream should be part of the history of afterlife. I wish Bart could incorporate it into his book one way or another – a bit like Stephen King style.

            But to cut to the chase, I do not think that your argument of Bart’s book titles hold the water, for example one of his recent books was called “How Jesus Become God”. It is not within Christianity to say that Jesus was not a god but a peasant apocalyptic prophet.

            However, to be a christian doesn’t require any belief in a soul goes into Heaven and Hell after death. No such thing is mentioned in the Christian creeds:

            … “we acknowledge one baptism for the remission of sins; we look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come. Amen.”

            For example Lutherans and Adventists believe in mortalism not in in Heavaen and Hell.

            mortalism = “The belief that the soul is mortal and dies with the body, or lies unconscious until the final resurrection.”

            To me as Lutheran, Bart’s ideas about afterlife are about defending the original Christian doctrine.




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  20. Monty  February 28, 2017

    Bart, I think you have chosen a topic with 0 chance of refusal.




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