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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

95

Comments

  1. Clyde Stewart  February 28, 2017

    I hope you can write the book on the afterlife.

    • 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.

  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

    • 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.

  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.

  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.

  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 !!

  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!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      Interesting idea!

    • 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.”

    • Kwolck  March 19, 2017

      I too love this idea.

  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.

  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.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

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

    • 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”?

  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?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

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

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

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

  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.

  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”)?

    • 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!

  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?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

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

  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. 😉

  14. ask21771  February 28, 2017

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

    • 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)

  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).

  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.

  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?

    • 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.

  18. Hume  February 28, 2017

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

  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.

    • Robby  March 1, 2017

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

      • 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” 😉

        • 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.

          • 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.

  20. Monty  February 28, 2017

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

  21. sladesg  February 28, 2017

    I’ve been waiting on this book for about 10 years! Glad that you’re (hopefully) going to give us lots to think about concerning the afterlife.

  22. lawecon  February 28, 2017

    At one time you had mentioned doing a book (or just an essay?) on why the Jewish Scriptures were appended to the NT? Any chance that such an exposition is still on the agenda?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      It’s on the back burner for now, but not taken completely off the stove.

  23. jimviv2@gmail.com  February 28, 2017

    Great idea for your new book. I will plan to buy one to add to my collection.
    You’ve talked a bit about Sheol evolving into hell.
    Idea of heaven surely evolved as well.
    Would it be too much to include concepts of the afterlife in other world religions?
    Or at least some of them?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      Yes, I’ll almost certainly stick to Judaism and CHristianity, the two religions I know something about.

  24. Stephen  February 28, 2017

    Stephen

    I know nothing about the publishing industry but how could it miss? As you say everyone has a stake in that discussion.

    I’m not qualified to advise you on how to conduct your career and I doubt you’re taking requests but there is one book that definitely needs to be written by somebody, in perhaps both a scholarly and popular form – the origin of the Holy Spirit and how the HS became the third member of the Trinity.

    I enjoy your work very much and look forward to what comes next.

    • HawksJ  March 4, 2017

      **there is one book that definitely needs to be written by somebody, in perhaps both a scholarly and popular form – the origin of the Holy Spirit and how the HS became the third member of the Trinity.**

      I absolutely agree with this. I understand the theological reasons why early Christians wanted to put Jesus on an even plane with God, but what did/does the ‘Holy Spirit’ have to do with anything?

      One thing that has always struck me is that nobody ‘worships’ the HS. Some ‘Christian’ churchs worship Christ almost to the exclusion of God, some worship God more than Christ, but nobody worships, specifically, the HS. How can that be if they are all equal?

  25. Sdibra  February 28, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman,

    Love your work! Great topic for your next book. Maybe the idea of the kingdom of God in another life developed after it became clear that it wasn’t happening in the lifetime of the early Christians. The early Church fathers were left with a bit of problem after the death of the apostles and Jesus. How does one establish doctrine and so on? You have groups of new believers all over the Roman Empire, who all had their prior religions and cultures affecting their views (this would also include the early Church fathers). They needed to reinterpret the teachings to accommodate the needs of the rising church communities. What’s the alternative, Jesus was wrong? I don’t think the small Jewish sect would have lasted long if their messiah was wrong about God’s big plan. Remember these are the days before alternative facts! Haha! The change from a Kingdom on Earth to a Kingdom in Heaven seems to be in my opinion inevitable especially to the poor, where a better afterlife is an easy sell. On a side note, I would love your take or maybe even a chapter or two in your next book discussing historical families of the Jesus and Apostles. It always seemed strange to me that we have such little historical evidence on the families of these men. Parents, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and so on. I mean if I were a descendent of Peter or Paul or Thomas, I would definitely make it be known. At least after the rule of Constantine. Wouldn’t it be such a prestigious honor? Everyone loves to claim their heritage especially if their forefathers were considered great. My thinking is that after the Rome destroyed Israel, the death and displacement may have caused this loss of lineage. Thanks in advance for your response. CHEERS!

    • SBrudney091941
      SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

      You write, “What’s the alternative, Jesus was wrong? I don’t think the small Jewish sect would have lasted long if their messiah was wrong about God’s big plan.” To the extent that any such sect existed during Jesus’ life, most followers would have left it when Jesus was crucified. They would not have thought that the messiah was wrong but that he wasn’t the messiah. Then a very few held on, believing he was resurrected but, even then, I bet, few would have believed that Jesus had come for the reasons Christians think he came–to redeem humanity from sin. Paul’s higher Christology spread among mostly gentiles. I think once others began developing ideas about Jesus’ virgin birth or as literally the begotten Son of God and certainly when those before John wrote his Gospel, those who began believing he was God and the generation which Jesus had addressed had died out, some must have believed that John the Baptist, Jesus, and Paul were ALL wrong: the Kingdom had not been imminent or “at hand.” By that time, the Jewishness of the “sect” had diminished drastically.

      • Sdibra  March 6, 2017

        Great points. My reference to the small jewish sect and the messiah being wrong was to illustrate how fragile early church doctrine was and how a failed messiah usually led to the end of that messiah’s movement. I think there needs to be a distinction between the views of the apostles and their respective communities, ie Coptic, Syrian, Greek, etc. The Christian Coptic view of the afterlife may have been quite different from the Christian Greek view. I wonder what your thoughts are on my remarks regarding the lack of historical evidence on the family descendents of Jesus and the early church fathers?

  26. Robby  February 28, 2017

    I personally would like to read about the evolution of the concept of the afterlife from the OT to the NT. It’s something I’m dying to know about…

  27. obrienma  February 28, 2017

    Bart,

    I would love to see your next book be your musings on the “Future of Christianity” based upon the past two centuries (in particular) of biblical scholarship.

    Do you think that biblical scholarship will ultimately lead significantly more people to adopt the view that Jesus was not divine?

    Do you think that variants of Unitarianism will experience an upsurge?

    Or will the “nones” (those who do not practice any faith) experience the greatest increase?

    The afterlife is as attractive as it is unsubstantiated, but I’m much more interested how you believe people’s views about Jesus have evolved and will evolve as a result of your and others’ scholarship.

    Cheers.

    • jimviv2@gmail.com  March 1, 2017

      A friend who is a monk recently told me, somewhat dejectedly, that the fastest growing denomination is “ex-Catholics.”

  28. JUMA  February 28, 2017

    This is interesting, because of the different angles you can come from. I hope they bite on this one, I see it as a great topic followed with a tremendous amount of blow back…which would cover the (selling) aspect. Do you know or can recommend any black scholars who share your view of agnosticism/atheism?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      Do you mean black biblical scholars? No one comes to mind.

  29. dragonfly  February 28, 2017

    I don’t think you’ll have any problems selling that book.

    Just wondering, what does your friend Jeff Siker believe about heaven and hell?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      My guess is that he’s agnostic about what happens afterward, but thinks if it’s anything, it’ll be good.

  30. brandon284  March 1, 2017

    What an unreal book this would be. Do you feel fairly confident they will approve? I can’t think of a better topic for popular consumption.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 1, 2017

      I’m not 100% confident, but I’m hopeful!

      • brandon284  March 1, 2017

        You’ve had a handful of bestsellers about topics that many weren’t even AWARE of in Biblical Studies. The afterlife is topic that is apropos to everyone. Death is the last great adventure. I don’t know how this wouldn’t become your top seller.

  31. Jayredinger  March 1, 2017

    Hi Bart, I believe a book about the afterlife will draw a very large audience, even outside of Christians circles. This could just very well be a very popular book.

  32. clipper9422@yahoo.com  March 1, 2017

    This isn’t really relevant but the topic made me want to talk about it. In the absence of an afterlife, it seems to me that something like Zen may be the best way to go. Focus on the present, ie, the eternal now, and also let the distinction between the self and non-self fade away. Maybe that way one wouldn’t worry about death because one is not so focused on the self. It seems like altruism might fit in here too.

  33. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

    You say above, “many people in my world think if you are not a believing/practicing Christian, heaven is not an option for your soul” but that “these views are not what was taught in the Old Testament, by the historical Jesus, or by his followers who wrote the books of the New Testament.” There are, however, 15 to 20 places in the New Testament that say, in so many words, if you do not believe in J.C. as Lord & Savior, you will be condemned. That says to me that the authors of those verses agreed with the people in your world in Christian America. No?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2017

      The question is what they mean by “condemned.” So they mean your soul will be physically tormented for ever?

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 3, 2017

        My comment was more in regard to the prize they don’t get (membership in Heaven or the Kingdom of God) than what does happen to them.

  34. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

    Bart, some thoughts regarding the idea of an afterlife, the last being rather fanciful.
    I’ve often found it odd how so many people take people’s “death experiences” in the operating room or wherever as proof of eternal life. For one thing, they simply don’t care to consider to what extent these are
    (1) manifestations of the psyche and that seeing deceased friends greeting you on the path to that white light is the mind using imagination to express a hope. Also,
    (2) an afterlife is taken as implying eternal life which it does not. Maybe there’s something beyond death that lasts for a time and then fades away. And, finally,
    (3) even an ongoing afterlife does not necessarily have anything to do with the existence of God or the truth of the Bible of the Gospel or of any religious belief. Perhaps it is an Earth-limited phenomenon….some soul energy that swirls around the planet but not out there in the Heavens or with God, grounded in the energy that once operated in the body that somehow abides beyond death, living where the Collective Unconscious lives or having the kind of extended existence Rilke wrote about in his Ninth Elegy.

    • SidDhartha1953  March 8, 2017

      The hardest near-death phenomena for me to account for from a materialist perspective are the reports of seeing from outside the body the efforts to resuscitate the subject. Are the reports of knowing who was in the room, what they said, where people were standing, etc. urban legends, or have some of them been duly fact-checked? I think that aspect is what made “Heaven Is For Real” (total garbage in my opinion) such a huge success. If you don’t allow for the possibility that the kid’s father made the whole thing up then convinced his 5 year old that it happened, it’s hard to imagine a refutation of what he “documents.”

  35. epicurus
    epicurus  March 1, 2017

    I read a blog called “The Tentative Apologist” written by baptist seminary professor Dr. Randal Rauser who has a fairly recent book called “What on Earth Do We Know About Heaven?” He tends to write more from a philosophical view than biblical. He engages and writes books with Atheists as well as books for Christians. Might be worth a look if you have the time. (I haven’t read it).

    http://a.co/10KCCf9

    http://randalrauser.com

  36. SBrudney091941
    SBrudney091941  March 1, 2017

    You said above that the primary focus of the book would be on Jewish and Christian beliefs. If not for any other reason, bringing in or at least acknowledging the many other ideas humans have of the afterlife would serve as part of a call to humility about the possible truth of one’s own Christian beliefs. Anything to turn one potential fundamentalist away from becoming one is valuable in my book. But I know you’ll be writing to inform, not to preach.

    With the theme of myths of afterlife in mind, I want to bring up a moment when Bill Moyers asked Joseph Campbell if he thought the ubiquitous themes in myths across the world said something about their truth. I was surprised that Campbell said it was not necessarily an indicator of or proof of the truth of the beliefs. The forms could be ubiquitous simply because the human mind is similar in nature wherever humans have lived. I would add to that the fact that we are all Africans). Homo sapiens all came out of Africa or, more to the point, the story tellers all came from the same continent. The myths are, to some degree, all cousins.

  37. James Harmon
    James Harmon  March 1, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, my question seems difficult to word properly, but here goes, and I hope you understand. When was the first mention that you know of that the serpent in genesis was referenced as the devil/satan?
    Thank you for your work. It has dramatically and profoundly changed my life over the last 15 years.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2017

      Revelation 20:2 may be the start of this idea. (Though maybe someone on the blog can correct me)

  38. Ngraver1  March 1, 2017

    Dear Bart
    We have become big fans of your work, and enjoy a weekly ‘Great Courses’ class w/a friend. Perhaps you could offer “The Afterlife’ as a pre-sale to test the waters…..
    Regards
    Ann & Bill Rook

  39. silvertime  March 1, 2017

    Let me add my comment that I believe that this book on the afterlife, if published, will be your best selling trade book. In the response thread, someone discussed the concept of near death experiences, and the ability to gain knowledge of the afterlife from them. This does not seem reasonable. If one is not totally dead, one’s brain is undergoing electrical actions that explain the lights, dreams, and other concepts which are similar in nature to a seizure. If there is an actual afterlife, one would have to be totally dead, with not hope of recovery, to go there or it would not, by definition, be an afterlife.

  40. prairieian  March 1, 2017

    This is foundational with many people behaving so as secure eternal life in heaven. I would have thought an omniscient deity would notice the motivation and knock off so many ‘atta boy/girl’ points on the grounds of selfish personal interest.

    Another point I have always found is an interesting comment on human nature and that hell has often been well described with the torments nicely outlined and so on. Dante, Milton, etc… However, heaven tends to be rather vague. The notion of various semi-divine beings constantly singing hymns of praise of one sort or another has always struck me as a bit daft from the perspective of the deity and the semi-divine beings. Can’t they knock it off and play a game of rugby or something? That choral activity aside, there is little description or indication of what one might do in the blessed realm forever. Why is that?

    Examining his side of the equation might make an interesting chapter.

    Good luck with your pitch.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2017

      My sense is that there is very little one can say about the nature of eternal bliss, but a whole lot one can imagine about eternal torments.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 3, 2017

        Bart, did you ever see the 1967 film “Bedazzled” with Dudley Moore and Peter Cook? Cook plays the devil and Moore can’t understand why he left Heaven. Cook jumps up on a mailbox and says, “Okay, let’s say I’m God and you’re angel. So start singing my praises. Moore dances around, singing praises until he says, “This is boring!” Cook says, “Exactly my point” or “That’s what I said.” Something like that.

      • SBrudney091941
        SBrudney091941  March 3, 2017

        Are you familiar with the saying, “If you think of eternity not as endless time but as timelessness, eternity can belong to those who live in the present”?

      • Eric  March 3, 2017

        That is a challenge. Dante’s Inferno is great reading, his Paradisio is a snooze. (Purgatorio is interesting, though…)

  41. bself  March 1, 2017

    If your publisher approves the idea how long do you estimate it will take to research, write and publish the book?
    Thanks

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2017

      The goal would be to have it written in about a year and a half from now, and to be published in the fall of 2019.

  42. Pattycake1974
    Pattycake1974  March 1, 2017

    “But I need to convince them that this would be a good, important, and interesting book, one that would sell.”

    Why the book would sell: Hardly anyone has written a book about the origin of the afterlife. When I did a search on Amazon for invention/origin/concept of heaven, hell, and afterlife, nothing much came up. Maybe you’re willing to broaden the book outside the biblical context to include origins of other mainstream concepts for the afterlife if they think it might be too narrow. If I flip through the table of contents and see the topic that I’m specifically interested in, then it could broaden your audience. I suppose that would depend on what you decide to focus your energy on and what they’re willing to accept.

    Why it’s important: Most people don’t even know where these ideas come from and how they evolved over time. Who, in the general populace, knows about the scholarship of heaven and hell? It’s like a Misquoting Jesus situation all over again.

    It’s interesting because I think most of us have an opinion about the afterlife and find it an intriguing topic worth exploring.

  43. Spaul  March 2, 2017

    I would be fascinated by a book that explores the evolution of Judeo-Christian notions of the soul, spirit, afterlife, heaven, hell, purgatoyy, and where some of these ideas might have been borrowed from. Make it so! I believe there will be great rewards!

  44. novotnycurse  March 2, 2017

    Will the new book be shorter than usual i.e.
    “There is no afterlife. There is no heaven and hell outside this world. The ancients were mistaken.”

  45. JoeRoark  March 2, 2017

    Might there be a parallel with how Jesus was designated as the Son of God and how we see our destiny? Jesus became the Son of God at his baptism, then his birth, then he had always existed. Some religions teach that we existed before, live now, and will live after we die.

    I have enjoyed all your trade books and even some of your academic books, which, not being an academic, may take me more than one lifetime to understand!

  46. Nawaz Arshad  March 2, 2017

    Prof Bart – The book about the afterlife is a very interesting idea and lots of people would be interested in it. Since you would be covering this subject from the perspective of Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Christianity, Is there any chance of you including the third Abrahamic faith of Islam in it? Solely on the subject of Afterlife and what it has to say?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 3, 2017

      I’m afraid I probably need to stick to topics I know something about — Judaism and Christianity…

  47. Paul  March 2, 2017

    An afterlife book would be of paramount value to me, having been raised a Catholic but now an atheist. I came to see religion primarily as a source of comfort for people (a good thing), and the idea of an afterlife – at least the ‘heaven’ part – seems to play a major role in that comfort (“but at least she’s in heaven now with dad”).

    It was always the ‘eternity’ part of an afterlife that frightened me, regardless of ‘where’ you ended up. I recall as a child sitting in church contemplating the idea of waking up each day in heaven and realizing that it was just going to go on and on. With no end. Ever. I had to constantly push that thought out of my mind.

    It’s no wonder Groundhog Day is still one of my favorite films.

    Please write this book – I need it!

  48. Thomasfperkins  March 2, 2017

    Please, please record the Audible version of this book yourself.

  49. thinkingwoody  March 7, 2017

    Take a look at “The Soul Fallacy” by Julien Musolino and “Immortality: The Quest to Live Forever and How It Drives Civilization” by Stephen Cave

  50. SidDhartha1953  March 8, 2017

    A thought experiment that went through my head as I was reading the comments:
    *Suppose Jesus said absolutely nothing about an afterlife, but led his followers to believe that God was about to establish a theocracy in which Jesus would be the new King of Israel, perhaps for all time.
    *Jesus died without his precictions coming true.
    *His followers became convinced that he was raised from the dead, but he was not physically present with them — at least not all the time.
    *Eventually, no one (or hardly anyone and we’re not sure we believe the ones who do) claimed to see the risen Jesus any more.
    *But Jesus is alive, because so many people witnessed it, so he must be somewhere.
    *He must be in heaven with the Father.
    *Maybe his talk about a new kingdom meant we would all go to be with him and the Father above the sky.
    That would be a way that Christians could infer an afterlife in heaven, even if there were no belief in it before.

    I think you can tell S&S that the response to your proposal from people who are willing to shell out $25+ a year for your blog posts is overwhelmingly positive. That should give them some gauge as to how successful an Ehrman book on the afterlife is likely to be.

    I was thinking about your upcoming book, The Triumph of Christianity, this morning before I sat down to catch up on your blog. The two most successful mass movements in history, as far as I know, are Christianity and Islam, with not a close third in sight. Has anyone you know of written on the triumph of Islam? What has made it such a worldwide phenomenon and, like Christianity, showing no signs of going away? In restrospect (I didn’t have foreknowledge of what your post today would be about) could the shared emphasis on rewards and punishments after death be at least part of the common attractiveness of Christianity and Islam?

  51. madmargie  March 12, 2017

    I’ll begin by saying I don’t believe in an afterlife. I think this is all there is. But I would be extremely interested in knowing how such a concept began and in so many different places. I have assumed that it was fear of death and it’s being all there is. That doesn’t happen to be one of my fears…at least not at this point. I am fairly close to the end of my life at 81…going on 82. Please get the book together in the next year and a half so I can read it. 🙂

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