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My Next Scholarly Book: Visits to Heaven and Hell

As I have indicated on the blog before, I like to mix up the various kinds of research and writing projects that I do.  My time is not split evenly, but over the years I have written scholarly books for scholarly audiences, trade books for the wider reading public, and textbooks for college-level students.   Usually it’s one thing at a time, but as it turns out now I’m in the midst of three tasks – revising two of my textbooks (The New Testament and a Brief Introduction to the New Testament), writing up proposals for two future trade books to submit to my publisher to see if they would agree to publish them, and, principally, working on the next scholarly project.

When I first started thinking about the scholarly project, I came up with the title: “Observing the Dead: Otherworldy Journeys in the Early Christian Tradition.”   I may still call it that – as you may know from my other posts over the years, titles usually are the last thing decided when it comes to a book.   My current working title, though, is “Otherworldly Journeys:  Katabasis in the Early Christian Tradition.”

I’m inclined to go with this other title, for now, precisely because I write both kinds of books – scholarly analyses and popular accounts – and I like the title to reflect the level of book it is so there won’t be any confusion: scholars will recognize a book written for them and the guy next door will recognize a book written for him.   “Katabasis” would be a dead give-away.  Scholars would know exactly what I’m talking about and my neighbor would know that this ain’t gonna be his cup of tea.  (As it turns out, this guy prefers Bud Light, in any event.)

But we’ll see.  The publisher might balk at it.  They usually do.   But this is the same kind of thinking that went into the other books that I wrote dealing with similar topics, one for normal human beings and the other abnormal scholars.   And so, two books on New Testament textual criticism.   The popular one was called Misquoting Jesus: The Story Behind Who Changed the Bible and Why (a title I didn’t pick and that I actually didn’t like very well, but it’s grown on me significantly) and the scholarly one called The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture: The Effects of Early Christological Controversies on the Text of the New Testament.  Anyone reasonably awake and sober would probably realize that the second is not going to be very interesting to them unless they can make sense of what the title is talking about.

So too my two books on …

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The Original Obsession with Trips to the Afterlife
Heaven and Hell, Finally



  1. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 6, 2019

    Thanks for defining “katabasis” for me.

  2. Avatar
    Bewilderbeast  March 6, 2019

    If ever you decide to lead some katabasis tours I’d love to join you! My favourite trips include a guide pointing out various horned beasts in Africa, and I can see you pointing out certain horned beasts and many famous people on a tour in flame-proof clothing. Anabasis tours? I don’t think so. I fear they’d be boring.

  3. Avatar
    fishician  March 6, 2019

    The NT Gospels portray Jesus as alive after his resurrection, but give no details about what he experienced during his brief death, and no tales of heaven or hell, except maybe Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. Yet non-canonical writings do provide such tales. There are hints in later NT books, like 1 Peter 3:19. Why not the Gospels? Had such tales not arisen yet? Or too speculative even for the Gospel writers? Or beyond the scope of what the Gospel writers were aiming at?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2019

      My guess is they hadn’t even thought about it! He died. Prophecy said he’d be raised in three days. He was dead at the time. But then was raised! I’d love to know what they actually thought.

  4. Avatar
    meltuck  March 6, 2019

    Interesting! I would assume that your “trade books” would have a much larger audience and therefore be much more financially-rewarding for you than your “scholarly books.” I also assume that the scholarly books would have to have a much higher purchase price than the trade books because of their more limited audience. Are these valid assumptions?

  5. Avatar
    meohanlon  March 7, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman, I wanted to add something to the recent discussion on homosexuality in the Bible, specifically regarding an issue I was hoping you could weigh in on that, surprisingly, wasn’t addressed in the recent thread. One that seems to matter much to those who look for support or disapproval in the character of Jesus himself on gay relationships, whether or not it has any basis in history or, almost as importantly, reflects the views of the gospel writers: regarding the Roman centurion, who asks Jesus to heal his servant – I’ve read both sides, some defending the ‘pro’ view that holds that the Greek word used, pais, implies a homosexual relationship ( I’m guessing this practice was far more acceptable in Roman society than in Jewish) while others, usually conservative types, saying there are too many counterexamples, where pais is more generally used to mean other things. If the former are correct, than since Jesus doesn’t use this as an occasion for moral judgment of the centurion’s practice, in light of his faith in the God of Israel (acting through His wonder-working servants in this case) is significant. However, the latter would argue the fact that the Torah-steeped audience never brings this up is significant too, not to mention that if Jesus, they say, were truly defending Mosaic law per Matthew’s gospel, he couldn’t have been condoning the centurion’s illicit relationship. I like to think personally, that the centurion’s love for his servant was significant enough for him to appeal to an authority outside his own tradition, that Jesus would have looked past any traditional Jewish views he might’ve subscribed to – and the wisdom to recognize Gentiles are not obligated to keep to such parts of the law anyway. And I like to think, regardless of any basis in historical testimony, the gospel writer (originally of Q in this case?) was hinting at all of these points. However, if the debate about what ‘pais’ means is too open-ended, it might all be a moot point.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2019

      I have to admit, when I read “pais” in Greek more broadly, it almost *never* has anything to do with a sexual relation. It just means servant, or sometimes child.

  6. Avatar
    Stephen  March 7, 2019

    Now that you’re plunging into your next projects and some time has passed I was wondering about your assessment of the performance and reception of ‘The Triumph of Christianity’? Did it meet your hopes for it? Were you pleased? Care to do what we in the IT field call a ‘Post-implementation-Review’?


    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2019

      Well, it made the NY Times Bestseller list, something that books on religion NEVER do these days, over the past three years, given the obsession that we all have with other things, almost all of them having to do with one individual. (And it ain’t Jesus) But yes, we all wish it had stayed on the list longer and had sold many millions of copies. But we all wish that for *all* our books!

  7. Lev
    Lev  March 7, 2019

    May I ask an off-topic question?

    In the synoptic gospels, James and Peter I can’t find any reference to Jesus being the divine Word / Logos / Wisdom / Being through which all things were created. In John, Paul, Hebrews and Revelation, however, we do have references to Jesus being such a figure (there may also be slight allusions in Luke 1:2 and the doxology of Jude). It doesn’t seem to be universally accepted in the NT, but nevertheless, does seem to be universally accepted in the church today.

    I’m struggling to figure out how these early Christians came to hold this belief. I can’t find any claim by Jesus in the gospels that he promoted this idea, nor can I find any reasoning (such as fulfilment of prophecy) to show how Jesus was seen or revealed to be the divine Logos. The relevant passages in Paul, John and Hebrews simply state that he was – and that’s that. Do you know what caused these Christians to come to this conclusion? Or why or how they developed this theology?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2019

      It’s a great question. That’s what my book How Jesus Became God is about, to a great extent. I’d suggest you give it a try!

      • Lev
        Lev  March 8, 2019

        Just bought and downloaded it to my Kindle. Diving straight in… 🙂

  8. Avatar
    forthfading  March 7, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    When one earns their way to the top of a scholarly field, like you have by teachings at a top rate university, publishing extensively, and being one of the go to scholars for textual criticism and Christian origins, is there a reason why you would not be published? Not publishing your work would be on par with a record company not publishing a Rolling Stones album. They know the work will be of the utmost quality and there is a fan base. Even in the scholarly world you are highly respected. I follow evangelical scholars like Mike Licona, Craig Evans, Daniel Wallace, and Brant Pitre to name a few, and they even buy your books. I have spoken to all of these Christian scholars and they disagree with the conclusions you reach, but consider you one of the best in the world. They have admitted It! So, is It likely someone would not publish your work?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2019

      Yeah, that’s kind of what I was actually trying to say. In my case it’s really not an issue. But it wasn’t always that way!

  9. Avatar
    paulfchristus  March 8, 2019

    Might be too early to ask this, but Is there a release date planned?
    Would really like to read this subject on heaven and hell since it is only sparsely dealt with in historical terms.
    Thank you.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 8, 2019

      It will appear about a year after I finish writing it. But who knows when *that* will be! I haven’t even started writing it — still plowing through the research. Best case scenario: it’ll be written about next year this time.

  10. Avatar
    ThomasB  March 11, 2019

    Why not self publish?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2019

      Are you asking me? The main reason people don’t, if they can avoid it, is because they want wide distribution of their work.

  11. Avatar
    Eric  March 11, 2019

    Xenophon’s “Anabasis” is, in the temporal domain, about 95% “katabasis.” Any idea why he didn’t name it that?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2019

      I can’t remember. Though I should! Maybe because the point of the march was to get to the interior (not to get back)?

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