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My Scholarly Project on the Afterlife

Here is the research proposal that I sent in to various funding agencies hoping to get a leave for next year – including the National Humanities Center, which has given me a fellowship . As you’ll see, it is closely tied to the trade book I am working on about the origins of the Christian ideas of heaven and hell, but it deals with a specific issue at considerable depth.   For the fellowship application I called the prospective book “The Invention of Heaven and Hell” – which sounds too much like my trade book (“The Invention of the Afterlife”) but it was all I could come up with at the time.  I wanted to give it a scholarly title, something like “Anabasis Traditions in Early Christianity,” but was strongly advised not to make the title technical.  There’s no telling what it will be called when it eventually gets written, but here is what I say about it when describing in my applications for fellowships.

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In the winter season of 1886-87 a French archaeological team digging in a necropolis in Akhmim, Egypt made one of the most intriguing textual discoveries of modern times.   In a tomb thought to belong to a Christian monk, they found a 66-page book, in Greek, comprising a small anthology of texts, one of which was eventually identified as the Apocalypse of Peter.   This work provides the first surviving Christian account of a guided tour of heaven and hell, told in the first person by Jesus’ own disciple Peter.  In the account, Peter describes, briefly, the ecstasies of the elect and, at greater length and more graphic detail, the torments of the damned.   Peter sees that sinners are punished according to their most characteristic transgressions: blasphemers, for example, are hanged by their tongues over eternal flames; adulterers are hanged by their genitals.

The publication of the apocalypse led to a …

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The Marvels of Media Attention
My Upcoming Writing Plans: The Afterlife and the Afterlife

21

Comments

  1. Avatar
    rivercrowman  March 9, 2018

    Thanks for sharing. A well-deserved honor!

  2. Avatar
    fishician  March 9, 2018

    Great subject and I look forward to this book!

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  March 9, 2018

    Dr. Ehrman, I once watched a documentary with one of the coolest titles I’ve ever seen: “Visions of Heaven and Hell”. If I saw a book with that title on Amazon, it would go straight into my shopping cart.

  4. Avatar
    chesterd  March 9, 2018

    Bart this is off topic but I didn’t want to burden your email with a question for your series answering reader’s questions. Recently you mentioned two Christologies: the exultation Christology where God (the father) raises Christ to a (higher) deity usually when he dies and the incarnation Christology when Christ the eternal deity becomes human. In the past I believe you have also mentioned an adoptionist Christology. Is this the same as exultation or subtly different? Not sure how many questions you have in the queue. Also congrats on your proposal acceptance

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2018

      No, not exactly. An adoptionist Christology can also refer to God “adopting” Jesus as his son at his baptism; in that case he is not necessarily made divine per se. The other two are ways of Jesus coming to be thought of as divine.

  5. Avatar
    tscafidi  March 9, 2018

    Dr Ehrman

    Hi, Congratulations!! A quick commute to the Center … a dream come true for many of us. And all the research documents just for the asking. I was wondering what’s going to happen to your PhD students or should I call them lost souls for a year : )

  6. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  March 10, 2018

    Wow! Quite a scholarly undertaking!

  7. Avatar
    Tony  March 10, 2018

    Speaking about scholarly projects; I just noticed that Robert Price has a book titled ” Bart Ehrman interpreted” in the works. For a second I read it as “Bart Ehrman interrupted”, but that’s really my job. What an honor! A critical review by another NT scholar who happened to have recently lost a Jesus historicity debate. Maybe I’ll join talmoore and make fawning comments from here on in…

  8. Lev
    Lev  March 10, 2018

    I’m really looking forward to your book on the afterlife. It sounds awesome!

    Off topic question – is there a scholarly consensus on the theological theme of Q? In your books and lectures you explain the theological emphasis of the canonical gospels, but I don’t think I’ve read your view on the theme of Q.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2018

      The problem with establishing consensus is that technically speaking we don’t actually know the extent and full contents of Q, so some scholars think they can establish it’s major theological tenor and others think we just can’t get an exact picture.

      • Lev
        Lev  March 11, 2018

        I appreciate the limitations and that it won’t be an exact picture – but if you have attempted to assess the theology of Q, what would you say are the overarching theological themes?

        If you’ve never made an attempt to assess it, would you be able to recommend a work that has taken a decent stab at it? Many thanks.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 12, 2018

          The truth is, I really don’t know! It’d be like taking a few chapters from the Gospel of Matthew and leaving off the ending and asking what Matthew’s theology is — it depends which chapters you pick! Some, for example, have argued that Q was like Thomas, a book that saw the teachings of Jesus, rather than his miracles, death, and resurrection as the one and only point important for following him and having eternal life. I just don’t know if that is true.

          • Lev
            Lev  March 12, 2018

            Many thanks, Bart. That’s an interesting angle (the primacy of Jesus’ teachings, over his acts/signs and meaning of his death and resurrection).

            Do you detect a common theme between the epistle of James, Q, and the Didache that suggests a primitive form of Jewish Christianity emphasised the ethical teachings of Jesus above all others?

            Perhaps it was an expression of early Christianity that competed with the Pauline emphasis on the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection, or the emphasis in Mark of the secret Messiah being revealed through his acts/signs and finally death and resurrection.

            For James, Q and Didache, the acts/signs and death and resurrection of Jesus seem to be of secondary importance. What seemed to matter to these authors was how the followers of Jesus proved their commitment and loyalty to their new King through their moral choices and ethical lifestyle.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 13, 2018

            I’d say it’s hard to say. I know people who have written books on social ethics but they think there are *other* things that are as important as social ethics. But if all you had was their book….

  9. Avatar
    MauriceGarrett  March 12, 2018

    Is it true that the Jewish conception of Sheol was quite an alien concept to our modern conceptions of Hell and that throughout the Old Testament, and especially in the New Testament, that the afterlife and the soul’s relation, or activities, in hell have evolved throughout the books? In any case, I’m hoping that extensive coverage of Sheol and how the Jews thought of the afterlife will be explored in great detail. The Zoroastrian and Hellinistic views of the Afterlife probably fed into the Jewish understanding of Sheol to form the seeds of the modern conception, but what were the Gnostic conceptions and what were their sources?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 13, 2018

      Yes, that’s right.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  March 13, 2018

      Sheol in the Hebrew Bible almost always refers to a place literally underground. Sometimes the implication is something like a grave, and sometimes the implication is as an entire underground region, not unlike most ancient subterranean places of the dead, such as Hades. For example, in the story of Korah’s rebellion in Numbers, it says that the ground literally split open, and Korah and his people fell — while still alive! — into “the pit”. The word used for “pit” in that story is Sheol (more specifically, the feminine form of Sheol — Sheolah — for some reason I have yet to figure out). So one gets the sense that Sheol was an actual, physical place under the ground, to where someone could venture without having to die first (cf. Orpheus’ and Odysseus’ journeys to Hades).

  10. Avatar
    Jana  March 16, 2018

    Has the Apocalypse of Peter been dated? If so where does it fall? Has the author authenticity also been substantiated? Really St. Peter? !

    • Bart
      Bart  March 18, 2018

      Mid to late second century. We don’t know who the author was.

  11. Avatar
    FredLyon  March 17, 2018

    A good resource, of which you are probably aware, is Rabbi Neil Gillman’s “The Death of Death – Resurrection and Immortality in Jewish Thought” (Woodstock, VT: Jewish Lights Publishing, 1997). Educational and entertaining.

  12. Avatar
    sstein02  March 21, 2018

    Jews don’t talk much about the afterlife. When a born-again Christian asked me I knew if I was going to Hell or Heaven, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if Jews believed in Hell because it had never been discussed in my Hebrew School class.

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