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Reason and Theology – Heaven, Hell and the Afterlife

Here is the recording of an interesting on-line discussion I had on May 17, 2020 for a podcast called “Reason and Theology.”  It was a rather unusual experience for me.  The three moderators were all extremely well-informed lay people who are deeply interested in and knowledgeable about Roman Catholic tradition and theology.  We talked about my book “Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife,” and we got into all sorts of things that I never would have expected.

The podcast generally seeks to provide a wide range of in-depth interviews on theological, philosophical, and historical matters in a way that translates to the average person, to provide a platform for charitable round table discussions between opposing perspectives, and to facilitate formal debates in order to arrive at a better understanding of the truth.

I’m not sure I helped to that end, but it was an interesting and at times lively discussion.  Here it is.

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    rwhershey  July 7, 2020

    Oh yes, I watched this one already. Since I’ve started following your work (January 2019) I’ve hunted down and absorbed every available interview and debate you’ve done. There were many times when I’ve thought, my god, how does he just not completely lose his temper with some of these people? The debate with that Butt guy comes to mind, and then this one with that Albrecht character just banging on after you’ve patiently and meticulously dismantled his claims. It’s really maddening for me as a spectator, so I have to wonder, why do you agree to do these debates/polemical interviews, and does it emotionally affect you to be pushed so hard by such absurdity?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 8, 2020

      Yeah, it can be irritating, but it’s also nice to realize that surely other people are going to be seeing what the problem is here. The Butt debate was a particular instance of it. On the other hand, during these debates I almost always find myself scribbling notes to myself: “And WHY am I doing this???” But in the end, it’s all about reaching those few people who are on the fence who are open to seeing reason.

  2. Avatar
    janmaru  July 7, 2020

    My best moments in the video and notes, sparsely:

    William Albrecht: “Quotation doesn’t mean canonicity. I agree with you on that.”
    Bart Erhman: “Stating your case over and over again it doesn’t make it an argument.”

    The Council of Nicaea is the equivalent of the Knight Templars in literature. “The job of the editor is to recognize the mad at a glance. When one brings up the Templars, he is almost always mad.” (cit)

    Plato is beyond the Christian idea of Heaven and Hell.

    Inanna was left outside (’cause Richard Carrier already wore her out?)

    Michael Lofton: “Thank you so much. You are welcome on the show anytime!”
    Bart Erhman: “I don’t think I will survive another one.”

    William Albrecht and others: “The canon is very dear to me.”
    Probably not reciprocated.

    “I have a blog!” Shouted like Martin Luther King’s: “I have a dream!”

    And when at the end you think it can’t get more juice: “God bless you all” and Ybarra goes on the salute!

  3. Robert
    Robert  July 7, 2020

    Much more entertaining than your interviews/debates with a single interlocutor. With three Catholics arrayed against you, it was much more dramatic, sort of like Bart in Daniel’s lion’s den. But that one bald guy, William Albrecht, should have known better than to try and debate you while he was drinking a beer!

  4. Avatar
    veritas  July 7, 2020

    Bart, it took you one hour and twenty seven minutes to tell those folks, you are speaking Theology and your beliefs and not historically. Judith was obviously in their interest ( Catholicism) and wanted you to agree on their belief on declaring her sacred scripture.. The interview was fine an hour in and then you became restless and the original topic was lost. I like their mantra, which I heard repeatedly, ” that is my view or belief but I am open to correctness”. I am glad you are slowing down the sparring!!!!!!!😡

    • Avatar
      mcmemmo  July 19, 2020

      veritas – Judith was written in the 1st century BC. In the 4th century AD, it was declared canonical by Augustine and two different Church councils. So it is safe to assume that during the intervening years, SOME followers of Jesus believed Judith was sacred scripture and it was their tradition that was recognized as orthodox by the 4th century. The passage quoted by Albrecht from Judith (16:17) does indeed say the suffering from the Lord’s punishment experienced by the enemies of Israel will last forever: “Woe to the nations that rise against my people! The Lord Almighty will requite them; in the day of judgment he will punish them: He will send fire and worms into their flesh, AND THEY WILL WEEP AND SUFFER FOREVER.” Bart admits he overlooked Judith and as a result wasn’t immediately prepared to deal with the question. However, he recovered well and did a pretty good job addressing the question in the end.

  5. Avatar
    Judith  July 7, 2020

    Interesting, informative and intriguing the way you “debated” with Tom while remaining friendly. Glad you told about the blog!

  6. Avatar
    seahawk41  July 7, 2020

    Fascinating discussion!!

  7. Avatar
    roy  July 7, 2020

    very good discussion even though there may have been a few bumps in the road. should be good exposure for your book AND your blog

  8. Avatar
    katharinamacke  July 8, 2020

    This was very interesting! I myself grew up in the Jehovah’s Witness religion, so that’s the doctrine I am most familiar with. I am no longer a Christian today. The JWs actually teach that there is no heaven or hell. Rather, sinners receive eternal destruction as their punishment, while the righteous will live forever on a paradise earth. This paradise will be established after Armageddon, in which all sinners living at that moment will be destroyed forever. The righteous will survive. People who died before Armageddon will be resurrected afterwards and will receive a second chance to become righteous, and if they don’t, they will suffer destruction, too. A select few (144,000 anointed ones) will receive eternal life in heaven. I have 2 questions for Dr Ehrman: How much of an outlier are the JWs with this doctrine – are there any other Christian religions that teach this? And also: I heard that your next book is going to be on the Apocalypse – is that correct, and what is going to be the angle of that book? As a former doomsday group member, I am very interested in this subject.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 8, 2020

      1. I’m not sure I know of other major gruops with that view, no; 2. That’s the plan. It will be about how misinterpretations that the Apocalypse was to happen in our own time arose in the 19th century, came to dominate parts of the 20th, and, among other things, came to be secularized in political and social discourse (starting especially with the nuclear age; now with climate change)

      • Avatar
        katharinamacke  July 8, 2020

        That’s fascinating! I’m looking forward to the book! I just finished reading “William Miller” by George Knight about the Millerite movement. This is the starting point of the expectation of the second coming in America, isn’t it? The Jehovah’s Witnesses build on these adventist ideas. They combine verses from Revelation, Daniel and Matthew and construct from that their idea that Christ returned invisibly in 1914 and that we are living in the last days and Armageddon will come any day now. The current coronavirus pandemic of course feeds into that. The pale horseman and all that. Will your book examine these Millerite end time calculations and those of others?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 10, 2020

          I haven’t decided. I do deal with them in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium briefly.

          • Avatar
            katharinamacke  July 31, 2020

            After your response, I bought the “Apocalyptic Prophet” book and just finished reading it. (A great read! I think it is the 6th or 7th book of yours that I have read.) Towards the end, when you describe how Jesus (possibly) created a ruckus in the Temple by challenging the money changers and the animal sellers, and how he (possibly) did not deny the charges of having claimed to be the King of the Jews because he really believed himself to be just that – it made me wonder about how deluded he was at the end of his ministry. I wonder, if the Romans had not executed him when they did, could he have become the Jim Jones of his day? Do we know anything about what happened to other apocalyptic prophets of that time period?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 2, 2020

            As it turns out, the ones we know by name almost all were executed for one reason or another! (Think: John the Baptist). Most, though, went on to live harmless lives, predicting the end of the age until the end of their own life.

    • Avatar
      XanderKastan  July 9, 2020

      The Seventh Day Adventists also teach annihilation. (JW and SDA are related — both have roots in Miller and The Great Disappointment of 1844) . Also, even though this is not current, Harold Camping had a large following in Family Radio. Towards the end of his life, he was teaching annihilation (as well as that all the churches were apostate). You may recall the multi-million dollar advertising campaign in 2011 that claimed the rapture would arrive on May 21 of that year. That was Family Radio, led by Camping.

    • Avatar
      AstaKask  July 10, 2020

      The Jehova’s Witnesses came from the Seventh-Day Adventists, so they may have similar views.

  9. Avatar
    XanderKastan  July 8, 2020

    I really enjoyed this and found it very interesting! One tangential question not related to heaven/hell: It sounded like one person referred to Papias as a “keolist” (cheolist?, teolist?). My hearing is not what it used to be and I couldn’t make it out even after listening several times to that part. It’s at around 17 minutes in. Whatever it was, if it was ultimately a heresy, does that make Papias not proto-orthodox?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 8, 2020

      Ah, right. It’s chiliasm — the belief there would be a literall 1000 year reign of Christ on earth at the end of time (the “millennium). There were lots of proto-orthodox who held the belief, though they were sometimes frowned upon.

  10. Avatar
    Poohbear  July 8, 2020

    Some questions if I may.
    The 1500 year biblical theme is that life is a sojourn in the earth and we must seek the heavenly kingdom (not a new Eden.) Do you agree?
    “Arguments” that God’s breath in Adam was just air is disingenuous. Did God breath into plants, animals and bacteria to provide “living souls”?
    Most Jews DID believe in a resurrection. You use the minority Sadducees to prove your point. Can you explain why the views of common people, the Essenes and the Pharisees weren’t considered by you?
    The tired old Gehenna argument is fallacious and doesn’t even fit biblical contexts. What did Moses mean by, “blotted out of the book of life”?
    Where’s the evidence that Mark was written ca 70 and in Greek?
    Can you discern variableness between what Paul preached and what Peter’s companion wrote?
    There’s no list of cities Jesus visited. How can you say where he wasn’t? What’s this about every city and town hearing the Gospel?
    Why do you think Jesus’ ministry is only for simple, ignorant or poor folk? Did Jesus give money to the poor? Do you read of any rich converts? How many super-educated people believed on Jesus?
    Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 8, 2020

      I can only answer one question, at most two, at a time. 1. No 2. In the biblical view, only humans had divine souls.

      • Avatar
        roy  July 8, 2020

        what, no 79 questions? you are so stingy with your time, lol

      • Avatar
        dankoh  July 9, 2020

        The Bible writers obviously never met our cats!

    • Avatar
      dankoh  July 9, 2020

      Most Jews believe in resurrection NOW. What the majority believed in Second Temple times is not at all clear. In Talmudic times, the rabbis made resurrection – t’chiyat maytim (literally, making the dead alive) – into one of the very very few required beliefs; failure or refusal to believe it would cost you your place in the world to come. The fact that they were so stringent about this (and remember, Judaism doesn’t go in for dogma) suggests it was not a universal, perhaps not even a widespread, belief at the time.

  11. Avatar
    timcfix  July 8, 2020

    Wow! This troika is all over the scriptures and ancient writings. If I showed I knew that much when I was Roman Catholic I would have been excommunicated.

  12. Avatar
    darren  July 8, 2020

    First time I’ve seen you get into it with believers who aren’t protestant. This is highly entertaining for this former Catholic!!!!

  13. Avatar
    gwayersdds  July 8, 2020

    Wow!! Fascinating and extremely informative. Heard a lot of stuff that I have never heard of before, especially about Judith. Great discussions.

  14. Avatar
    longdistancerunner  July 8, 2020

    Wow…incredible conversation.

  15. Lev
    Lev  July 8, 2020

    Loved this video! Hoping you take them up on the offer for another round of debating the canon. 🙂

  16. Avatar
    Matt2239  July 8, 2020

    The Dead Sea Scrolls include the Book of Judith in the Septuagint. The Septuagint, the Old Testament in Greek, is the only version of the Old Testament that early Christian communities in Greece had access to. What Jews and early Christians believed about Judith at the time Jesus was teaching and during the time that Mark was writing is relevant to the discussion. And, as Bart wrote about a week ago, the Hebrew canon that excludes Judith was not agreed upon until after Mark was written. If Bart’s interlocutor is correct about Judith’s influence on Jesus, it would imply that Jesus could read the Septuagint.

  17. Avatar
    NonFingo  July 8, 2020

    Thank you for posting this video. I really enjoyed it.

    I have a question related to the discussion you and William Albrecht had about canon:

    The Septuagint translators decided to translate certain Hebrew/Aramaic writings into Greek; conversely, they decided not to translate others. For a couple of centuries thereafter, the Septuagint was the preferred scripture used by the majority of Jews, since most Jews at that time were part of the Diaspora and knew little or no Hebrew/Aramaic. Doesn’t the Septuagint therefore establish a canon of Jewish scriptures? And isn’t this in fact the earliest such canon? Wouldn’t the first few generations of Hellenistic Christians have considered the Septuagint to be the “official” Jewish Scriptures? And, finally, didn’t the Septuagint contain all the writings we now call Deuterocanonical, so that early Hellenistic Christians — and perhaps several generations of non-Christian Hellenistic Jews — would also have regarded those writings as Holy Scripture?

    I appreciate any insight you can provide on this. Thanks.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 8, 2020

      I don’t think we know what the trasnlators *decided* to do. If a book was not translated into Greek, there could be a variety of other reasons. E.g., maybe they didn’t know about it. But yes, the Septuagint is a canon. Any collection of books is a canon. But there was no “official” canon at the time.

  18. Avatar
    PBS  July 8, 2020

    Thanks for posting the video. You were gracious when you could have embarrassed those three large men (especially the co-hosts).

    As you do in your book, in the video you mentioned that Origen was anathematized in the 6th century(?) (not for promoting a form of universalism but for apokatastasis). Was universalism ever officially deemed heretical by any the three major branches of Christianity (RCC, EO & Prots) or, was it simply condemned farther down the line so to speak by individual RCC orders, EO regions or Protestant denominations?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 8, 2020

      Most Christian ideas on teh margins are never “officially” condemned. I’m not sure how that would actually work, at least since after the days of the ecumenical councils. Maybe someone could tell us!

      • Avatar
        Matt2239  July 9, 2020

        Do you agree that the Septuagint had been around for some 250 years before Jesus was born and that it included the Book of Judith, which apparently has some hell and afterlife verses in it? And as NonFingo said, the Septuagint would have been the version of scripture used by non-Judean Jews who were scattered about the Roman Empire.
        Fascinating that the discussion of heaven and hell has yielded another factoid suggesting Jesus knew Greek.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 10, 2020

          I believe it is usually thought that Judith was composed in Hebrew sometime in teh second century BCE (probably the 160s or so); I don’t know when the first Greek translation of it would have been made.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  July 9, 2020

        Didn’t Augustine condemn Origen’s universalism? How much weight would his condemnation carry?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 10, 2020

          he did, but by then virtually everyone else did as well. But Augustine’s was an incredibly powerful voice, and he devoted a good chunk of Book 22 of the City of God attacking various forms of universalism, Origen’s in particular.

  19. Avatar
    Tempo1936  July 8, 2020

    Bart was exceptional in responding to questions about the early church fathers. He even had to pull out an old book to refute claims by one of the hosts. Great podcast. You will not be disappointed when you listen to the entire hour+ of questions and answers.

  20. Avatar
    HawksJ  July 9, 2020

    That was fascinating. It’s interesting, now that I think about it, how little is discussed on here about Catholic doctrines.

    I have a question about the discussion of “Judith”. Until watching that, I didn’t even know there was such a book. I did know, however, that there was a group of ‘apocryphal’ books in the Catholic Bible.

    Why – do you think -that guy was so obsessed with establishing Judith, specifically, as canonical? Was it simply because she offered supposedly great evidence that early Christians believed in Hell (which was the question of the day), or is there a deeper/more significant issue among Catholics defending that book? That book seemed to be one of the most important issues in that guy’s faith.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2020

      I wasn’t quite sure!! I’ve never encountered that before.

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