Did Jesus Mean that Literally? Rewards and Punishments in the Afterlife

I return now to my thread dealing with the teachings about the afterlife in the New Testament.  One question that can naturally be asked is whether what is said about the afterlife in this, that, or the other passage is meant to be taken literally.    For example, I have discussed the famous passage of the “Sheep and the Goats” in Matthew 25, where the Son of Man at the end of history sits on his throne and divides the nations ...

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The Sheep and the Goats

Jesus’ teaching about the “separation of the sheep and the goats” is found in only one place in the New Testament, Matthew 25:31-46.  It is easily one of my favorite passages of the entire Bible, and as I have pointed out, in my view, it is a teaching of Jesus himself (not something put on his lips by Matthew or by Matthew’s source, M, or by an early Christian story-teller).  I think in fact, it well encapsulates Jesus’ entire proclamation.  ...

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Jesus, the Sheep, and the Goats

I have been talking about the criterion of dissimilarity for one ultimate reason: wanted to show why, in my opinion, a particular passage in Matthew’s Gospel goes back to the historical Jesus, the man himself.  I.e., it does not involve words put on his lips by later followers, but is something he himself actually said.  If you’re a little fuzzy on how the criterion of dissimilarity works, please read the preceding two posts.

The following has been taken from my undergraduate ...

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Reviewing the Afterlife

I want to return now to the main thread that I left off a couple of months ago about developing views of the afterlife in ancient Judaism and then in early Christianity.

I didn’t actually leave that thread – I simply moved deeper into a specific aspect of it.  If you’ll recall, the broader thread is simply about where the modern notions of heaven and hell came from; the specific aspect I’ve been covering involved the “otherworldly journeys” that you find ...

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Too Much Money and the Afterlife

In a previous post I talked about the very funny satirical dialogue of the second-century pagan Lucian of Samosata, “Voyage to the Underworld” in which an unbelievably wealthy tyrant became incredibly miserable after death, because he realized that all his power, influence, and massive wealth had been stripped from him, and would be, for all eternity, whereas a poor cobbler who had lived a miserably impoverished existence was rather pleased that he no longer would starve and freeze nearly to ...

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A Satirical Lesson about the Afterlife

One of the things I’m planning to emphasize in my scholarly book on voyages to the afterlife, is that the overarching point of most of these narratives is not only (or even primarily) to reveal what will actually happen to people after they die, but to encourage them to live in certain ways now, while they can.  This is true not only for the Christian accounts but for pagan ones as well.

One of the most hilarious authors from Greco-Roman antiquity ...

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Looking at Hell

I have been talking about different views of what the afterlife entails.  In the broadest terms, some ancient people believed that everyone at death had the same fate: they lived on, not in their body but in their soul, in some kind of netherworld where nothing much ever happened.  It was a dreadfully banal and boring existence, that went on forever, the same for everyone.

Some ancient authors who had that view described visits to the underworld by the living, where ...

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The First Recorded Visit to the Realm of the Dead (in Western literature)

The first account we have of a living human making a trip to the realm of the dead in Western literature is in the Odyssey of Homer.  The Odyssey is about the ten-year attempt of the hero, Odysseus, to return home to Ithaca after the (also ten-year) Trojan war.   Many adventures and mishaps meet him en route.  At about the half-way point of the narrative, in book ten, he is on the island of Aeaea where he has encountered the ...

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Journeys to Heaven and Hell: A Sketch of My Project

As I indicated in my previous post, I’ve decided to write a scholarly book on tours of heaven and hell in ancient Christian texts.  I am tentatively calling the book “Observing the Dead: Otherworldly Journeys in the Early Christian Tradition.”   I decided last week to come up with a 1000 word sketch of what I am thinking so far, about what the book would be and why it is needed.   This is just a draft for my own thinking, written ...

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My New Scholarly Project

I have a lot more to say about the development of the views of the afterlife in ancient Jewish and Christian thinking – specifically, about how we got from an understanding that there would be a resurrection of the body (the view I’ve been discussing) to the idea that when a person dies, their soul (not their body) goes to heaven or hell —  the view most (not the *vast* majority, of course) people have today.   It’s a good thing ...

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