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Life after Death in the Bible and Beyond: Webinar with Oxford Press

On April 20, 2020, I did a webinar for Oxford University Press.   I have published three textbooks with Oxford and the textbook division has started hosting these events, principally for college and university professors and their students, but anyone is welcome to sign up and join in.   When they asked me if I'd be interested, I thought it sounded like a great idea; and when they asked what I'd like to do it on, I told them the afterlife.  Of course!  It's what I've been thinking about and doing all my research on for the last four years or so -- not what *really* happens in the afterlife (for that I would need more experience, and I'm not eager to have it at this stage of existence, since, well, it will be my last experience and I won't be able to write about it -- but about where the ideas of the afterlife came from, especially those that have been prevalent for most of the past 2000 years.  They entitled the event "Life after Death [...]

2020-05-03T10:02:19-04:00May 3rd, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

The Not Old Better Show – Heaven and Hell Book Interview

On April 1 I did a podcast interview with Paul Vogelzang, the host of Smithsonian Associates "The Not Old Better Show," aired on Soundcloud (Washington DC). The podcast focuses on the issues or particular relevance to the 50+ crowd (nence its name) but obviously lots of the topics it hits are on the minds of everyone else as well. The interview was on my new book on Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.   I read an excerpt from the book int he interview but mostly it's question and answer. I've done the show several times now, and have always found Paul to be an unusually perceptive and generous interviewer.  Here 'tis. Please adjust gear icon for 720p High-Definition: 

2020-04-23T21:14:18-04:00April 22nd, 2020|Book Discussions, Public Forum, Video Media|

Life in Hades

In my previous post I discussed Odysseus’s encounter with his mother in Hades, where we learn that the “spirits,” “shades,” “ghosts,” “souls” (they are called a number of things) there do not have any physical characteristics – no flesh or bones, even though they can be seen and can drink blood and are afraid of swords.   I think, at the end of the day, this is not a coherent picture.  If they can drink blood but don’t have bodies, where does the blood go?  And if they can’t be touched, how can they hold something (a container from which the blood to be drunk, e.g.), and why would they be afraid of a sword (if you can’t be hugged, why can you be cut or hacked).  And if they don’t actually have eyes, how can they see?  Or if they don’t have tongues and vocal chords, how can they talk? The point is probably not, however, to paint a completely coherent picture – or if it is the point, Homer has failed terribly.  Still, the [...]

The Body and Soul in Hades

When Odysseus goes to the underworld, he meets with a number of people, but most interesting are his encounter with his own mother (who died after he had set sail, years before, with the Greek armies heading to Troy) and the great Greek hero Achilles, the greatest of the mighty warriors in the war.   The encounters are interesting because they show us how the realm of the dead was being imagined.   There is real pathos in both episodes.  In this post I’ll talk about the first. After Odysseus has arrived in Hades and has made the prescribed sacrifices (see the former post), the “shade” of his mother comes to him beside the pit filled with the blood of the sacrificial animals.   Several immediate points to make. For one thing, it may seem weird that of all the people who are dead (today, of course, we think of many billions of people!), his mother just happens to come up.  How did she know he was there?  We aren’t told. We are told, though, that he recognizes [...]

2020-04-03T02:03:24-04:00August 30th, 2017|Afterlife, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|

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 witch-sorceress Circe. At the end of his stay there he pleads with her that he desperately wants to get home.  She instructs him that he must first travel down to the “House of the Dead” and to the “awesome one Persephone” (i.e., the goddess who rules the underworld, with her husband Hades).   There he needs to consult with the ghost of Tiresias, a famous blind prophet, who has retained all his wits and prophetic powers in Hades.  This is an important point: the other dead (in other words, everyone else who has ever lived) do [...]

2020-04-03T02:03:32-04:00August 29th, 2017|Afterlife, Greco-Roman Religions and Culture, Public Forum|
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