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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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 Origins of Heaven and Hell

Where did the idea of a “differentiated” afterlife come from?  I’m not overly fond of the word “differentiated,” since it’s not one we normally use.  But for the moment I can’t think of a better one for the phenomenon I’m thinking of.

An “undifferentiated” afterlife is one in which everyone has the same experience: there is no difference between one person and the next.  It doesn’t matter if the person lived a good life, was kind to strangers, was meek, humble, ...

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Eternal Life and Damnation

In my summaries of the Apocalypse of Peter and the Apocalypse of Paul, as a couple of readers noticed, there was a striking difference in emphasis.  Both of these early Christian texts (the first from the second century, the other from the fourth or possibly the fifth?) narrate guided tours of the realms of the blessed and of the damned, and both seem more interested in describing the torments of the lost than the ecstasies of the saved.

The former focuses ...

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Thinking about Hell

When I search my mind for times in my (distant) past that I thought about hell, I conjure up two very different moments.  Today when I think about them it is with a good sense of humor.

The first is when I must have been maybe eight or nine.  I was at some kind of summer camp, and we had a daily camp meeting where we would sing songs and someone would come talk to us.  One day there was a ...

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Views of the Afterlife

If my publisher agrees that my next book can/should be “The Invention of the Afterlife” (or whatever we call it) I will, as you might suspect, be thinking a lot about heaven and hell over the next couple of years.   I”ve already been thinking a lot about them over the past six months as I’ve been reading broadly on the topic.  I’m NOT, of course, mainly reading about what REALLY happens to us when we die.  No one knows that.

Or ...

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(Later) Early Christian Understandings of Heaven and Hell

Yesterday I gave Part One of a two-part discussion of the “invention” of heaven and hell, from my book Jesus Interrupted.  There I sketched out the apocalyptic vision of what would happen at the end of time as the original view among the followers of Jesus.  Here is where I continue that discussion into some reflections of where the Christian teachings of the afterlife, as later formulated, came from.

 

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The Transformation of the Apocalyptic Vision

What happens when this expected ...

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Jesus and Paul on Heaven and Hell

A couple of days ago I indicated on the blog that I am thinking about devoting my next book to the “Invention of the Afterlife” – that is, to the question of where the Christian doctrines of heaven and hell came come.  I asked for comments (and I still welcome them) from people about what they would be interested in seeing in a book like that.  Many, many thanks to everyone who has (so far!) responded to my request!

As some ...

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The Invention of the Afterlife: Request for Ideas!

Toward the end of this post I will be asking for your opinions and ideas.   So I hope you get that far!

Now that I have sent my manuscript on The Triumph of Christianity off to my editor, and before she gets back to me for revisions and edits, I am turning my thoughts to the next book.  The reality is that I am not 100% certain what it will be.   That still has to be worked out, negotiated, and approved ...

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Speaking in Churches as an Agnostic; and Jewish Beliefs about Afterlife. Readers Mailbag August 13, 2016

 

I will be dealing with two rather wide-ranging questions in this week’s Readers Mailbag:  What is it like for me, a public agnostic/atheist, to give a talk to believers in a church?  And what did Jews believe about the afterlife in the time of Jesus?

 

QUESTION:

Dr. Ehrman, do churches hire you to lecture on Christianity knowing that you’re an atheist? Do you ever get tempted to say, “Let’s be honest here. I think all of your cherished religious beliefs are baloney, ...

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