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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.

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  1. Avatar
    timcfix  April 23, 2020

    Whoops, although much is written about sheep during Passover goats were acceptable, (Ex 12: 5) “5Your lamb shall be without blemish, a male a year old. You may take it from the sheep or from the goats,”. And in (Lev 16: 7) “7Then he shall take the two goats and set them before the LORD at the entrance of the tent of meeting.” I never have understood where lamb on one side and the goat on the other symbolizes, perhaps the lamb is peace and the goat is sin. Anyway burning in the fire for eternity is out of place for the words of Jesus. Just.another way to scare the bejesus into each of us.

  2. Avatar
    AstaKask  April 23, 2020

    Seems like there’s a problem with the setup.

  3. Avatar
    WhenBeliefDies  April 24, 2020

    I would be really interested to know the criteria you use to decide if you will or won’t be involved in an interview or debate.

    You must get a lot of requests. How do you decide what you will or will not appear on?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 26, 2020

      Before teh crisis I had a set speaking fee that I charged, as do most speakers. Now I try to maximize my outreach, so a podcast with 50 downloads last month is not competitive with one that had 50,000, etc.

  4. Avatar
    jrauch  April 24, 2020

    Bart, I really enjoyed reading and learning from your latest book. The “dangling carrot” of Christianity (today) is to obtain eternal joy in heaven and avoid eternal torture in hell, which will occur as soon as we die. I always had difficulty in defending my position that Jesus and Paul preached that nobody was going to either place until the Son of Man/Jesus comes to earth for judgement. They would always quote Jesus, “today you will be with me in paradise” and Paul “I desire to depart and be with Christ”. I was as guilty as apologist today in trying to explain what they really meant and not what is actually written. The answer you give in your book makes total sense to me. BTW, I really loved your final paragraph! The best compliment that I can give you is that I wish you were my neighbor and friend. Thank you for a really great book.

  5. Avatar
    mannix  April 27, 2020

    I have not (yet) read H&H (mea cupla, etc.) so you may have covered this.

    I have wondered whether the concept of God/Afterlife was an early invention of “weaker” humans as a defense mechanism against exploitation by “stronger” ones. As an example, if leaders of a horde of conquering barbarians could be convinced that massacres, enslavements, looting and other atrocities committed upon erstwhile victims would be punished severely after death, would they relent somewhat? While the concept would have been an initial “invention”, as time passed it would evolve as fact and would apply to any “offender”, whether the offense was violent or otherwise. Call it “justice” or “leveling the field” or whatever, it serves the purpose of discouraging oppression of any type.

    • Bart
      Bart  April 28, 2020

      Interesting idea! But no, I don’t think so. You’ll see how I work it out in the book!

  6. Avatar
    Osuaggiefan  April 28, 2020

    I actually listened to this book on audible. its always cool when the author actually reads it, not the case here 🙁 just the intro which was cool though. This book is a good’n to be sure, but my fav is prolly Jesus Interrupted

  7. sschullery
    sschullery  April 29, 2020

    In Mark 9:43 Jesus clearly (in red letters!) alludes to the existence of hell. Yet, you claim he never did. What gives?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 30, 2020

      You need to read my book! (Jesus never uses the word “hell,” even though English translations use the word for some of the ings he says) (this, by the way, is not really much of a disputed point among scholars today)

      • sschullery
        sschullery  May 1, 2020

        Please, if you can, excuse my terrible memory. I’ve bought and read all of your books, and I promise I will go back and reread. But, to the slightly bigger issue …

        My RSV concordance shows eleven entries for the word hell between Mathew (7), Mark (3), and Luke (1). Are we to understand that they are all bogus as far as Jesus using the word goes? My copy of The New Testament from 26 Translations, for Mark 9:43, shows only 4 or 5 that avoid the word hell, and those use equivalent phrases like “into the unquenchable fire.” This is most frustrating.

        Is there a reliable translation that you recommend. I apologize as I know this has been asked before, but I thought it was the RSV.


        • Bart
          Bart  May 3, 2020

          I talk about this in the new book on Heaven and Hell. The word translated there is Gehenna, and it does not refer to a place of eternal punishment for souls. It’s a desecrated valley outside of Jerusalem that corpses could be tossed into. I explain it all in the book.

          • Avatar
            Osuaggiefan  May 3, 2020

            If I was going to make one change in the book it would be the buffet style approach to Jesus’ teachings. If it’s canon, of course it influenced what Christians believed for centuries. What was very good about the book was that it showed how the early writers outside the canon felt on the subject as time progressed. However, as Dr E says, many of those writers were not as good at interpretation as we can be nowadays with a little critical study 😊👍

      • Avatar
        Lactantius  May 12, 2020

        Doesn’t Matthew 13:41-42 suggest a hell?

        The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. [And his disciples came to him, saying, ‘Master, what about those who have no teeth?’ Jesus replied, ‘teeth will be provided.’]

        I’ve watched too many of your debates during the shut-down. This one was great!

        • Bart
          Bart  May 12, 2020

          Ha! Yeah, it’s a great story! But no, I argue in my book that the tortured do indeed feel torment and real grief. Right before they die. When a criminal is burned at the stake, he may weep and shriek, but not for a month or decade or eternity. He is destroyed.

  8. Avatar
    bradseggie  May 4, 2020

    I just bought your book. But I loved your comment about atheism causing you to become more moral, or at least more concerned about helping people during this lifetime.

    The Hebrew Bible sets up the idea that God is just and rewards/punishes based upon merit. A logical person would, from that, conclude that a person who suffers in this lifetime deserves their punishment and that a person who does well in this lifetime deserves their riches. The Book of Job is there so that people can have their cake and eat it, too – God will reward you and punish you based upon your merit, but you can’t judge others for their plight.

    Similarly, the concept of Heaven and Hell is a two-edged sword. While it is comforting to believe that all rights and wrongs will be leveled in the afterlife, a logical person would conclude that it’s not too important to help people during this ephemeral existence as God will take care of it in the afterlife. Thus, I believe the reason that evangelicals are more likely to support economic policies that allow greater inequality while atheists are far less likely to accept that.

    I’ve seen studies that religious kids are less moral than non-religious. Basically, the religious kids believe they are “good” because of what they believe and their religious praxis and not because of their treatment of others, which leads them to treat others poorly.

  9. Avatar
    PBS  June 5, 2020

    Dr. Ehrman, I’m seeking a clarification in your terrific book on Heaven and Hell. On page 59 you indicate that Virgil departs from Homer by articulating that souls are either rewarded or punished in Hades. When you write “Now, in Virgil’s telling…” are you indicating that the notion of rewards & punishments was first (clearly) introduced by Virgil (as distinct from Homer’s more vague Hades) even though, as you also discuss in your book, Plato (earlier in history of course) described degrees of rewards and punishments (bottom of page 61)? In other words, who was first to introduce the idea of rewards & punishments? Thanks and please straighten me out.

    • Bart
      Bart  June 7, 2020

      No, I’m not saying Virgil came up with the idea. I’m saying that he adopts it and that it makes him different from Homer.

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