After I had engaged for a couple of months doing some real research and thinking seriously about my scholarly book on visions of and journeys to the realms of heaven and hell (tentatively entitled, for now, Otherworldly Journeys: Katabasis Traditions in Early Christianity), I thought I might start it all by doing a kind of history of research. This is how scholarly books commonly used to start – especially books of German scholarship and American dissertations. Chapter one would be a discussion of what all the other scholars had said about a topic, and use that history of scholarship to set up what the author him/herself wanted to explore, argue, and say that was different – whether it involved new data or new interpretations of old data, etc.
That way of preceding was always highly informative (and often seen as essential: my dissertation advisor insisted on it!) but not always scintillating, and most books today are more driven by scintillation. So I certainly was not planning, for this book, on giving a blow-by-blow account of everything everyone had ever said about Katabasis in ancient writings, from Gilgamesh to Homer to Aristophanes to Plato to Virgil to Lucian to Jewish apocalypses to Christian apocalypses etc. etc. Too pedantic.
But I was struck by a particular feature of the great bulk of this research, and thought I might devote a chapter to it. As I pointed out in the previous post, scholars who started studying the Christian versions of afterlife journeys seriously, with the discovery of the Apocalypse of Peter in 1886-87, were obsessed with the question of where the idea of a journey to heaven and hell came from. Where did Christians pick it up?
Was it from …
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