A couple of people have asked me about the status of my two books – the one that is finished and coming out, The Triumph of Christianity: How A Forbidden Religion Swept the World, and the one I am now doing my research on The Invention of the Afterlife: A History of Heaven and Hell.

First, Triumph.  There is indeed news about this one, and I can’t decide if it’s good news or bad news.  It feels (emotionally) like it’s bad but I think it is probably good.   My publisher, Simon & Schuster, has decided to delay publication from this coming September until the following February.  The new publication date is February 13.

There are no glitches or problems with publishing it earlier.  It is done and ready to go.  I have read through two sets of page proofs, it has been copy-edited multiple times, it is sitting there waiting to be run off and sent out.  But for a variety of complicated reasons Simon & Schuster wants to wait till February.

The short story (this is what makes the delay good) is that publishers try to figure out when will be the best time for the publication of a book, when it should appear to maximize the possibility of getting the most extensive media attention so as to maximize the possibility of increased sales.   And the reality – as we all know and daily experience – is that what is happening in our national politics has sucked the air out of every room, and has been doing so for nearly two years now.  People are focused on what is happening in our executive branch.  It’s just about the only thing many of us are paying attention to.  It’s the only think the media is talking about, or wants to talk about.

So what has that to do with books about religion?  Two things: one is, obviously, that it is hard right now to get any media attention to anything else.  *ANYTHING* else!   And the second is related: many of the top publishers in the trade-book publishing world, because of the lack of air in the room, have delayed publishing their BIG books from the last year or so  because they didn’t want to compete with the national political news for attention.  And so this coming fall, when they don’t feel like they can delay any longer, they are publishing a lot of books that had been put off for a while.  Major books from lots of presses.  Massive competition for attention from the media, booksellers, and books stores.

And so Simon & Schuster has decided not simply add my book to the mix but to put it off until — one can only hope (whether there is any realistic chance or not) — the market will be more open.   It’s a gamble either way.  We’ll see.

I think it’s a good thing.   The only reason I hesitate is that I’m so eager for it to come out and do well.   This will be my thirteenth trade book (my first was Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium, which came out in 1999), and in my opinion it is the very best of the lot (I think the next best was probably How Jesus Became God; the most successful has been Misquoting Jesus).  I am really happy with it, in every way.  I’ve never been as pumped or satisfied with a trade book.   So as eager as I am for it to appear, I’m even more eager for it to do well!  So may the Publishing Gods be with us!

I will say more about The Invention of the Afterlife in later posts down the line.  Here let me simply say that I’ve been reading massively for it – everything of relevance that I can find.  I’ve already read and taken notes on most of the major studies of afterlife in Greece, Rome, Judaism (starting with ancient Israel), and early Christianity, and am now starting to plow seriously into the primary texts, that is the ancient sources.  Most of these I’ve known and read for years, of course.  But now I’m reading them with a very focused and critical eye to see what they can reveal about the afterlife.

This week I have worked carefully through a number of ancient Mesopotamian texts, especially the Gilgamesh epic (the first account of anyone taking a trip to the realm of the dead), but also the Descent of Ishtar, Nergal and Ereshigal, and others, and bits of the Egyptian book of the Dead.  I’m very excited that today I start work on Homer, both the brief references to the afterlife in the Iliad and the more extensive stories of the Odyssey (especially book 11, where Odysseus goes to the underworld and speaks with a number of the “shades” there).  This is really exciting material, and I’m seriously thinking about devoting a year or so to writing, in addition to Invention, a scholarly monograph to it.

In any event, I will be spending a good bit of time on the blog talking about all this – once I finish the thread on how I lost my faith, a thread that I originally planned to take one or two posts but which is not, instead, already in its second month!

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