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What I’m Thinking about the Afterlife

I became interested in writing this book about the afterlife a couple of years ago, when I realized with unexpected clarity – out of the blue (I don’t know what sparked my thinking) – that the views most people have are not from the Bible.  Many people, of course, do not believe in the afterlife at all.  But at least in my parts of the world (both where I grew up, and where I have lived my life, first Chicago, then New Jersey, and now for the past 28 years North Carolina) those people who do believe in an afterlife (with a few, but only a very few exceptions), think that your body dies and your soul lives on.  In the now traditional Christian idea, your soul goes to heaven or hell.

Where did that idea come from?  Most of the Bible, of course, is the Old Testament (it’s about 3-4 times as large as the New Testament).  And the Old Testament teaches no such thing.  Moreover, Jesus himself did not teach any such thing.  And I would argue that the no such thing is taught in *most* of the New Testament – though there are some passages people could appeal to in support of the view, even if the passages in fact appear to be saying something else.

What the Bible *does* teach will be a large part of what I want to talk about in the book.  But what struck me when I first started thinking about it is that what most Christians appear to think is not what Jesus and his followers originally thought; and it is not taught in the Scriptures that Jesus and his followers relied upon;  and in fact it is not directly taught anywhere in the Bible.  And yet, in my context…

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Group Visions and Agnostic Jesus Scholars: Mailbag March 12, 2017
Does the Afterlife Matter for Other Things?



  1. Antonio Campos  March 10, 2017

    I suggest to your studies about this subject that you read ” The Spirits’ book”, by Allan Kardec, publication that celebrates 160 years in April. It is a doctrine based on Christian teachings and defends life after physical death. Link to the book in English (legal free): http://www.autoresespiritasclassicos.com/allan%20kardec/Allan%20Kardec/English%20Language/Allan%20Kardec%20-%20The%20Spirits%20Book.pdf
    Finally, I believe that Jesus gave some clues about life after death, as in the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16: 22-31).

  2. Todd  March 10, 2017

    I was going to suggest looking also into Eastern concepts as well, which are of interest to me, especially how they may relate to Western ideas, but I do understand your need to focus on the Judeo-Christian western tradition in your book. Near death experiences also are of interest to me, especially when some NEDs relate verifiable details of what is happening around them shortly after death. I got interested in that when I read Dr. Raymond Moody’s book on this long, long ago…”Life After Life.” The book is still available.

    My current thoughts are still that we just don’t know what, and it is best for us to live compassionately with happiness in the here and now, and what happens after death is something we can’t control.

    Good discussion. Please keep sharing your progress.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  March 10, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I think one very important impact of your book is that many nominal Christians, who have never thoroughly read the Bible and merely have the popular understandings of the afterlife, will come to learn that Jesus had a VERY Jewish understanding of the afterlife. I think most shocking is the fact that much of what Jesus most likely believed was not much difference from what orthodox Jews believe today, namely, that when you die your body returns to the “dust” of the earth, and that only during the eschaton, the final Day of Judgment, everyone (or only every Jew, depending on the sect) who has died will be resurrected *in bodily form* and either saved to live on a new paradise on earth (or sent to live with God if they’re especially holy) or rejected from being part of this so-called ‘Olam ha-Ba, or “World-to-come”.

    The main difference, however, is that Jesus’ preaching seems to have reflected a more severe strain of Jewish apocalyptic thinking, one that we see, for example, with the Dead Sea community. These more severe Jews believed that not only would the wicked be rejected from the World-to-come, but that they would also be tortured and tormented in “Gehenna,” or the Valley of Gehinnom, where they will be burned by an eternal “lake of fire” on the outside of their bodies while being eaten away by worms on the inside. Orthodox Jews today generally reject this picture of Gehenna, but it was clearly a popular belief amongst Jews in Jesus’ day.

    Anyway, I think that many Christians today would be shocked and surprised to learn that this is probably what Jesus actually believed and actually preached. That’s why I think your book would be important.

  4. ddecker54  March 10, 2017

    Bart –

    Consistent with the idea that my opinion is free and worth every penny, I would suggest that if you are going to contemplate consciousness and its nature, I would pay less heed to psychologists and neuro-scientists and rather find out what the real experts have to say about this matter,,and that would be the sages of the East. I might suggest Ramana Maharshi and Nisargadatta Maharaj. Any discourse on consciousness/awareness that does not start with what these jnanis say would be missing the point completely.

    Based upon your post, I’d say that keeping the book under 1,000 pages will be a constant challenge. Good luck!

  5. bcdwa288  March 10, 2017

    Does the Afterlife Matter for Other Things? (March 8, 2017 Post Title) That is a profound question. I do not believe there is an afterlife. I do believe that it would drastically change human life on Earth if “eternal life” actually, factually, existed and could be demonstrated and confirmed in reality. So, in my opinion, the concept of “The Afterlife” matters or affects many other aspects of human life.
    One approach to your new book or some other future book might be to try to imagine what human life on earth would be like if there was no human death. We would all live forever on Earth or, at some point, we leave Earth and go to a better place and then, at some point, we go to an even better place. How would that reality impact our life on Earth?

  6. stokerslodge  March 10, 2017

    Thank you Bart, fascinating stuff, please keep it coming!

  7. Kirktrumb59  March 10, 2017

    Sounds pretty darn interesting. I have multiple articles re: “consciousness,” its relationship to its cousins attention and theory of mind, NDEs. They are culled from the neurological and neuropsychological literature(s). Some might be too technical, but I of course dunno. A Tony Damasio-authored consciousness article might be of particular interest. If you are interested, can send or refer you to sources.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      Sure, send me (not the articles but) the references. Thanks,

      • SidDhartha1953  March 13, 2017

        Is Daniel Dennett’s Consciousness Explained on your reading list? It’s not new (I read it in the 1990s) but it’s got some very interesting material.

  8. ganglion  March 10, 2017

    I would definitely read this book

  9. moose  March 10, 2017

    To me it seems like NDE is in conflict with the theory of evolution. I mean, to embrace death must be in stark conflict with the phrase; “Survival of the fittest”?
    There are stories of people about to freeze to death, which after a while begins to feel warm and comfortable, and begin to undress. A condition recorded in the diaries of Scott from his Antarctic expedition over a hundred years ago.
    But this is not a condition that should have a high probability of being transferred to subsequent generations.
    Example; Two suitors have to go over a mountain to meet their chosen one. On the mountain, they are surprised by a blizzard. One has genes that eventually embraces death, and he even undress. But the other one has genes that are fighting against death, and thus may be able to maintain some body temperature. Which of these would have the greatest chance of getting delivered its genetic material to subsequent generations? It’s obviously not the one who experienced NDE.
    The fact that people experiencing NDE suggests(to me) that it has a distinctive origin.

    • SidDhartha1953  March 13, 2017

      Here is an article that may shed some light on the natural causes of NDEs. Also, I recall an account from David Livinstone’s autobiography of being attacked by a lion. He said that, as the lion was shaking him, much as a cat shakes a mouse, he went limp and became completely insensitive to pain and without fear. He speculated that this must be a mechanism implanted by the creator to prevent prey from suffering in their last moments of life. It may also have a survival value, if seeming to be dead causes the attacker to lose interest.

  10. clipper9422@yahoo.com  March 10, 2017

    All great topics. It sounds like the book could be massive.

  11. Hume  March 10, 2017

    1. Why does each generation including our own predict our own demise? Is there something in the human being that longs for the end, as Freud put it – the Death Instinct.
    2. And why is Revelation so bloodthirsty and scary?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      1. My sense is that it seems to be (alwasy) as bad as it can get… 2. To win readers?

      • BlowingInTheWind  March 12, 2017

        Bart, having reached 65 years on my own spiritual quest pondering the mysteries of the universe, am wrapping my thoughts around the one thing which binds ALL living creatures together which is electricity. I firmly believe “God” as well as our “souls” ie such consciousness is – Electricity.

        When the electricity stops inside us, we die.

        Where does the energy of that electricity go?

        Well, back in to the main universal “grid”

        Nick Tesla – probably (well, maybe) the smartest thinker us humans have yet produced – thought – was convinced – electricity has intelligence. He taught “…if you wish to understand the Universe, think of energy, frequency and vibration….”

        I have also been studying URIEL’S MACHINE by Knight & Lomas which in part has led me down the path towards thinking The Book of Revelations pertains to a giant comet and/or meteor coming to strike the earth – again – like has happened previously. The Noah’s Ark story makes sense when taking comet strike in to the factoring as just one example

        Have you studied The Book of Enoch to the point of making a book?

        Best, Robert Beerbohm

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2017

          Yes, the Enochic literature is very important to some of my work.

  12. Wilusa  March 10, 2017

    I’ll be interested in your thoughts on NDEs, since you’ve read a lot about them. *Not* having read a lot, I tend to assume they’re basically dreams – conjuring up what the dreamer believes, hopes, or (in some cases) fears is in store for him or her if they’re actually dying. But I might change my opinion if there are similarities that can’t be accounted for by the dreamers’ common backgrounds.

    Many years ago, I flatlined and had to be resuscitated two different times. I never experienced anything – at least, anything I remembered. On the second occasion, a nurse asked me whether I’d had any kind of NDE. I told her that I hadn’t, but I thought it was great that she asked people. I think I also expressed the opinion that some of us may have had experiences and not remembered them, just as we usually don’t remember our dreams.

  13. Johann Smit  March 10, 2017

    What about the assumption (?) that because energy cannot be destroyed, when we die, that energie just keep on existing?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      Just because our energy survives doesn’t mean that our consciousness does. The lightbulb doesn’t function any more once it burns out.

  14. 11thStory  March 10, 2017

    Very exciting future endeavors! My past Catholic > mystical Christian > atheist background has led me to the study and interest in the science of consciousness and my subsequent short film, The Deeper You Go. Plug: A good intro to the topic and available to watch on YouTube!

    I am interested in your opinion on NDE’s. Is belief a mere collection of facts to approve or disapprove or a brain state that seeks cohesion and community? What does one give up when disbelief enters the equation?

  15. ComputersHateAndrewLivingston  March 10, 2017

    Doc, if you never write a book called “Apocalypse Now and Then”, you may as
    well call it a failed career. That is just too good.

  16. pbth4  March 10, 2017

    I love this topic … looking forward to your book! A few interesting resources for some different ideas around the issues of death and the afterlife:

    Yale free archived course on death, with some interesting discussions about the soul:

    Book: “the Soul Fallacy” by Julien Musolino

    Book: “Sum, Forty stories of the afterlife” by Neuroscient, David Eagleman

    Video series by LA Mortician, Caitlin Doughty: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DlsaSbIQEiw
    also her book: “Smoke Gets in your eyes”

    Book: “the big picture” by theoretical physicist at Cal Tech, Sean Carroll

    Book: “lincoln in the Bardo” by George Saunders

    and one of my favorites, “the book of ER” in Plato’s Republic

    thanks for your interest in this topic, its a very important one indeed!

  17. TWood
    TWood  March 10, 2017

    1. In your view, is there any evidence Jesus could have preached that salvation would come about from believing in his upcoming death and resurrection? Or do you think all the statements in the gospels that somewhat imply that are placed on his lips by the NT authors? I think I know your view, but I’m wondering if there is any passage that makes you wonder if the historical Jesus possibly hinted at this in his earthly ministry (in Galilee or Judea).

    2. If not, then is it basically true that the religion Jesus taught (salvation via feeding the hungry and clothing the naked) is different from the religion the first disciples and Paul taught (salvation via believing Jesus died for your sins)?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      1. Not in my view. 2. Yes, I think they are very different. But with some key similarities.

      • TWood
        TWood  March 12, 2017

        I agree and I have my way of explaining it… but do you mind giving a brief statement on what the differences and similarities are, generally speaking? I struggle to explain this to others as clearly as I’d like to… so any input that’d help me do this would be awesome. Thanks!

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2017

          This is too long for a comment here. I give a full discussion in my The New Testament: A Historical Introduction. Shortest version. Similarieis: both are apoclayptic Jews expecting that the end will come wihin their generation as God destroy’s the forces of evil to bring in his kingdom. Differences: Jesus expected the kingdom to be brought by the Son of Man to those who kept the Torah the way God wanted; Paul expected it to be brought by Jesus not to those who followed Torah but to those who believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection.

  18. Jason  March 10, 2017

    This seems like as good a time as any to ask something I’ve always wondered about. Does the medieval church’s reliance on combustion imagery in descriptions of hell rely completely on 1 Cor. 7:9, and is the original Greek sense of the word translated as “burn” there in later English (eg, “with lust”) versions conceptually distinct from burning in a hearth fire? (ie, would a Koine speaker have been confused if you conflated the two ideas in a play on words like the “anothen” thing?)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      No, there are other passages too, such as Revelation 20 and the “lake of fire”

  19. Stephen  March 10, 2017

    Prof Ehrman

    While you’re taking the tours of the afterlife don’t forget the Epic of Gilgamesh. The character Enkidu journeys to the netherworld in a dream and we are presented with one of the most terrifying and despairing views possible. The image has stayed with me ever since I read the Epic in school. Haunting. I won’t spoil it for anyone who hasn’t yet read the Epic but let’s just say these peoples of the Ancient Near East had a real hard way of looking at things.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      Yup, a true classic. Reread it last week to think through some of the issues.

  20. Alanizd1  March 10, 2017

    Thank you. This is my first post on this site. I’ve watched and listen to all I can find online from you and that is why I joined the blog. Can’t wait to see how you develop these ideas in your book(s)! Thanks so much for caring for other and to give us such a great premium for doing the “Christian” (insert other applicable beliefs here) thing and caring for our brothers.

  21. Pattylt  March 10, 2017

    One of the ideas of the early Christians that I found fascinating was the insistence of the resurrection of the flesh and that Paul seemed to be pretty clear that we are NOT raised in the body we die in. Why was it so important to the early fathers of Christianity that we keep our flesh? Good grief, I don’t want to keep my poor scarred and arthritic body (I do not belive in an afterlife) but these men certainly did. It was a distinction from Greek thought was it not? Didn’t they have some problems convincing the Pagans that being raised in the flesh was better? Needed? Was this just to confirm that Christ was raised in the flesh so it served an apologetic purpose?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      Paul’s views were actually pretty nuanced: he thought the *body* was raised but hte *flesh* (that is, the sinful part of us) was not. But the body would be glorified, just as Jesus’ body was.

      • TWood
        TWood  March 12, 2017

        Nuanced (maybe downright confusing) is right… I still cannot figure out what Paul means exactly… is it right to assume Paul says in 1 Cor 15 that the spiritual body is raised without flesh and blood and is a body that is not confined to 4D spacetime as our natural bodies are? This seems consistent with other accounts of Paul’s vision of Jesus (Acts) and his other vision (2 Cor. 12) as well as gospel accounts of Jesus’ resurrected body (John 20:19). In your view, is it true Paul seems to think the incorruptible spiritual body is something like (not exactly like) a “body of massless energy” (photons) or a “body of unknown matter” (Dark Matter) rather than a corruptible “body of normal matter” (Carbon based)… yet even still, Paul sees such a body as very *real* nonetheless… in your view, is this along the lines of Paul’s understanding of the “spiritual body”?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2017

          Yes, the body will be raised but glorified, without the “sinful flesh” as part of it.

          • SidDhartha1953  March 13, 2017

            Was Paul of the opinion that there were inherently evil aspects of the material world but, contra the gnostics, that those aspects could be purged and a good matter left behind? Did he think, as some fundamentalists I know, that the whole material order was corrupted by the fall of Adam and Eve, or did it just corrupt the human body?

          • Bart
            Bart  March 14, 2017

            Yes, that’s what he thought. And yes, the corruption extended to the natural order (see Romans 8)

    • talmoore
      talmoore  March 12, 2017

      My hypothesis is that Paul and his ilk believed the body would be essentially re-created, but rather than being made of the corruptible, ephemeral earthly “stuff” that makes us mortal, it will, rather, be made of the incorruptible, immutable heavenly “stuff” that makes the heavens and the divine beings immortal (Aristotle’s so-called “quintessence”). This can be thought of as the first significant syncretism of Judaism and Platonism in Christianity (Though Jews had been creating common links between Judaism and Greco-Roman paganism for centuries up to that point, e.g. Philo, Letter of Aristeas, etc.).

  22. mjt  March 11, 2017

    I’m definitely interested in hearing your thoughts on NDEs. Can you give a hint now, or recommend one of the books that influenced your thinking on this?

  23. mjt  March 11, 2017

    I’d be interested in hearing about the transition from ‘works association’s to salvation by faith/grace. I can’t make heads or tails out of what’s taught in the NT.

    • mjt  March 11, 2017

      ‘works salvation’, not ‘works association’

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      Ah, it’s probably because different authors taught different things. Matthew: it’s all about living a moral life in conformity wiht Torah; Paul: it’s all about faith in Christ.

  24. johnbutleruk  March 11, 2017

    Hi Bart
    I’m very intrigued! ? What do you now think about NDEs? I read a little into this subject a long time ago but haven’t kept up with the research. Bonus question: Of the 20 books on NDEs, which might you recommend?
    Many thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      I’ll be dealing with that! Best place to start — the beginning, with Raymond Moody’s Life after Life. Most famous recent account, Eben Alexander, Proof of Heaven.

  25. Aaron  March 11, 2017

    This sounds really exciting! Best of luck to you Dr. Ehrman on this project, can’t wait to see what insights you have about this!

  26. RonaldTaska  March 11, 2017

    Wow! Quite a list. I am especially intrigued that Bible quoting Christians seem to have a view of the afterlife that is not actually Biblical. I am also intrigued by the change of heaven being for the “righteous” to heaven being for those having the “correct” beliefs.

    Readers of this blog might have an interest in reading online “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds” It appeared in the New Yorker and was written by Elizabeth Kolbert. Concepts such as confirmation bias, the Dunning-Kruger Effect, and the Backfire Effect attempt to explain why religious and political views don’t usually change with evidence.

  27. godspell  March 11, 2017

    And don’t forget the Celts, who believed in The Otherworld. And perhaps reincarnation. And everybody knows The Vikings dreamed of a world where they could fight all day and drink all night. Hunter-gatherers often have a form of ancestor-worship–which means they believe their ancestors are still watching over them.

    Pretty much nobody said “You die, and that’s it.”

    It’s kind of boring, when you get right down to it. 🙂

  28. wostraub  March 11, 2017

    As far as I am aware, no Near Death Experience has ever resulted in a verified prediction, such as a dying patient floating over to the commissary and hearing nurses talk in specifics about their boyfriends, then reciting what they’d heard when they awaken word for word. Like Paul’s claim that he met and spoke with Jesus on the road to Damascus, we cannot ever know for sure just what the hell is happening until we have proof of the event. I think the issue of NDE is a complete waste of time.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      Actually there are verified experiences. That makes it all the more interesting.

      • Wilusa  March 12, 2017

        I hope you’re going to make a clear distinction between NDEs and mere *Out-of-Body* experiences, which can happen at any time. As I understand it, an NDE involves a person who’s actually flatlined supposedly visiting a “destination” suggestive of Heaven or Hell.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2017

          Yes, OBE’s can occur in connectoin with NDE’s — but apart from them as well.

  29. Wilusa  March 11, 2017

    “the idea that at the end of history God would raise every human from the dead to face judgment, either to be rewarded or punished for eternity… Where did the view come from, why did anyone hold to it, and why did Christians stop holding to it? Or did they?”

    That view seems still to be present in the Catholic “Apostles’ Creed” – at least the way it was worded when I was young. Referring to what followed Jesus’s death: “He descended into Hell. On the third day he arose again from the dead. He ascended into Heaven, and sitteth at the right hand of God, from whence he will come to judge the living and the dead.”

    It never made sense to me, because in other contexts, we were given to understand that the dead in “Hell” had already been “judged,” and condemned to remain there eternally! (I can see now that it was really a reference to the older idea of Sheol.)

    And there used to be an emphasis on burying amputated limbs with the rest of the body, whenever possible – presumably because it would facilitate the eventual “resurrection of the body,” also referred to in the “Apostles’ Creed.” But when *organ donations* became possible, Catholics did accept the idea.

    • Eskil  March 12, 2017

      Martin Luther rejected the belief in the immortal soul and hence there is no reference to soul in some of Lutheran funeral liturgies – instead the main message is…

      “For dust you are and to dust you will return.
      Jesus Christ, our Savior, will raise you up at the last day.”

  30. Eskil  March 11, 2017

    Has there been any NDE reported where someone has visited Hell and returned back to this life?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      Yes, Maurice Rawlings, a physician who is also a fundamentalist Christian, wrote a book about them. His work is widely discounted.

  31. Rick
    Rick  March 11, 2017

    “Everyone, including Satan, would be saved?” But would Satan then finally bow to the Son?

  32. Tony  March 11, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, I am a bit confused about your 4th point. In the Gospels Jesus of Nazareth prophesied about his resurrection and is, of course, the main resurrection subject himself. But Jesus of Nazareth himself gives no further resurrection details, except that Matthew links the third day raising to the OT by means of Jonah.

    Paul is much more specific and lays it out nicely in 1Cor 15 According to Paul in 1 Cor 15:42-44, the resurrected body is a spiritual body and not a perishable natural body. Except for the short ending of the original Mark, this contradict the material bodily resurrections of Jesus in the Gospels. Original Mark got it right, because he read Paul and realized that the resurrected Jesus, according to Paul, was spiritual and not of the flesh!

    The later copiers of Mark introduced the bodily resurrected Jesus and the other Gospel writers followed the interpolated Mark.

    Again, we see a disconnect between Paul and the Gospels.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      I’m not sure what you’re confused about.

      • Tony  March 12, 2017

        You stated in your 4th point: ” …and was the view of Jesus and his followers….”

        Where does Jesus, or his followers, in the Gospels communicate: “the idea that at the end of history God would raise every human from the dead to face judgment, either to be rewarded or punished for eternity.” ?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 13, 2017

          In a number of places; I give some key examples in my book Jesus: Apocalpytic Prophet of the New Millennium. One obvious place: Matthew 25:31-46.

          • Tony  March 13, 2017

            Thank you, but I’m not at all sure that the author of Matthew writes about resurrected humans in Matthew 25:31-46.

          • Bart
            Bart  March 14, 2017

            Ah, sorry, I thought you were asking about whether Jesus subscribed to the idea of punishment after the resurrection. On resurrection itself, see Mark 12:18-27.

  33. iameyes137  March 12, 2017

    For decades I have been seeking to understand why an eternal, all powerful being, has to be worshiped. Demanding reverence suggests there is a deficiency of some kind.

    • Wilusa  March 12, 2017

      Agreed! One of my main objections to Christianity has always been that I can’t believe a Being who *deserved* to be “worshipped” would *demand* to be “worshipped.”

      • SidDhartha1953  March 13, 2017

        Well, if God knows everything, it knows it deserves to be worshipped and may feel an obligation to its creatures to inform them of that. Just from the tip of my head…

  34. MikeDavis  March 12, 2017

    Bart, do you think that belief in an afterlife among Christians may have arisen, not only because of belief or trust in certain statements in the New Testament (such as Jesus going to prepare a place for believers, etc.), but because of experiences they may have had, such as sometimes seeing apparitions, near death experiences, alleged communications from deceased persons through mediums, dying persons claiming to see relatives, angels, or Jesus coming to take them to Heaven, etc.? It seems to me that experiences such as these might make it easy for Christians to read into New Testament passages a belief in an afterlife that might not be in accord with the original context of the passages.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2017

      I’m exploring that as a possibility. Not sure what I think yet.

  35. Jason  March 12, 2017

    There are a few interesting theories in current theoretical physics that might be worth mentioning in at least a speculative way-for example the idea that the past is always in some sense as real as the present and future that Relativity seems to imply, or the holographic principal that our experience of reality might just be a 3 or 4 dimensional representation of information or processes on the surface of a 2 dimensional bubble surrounding our universe. (The former is rarely questioned, the latter is un-provable with current technologies but a lot of top level theoreticians are putting their money on it.)

    • Apocryphile  August 1, 2017

      I like your comments, and agree that cutting-edge theoretical physics is one of the most exciting and promising areas of scientific research today, and may someday soon overturn and revolutionize our current scientific paradigm of what constitutes “reality”. As I mentioned in my own posts in this thread, what is ontologically foundational or primary is precisely the focus of current thought and research in what we normally think of as the ‘hardest’ of the sciences – physics. Eminent physicists such as Leonard Susskind, Brian Greene, Roger Penrose, Juan Maldecena, and Max Tegmark are seriously postulating, for purely mathematical reasons, that what we think of as reality is, as you say, a 3-D ‘projection’ (or hologram) of a distant 2-D surface. Max Tegmark even goes so far as to postulate a multiverse that is, at its base, purely mathematical in structure. To me, it’s fascinating how closely these current ideas reflect Plato’s analogy of the cave. These days, a strictly materialist epistemology seems no longer to be sufficient for an honest, comprehensive phenomenology.

      (Dr. Ehrman – if you’re interested, I could recommend several books by these physicists (sans equations) that you might find valuable as scientific background to some future book….. Cheers!)

      • Bart
        Bart  August 1, 2017

        Wow. I’ve been reading books about “consciousness” recently, and Neal Degrasse Tyson — all new stuff to me and mind blowing. But not as mindblowing as *that*!

  36. Rockwine  March 12, 2017


    A number of years ago I suffered from a very serious back problem which left me semiparalyzed for a while. I recovered from this by learning the Alexander technique. One of Alexander’s principles is called end gaining. It is about movement. Our body needs to move from its centre. If we first move with our heads we will upset our balance and create a problem somewhere. In order to move from our centre we need to be in the present. If we are living in some fantasy future or past we are not living in the present. This is not an easy idea. For instance Bart when you are writing a book about the future or the past you’re still living and writing in the present. But I expect that you will have noticed that if you spend too much time writing you will probably begin to stiffen up. This can become a problem. Our bodies need movement to remain in the present. The present has an edge which we need and which is an essential part of living. People love playing sports because it forces them to function in the present. But like with most things we need moderation too much sports may bring on tiredness which may lead to injury and some form of disability.
    Mind, body, emotions, sensuality, we need to function in all areas in order to live satisfactory lives. I think Bart that your reaction to Ecclesiastes fits in here.
    I think that eternity is in the present. That is why I believe in the continuity of life. When I am in the present I cannot imagine termination. Continuity or eternity alone makes sense. NDE’s fit into this context. They represent the witness of people who were on the verge of oblivion or death for instance on the operations table. They moved from this situation into an expanded experience where they met a being of light which they believed to be the future. They had the opportunity to review their lives to face unsatisfactory actions. They wee asked if they wished to return to their everyday lives and take care of unfinished business. Many accepted this with reluctance.
    Many doctors accept that there was clinical death.. This happens more often on the operating table than the medical profession would like to acknowledge. If indeed there was clinical death then there is only one explanation for the return of these people and their now satisfactory lives. It seems that most of them no longer feel afraid of dying. There are many thousands of them and many more who are silent. If in fact what they are talking about was a case of hallucination why would this reduce their fear of death? Of course one can argue about all of this. Scientists tend to argue about almost anything.
    However I think it is important to accept that this belief or this evidence for a future life is based on present day witnesses. It is not based on 2000 year old writings and our faith which so many people believe in and refuse to argue or discuss.
    Personally the living witness makes sense to me. I have read the evidence of many people who went through these experiences. I see no reason to disbelieve all of them.

  37. plparker  March 13, 2017

    For me some of the most memorable images of the afterlife come from movies like Ghost. I hope you discuss these in your book as well.

  38. SidDhartha1953  March 13, 2017

    One of the points you mentioned in your list of things you were considering including in your book is how Christians got from heaven as the reward for righteousness to heaven as the reward for right belief. Would Paul’s exegesis (Romans 4) of the verse in Genesis, “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,” not be the simplest explanation? That’s what I remember from bible studies in the 1970s. Is it true that the concept of faith has been dumbed down to simple credulity, that it is more a relational concept of mutual trust and fidelity in the OT and NT? If so, then the fidelity part would imply right action as a show of good faith, no? Hence James, “Show me your faith without works and I will show you my faith by my works.” The dumbing down seems to have begun very early on.

  39. Jana  March 13, 2017

    How truly exciting research Dr. Ehrman. Again eager for your next book. I think as a personal exercise for my own personal philosophical/psychological clarification, I’ll answer your questions. I regret that other than anecdotes, I have so little to offer in this discussion … One of your readers commented about Eastern philosophy. It does offer answers … not from theory but gleaned from mystical experiences … and those experiences are also archetypal … meaning we all have similar experiences when a certain level is attained. If your quest is also personal as compared or contrasted with academic, could I suggest anything by Master Chogyal Norbu? You might find his book on Dream Yoga interesting. It touches on a couple of your themes.

  40. Eric  March 14, 2017

    Your description of Sheol in older Judaic thought seems to suggest an earlier idea of separation of body and soul (or at least consciousness, the “shades of hades” sort of thing.

    Or do you think they thought actual buried bodies descended through the earth (rock, dirt, etc) and entered Sheol/Hades in physical form?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 16, 2017

      It’s hard to figure out, but they appear to have thought that the grave itself was Sheol.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  March 16, 2017

      Sheol might be a synecdoche. It may have started out meaning literal interment, but later it took on a connotation of the state of death in general. Compare it, for example, to the English idiom “six feet under”. The expression refers to dead people who are literally buried six feet under ground, but the expression can also just men to be dead. A person who’s cremated could be “six feet under”. Same goes for expressions like “pushing up daisies” and “sleeping with the fishes”.

  41. smitch2010  March 17, 2017

    Does your list include, ApostlePauls view of going right to Christ once one dies? Think he said like a twinkling of the eye to be with Christ???

    • Bart
      Bart  March 17, 2017

      You’re confusing two passages (Philippians 1 and 1 Corinthians 15). But yes, I will be dealing with that.

  42. sksinks  March 27, 2017

    I have read many many books on all these ideas. I have found that the near death experience tend to come across as being experienced specific to that persons beliefs, so I always look for their religious foundation before consuming the book. Now, on the pre-death experiences I find them entirely uplifting and from a totally different angle. There are 2 that I have found by a Dr. Lerma. He recorded their experiences in a hospice situation and shared them. On reincarnation many were just junk and I quickly put them aside. I found one with the title of the Pheonix a credible offering. As far as believing in life after death, I just have to say I have lived with many of them that has passed but stayed here for some reason. It is not fun, I dont like it, but there is no question that they are there. I keep telling them they have to pay rent to stay in my house but they dont listen very well. There is no question in my mind and in my experience that there IS life after death. If, it were not so, why all this religious bull……….. Any way I come from a German ancestry that has inherited so called physic abilities. We do NOT practice but it can come in handy sometimes. The thing is physic abilities is above the standard 5 senses and EVERYONE has them they just dont acknowledge them. Because of these abilities we can see people that have passed. I have a grandson that could see them at 4 years old and can still see and talk to them. It is as real as you and me. Again, we dont practice, we just acknowledge, and go on. I can get pretty irritated with them as they seem to want to talk to you in the middle of the night while your sleeping. I hate it when they pull the blankets off my bed to wake me up. These are not imaginations, delusions, or hysteria and i am not mentally ill. I am going to suggest another set of books that are totally off the wall and are for entertainment purposes only. Not suggesting you believe it but certainly goes a long way to opening up the mind. 3 books on the journey of the soul by sylvia brown. Now, I don’t hold to her being all that but the information in this set of books takes a big looks at what others are thinking. I think it is interesting, but i can’t claim them to be true. People dont attack me or scream at me, I know her reputation and dont agree with much that she writes and i know she has been proven to be wrong with her predictions and she did most of it for money. These are early books and the thoughts put forth are interesting in the scheme of things. She has an interesting book on the Life of Christ, I dont believe her theory, but she puts forth a theory that He did not die on the cross. How do you know you have a soul? When you study something out, looking for the right answers………if you found what you need for that moment in time…………rite in the middle of you chest you will feel a burning or some sensation like that and that is your soul telling you that you have found a truth. If you are studding something and you go away with more and more question, nothing resolved and you dont feel it in your chest, then your soul is not confirming you found a truth. Your own soul is verification that you have one. Just sharing.

  43. sksinks  March 27, 2017

    Satan does not have a human soul and in my opinion of things i have studied does not qualify for the same outcome as any human. It is my opinion that Satan is dissolved, that is if you even believe he exists. While I believe in evil and in evil spirits I do not believe in Satan. I know that is a problem for me in the Bible but I just cant confirm it with my soul.

  44. Duke12  March 30, 2017

    Regarding the bullet point “The existence of the soul,” let me recommend two articles on the same topic. I won’t preface them so as not to create advanced bias, except to note that this admittedly minority, untestable, and unproveable hypothesis is perfectly compatible with a materialist worldview (i.e. “there is no soul”)
    I do believe a kind of moral ethics could be derived from this.

  45. rebecasu  March 30, 2017

    1. From your reading of NDEs, how do you explain people seeing details of themselves when they flat-line or learning something about someone else who’s died which they couldn’t have known prior?
    2. What do you think about NDEs? (You mentioned reading 20 books & now know what you think but not sure you’ll include any discussion in your book.)
    3. Why have humans (seemingly from the beginning of time) had a desire/need to worship something? Any idea where that stems from?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 31, 2017

      1. Out of Body experiences are an interesting phenomenon, but not limited to NDEs. They can be replicated through drugs, as it turns out, so I think there’s a physiological explanation involving brains and perception 2. I think they are physilogical events 3. That requires a very long answer!!

      • Apocryphile  July 26, 2017

        I think we need to be careful before dismissing NDEs as simply physiological in origin. We are a long way from understanding the brain, and an even longer way from understanding consciousness (see my post in a separate thread below). Being raised in our Western culture, we are conditioned to look for a rational, scientific explanation for everything, and since Descartes we are intellectual heirs to his mind/body dualism. We automatically put phenomena into one or the other of these two boxes. I think since the Enlightenment, we in the West also tend to view matter as being ontologically primary, and consciousness (mind-stuff) being merely derivative from it. This is a philosophy known as, for want of a better term, ‘realism’, or materialism. I think it’s important to keep this in mind in any discussion of human perception. Are we so certain that our ‘mind-stuff’ – feelings, thoughts, dreams, etc. – proceeds only from the physical? Could it be the other way around, or could they create and inform each other, if in fact they are even separate to begin with? If some of the latest ideas being entertained by theoretical physicists are any indication, I think we have to admit that what is ontologically primary is far from clear.

  46. gwayersdds  April 12, 2017

    An interesting book by Sharon Baker published 2010 titled “Razing Hell” is thought provoking about what happens to us when we die.

  47. WSOX1959  April 25, 2017

    Here is a site by Kevin Williams that covers NDE. He does a lot of the groundwork.

  48. Apocryphile  July 26, 2017

    In any discussion of perceptual experience, either in this world or what may lie beyond, we need to deal with the concept of consciousness, and David Chalmers is one of the foremost philosophers in this area. I recommend this short TED lecture by him: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uhRhtFFhNzQ

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