THE QUEST FOR PARADISE: Visions of Heaven and Eternity in the World's Myths and Religions

John Ashton, Author, Tom Whyte, Joint Author . Harper San Francisco $30 (160p) ISBN 978-0-06-251735-7

Just in time for high gift-giving season comes this lushly illustrated exploration of "paradise" in world religions. Written by a biblical scholar (Ashton) and a comparative religionist (Whyte), the text is remarkably accessible to the casual reader. The authors have divided their subject into three parts: "immortal longings," which treats the concept of paradise as the search for happiness and immortality in ancient cultures; "the Eden story," which focuses on the more traditional visions of paradise emerging from Judaism, Christianity and Islam; and "other worlds," which explores everything from African, aboriginal and American traditions to secular utopias. Descriptions of major faiths are sprinkled with beautifully designed insets describing lesser-known stories and myths. The vivid color illustrations are even richer in content than the text. From carvings and sculptures to paintings and frescoes, the visual tour of afterlife imaginings alone could absorb readers for hours. Although each segment is necessarily brief and inevitably oversimplified, the broad, comparative sweep across so many traditions and worldviews draws out some fascinating similarities (and contrasts) in the concept of paradise. In particular, the comparative treatment of Adam, Eve and the Tree of Life across several major world religions is intriguing to those who have been exposed to a single Western view of the story. The authors write easily to a general audience, with a comfortable style and a generous sense of humor. This gorgeous book is well-suited to be a coffee-table favorite. (Dec.)

Reviewed on: 10/15/2001
Release date: 11/01/2001
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