cover image Inventing Hell: Dante, the Bible, and Eternal Torment

Inventing Hell: Dante, the Bible, and Eternal Torment

Jon M. Sweeney. Jericho, $16 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-1-4555-8224-2

Descending into the infernos of mythology, biblical stories, and history, Sweeney (The Pope Who Quit) becomes our Virgil, ably and cannily leading readers through the circles that culminate in the picture of Hell invented by Dante and that Christianity, and western culture, has long embraced. In a humorous voice that sometimes overreaches (“But if you’re asking such questions, don’t be such a ninny!”), he leads us through the concepts of the afterlife that existed before Dante that are found in Virgil and Plato, Islam and ancient Judaism, and various medieval apocalyptic sources, showing the lack of agreement among Christians about Hell prior to Dante. Yet Sweeney persuasively argues that in the 21st century we should read Dante not for his terror-filled allegory of Hell—we have enough of our own hells, according to Sweeney—but because Dante’s Inferno reveals the “pernicious effects of sin on human beings” and encourages examination of life’s most pressing questions in the process of making meaning in life. (June)