cover image Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife

Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife

Bart D. Ehrman. Simon & Schuster, $28 (352p) ISBN 978-1-50-113673-3

In this enlightening survey of human understanding of the afterlife, Ehrman (How Jesus Became God), professor of religious studies at UNC Chapel Hill, offers a persuasive analysis of how the current evangelical Christian understanding of eternal life and eternal damnation developed as well as a well-reasoned critique of that perspective. Ehrman begins with the Epic of Gilgamesh (written around 2100 BCE), continues through the ancient Greeks, and covers canonical and extracanonical Hebrew and Christian texts as he details humanity’s long-standing preoccupation with death and the fear of what follows. He documents wide-ranging theories: Homer’s vision of a bleak, dreary existence in Hades; Virgil’s belief in hellish torments and heavenly glories; Plato’s position on the soul’s immortality; the ancient Israelites’ view that death is the end, but not to be feared; and later Jewish belief in resurrection and a Day of Judgment. Calling into question many evangelical notions of damnation, Ehrman posits that neither Jesus, the apostle Paul, nor the author of Revelation believed in hell. Rather, the punishment for sin was annihilation, while the righteous received everlasting life . Ehrman’s eloquent understanding of how death is viewed through many spiritual traditions is scintillating, fresh, and will appeal to scholars and lay readers alike. [em](Mar.) [/em]