Heaven and Hell, by Bart Ehrman

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If hell exists only for those who fear it, can we apply the same logic to heaven? Does heaven exist only for those who anticipate it???
If hell exists only for those who fear it, can we apply the same logic to heaven? Does heaven exist only for those who anticipate it???

Logically, we could. Of course, classical Christian universalists (vs. modern Unitarian Universalists) argued that God would not condemn anyone to eternal torment. Possibly some kind of Purgatory, but not Hell in the classic sense. So they would agree with that statement for Hell but no for "Heaven". And then the whole "Earth remade into the Kingdom of God" thing puts on another whole track.
Chapter 2 : The Fear of Death

This chapter gets to the heart of one of the basic themes of afterlife mythologies: Being afraid of death. Not of dying, but of what happens after.

Ehrman gets into two examples, one from mythology and one from philosophy and history.

First he discusses the Mesopotamian stories about the hero Gilgamesh. Gilgamesh is arguably one of the first literary heroes, first appearing in Sumerian texts as early as 2100 BCE with the Old Babylonian tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh from about 1800 BCE as the earliest complete version.

Gilgamesh's adventures are driven, at least in part, by feat of death prompted by the loss of his friend Enkidu. Ehrman relates a couple versions of the story, both reflecting on this theme of fear of death.

Next, he moves to Athens during its peak in the Hellenic period. Using stories from Plato's Apology and Phaedo, Ehrman talks about Socrates attitude to death. The philosopher teaches that death is not something to be feared and elaborates on his reasons in discussions with his friends just before his execution by poisoning.

So we have death as an object of fear and an alternate opinion that argues against fearing death.

Where do you come down?

Does your belief about the afterlife give you reason for hope or fear?

Is death as scary as Gilgamesh presents? Or is Socrates right about not fearing death?
Interesting that at the very end of the chapter, and his life, Socrates is said to have wanted to make an offering to the Greek god of healing, as though somehow he saw death as ultimate healing. Seems to be the antithesis of fearing death.

My fear seems to be located in the fear of process of dying rather than in death itself. I don't think I have anything to fear about death, but might have something to hope for. If there is an afterlife, there is more opportunity. If no such thing exists, well, I could always use a long, dreamless nap.
My faith perspective gives me hope rather than fear. I think it always has.

The final stage of life scares me more than death. Will I be grieving for my life on earth? Will I be in pain? Cognitively impaired? Feeling like a burden on others? These are all scary thoughts.
Do you feel intrinsically afraid at the idea of "not being"?

I'm not afraid of death, or of nothing after death. I am a bit fearful of the process. Palliative sedation are two words I really don't like to hear together.
If somehow I were aware that 'I'm not,' it would indeed be disturbing... but since I wouldn't exist, I doubt that I would be aware that 'I'm not.' The idea really doesn't bother me at the present time, and I don't think it would trouble me later. That would be like the dreamless sleep.

Unless, of course, I misunderstood the question.
You might think that my agnosticism and lack of a certain belief about the afterlife might generate some fear, but I don't generally find it bothers me. There's enough to worry about in life that is empirically provable to be a concern that what might happen after the end of life is not something I meditate on.

I suppose that if I believed in a literal Hell or an empty, meaningless afterlife like we see with Enkidu (and, in the next chapter, with Homer), then I might feel some fear. But I do not. The most probably scenario is that life is over and my body decays into molecules that become a part of something else eventually.

Epicurus' teaching that death is the end of sensation and therefore of our suffering is likely in there, too (I think Ehrman talks about him in a couple chapters) since Epicureanism has been fairly influential on my thinking about a lot of matters.

As for where my "soul" goes, I am not convinced there is such a thing. And I still find reincarnation fits better with how I see the world even if there is one.
And I hope to get to the next chapter (or maybe chapters since 3 & 4 kind of go together) tomorrow.
Well, um, yeah. Running a bit behind here. Starting to write up 3 & 4 now. It's coming, I promise.
Chapter 3 : Life After Death Before There Was Life After Death

As mentioned earlier, I am posting chapters 3 & 4 together, since they work together to cover Classical views of the afterlife from both literature (in Chapter 3) and philosophy (in Chapter 4).

Chapter 3 looks at the portrayal of the afterlife in two of the greatest works of literature in the Classical world, Homer's The Odyssey and Virgil's The Aeneid. Both are epic poems, the former Greek and the latter Latin. Besides being from different languages and cultures, they also have rather different purposes. Homer is a more straightforward recording of legends, possibly rooted in history, about the Trojan War. Virgil, a poet of the Augustan age of Roman literature, takes the same myth cycle but uses it for fairly clear political purposes, tracing the ancestry of the Romans, including Emperor Augustus, back to the Trojans. Homer is basically a recording of an oral tradition, Virgil is purely literary. However, both record epic journeys taken in the wake of the end of the Trojan War and both have scenes where their hero visits the underworld.

Ehrman's focus is, of course, on the contrasting visions of the afterlife in these two works.

In The Odyssey, the hero Odysseus is trying to return home after his cunning strategies helped the Greeks finally bring down the kingdom of Troy. However, he has run afoul of the gods and a journey that should have taken weeks is stretching out to years. He enters the afterlife to consult with the great prophet Teiresias. Here, the afterlife consists of "shades", barely material souls flitting about, unable to even speak with the living human until they drink blood from the sacrifice he makes. There is indication that some of the worst are sent for punishment, but most are just living in a kind of eternal limbo.

In The Aeneid, by contrast, the Trojan prince Aeneas, who is a refugee from the destruction of his city, visits an underworld that offers a more defined afterlife. There is Tartarus, where the greatest of sinners is punished, and Elysium, where most souls dwell for a time before drinking from the River of Lethe (forgetfulness) and returning to the world.

The difference, as Ehrman suggests, is that Plato happened in the interim, which leads into chapter 4.
Chapter 4 : Will Justice Be Done? The Rise of Post-Mortem Rewards and Punishments

If chapter 3 shows us the evolution of Classical views of the after life between Homer's day (the 8th century BCE) and Virgil's (1st century BCE), chapter 4 shows us what made much of the difference: Plato's myths of the afterlife which appear in a several of his dialogues. While Plato did not actually invent a lot of the ideas (Ehrman mentions this but does not go into detail), he certainly gave them prominence in subsequent thought and literature.

Ehrman makes the point that Plato did not believe these stories to be "true" and openly calls them myths. Plato's point was not the details, but the basic idea for the universe to be just, there must be rewards for the good and punishments for the wicked. And those punishments do not always happen in life, so there must be justice done when the soul is separated from the body after death.

The chapter has a discussion of the general Greek thought on the nature of the soul as a type of finer matter, not an immaterial spirit as we tend to conceive of it today (under the influence of philosophers and theologians of later eras).

It then looks at the Platonic myths of the afterlife from Phaedo and The Republic, along with quotes from some of his other works. Basically, they all come down to a judgement of the soul, with the wicked being sent for punishment (sometimes temporary, sometimes permanent) and the good sent to have a party.

Ehrman then moves on to other writers. Aristophanes The Frogs portrays a similar afterlife but with tongue somewhat in cheek (Aristophanes was kind of the John Cleese or Mel Brooks of Athens). He then skips ahead to the Roman satirist Lucian, who also presented a less-than-serious portrayal that nonetheless contains familiar elements, esp. a portrayal of "Heaven" that remarkably like Christian views of roughly the same period (cross-pollination?).

Then we move on to a contrasting view, that of Epicurean philosophy. Epicurus held that the soul dispersed at death along with the body, and thus could not experience any kind of thought or sensation after death. He argued that this meant death was not to be feared because no sensation means there can no suffering or punishment. The Roman writer Lucretius then developed these ideas in more detail as part of his classic work De Rerum Naturam (roughly, On the Nature of Things), which also introduced a fairly sophisticated atomic theory.

Finally, Ehrman acknowledges that all of these represent educated, literary points of view and looks at evidence for what was actually believed and practiced in everyday life, mostly through examining archaeological evidence.
So, I think Chapter 4 may actually have more to talk about, though I will post a bit about the epics discussed in Chapter 3 given my background. Really, these chapters are into my "turf" given my B.A. in Classics.

The whole notion of an afterlife being necessary for justice to be done started with the Greek philosophical idea of Fate governing the universe, but carried on into Christianity, Islam, and even some schools of Judaism, with the idea of the monotheistic God's justice replacing the Greek notion of Fate.

Do we need an afterlife to provide justice, given that the wicked often go unpunished in this life?

Ditto rewards for the just?

Is eternal punishment really "justice" or a form of "revenge/torture porn"?

Does Plato's somewhat secular reasoning about the whys of rewards and punishment after death resonate?

What about the Epicurean view of death and the afterlife (which I, for one, subscribed to for a long time and still do to some degree)?
While Plato did not actually invent a lot of the ideas (Ehrman mentions this but does not go into detail)
And just to expand on this, ideas similar to what Plato put in The Republic can be found in the Orphic mysteries and in Pythagoreanism (like under the influence of Orphism). So Plato really isn't kidding with his "I've heard this..." approach to telling these stories. He really is drawing on some existing stories, even if he puts his own philosophical spin on them.
Is eternal punishment really "justice" or a form of "revenge/torture porn"?

Ouch. I was reader today in church, for our livestreamed broadcast, no congregation. Psalm 137. Another one of those that suggests that retribution involves dashing babies on stones.

The retributive model is a really early instinct in humans, maybe? Does some of Christianity reject that, i.e. does Jesus' turn the other cheek philosophy represent a movement to a healing model?
Chapter 5 : Death After Death in the Hebrew Bible

In chapter 5, Ehrman begins with an examination of the basic idea of death among the early Hebrews. Basically, unlike the Greeks, the Hebrews do not express a strong belief in an immortal soul. They talk about death of the body as being the end. Once the nepesh, the breath of life, leaves, it is over. And Ehrman goes through a number of books of the Bible, especially the Psalms, to show how this finality of death appears again and again in the literature. He focusses especially on the word "Sheol" making the point that it is not an afterlife akin to that of the Greeks in the same period, but a metaphorical reference to the grave and, again, the finality of the grave.

He does make the point the point, however, that the laws in Deuteronomy against mediums communicating with the dead suggest a belief that such was possible. And there is the story of Saul consulting a medium who raises the prophet Samuel so that Saul can consult him (a story that I will be using in another context). This not only suggests that Samuel was somewhere to be raised, but the prophet makes statements suggest that it was not an unpleasant existence and that he was rather grumpy about it. So, again, there seems to have been some belief that allowed for communication with the dead, even if there was no clearly developed notion of an afterlife.

The chapter then examines the notion that the resurrection imagery found in prophets like Amos, Isaiah, and Ezekiel is metaphorical, referring not to the resurrection of individuals as Christian believe, but to God's revival of the nation of Israel after God has used various calamities to bring the people back into line. Still, the notion of the resurrection of the individual dead eventually starts to come into Hebrew thinking, but that is the subject of Chapter 6.
Will probably get 6 this weekend, too. Just have to reread it to get the major points. After that, I think we are into Christianity.
Chapter 6 : Dead Bodies that Return to Life : The Resurrection in Ancient Israel

No, this is not going to be about the zombie genre. I promise.

In chapter 6, Ehrman looks at the development of the belief in resurrection of the person, rather than the nation, as it appeared in Jewish belief. While some have attributed this to Zoroastrian influence during the time Israel was ruled by the Persians, Ehrman points out that this is actually not certain since (a) it appears after Alexander conquered the region, putting them under Greek rule, and (b) Zoroastrian sources referring to the idea are from roughly the same period so it is not clear which way the influence actually went. It could have been cross-pollination, not one way.

The basic idea that emerged is a familiar one since it is the one that appears in early Christian sources. At the end of time, God returns to create a perfect, just world. The righteous are raised back to life to live in this new world, the wicked are raised, judged, and then annihilated (or punished in some versions). So there is no notions of souls travelling to an afterlife, but rather a resurrection of the body on a Day of Judgement.

Ehrman looks at some non-canonical sources for this in the book of 1 Enoch and also the only canonical appearance of it in the book of Daniel.

As with the Greeks, the rise of this apocalyptic thinking about a Day of Judgement arises from the problem of evil. Why should the wicked get away with it? The resurrection and judgement of the dead creates a post-mortem judgement that still fits with the Jewish ideas about the "soul" and body.

This apocalyptic thinking also marks the first appearance of belief in the Devil as an actual opponent of God (vs. the advocate we see in something like Job). The end times will mark God sweeping away the forces of darkness that cause suffering in the world. While Ehrman does not say it, this does sound Zoroastrian. Zoroastrianism was dualistic in its basic conception (but was, of course, more complicated than this barebones) with the forces of light led by Ahura Mazda, battling forces of darkness led by Ahriman.

Ehrman then reviews the basis for these belief in the canon, showing how passages about Enoch and Ezekiel, as well as the passages about God's revival of the nation that were examined in Chapter 5, were used to support the idea. In particular, he examines Isaiah' "Suffering Servant" (Isaiah 53) and how that has been used by Christians to support Jesus role as well as by apocalyptic Judaism to support their ideas.

He wraps up by comparing this Jewish notion of a future resurrection to the Greek idea of an immortal soul and the fact there is some blurring of the two, with 1 Enoch 22 as an example.
Chapter 6 : Dead Bodies that Return to Life : The Resurrection in Ancient Israel

The basic idea that emerged is a familiar one since it is the one that appears in early Christian sources. At the end of time, God returns to create a perfect, just world. The righteous are raised back to life to live in this new world, the wicked are raised, judged, and then annihilated (or punished in some versions). So there is no notions of souls travelling to an afterlife, but rather a resurrection of the body on a Day of Judgement.
And many denominations continue to preach that when we die we immediately go to heaven or somewhere.

Not related, but sometimes I do wonder with the advance of science if it will be possible to "resurrect" our bodies through our DNA if our bodies are buried and through procedures like CRISPR we will be made perfect.
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