... a fulsome sweep through the biblical, philosophical, and literary canon ... Erhman knows this territory as well as anyone writing today; the reader is struck by his nimbleness in drawing the thread of this rich-layered narrative, sprinkling larger thematic arcs with anecdotes that honor the non-lineal and multivalent nature of eschatological thought ... The cast of characters is vast and entertaining ... enlightens and entertains.
... will rankle his longtime fundamentalist Christian antagonists and amuse his typically liberal and secularist devotees ... a hell of a ride (yes, pun intended) both for those well-versed in the relevant literature and those coming to the subject for the first time ... Despite his qualifications, Ehrman’s reading of Paul falls into the hackneyed habit of opposing Paul’s message of faith (as cognitive assent to doctrine about Jesus of Nazareth) to Jesus’ teachings about the kingdom of God, a habit endemic to Paul scholarship in generations past ... Today, scholars have largely moved beyond this false dichotomy. Ehrman also seems overly eager to divide Luke’s views from Paul’s on the nature of the resurrected body of Jesus, a reading that likely creates more problems than it solves. Thankfully, Ehrman rarely falters otherwise, and the rest of the journey is not only instructive, but downright fun ... masterful ... a tour de force: erudite, provocative, and often fun. But many of Ehrman’s readers will experience his attempt at consolation as simply unbelievable.
Bart D Ehrman’s latest work of popular scholarship is boldly subtitled A History of the Afterlife, but it is a history in only the most rudimentary sense. An unsatisfying read, Heaven and Hell is more of a bulked-up timeline, which evades close historical work and nuanced contextual thought by either dismissing the possibility of such work or wilfully misunderstanding the nature and function of literary texts ... On reading the work, it is hard not to think that its failures can be attributed to laziness – certainly, no book published for a scholarly audience could get away with such looseness or generalisation, and no book for a popular audience should be afforded such slackness. Rather, the lack of evidence of in-depth research which this book conveys, and Ehrman’s willingness to simply relate and explain (in the loosest terms) a series of texts, acts as though the general reading public is incapable of grasping rigorous argument ... If one is to attempt a sweeping, grand narrative encompassing the whole span of the history of the Christian afterlife, one must be prepared to think rigorously, and to put in significant time and thought. Ehrman, on the other hand, publishes his books roughly two years apart, and in this instance does a disservice to the complexity and interest of his subject.
Heaven and Hell is not an easy read. Rather than a developmental chronology, Mr. Ehrman jumps back and forth between various periods. I was quite surprised that he virtually ignores the influence of Egypt. The most glaring omission in this book is the absence of the evolution of the power that became the Devil. The Devil arrived late in human history (our modern concept is not found in the Jewish Scriptures) ... If you want to know if, in fact, heaven and hell exist (and what happens there), you will not get a definite answer. Mr. Ehrman does not believe in either one, nor in the idea that human suffering is part of God’s plan to somehow make us 'better for it.'
[Ehrman] is a fine writer who shuns theological jargon and knows how to bring himself, very occasionally, into the story ... Ehrman bears no animus toward religion—not for him the snark and dudgeon of a Richard Dawkins. He does not accept the visions of the afterlife he explores, but rendering a verdict is not his task. His aim is to describe how the ideas arose, and to show that the impulse behind them is rooted in our earthly lives.
Ehrman’s subtitle is a bit misleading, since it’s not an actual history of these places ... This is a complex history, and it could easily become confusing or, worse, boring. But Ehrman has avoided both pitfalls ... Ehrman has the expertise necessary to make this difficult subject comprehensible. Even better, his witty, self-deprecatory style makes Heaven and Hell an enjoyable read. Most importantly, this is an optimistic book.
Ehrman...is a skilled and erudite revealer of patterns and oddities found in the bible ... It’s rare to encounter something fresh and new about this topic, but Ehrman has a gift for distilling new findings in biblical scholarship and conveying these ideas in accessible ways. He explicates the evolution in our understanding of ultimate justice and relates the concept of an eternal abode to the enigma of mind-body dualism. Ehrman’s account may lead readers to reconsider some cherished preconceptions. Expect delightful, informative examinations of ancient ideas about heaven and hell; ideas that have evolved as human needs and desires have also evolved ... Recommended for those who appreciate popular approaches to religious studies and anyone curious about their final destination.
This is a wide-ranging survey ... Ehrman takes pains to show the differences and similarities in the various schools of thought. The book is at its best when it gets into Ehrman’s wheelhouse: early Christianity and the Jewish influences surrounding it ... Ehrman’s twin strengths are deep knowledge and an accessible style. This displays both in spades.
In this enlightening survey of human understanding of the afterlife, Ehrman...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’s eloquent understanding of how death is viewed through many spiritual traditions is scintillating, fresh, and will appeal to scholars and lay readers alike.