A distinguished professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill recounts the long history of the West's notion of the afterlife, ranging from The Epic of Gilgamesh up to the writings of Augustine, focusing especially on the teachings of Jesus and his early followers. One of Ehrman’s startling conclusions is that there never was a single Greek, Jewish, or Christian understanding of the afterlife, but numerous competing views.
... 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.
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.
... 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.