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Heaven and Hell Reviews

Heaven and Hell by Bart D. Ehrman

Heaven and Hell

A History of the Afterlife

Bart D. Ehrman

3.50 out of 5

3 reviews

Category: Non-fiction, Religion
Imprint: Oneworld Publications
Publisher: Oneworld Publications
Publication date: 2 Apr 2020
ISBN: 9781786077202

The bestselling historian of early Christianity takes on two of the most gripping questions of human existence - where did the ideas of heaven and hell come from, and why do they endure?

2 stars out of 5
Sean Hewitt
12 May 2020

"Bart D Ehrman’s popular history is a shallow grave of bulked-up timelines Illustrated Christian imagery of hell, purgatory, and heaven in the Armenian Vank cathedral in Iran. Photograph: Getty Illustrated Christian imagery of hell, purgatory, and heaven"

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.

Reviews

4 stars out of 5
David Aaronovitch
4 Apr 2020

"he is an engaging but expert guide around how religious ideas were formed"

Ehrman is an American theologian and religious scholar, who — he tells us — was born again and then gradually inched his way intellectually towards a compassionate atheism. His is a vast learning worn wonderfully lightly and he is an engaging but expert guide around how religious ideas were formed and shaped our world.

As to why Christian eschatology requires such complicated and horrible punishments for sinners, Ehrman suggests that these were versions of the atrocities visited on Christians themselves by the Romans, and were adapted as a template for the imagined treatment of sinners.

4 stars out of 5
Peter Stanford
28 Mar 2020

"58 per cent of Americans still believe in a literal hell. This book will, hopefully, be balm for them"

It is that emotional aspect that is too often lacking in what is otherwise an impressively readable, clear and wide-ranging study. Ehrman is very good on the how, but he offers too little of the backdrop in terms of societal changes and circumstances that would explain the why: why heaven and hell have proved so popular at particular moments. If you don’t explain why people once believed things that today can sound ridiculous, you run the risk of turning the history and practice of religion into at best a curiosity, at worst a freak show.