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Heaven and Hell

A History of the Afterlife


Whether we believe in them or not, we are all familiar with the concepts of heaven and hell. There was a time, however, when no one thought they would go to either of these places after they died. In fact, Jesus didn’t believe a dead person’s soul was bound for heaven or hell, and these ideas are nowhere to be found in the Old Testament. So, where did they come from?

From the Epic of Gilgamesh to the writings of Augustine, Bart Ehrman provides a fascinating and thought-provoking history of the afterlife. He traces how beliefs changed over time and reveals the social, cultural and historical roots of competing views held by Greeks, Jews and Christians. Ultimately, he shows that many of our ideas about heaven and hell emerged long after Jesus’s time, through the struggle to explain the injustices of our world.

  • Publisher: Oneworld Publications (April 2, 2020)
  • Length: 352 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781786077219

‘[Ehrman’s] 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.’

– The Times

‘Many redoubtable volumes have been written about all this, but Ehrman, who already has more than two-dozen books on early Christianity under his belt, merrily blows the dust off the subject.’

– The Economist

‘Ehrman, as always, writes in a very accessible way, and gives the reader plenty to think about.’

– Irish Independent

‘An impressively readable, clear and wide-ranging study.’

– Spectator

‘A number of religions and philosophies give detailed accounts of post-mortem existence; in this learned and highly readable book, Bart Ehrman offers a tour of the whole field… There are many nuances possible here; Ehrman presents them all with great clarity and massive scholarship.'


‘This elegant history explores the evolution of the concept of the afterlife in Western thought... Well-trod subjects are presented with engaging clarity, and more contentious theories are laid out carefully.’

– The New Yorker

‘As lucid, learned and fascinating as ever, Ehrman has written a brilliant book on a profoundly important topic. Wonderful.’

– Catherine Nixey, author of The Darkening Age

‘Do after-life threats and promises distract from this-world problems and hopes? Could heaven and hell be options in the present here-and-now rather than locations in the future then-and-here? Read this book and think.’

– John Dominic Crossan, author of Resurrecting Easter

‘There’s no one I’d rather read on what Christians believe, and why they believe it, than Bart Ehrman. This is a wise and fascinating book.’

– Tom Bissell, author of Apostle

‘Provocative, personal, and packed with fascinating details, Ehrman’s lively tour of Greek philosophy, early Jewish sources, the Gospels, Paul’s letters, Revelation and later Christian notions of eternal reward and everlasting torment educates, entertains, and, for those concerned about the afterlife, ultimately consoles.’

– Amy-Jill Levine, Professor of New Testament and Jewish Studies, Vanderbilt University

‘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.’

– Publisher’s Weekly (starred review)

‘Ehrman writes like a great storyteller, and he rivals Dante’s Virgil as a guide into mysterious realms.’

– Brian D. McLaren, author of The Great Spiritual Migration

‘Ehrman’s ongoing project of thinking critically about belief has never mattered more – not only to rescue culture from fundamentalism but also to retrieve an authentic language in which to express hopes that might outweigh death.’

– James Carroll, author of Constantine’s Sword

‘Honest discussion about this is long overdue… [‘Heaven and Hell’] is a wide-ranging book.'

– Methodist Recorder

More books from this author: Bart D. Ehrman