Work of the Fellows: Monographs

Journeys to Heaven and Hell: Tours of the Afterlife in the Early Christian Tradition

Bart D. Ehrman (NHC Fellow, 2009–10; 2018–19)

New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2022

From the publisher's description:

From classics such as the Odyssey and the Aeneid to fifth-century Christian apocrypha, narratives that described guided tours of the afterlife played a major role in shaping ancient notions of morality and ethics. In this new account, acclaimed author Bart Ehrman contextualizes early Christian narratives of heaven and hell within the broader intellectual and cultural worlds from which they emerged. He examines how fundamental social experiences of the early Christian communities molded the conceptions of the afterlife that eventuated into the accepted doctrines of heaven, hell, and purgatory.

Drawing on Greek and Roman epic poetry, early Jewish writings such as the Book of Watchers, and apocryphal Christian stories including the Acts of Thomas, the Gospel of Nicodemus, and the Apocalypse of Peter, Ehrman demonstrates that ancient tours of the afterlife promoted reflection on matters of ethics, faith, ambition, and life’s meaning, the fruit of which has been codified into Christian belief today.

Subjects: Religion; Early Christianity; Afterlife; Religious Texts; History of Christianity; Religious Studies