The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds

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9780801428937: The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds

What becomes of the wicked? Hell―exile from God, subjection to fire, worms, and darkness―for centuries the idea has shaped the dread of malefactors, the solace of victims, and the deterrence of believers. Although we may associate the notion of hell with Christian beliefs, its gradual emergence depended on conflicting notions that pervaded the Mediterranean world more than a millennium before the birth of Christ. Asking just why and how belief in hell arose, Alan E. Bernstein takes us back to those times and offers us a comparative view of the philosophy, poetry, folklore, myth, and theology of that formative age.

Bernstein draws on sources from ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and Israel, as well as early Christian writings through Augustine, in order to reconstruct the story of the prophets, priests, poets, and charismatic leaders who fashioned concepts of hell from an array of perspectives on death and justice. The author traces hell's formation through close readings of works including the epics of Homer and Vergil, the satires of Lucian, the dialogues of Plato and Plutarch, the legends of Enoch, the confessions of the Psalms, the prophecies of Isaiah, Ezechiel, and Daniel, and the parables of Jesus. Reenacting lively debates about the nature of hell among the common people and the elites of diverse religious traditions, he provides new insight into the social implications and the psychological consequences of different visions of the afterlife.

This superb account of a central image in Western culture will captivate readers interested in history, mythology, literature, psychology, philosophy, and religion.

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About the Author:

Alan E. Bernstein is Emeritus Professor of History at the University of Arizona.

Review:

"An absorbing history."―Frances Taliaferro, Washington Post Book World



"The Formation of Hell is learned and accurate; it is sensitive; it is subtle and sophisticated; it is historiographically sound; it is written with great clarity and refreshing freedom from jargon. This will be the standard work for many decades to come."―Jeffrey Burton Russell, author of The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity



"Bernstein's study is captivating, and should certainly become the standard work on the history of. . . an important image in Western civilization."―Tony Gray, Journal of Roman Studies



"The Formation of Hell is a superb book that brings clarity to a complex, puzzling and terrifying subject."―Edward L. Mark, Boston Globe



"Bernstein draws on sources from Babylonia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, and Israel as well as the early Christian community to reconstruct the story of the various poets, priests, and religious leaders who fashioned concepts of hell based on ideas of death and justice. . . . This book is an outstanding account of a central image of Western thought and should be of interest to students of history, religion, literature, philosophy, and mythology."―Robert G. Clouse, American Historical Review



"This book displays the breath and breadth of life in history more than any merely analytical study could do. It illuminates and deepens us with its humanity and its rare lucidity of style."― Jeffrey Burton Russell, Journal of Religion

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Bernstein, Alan E.
Published by Cornell University Press (1993)
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