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Description - A History of Heaven by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Well-known for his historical accounts of Satan and hell, Jeffrey Burton Russell here explores the brighter side of eternity: heaven. Dispensing with the cliche images of goodness that can make even heaven seem unbearable, the author stimulates our imagination with a history of how the joy of paradise has been conceived by writers, philosophers, and artists for whom heaven was an imminent reality. Russell not only explores concepts found among the ancient Jews, Greeks, and Romans as well as early and medieval Christians, but also addresses the intellectual problems heaven poses: how does time "pass" in eternity? is heaven a place or a state? who is in and who is not? what happens to the body and soul between death and Judgment Day? Russell stresses that the best way to approach the logic-defying concept of a place occupying neither space nor time is through poetry and paradox, and through the visions of such mystics as Bernard, Julian of Norwich, and Eckhart. After the Revelation of Saint John the Divine, the most sublime and encompassing portrait of heaven to date has come not from a theologian but from a poet--Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy. Russell's history of heaven culminates in a lively analysis of how Dante described the glories of the indescribable. The unsurpassed images of light, movement, and community that Dante uses so skillfully to convey the presence of God are rooted in the Jewish picture of heaven as a garden or court and in the Greek picture of the Elysian Fields. Using current scholarly insights together with a vast store of knowledge gathered from the past, Russell takes the idea of heaven as valid and important in itself--something to be understood from the point of view of those believing in it. His very use of language immerses us in the thoughts of those who have sought heaven and provides rich material for contemplation.

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Book Details

ISBN: 9780691006840
ISBN-10: 0691006849
Format: Paperback
(235mm x 152mm x 16mm)
Pages: 256
Imprint: Princeton University Press
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publish Date: 14-Dec-1998
Country of Publication: United States

Other Editions - A History of Heaven by Jeffrey Burton Russell

Book Reviews - A History of Heaven by Jeffrey Burton Russell

UK Kirkus Review » One might suppose that the one certain thing about Heaven is that no one knows what it will be like. No one, that is, except the author, who has gone to the best biblical and theological sources - from 200BC and the Greco-Roman writers to 1336 and the papal decree Benedictus Dei, which laid out the whole landscape of the Other World - in his quest to find out what heaven is like. Russell is a wholehearted believer in heaven, and authoritatively answers all our questions, from the garb of the angels (so we'll be wearing clothes, then?) to sex (a qualified yes). For perhaps the majority of readers, this book will fall into the area of the 15 impossible things we should all believe before breakfast; for others it will answer genuine concerns. For those in between, it is a curious and intriguing speculation. (Kirkus UK)

US Kirkus Review » Russell (Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World, 1986, etc.; History and Religious Studies/Univ. of Calif., Santa Barbara) offers a sensitive and intellectually alert survey of the concept of heaven, from its roots in Judaism and Greek philosophy through Dante's Paradiso. To many people, heaven suggests a bland and slightly comical attempt to answer questions about life after death. Russell argues that the concept of heaven involves an extensive and fairly coherent body of thought, which he succeeds in making accessible. Beginning with the differing views of the afterlife found in the Hebrew scriptures (where it was called Sheol), our author examines the Greek notions of Hades, judgment, and the transmigration of souls as developed by the Orphic movement and Platonism. He is sensitive to the tensions that the confluence of these traditions created for early Christian theology, e.g., the Greek emphasis on the immortality of the soul versus the Judeo-Christian belief in the resurrection of the body. He looks at answers offered by writers as different as Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, and the Cappadocian Fathers. In the same critical spirit, he sifts through what the tradition has to say about the meaning of time and space in heaven, whether everyone or only a few can get "there," and what happens between one's death and resurrection. Russell devotes his final chapters to a summary and brilliant analysis of the majestic system and metaphors of Dante's Paradiso. He concentrates on the Christian tradition, writing from within it, in a vigorous manner that speaks to the general reader. His writing is thoughtful and elegant; his insights stimulate involvement with the text. A rare combination of scholarship, poetic sensitivity, and insight. (Kirkus Reviews)


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