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The Early History of Heaven Paperback – March 28, 2002

ISBN-13: 978-0195152302 ISBN-10: 0195152301
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The Early History of Heaven + Heaven: A History, Second edition + Jewish Views of the Afterlife
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Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Wright (Near Eastern studies, Univ. of Arizona) here delves into the origin and early development of Jewish and Christian thought about heaven and whether humans can go there. Examining ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman cultural contexts, biblical and extrabiblical texts, and archaeological findings, he explores a diversity of Jewish and Christian views about the cosmos and the afterlife. He accords the beliefs reflected in the Old and New Testament minority status and portrays them as a tool used by the religious elite (responsible for the final form of the canon) to control the masses and guard their own power and privilege. A number of Wright's statements regarding the wielding of heaven (and hell) as implements of compliance are polemical, making his work seem unbalanced, and since many of his sources are not in English, most general readers will be unable to evaluate his case. But he provides a more in-depth look at this period than Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang (Heaven: A History) or Jeffrey Burton Russell (A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence). Recommended for academic libraries only.
-Craig W. Beard, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.


"This well organized volume synthesizes a large corpus of technical scholarship, making it an eminently useful work."--Choice

"Authoritative, well written, and carefully documented."--Church & Synagogue Libraries


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (March 28, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195152301
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195152302
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 1.1 x 6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,426,176 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By John Mason on April 10, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Dr. Wright combines superb scholarship and research with fascinating illustrations and a lively writing style to produce a book that's a joy to read. As he traces the evolution of the concept of heaven from images popular in ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia on through Israelite, Persian, Greek and Roman traditions, and then demonstrates how these non-biblical sources influenced early Jewish and Christian models, I made one exciting discovery after another. Dr. Wright concludes his wide-ranging research by bringing me right up against the heart of the matter: will we use images of the heavenly realm for good or for evil, to include or to exclude, to inspire hope or fear?
My only regret is that I didn't have his book through the thirty-five years I served as a parish pastor. It would have been an invaluable teaching resource. I envy anyone who hasn't yet read it. A treasure awaits!
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Didier de Fontaine on August 1, 2000
Format: Hardcover
"The Early History of Heaven" by J. Edward Wright, Professor of Hebrew Bible and Early Judaism at the University of Arizona, is both a scholarly book and a wonderful read for the non-specialist. It is also an important work which should be read by all who have at least a passing interest in the history of religions and whose outlook goes beyond that of narrow fundamentalism. This excellently documented account is a veritable gold mine of early religious beliefs and their interplay with budding astronomical science. The author quotes archaic texts which are not well known to the general public, thereby showing that religious tradition in the past was much less monolithic than is usually assumed. The last chapters of the book are fact-filled concerning the conception of heaven or of heavens (plural) in Greco-Roman times, but the text seems at times to be a bit repetitious: some quoted texts reappear in several places as if the author forgot that he had used them previously. Perhaps tighter editing would have been beneficial. Those are quibbles, of course; overall the book is absolutely first rate, so that clergymen and scientists alike will find in Dr. Wright's book much food for thought, a rare accomplishment. I particularly enjoyed, in addition to the impressive scholarship, the deep and quasi-poetic conclusion which appears in the last two pages of the book: there is much wisdom here in a very small amount of space. Bravo!
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Edgar Foster VINE VOICE on October 17, 2003
Format: Paperback
J. Edward Wright's history of heaven is a thought-provoking study. It is well documented, lucid and substantive. Wright discusses ancient Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Israelite, Persian, Greek, Roman, Jewish and Christian traditions regarding heaven. I personally found the quotes from the primary documents of Egyptian and Mesopotamian traditions to be informative and enlightening. Overall, I would recommend this book, though I have some quibbles with Wright as well.

There are times when Wright asserts that something is the case without verifying this claim through primary documentation or rational argumentation. For instance, on page 52, Wright avers:

"The Bible is thus a curated artifact--it contains a selective account of history and a biased religious perspective."

That is a pretty strong claim to make when the information that precedes or follows this asseveration neither substantiates nor supports this claim. Nor do I think this statement was necessary in view of his subject matter. Of course, what Wright says here is not really new for those of us acquainted with historical-critical literature. But if historical critics of the Bible are going to apply their own standards of rigor and proof consistently, then they must not employ ipse dixit and expect readers to accept their claims or even entertain them without accompanying substantial proof.

Wright also claims that the early Christians thought of heaven as an exclusive club (page 196). He subsequently quotes Acts 4:12 to support the argument that some early Christians thought that only those who believe in Jesus shall be favored with a heavenly afterlife.
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