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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Weighty Tome
Alan F. Segal's book "Life After Death" is my first read of his work, and certainly the most massive book I have read in some time. Considering the sheer scope of the topic Segal has attempted to cover, the size of the book should come as no surprise. However, the physical weight is where the "weightiness" ends.

Now, before you freak out about over 700 pages of...
Published on September 21, 2005 by Mouldy Pilgrim

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10 of 20 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Written from the perspective of a non-believer in the after life
Professor Segal has obviously done a lot of research to write this book, and others have pointed out many of it's good points, so I'll stick to saying what others haven't mentioned. The main issue I have is that Professor Segal obviously writes from the point of view of someone who doesn't believe in life after death himself. He approaches the subject from the point of...
Published on September 30, 2010 by Saeed Kauser


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31 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Weighty Tome, September 21, 2005
Alan F. Segal's book "Life After Death" is my first read of his work, and certainly the most massive book I have read in some time. Considering the sheer scope of the topic Segal has attempted to cover, the size of the book should come as no surprise. However, the physical weight is where the "weightiness" ends.

Now, before you freak out about over 700 pages of text on life after death, it should be emphasised that Segal writes in a very accessible and easy going manner. A few of the words he uses require a dictionary, (at least, I needed one), but the incidence of this was not a burden. Segal keeps you moving and presents a great level of quotation from ancient sources to highlight his points. His manner and style of presentation and discussion are absolutely fantastic.

Segal presents the beliefs of different cultures from a more social viewpoint than anything, and deals with how these beliefs can illustrate what the people thought of about themselves and the world about them. What you end up with is a very interesting discussion not just on life after death, but also some of the political, cultural and social concerns that went into them. This makes for a very well-rounded discussion.

Segal takes you through various cultures and civilisations, and throughout he inter-connects various ideas between them to show how they illustrate each other by contrast or simularity. These cultures include chapters on Ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia and Canaan, Israelite, (broken into various chapters), and much more, including detailed chapters on Christian views and their development through the centuries.

This book is really a great overview of the topic, and it is relatively easy to find from Segal's referencing further material for more specific reading. Segal has done exceptionally well to squeeze such a vast topic into about 750 well-written and dynamic pages.

This book gets a big "thumbs-up" from me. I will certainly be reading more of Segal's work in the future.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Exhaustive Coverage of Jewish, Christian, Islamic Views, November 9, 2004
Humans are, so far as we know, the only animal that concerns itself with what happens to us after we die. We don't even like to use the word die, we say passed away, crossed the river Jordan, or other terms. ==A major aspect of western religion is defining life after death. And in this monumental work, the origin and evolution of afterlife thoughts are traced. He begins with the Egyptions, where a life after death theology began to be developed. He thoroughly examines other early cultures such as Mesopotamia, Canaan, Greece, etc.

Finally he gets into the big three of western religions, first he covers Jewish views (Dr. Segal is a professor of Jewish studies at Columbia). Christian views come largely from Paul (Dr. Segal wrote a definitive book on Paul.) and the Gospels. For Islam, of course the Qur'an and some of the more modern writings are used.

In spite of the books large size (about 730 pages of text plus 150 pages of notes) it is fascinating enough and well written enough that it is relatively easy reading.
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31 of 39 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Tour De Force On The Hereafter In Western Religion, July 16, 2004
Alan Segal's tour de force is in the French tradition of the "longue duree" approach to social history. "Life After Death" follows the late Phillippe Aries's magisterial "The Hour Of Our Death" back in the 1980s but where it differs from its predecessor is its not concerned so much with the "ars moriendi," the so called art of dying as it is with how Western religions and philosophies have dealt with the hereafter down through the ages. At nearly 800 pages its an exhaustive treatment on a subject people have speculated on since the dawn of civilization and when you finish it, its clear most of mankind will never be reconciled to the notion this life is all there is. Highly recommended reading.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars outstanding, May 31, 2008
For many Christians, recitation of the Apostles' Creed is a rote part of Sunday morning's liturgy. And most worshipers more than likely routinely repeat phrases they've repeated Sunday after Sunday without giving much or any thought to what they're saying. "Resurrection of the dead" I suspect is one of those affirmations that roll politely off the tongue while conveniently by-passing the gray matter. My hunch is that people assume they're making a belief statement about the resurrection of Jesus not their own physical, corporeal resurrection.

Segal's book picks up where Oscar Cullman left off and goes into exhaustive and fascinating detail as to how the idea of an afterlife came to be in the Western world. Cullman's little book (Immortality of the Soul or Resurrection of the Dead) is must reading. In less than a hundred pages, Cullman details the differences between the pagan notion of an immortal soul and the Jewish/Christian belief in the resurrection of the dead--real bodies being raised in the last days. Life After Death begins with those same pagans and then offers an extremely well-documented history of various religion's views of the afterlife. This is not an afternoon read.

What I found most fascinating about Segal's book was the way he demonstrated the connection between the different philosophical ideas and the religious belief system(s) that inherited or appropriated its predecessor. One must make a leap of faith at times with his connections (no proof can be made that an early Christian said, "Plato's Phaedra makes sense to me!"), but the bridges he makes are convincing and cited with care. Gnosticism is but one compelling example of such a connection.

Apart from the historical aspect, one may ask, "So what? What difference does it make?" American Christians' bias against Muslims viz. martyrdom is one case in point. It is assumed (by our prejudice) that martyrs do what they do to inherit afterlife in Paradise. And that very well may be the case, and Segal does a fine job of looking at the nuances of Islamic interpretation of holy text. But recall Marx blasted Christianity as the opiate of the masses and Woody Guthrie criticized Christians for desiring the "pie in the sky by and by" because these beliefs can lead to self-righteousness, ignoring of social issues, and the Christian version of holy war (Crusades, Manifest destiny, Iraq).

Expect to be enlightened and amazed with this book. I cannot recommend it strongly enough for any thoughtful Christian, one who adheres to the dictum that spiritual growth is "faith seeking understanding."
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Ours Is To Dream, March 7, 2005
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The author attempts to explain an oxymoron - Life After Death. He does so elegantly, enlightening and entertaining along the way. It may shock those who think we've always held the beliefs we now hold and that these beliefs arrived fully developed without undergoing all the development associated with such ideas. The author is authoritative and sympathetic as we wind through the ages, civilization upon end, rewriting not only the rules but also the game.

Starting with the unchanging Egyptians one discovers that they indeed changed their beliefs about life after death, not once but several times. Then the citizens of Ur take center stage. On and on we move, ancient Persia, Greece and finally the dawn of our modern Western ideas, Israel. It is difficult to call one view more "sophisticated" than another due to the transmission and borrowing of ideas between cultures. Each new encounter led to another modification.

The primary question had to be decided..."Is there life after death?" Most cultures concluded that "something" existed beyond death. (Oddly, the Old Testament is silent on the subject.) They were unsure where it was or what occurred. Religious leaders and rulers were included (of course) then a new idea of titantic import emerged, one that affects us to this day: All who lead "good lives" (honored rulers and gods, obeyed social rules) are eligible for eternal bliss. Its corollarly - bad people get punished - was a natural development.

Our ideas of an afterlife had evolved from a dark existence to a an opulent physical place to a democratic mystical union with Christ in "heaven". The idea of resurrection muddied the waters but stopped debate on the subject. Christianity substituted "being in Christ" for a physical place while Islam's version promises sensuousness and pleasure for ever. A well-researched and well-written book - get it today.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Review of Our Own Beliefs on the Afterlife, July 25, 2010
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I spotted this book by accident in the library while looking for another book on the afterlife. Then I bought it from Amazon because I could see it was a serious academic treatment of the subject of the afterlife. While studying this subject one must try to separate his own emotions from the academic evidence available on this subject. This book is an excellent place to start that journey. It is clearly written and understandable. It analyzes the religious texts of the Western religions in new and different ways which are probably unfamiliar to readers who are not scholars. The book reminds us of the human element in the composition of the holy scriptures of every religion. The book does not claim to explain the afterlife. It only gives us a history of the attempts of the Western religions to explain the afterlife. And this is all we can expect from any researcher. No one can speak authoritatively about the afterlife. Even a single book such as the Bible presents contradictory views of the afterlife. This book is an excellent place to begin the journey of exploration on this subject.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Blessed Beyond Belief, April 24, 2006
First, I must admit that I'm not totally impartial due to the fact that I have come to consider Dr. Segal a great mentor. Nevertheless, it can be said with absolute certainty that his treatment of the subject is very full-bodied and complete.

Moreover, you should not be intimidated by the book's length. For by connecting the subject to his personal life and contemporary issues, he keeps you interested throughout the long and fascinating journey.

If you're like me, you'll be both moved and amazed by what you've learned.
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4.0 out of 5 stars For Those Interested In The History Of Religion, January 11, 2015
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This review is from: Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion (Kindle Edition)
Confronting the history of the ‘afterlife’ in the ‘Western’ tradition, Alan Segal’s Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Western Religion is a fascinating post-9/11 social history. In many cases it reads like a great books humanities course with a religious theme. This isn’t to denigrate the book, but, rather, to place it within an intellectual and historical frame.

Contextualizing books such as Life After Death is crucial to judging whether or not they are worthy of readers’ attention. In this case, Mr. Segal’s book will be very useful for those who can read religion as a socio-historical phenomenon and not at all useful for those coming from a position of faith—or very nearly useless for the latter. Certainly, there are some that will be able to separate their faith from the rational and critical [not in the sense of being negative] interrogation of religion from its early manifestations in Mesopotamia and Egypt to that of the Post-Industrial world.

Ultimately, it is a good book with many fine features, but it is one that will appeal to secularists and sceptics rather than those with some sense of the transcendent purpose of life.

Mr. Segal’s book is often bleak and definitely antiseptic in its approach to its topic, but it is also informative and well documented. What comes out of reading this book is a sense of its milieu, post 9/11, and its rational scepticism. This is not to say Life After Death is an anti-religious work, but that it has a definite perspective and this perspective is not one most of a religious persuasion are going to be able to wholeheartedly embrace.

Still and all, Life After Death is an excellent and comprehensive, though by no means complete, history of the evolution, within religion, of its response to death and the significance of this event for the individual, the group, the culture, and the civilization in which all, more or less, exist and attempt to cohabit with one another…more or less successfully.

At the moment of writing, early 2015, it feels as though humans are managing to do this less successfully than they have in the past. However, the effort is being made and that, at the very least, is worth something.

An excellent introduction to the history of the concept of life after death in the religious traditions of the West and Near/Middle East from the earliest civilizations to the early 21st Century. Recommended for those interested in a secularist reading of Western religious history as it intersects with death and post-human existence.

Rating 4 out of 5 stars.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Dispassionate and full of historical information, November 22, 2013
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This review is from: Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion (Kindle Edition)
This book takes the discussion of life after life to a new level, away from the current emotional stage in which it seems to be stuck. It begs the question of not when did we start believing in the afterlife, but when did we start doubting the afterlife.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Textbook, February 16, 2013
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This book is being used for a graduate course on heaven,he'll and afterlife; great text for the class. I received the book in ample enough time for the class.
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