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Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion
Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion
by Alan F. Segal
Edition: Hardcover
52 used & new from $3.75

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."
Comment Comments (2) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 18, 2010 10:32 AM PDT


The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus
The Misunderstood Jew: The Church and the Scandal of the Jewish Jesus
by Amy-Jill Levine
Edition: Hardcover
46 used & new from $6.95

9 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amy-Jill levine doe sit again, February 12, 2007
I wish I had Amy-Jill Levine as my professor of New Testament back when I was in seminary. Her insights and provocative comments (provoking thought not reaction) are challenging and faith-forming. (I heard her lecture for a week at Chatauqua a few years back and regard those lectures as furthering my Jewish-Christian sensitivities.) "The Misunderstood Jew" would be an outstanding read for a church-synagogue study group. Her critiques of liberals and conservatives open an avenue for dialogue that could take the conversation beyond ideology. As much as I like the work of Borg, et. al., I must confess that Levine has opened my eyes to some inherent anti-Jewish biases liberationists and liberals bring to their work.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jan 18, 2014 3:22 AM PST


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