- Hardcover: 880 pages
- Publisher: Doubleday Religion; 1st edition (July 13, 2004)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0385422997
- ISBN-13: 978-0385422994
- Product Dimensions: 6.7 x 2 x 9.6 inches
- Shipping Weight: 3 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 19 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #324,708 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion Hardcover – July 13, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
This monumental study combines history, geography, mythology, archaeology and anthropology with biblical text analysis. Segal, a professor of Jewish studies at Barnard College, spent 10 years on this project, but the erudition he displays is undoubtedly the result of a lifetime of scholarship. In every culture, people ask the same fundamental questions about their existence, including "what happens after we die?" Although Segal maintains that answers to that question lie "beyond confirmation or disconfirmation in the scientific sense," he offers a comprehensive overview of how the afterlife is understood in the three main Western religions. He thoroughly examines early influences from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Canaan, Iran and Greece, then analyzes Jewish views as expressed in the first and second temple periods, the book of Daniel, the Dead Sea scrolls and writings from and about New Testament times, the early rabbis, mysticism and fundamentalism. For Christianity, systematic attention is given to Paul, the Gospels, the pseudepigraphic literature and the Church Fathers. Segal also scans Muslim beliefs as they appear in the Qur'an and the writings of Shi'a mystics and modern fundamentalists. The introductory and concluding chapters provide the essence of the presentation, enlivened by quotations from Shakespeare. Impatient readers may begin with these two chapters as a guide to determining which other sections of the book warrant further scrutiny. Careful readers, however, will take the trouble and the time to pore over this impressive contribution to our understanding of human belief and behavior.
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Praise for Alan F. Segal’s Paul the Convert
“Bold and imaginative.” —Paula Fredriksen, Books & Religion
“Alan Segal’s new book challenges Jewish and Christian scholars alike to take a fresh look at this well-educated man, arguing not only that it is impossible to understand Paul’s Christian writings without understanding first-century Judaism but that early Hellenistic Judaism is itself illuminated by Paul, since he was one of only two Pharisees to have left any personal writings at all.” —The Washington Post Book World
“This is a thoughtful, demanding book that the serious student of Paul will find well worth the effort.” —Bible Today
“Segal’s work abounds in fresh insights for students of Paul.” —F. F. Bruce, American Historical Review
“A brilliantly argued book. . . . Paul is neither hero nor villain for Segal but a fascinating historical and religious character, from whom we can learn much about both Judaism and Christianity. . . . I found myself thoroughly sympathetic to Segal’s portrayal of Paul. More than that, I found myself convinced.” —J. Christian Wilson, The Christian Century
“Elegantly produced. . . . Segal considers Paul’s Pharisaic education and training as well as the Jewish context of his religious struggle after he became a Christian. He treats Paul as a Jew, a convert, and an apostle, and places his conversion from Pharisaism to Christianity in the context of his society and his mission to the Gentiles.” —America
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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.