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A readable book of popular Christianity that offers little new theologically.

A study of the development of Christian concepts of the afterlife.

Ehrman (Religious Studies/Univ. of North Carolina; The Triumph of Christianity: How a Forbidden Religion Swept the World, 2018, etc.) skims the surface in this offering for general readers. Having built an academic career on examining the veracity of the Bible, the author uses his platform to argue that ideas of heaven and hell lack meaningful merit in the Scriptures. Ehrman begins with an overview of how the afterlife was treated in other ancient Western literature, such as the works of Homer and Plato, before moving on to the Hebrew Bible. Ehrman seems convinced that many readers will be surprised to learn that heaven and hell appear differently, if at all, in the course of Old Testament literature. He demonstrates that, at best, the ancient Hebrews believed in a vague afterlife. More likely, they believed that existence for individuals ended with death. By the time of Jesus, a natural desire for justice from the travails of life had led to a more developed concept of afterlife for the good while the bad met only with extermination. Turning to the teachings of Jesus, Ehrman is clear that “Jesus did not teach that when a person died they would go to heaven or hell.” Furthermore, he argues, “one of my theses is that a close reading of Jesus’s words shows that in fact he had no idea of torment for sinners after death.” The author brushes off scriptural references that seem to contradict these conclusions as unreflective of the words of “the historical Jesus.” Likewise, he discounts any ideas about hell attributed to Paul as later additions by other authors, an approach that echoes Erhman’s arguments in such previous works as Forged. The author concludes that although death is the ultimate mystery, he doubts it brings anything but oblivion, and he urges his readers to find comfort in their coming, dreamless sleep.

A readable book of popular Christianity that offers little new theologically.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-50-113673-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

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