A HISTORY OF HEAVEN by Jeffrey Burton Russell


The Singing Silence
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 Russell (Mephistopheles: The Devil in the Modern World, 1986, etc.; History and Religious Studies/Univ. of Calif., Santa Barbara) offers a sensitive and intellectually alert survey of the concept of heaven, from its roots in Judaism and Greek philosophy through Dante's Paradiso. To many people, heaven suggests a bland and slightly comical attempt to answer questions about life after death. Russell argues that the concept of heaven involves an extensive and fairly coherent body of thought, which he succeeds in making accessible. Beginning with the differing views of the afterlife found in the Hebrew scriptures (where it was called Sheol), our author examines the Greek notions of Hades, judgment, and the transmigration of souls as developed by the Orphic movement and Platonism. He is sensitive to the tensions that the confluence of these traditions created for early Christian theology, e.g., the Greek emphasis on the immortality of the soul versus the Judeo-Christian belief in the resurrection of the body. He looks at answers offered by writers as different as Tertullian, Origen, Augustine, and the Cappadocian Fathers. In the same critical spirit, he sifts through what the tradition has to say about the meaning of time and space in heaven, whether everyone or only a few can get ``there,'' and what happens between one's death and resurrection. Russell devotes his final chapters to a summary and brilliant analysis of the majestic system and metaphors of Dante's Paradiso. He concentrates on the Christian tradition, writing from within it, in a vigorous manner that speaks to the general reader. His writing is thoughtful and elegant; his insights stimulate involvement with the text. A rare combination of scholarship, poetic sensitivity, and insight. (18 b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-691-01161-3
Page count: 208pp
Publisher: Princeton Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15th, 1997


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