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Students of the religious drama will find interesting background material for the Harrowing of Hell and Doomsday pageants, and useful speculation regarding medieval attitudes to the afterlife, in John Caseys entertaining whistle-stop tour of conceptions of post-mortem punishment and reward in cultures from ancient Egypt to the present. (Greg Walker, Years Work in English Studies)
Casey is a well-read and sure-footed guide, with a keen analytic mind and a neat turn of phrase...I look forward to rereading much of this at leisure. (Philip Johnstone, Journal of Semitic Studies)
wide ranging and thought-provoking...One of the most striking features of the book is its willingness to grasp what is morally or spiritually positive in each of a wide range of conflicting positions. (Noel Malcolm, The Tablet)
Casey is an acute historian. (James Wood, The London Review of Books)
About the Author
John Casey is a Fellow of Caius College, Cambridge University. He is the author of such books as Pagan Virtue, Morality and Moral Reasoning and The Language of Criticism.
This is a wonderfully written and thoughtful analysis of views of the after life, from poets and philosophers as much as religious leaders and this gives it great breadth. One has to remember throughout Casey's book that there is not a shred of evidence for the existence of an after life but it seems to be human nature to speculate on what it might be. How a society or religion envisages the afterlife actually tells you a great deal about that society. The closing sentence in Casey's book is `Our image of heaven and hell is finally an image of how we judge ourselves'. Casey begins with the Jesuit view of the torments of hell from James Joyce's Stephen Dedelus but then he is on to the more congenial views of the ancient Egyptians. Casey concludes ` that it is hard not to admire the sanity, balance and humaneness of the view of things we can take from ancient Egypt'. The Egyptians do serve as a paradigm. If you do imagine a judgement after death, one can suggest the fairest way to effect this. First,one must have a set of values that make sense in terms of living in a humane society, are clearly known to all and are realistically achievable. Then one must have unfettered free will in order to be able to choose to achieve them. Then there must be a fair judgement process. The Egyptians achieved these 3,500 years ago these and so deserve Casey's support. As he warns us, later societies evolved more primitive beliefs. However, thankfully, Casey is far too sophisticated to be polemical. He works his way through Mesopotamians, Greeks and Romans before coming to Christianity.Read more ›
What awaits us after Death?Is there an afterlife? Will all the dead be resurrected?If so will it be a resurrection of the material body or the immaterial soul? What is the nature of Hell and Heaven?What punishments or rewards will be dispensed?These questions have beset the human beings since the dawn of History.The diverse answers have slowly crystallised around various religious beliefs.Afterlife is either eternal torment or eternal bliss,it is either total annihilation or cycles of reincarnation.It seems that religious imagination has pondered all realms of the tangible, the wishful and the implausible.
Perhaps our anticipation and preoccupation with Death is what distinguish us mostly from the rest of the animal kingdom.Perhaps the main aim of religions is to give expression to our fears and longings for an afterlife and divine justice. Feuerbach said " As man conceives his heaven, so he conceives his God".In fact a history of afterlife is not only a history of our conceptions of God and his agency(cruel and capricious or merciful and forgiving),but also a history of our notions of human nature and our beliefs in either freedom of the will or predestination. The descriptions of Hell and Heaven reflect the various visions of human fate by projecting the utopias or terrors of diverse eras and cultures.Eschatology was a crucial element of Christian Theological disputes. Who is to be elected to heaven or condemned to the eternal flames of Hell was a moot point of debate and conflict since St Paul and St Augustine articulated their doctrines which were consolidated during the reformation by Luther and Calvin.
John Casey is an engaging, remarkably erudite and witty guide to our historical quest.Read more ›
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Scholarly Look at Heaven, Hell and In-Between11 May 2010
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A scholarly look at Western cultural and religious beliefs of the afterlife. Very heavy reading, but so well written and eminently readable! From the ancient Egyptians to the present day, Casey states at the outset that he does not intend to attempt to formulate one comprehensive view, but instead, to make some sense of the multitude of beliefs, and how they developed. He begins with Ancient Egypt, moves on to Ancient Judaism, Ancient Greece and Rome, then moves through Christianity, the Reformation and up to the present, with amazing and thought-provoking detail and analysis. He discusses Dante's Divine Comedy at length, and uses it as a yardstick for comparison of other Catholic as well as Protestant views of heaven and hell.
This is a very fine blending of theological views, interposed with philosophy as well as history and culture. Truly fascinating, well-researched and a great pleasure to read. A true scholarly work, there are many pages of footnotes.