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A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence Hardcover – 16 Apr 1997

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (16 April 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691011613
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691011615
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 17.1 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,154,539 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Winner of the 1998 Book Award, Christianity Today
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1997

"An honest, erudite and personal paean to heaven."--Publishers Weekly

"At minimum, it is the most rigorous modern study of the various strains of Western tradition that culminate in [Dante's] Paradiso. But its introductory chapter goes beyond that to sketch out an apologia for passionate heavenly belief. In effect, Russell tries to re-establish the honor of the Christian mystical tradition. . . . Like Dante's, Russell's paradise is deeply God-oriented. . . ."--David Van Biema, Time

"Russell offers ever deepening insights into the human notion of heaven. . . . His work holds plenty of historical information on heaven drawn from early and medieval Christianity, yet its style is clear and readable."--Library Journal

"[T]he book will be a contribution of lasting literary and spiritual significance as well as a contribution to historical scholarship."--Booklist

"Thoughtful and elegant. . . A rare combination of scholarship, poetic sensitivity, and insight."--Kirkus Review

"As a survey or overview of Christian (and some Jewish) religious thought about Heaven as the destiny of human life over these 1500 years this is an excellent if necessarily compact history. . . . Clearly Russell knows his subject intimately and his personal devotion to it comes across warmly on every page."--Hugh Dickinson, The Financial Times

"[Russell's goal] is to explore the history of 'concepts' of heaven, which he does with encyclopedic knowledge and a lovely gift for language."--Monica Furlong, The Times Literary Supplement

"No brief review can begin to do justice to the rich complexity and subtlety of Russell's thought. . . [T]he book testifies to his exceptional learning and intellectual sophistication, [and] it is written with the utmost consideration for the readers who are not scholars. . . . Russell offers us Christian scholarship at its best, for, without ever falling into condescension, he clearly explains even the most difficult and unfamiliar terms and concepts, and he invites even the uninitiated reader to share his evident delight in exploring the many facets of this pre-eminently important concept."--Christianity Today

"A detailed, scholarly work which is alive with passion and poetry. This is a book about joy. . . . Russell clearly believes in heaven and is unashamed if saying so."--Sara Maitland, Commonweal

"This book exemplifies the new genre of devotional scholarship. . . .[A]n approach [Russell] hopes will come as a relief to ordinary readers. . . . What he gives us is a mostly chronological survey of ideas about heaven, beginning with Judaism and coming up to Dante, using that theme as the basis for reflections appealing to a contemporary devotional imagination."--Alfred Corn, New York Times Book Review

"Russell. . . offers a fascinating historical analysis of the concept of heaven. . . . [He] provides an insightful and creative study of the visionary, symbolic, poetic, and paradoxical modes of expression. . . . The scope, suggestiveness, and research base of this work make it a significant, even a landmark, study of heaven."--Choice

"Extraordinary.... Christian scholarship at its best.... The entire book pulsates with Russell's own commitment to heaven's ineffable beauty and splendor."--Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, Christianity Today

"Russell's greatest contribution to the way we see heaven [is] his readiness to slough off the fiction of objectivity and dive straight into pure inspiration."--Greg Burk, L.A. Weekly Literary Supplement

From the Back Cover

"Jeffrey Russell knows more about heaven than anyone except Saint Peter. In this sensitive inquiry, Russell examines the traditional Christian heaven in an ecumenical spirit. Expounding one perspective after another, he makes each vision pointed, clear, illuminating. Anyone interested in religion of any kind will prize this book. It is an exhilarating read."--Alan E. Bernstein, University of Arizona

"A History of Heaven serves the important purpose of educating us in the fullness of the Christian tradition about the nature of the afterlife of the blessed regarded from every relevant point of view: theology, popular religious feeling, poetic metaphor and expression, devotion, and psychology of religious feeling. The wealth of Russell's knowledge is demonstrated on every page and is presented with a fluency and ease that are the marks of mature scholarship informed by genuine fresh enthusiasm."--Nancy F. Partner, McGill University

"This is a masterly synthesis of much of the ancient and medieval understandings of heaven through Dante, accenting both the commonalities and the divergences and debates within the traditions studied. It is the only in-depth treatment of its subject and should become a standard reference for scholars as well as the general reader. The style is engaging and accessible, and the author displays a magisterial grasp of his materials."--Marcia L. Colish, Oberlin College

"Jeffrey Russell's history of the concept of heaven is written with the same sensitivity and thoroughness that characterized his earlier work on Satan/Lucifer, but it is presented with a lyric intensity that is necessarily absent from the earlier work. In terms of comprehensiveness, respect for diverse philosophical and religious traditions and influences, and awareness of the changing character of the concept over time, Russell has written the most useful and intelligent history of heaven to date."--Edward Peters, University of Pennsylvania

"Jeffrey Russell has written a remarkably comprehensive account of the Christian concept of heaven in the later ancient and medieval periods down to Dante. A History of Heaven makes a complex subject accessible to a wide range of contemporary readers, while it offers specialists in the Middle Ages the benefits of a lifetime devoted to the study of Western orthodoxy and dissent."--Brian Stock, University of Toronto

"Jeffrey Burton Russell once observed that an adequate general history of heaven had yet to be written for a contemporary audience. Students of the history of Christianity should rejoice that he has taken up the task with his customary gusto and learning. A History of Heaven provides a rapid, yet sure tour through the varied Christian ideas about heaven, commencing with their origins in Judaism and Greco-Roman religions down to Dante. Modern students, lacking the presence of a Vergil or a Beatrice, will find in this book a useful guidebook on their journey through the varied landscapes of heaven."--Thomas Head, Washington University-St. Louis

"Jeffrey Russell, renowned historian of evil and of Satan, has turned his pen to medieval conceptions of heaven. This is a work of love, not of duty. The preface and conclusion wax poetic on the hope of everlasting beatitude, on the yearning of medieval people for a state of bliss beyond time and space. The genius of Russell's book is to give that yearning historical texture, to differentiate visions of hope over time--and to do so in a language both beginners and scholars can follow. Russell begins with the Hebrew Bible, focuses on the complex teachings of the early church, and leads the reader into the poetic vision of Dante. A wonderful achievement, a work of maturity and mastery."--John Van Engen, Director of The Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame

"Bold in its historical sweep and assured in its scholarly depth, A History of Heaven is vintage Russell--a wonderfully imaginative evocation of the celestial theme and a fitting complement to his four fine volumes on the history of the Devil."--Francis Oakley, Williams College

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A NORMAL human being longs for three things that cannot be attained in this life: understanding of self, understanding of others, and understanding of the cosmos. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Brian Griffith on 13 Jan. 2008
Format: Hardcover
Russell seems to lecture in a rapture of joy on the subject of heaven. While explaining the history of spiritual dreams he remains perfectly scholarly, but thrilled by his subject. We see him before the class, proclaiming humanity's ultimate visions of life:

"Heaven is the state of being in which all are united in love with one another and with God. It is an agapé, a love feast. Whenever less than the whole world is loved, with all the creatures in it, whenever anyone or anything is excluded from love, the result is isolation and retreat from heaven. Heaven is the community of those whom God loves and who love God." (p. 5)

--author of Correcting Jesus: 2000 Years of Changing the Story
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 4 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Excellent Book. Highly Recommended. 2 Jun. 2013
By Anne Rice - Published on
Format: Paperback
Jeffrey Burton Russell is a Medievalist who is an excellent historian of ideas. He writes beautifully, and his prose is highly accessible, and often entertaining, perhaps because he spent so many years teaching. His books on the evolution of the concept of Satan or The Devil are very fine as well, and also available on Amazon. Writers like this open up the world of theology and theological concepts to those of us who cannot necessarily read all the primary theological documents ourselves. Russell bridges the gap between the Academy and the popular reader. As a novelist working with historical settings and milieu (with a deep interest in the moral and philosophical climate of different times), I have found his work on Heaven, the Devil, and Medieval witchcraft invaluable. I love his books and always have.

Also Recommending these books by Russell:

Medieval Civilization

Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity (Cornell Paperbacks)

Witchcraft in the Middle Ages
0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
The beautiful written words that he descibes about Heaven are exactly ... 14 Aug. 2014
By nancy sansom - Published on
Format: Paperback
i could not put this book down. The central theme of this book is true, true and true again. I know because I have experienced several of these episodes myself, returned to earth and i know that Jeffery Burton Russell is 100% accurate in his thesis, along with others he quotes. The beautiful written words that he descibes about Heaven are exactly as the next world really is. Death is no longer to be feared and the closeness of Heaven is experienced by many almost daily. Currently over eight million people, world wide, have had near death and out of body experiences. And these numbers are growing daily. They all can't be wrong. GOD exists and so does heaven. Read this book and know the truth. Thank You Jeffery for this wonderful book and I hope that it will inspire other seekers of the truth, that there is light at the end of the turnnel, with unconditional love, peace, joy and connection waiting for us, along with all mankind, Our connection to GOD and the cosmos is forever.. Thank You, Nancy Sansom, Ph.D.,OTR/L
22 of 47 people found the following review helpful
Focuses only on the Christian Account of Heaven 5 Jun. 2004
By "imdateless" - Published on
Format: Paperback
A History of Heaven by Jeffrey Burton Russell, takes a decidedly Christian approach to the idea of heaven, and its evolution through the ages - up until the writing of Dante, where he says, all things consummate were consociated and reworded into the current popular picture of heaven. Buying the book, I was expecting it to be a survey and evolutionary look at heaven and the idea of paradisiacal afterlife from Neanderthal to present societies, but instead it turned out to take a definite Christian approach. The author mentions in passing the ideas of Islam and Judaism, but informs the reader he knowledge of these cultures is limited so he will maintain his focus on the Christian Ideal. It is a great reader for those interested in the early Church and it's ideas on Heaven, including some speculative origins, but it is not a true "history" of heaven, limited only to the Christian Theology as well as the period 200BCE to about 1500CE. A good reader nonetheless.
4 of 13 people found the following review helpful
Very slow... boring... scattered thoughts... 24 Feb. 2011
By ReformedGirls - Published on
Format: Paperback
Chapter 1 was BORING but had a few nice questions (but no answers, but enough to make you read on)...
Chapter 2 was terrible and I put the book down

- You might get a few ideas about what SOME PEOPLE think heaven MIGHT be like (if you can get through the entire book, because the goodies are scattered far and few between)

- All those questions you want to know about heaven? Good luck finding them. He asks questions without answers scattered throughout the whole book.
- Very scattered writings. Nothing seems to be in one place. Hard to follow any logical order to the book. It just rambles.
- Difficult reading, easy to lose track of a thought (and some people think the King James was hard? ha!) Good luck for the average reader.
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