When we think of "heaven," we generally conjure up positive, blissful images. Heaven is, after all, where God is and where good people go after death to receive their reward. But how and why did Western cultures come to imagine the heavenly realm in such terms? Why is heaven usually thought to be "up there," far beyond the visible sky? And what is the source of the idea that the post mortem abode of the righteous is in this heavenly realm with God?
Seeking to discover the roots of these familiar notions, this volume traces the backgrounds, origin, and development of early Jewish and Christian speculation about the heavenly realm where it is, what it looks like, and who its inhabitants are. Wright begins his study with an examination of the beliefs of ancient Israel's neighbors Egypt and Mesopotamia, reconstructing the intellectual context in which the earliest biblical images of heaven arose. A detailed analysis of the Hebrew biblical texts themselves then reveals that the Israelites were deeply influenced by images drawn from the surrounding cultures. Wright goes on to examine Persian and Greco-Roman beliefs, thus setting the stage for his consideration of early Jewish and Christian images, which he shows to have been formed in the struggle to integrate traditional biblical imagery with the newer Hellenistic ideas about the cosmos. In a final chapter Wright offers a brief survey of how later Jewish, Christian, and Islamic traditions envisioned the heavenly realms. Accessible to a wide range of readers, this provocative book will interest anyone who is curious about the origins of this extraordinarily pervasive and influential idea.
Wright (Near Eastern studies, Univ. of Arizona) here delves into the origin and early development of Jewish and Christian thought about heaven and whether humans can go there. Examining ancient Near Eastern and Greco-Roman cultural contexts, biblical and extrabiblical texts, and archaeological findings, he explores a diversity of Jewish and Christian views about the cosmos and the afterlife. He accords the beliefs reflected in the Old and New Testament minority status and portrays them as a tool used by the religious elite (responsible for the final form of the canon) to control the masses and guard their own power and privilege. A number of Wright's statements regarding the wielding of heaven (and hell) as implements of compliance are polemical, making his work seem unbalanced, and since many of his sources are not in English, most general readers will be unable to evaluate his case. But he provides a more in-depth look at this period than Colleen McDannell and Bernhard Lang (Heaven: A History) or Jeffrey Burton Russell (A History of Heaven: The Singing Silence). Recommended for academic libraries only.--Craig W. Beard, Univ. of Alabama at Birmingham Lib. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.