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Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in Western Religion
Alan F. Segal

0385422997 Retail Price: $37.50
CenturyOne Price: $26.25
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Format: Hardcover, 820pp.
ISBN: 0385422997
Publisher: Doubleday
Pub. Date: July 2004

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A magisterial work of intellectual history, Life After Death illuminates the many different ways ancient civilizations grappled with the question of what exactly happens to us after we die.

In a masterful exploration of how Western civilizations have defined the afterlife, Alan Segal weaves together biblical and literary scholarship, sociology, history, and philosophy. A renowned scholar, Segal examines the maps of the afterlife found in Western religious texts and reveals not only what various cultures believed but how their notions reflected their societies' realities and ideals, and why those beliefs changed over time.

Arguing that in every religious tradition the afterlife represents the ultimate reward for the good, Segal combines historical and anthropological data with insights gleaned from religious and philosophical writings to explain the following mysteries:
  • Why the Egyptians insisted on an afterlife in heaven while the body was embalmed in a tomb on earth
  • Why the Babylonians viewed the dead as living in underground prisons
  • Why the Hebrews remained silent about life after death during the period of the First Temple, yet addressed it after the Babylonian Exile (587-539 B.C.), at the time of the Second Temple
  • and Why Christianity placed the afterlife at the center of its belief system.

He discusses the inner dialogues and arguments within Judaism and Christianity, as well as ideas that mark the differences of biblical views of heaven and martyrdom on Islamic beliefs, he offers a fascinating perspective on the current troubling rise of Islamic fanaticism.

In tracing the organic, historical relationships between sacred texts and communities of belief and comparing the visions of life after death that have emerged throughout history, Segal sheds a bright, revealing light on the intimate connections between notions of the afterlife and the search for the ultimate meaning of life on earth.



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About the Author

Alan F. Segal is Professor of Religion and Ingebord Rennert Professor of Jewish Studies at Bernard College, Columbia University. He is author of Paul the Convert, as well as numerous scholarly articles.

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