Laughing at the Hereafter

Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife; by Bart D. Ehrman; Simon & Schuster; 352 pp., $28.00

Were popular success an index of scholarly mastery, Broadway musical composer Andrew Lloyd Webber would be recognized as a world authority on Christology. He is not, but Bart D. Ehrman is, and his presumptive expertise in the history of religion is on display in his latest book, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife.

In the past 35-odd years, Ehrman has probably written more books on early Christian doctrine than the collective theology faculty of the Sorbonne. As a fawning review in Time magazine points out, several books from Ehrman’s expansive bibliography have made it to The New York Times’ bestseller list. I admit that I harbor elitist misgivings about whether such a feat is evidence of Ehrman’s scholarly attainment.

One need only look at the catchy titles of his best sellers to see why Ehrman is so fashionable and prolific: Did Jesus Exist?; The Other Gospels; Forgery and Counterforgery; Jesus Interrupted; Misquoting Jesus; Lost Christianities; The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture; and Truth...

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