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Heaven and Hell

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Date Host Ian Punnett
Guests Bart Ehrman

A recent Pew Research poll showed that 72 percent of Americans believe in a literal heaven and 58 percent in a literal hell. Most people who hold these beliefs are Christian and assume they are the age-old teachings of the Bible. But eternal rewards and punishments are found nowhere in the Old Testament and are not what Jesus or his disciples taught. So, where did the ideas come from? Biblical historian Bart Ehrman joined Ian Punnett (Twitter) to explore the concepts of heaven and hell, and where they may have originated.

The Old Testament never talks about an afterlife where people go when they die, Ehrman revealed, noting the issue arises with the translation of the Hebrew word "sheol" into "hell" in English translations of the Bible. "There is no place in the Hebrew Bible your soul goes for punishment," he said. Sheol is best understood as grave or pit, a place where your remains get thrown, Ehrman explained. The Israelites did not have contemporary Christianity's understanding of the soul. They believed the soul was the "breath" which made a person alive and when one died it did not go anywhere but was simply gone, he disclosed.

"The idea that your soul goes to heaven or hell is not in the Old Testament and is absolutely not what Jesus taught," Ehrman continued, noting both Jesus and Paul thought bodies would be physically raised from the dead to live on earth in paradise at the end of time. He traced the evolution of the afterlife from the Israelites, who did not have a concept of life after death, to later Hebrew generations who believed the nation of Israel would one day rise again. This national resurrection eventually transformed into individuals being brought back to life, and ultimately transformed into the soul going to heaven or hell, Ehrman suggested. He also warned about how certain afterlife doctrines provide no incentive to help people who are suffering since they'll be rewarded by God when they die.

The first hour of the program featured Open Lines.

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