Bart Ehrman: Apocalypticism and Human Suffering

Bart D. Ehrman, Heaven and Hell: A History of the Afterlife (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2020), 106-107.

It [i.e. suffering] would make sense if there were no God. Or if there were many gods, some of whom were nasty. But how can it make sense if there is only one God who is truly good and completely in control of this world? It was a problem for Jewish thinkers. And eventually, about two centuries before Jesus, they came up with a new solution. In a sense, the solution was a kind of rejection of the prophetic answer. For these new thinkers, even if some suffering could come from God – for example, occasionally to punish sin – that is not why the massive suffering that has turned the world into a place of misery has devastated even the people of God. On the contrary, it is not God who causes the problem. Instead, God has cosmic enemies. They are the ones doing it.

4 thoughts on “Bart Ehrman: Apocalypticism and Human Suffering

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  1. I’d need to read the book to understand the argument, but my knee-jerk is that this might be an accurate description of the early rounds of Greco-Roman theologians. I’m intrigued to hear what Jewish thinkers were bothered by this and what sort of solution they’d come up with in a book entitled Heaven and Hell. I hope it isn’t, “They came up with heaven and hell.”

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      1. That’s one thing about Ehrman – and he’s a scholar, I’m not, so I’m not trying to slight him – but he does kind of take the traditional view that the New Testament is primarily focused on the afterlife, getting right with God, individual salvation: the kinds of things that were part of his Christian tradition growing up.

        But I think those apocalyptic texts are primarily concerned with the downfall of oppressive political powers and the restoration and exaltation of Israel. Although, granted, they had a spiritual animus behind them.

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      2. He does go into the idea that resurrection was specifically conceived of as a national revival, not something that happened on an individual level. He thinks it was only later in Jewish history, closer to the time of Jesus, that such ideas began to flourish.

        It’s a pretty good book. Some of it is material I’ve read in other works but his discussion of Greco-Roman authors and their views is somewhat new to me.

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