A History of Heaven (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
In Jeffrey Burton Russell’s impressive study of the history of heaven, he goes beyond his four-volume history of the devil and hell (The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity, 1977) in probing the imagery, folklore, and theology related to heaven. He also includes selected scholarly sources on the spiritual world. Intended as the first stage of a planned multivolume history of heaven, Russell’s study examines classic concepts of heaven from the Hellenistic Age to Dante Alighieri. It is an absorbing scholarly narrative that leaves the reader familiar with both the common core of beliefs about heaven and the distinctive medieval contributions to this important area of Christian thought.
Russell’s principal focus is on what he calls “the fulfillment of the human longing for unity, body and soul, in ourselves, with one another, and with the cosmos.” Heaven, in that sense, is more than a mere beautiful place or even a condition of endless life. Russell suggests that heaven ultimately means true selfhood in the fullest sense of the term: unending and joyful personal existence in the context of oneness with God, the universe, and other people. He chooses not to focus on “heaven” as a metonym for God or as a term to refer to the sky or heavenly bodies. Though paradoxes abound in this approach, Russell makes heaven come alive as few writers have. Although generally neglected by scholars, heaven is pivotal, says...
(The entire section is 1933 words.)
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