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The Early History of Heaven.

By J. Edward Wright. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. xviii + 318 pp. $35.00 cloth.

Edward Wright sets out to trace "how the many early Jewish and Christian depictions of heaven and the structure of the universe evolved and how this evolution reflects the religious and social tensions within the early Jewish and Christian communities regarding tradition and modernization"(x). The changing depictions are chronicled in detail, while the religious and social tensions are asserted rather than explored.

Only the last chapter pertains to the historical period of this journal. The first four chapters provide background information concerning the cosmologies of ancient Egypt, Mesopotamia, Israel (both Yahwistic and non-Yahwistic), Persia, Greece, and Rome. Chapters 5-7 deal with Jewish and Christian writings before 100 C.E. The final chapter on "Later Developments in Jewish, Christian, and Islamic Images is, as Wright acknowledges, only "a very brief overview" (203) of a subject treated in more detail by other scholars.

Nevertheless, Wright is to be commended for the thoroughness of his research and the clarity of his conclusions, which may be summarized as follows: (1) early Jewish and Christian cosmologies developed out of the interaction of Near Eastern and biblical notions of a three-story universe with more recent Hellenistic astronomical models; (2) there was no single picture of heaven in early Judaism or Christianity and no clear line of chronological development regarding the number of levels in the heavenly realms; (3) theology, not science, dominated the interests of early Jewish and Christian authors.
Arthur G. Holder
Graduate Theological Union
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Author:Holder, Arthur G.
Publication:Church History
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 2002
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