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The History of Hell by Alice K. Turner

The History of Hell (original 1993; edition 1995)

by Alice K. Turner

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495620,650 (3.72)8
Title:The History of Hell
Authors:Alice K. Turner
Info:Harvest Books (1995), Edition: 1st Harvest ed, Paperback, 288 pages
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The History of Hell by Alice K. Turner (1993)



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A look at the history of one of mankind's favorite obsessions. The author begins with pagan and other conceptions of hell, such as Zoroastrianism, and moves quickly toward the Jewish, then to the Christian, version of hell. She traces the changes in the perceptions of hell throughout the Christian era, and includes a great many color plates of artist renditions to show the changing landscape of hell and the evolving face of Satan. An easy read, but sometimes the author seems to take too much at face value. In this sort of book, it mostly doesn't matter because she is presenting a literary history, not a historical or scientific one, but it is a bit disconcerting to have the author state in a footnote that Russian oilmen heard the screams from hell as though it actually happened. Also, she does seem a bit unaware of some of the current evangelical apocalypticism, as she seems to believe that actual believe in hell ended by the beginning of the 20th century. This could perhaps be forgivable had the book been written in the 1960s or 1970s, but by the 1990s, the religious right had come roaring back to prominence, and good research should have indicated that there is, in fact, a strong contingent of people who believe in a literal hell (around 60% of Americans). Otherwise, a good read. ( )
1 vote quantum_flapdoodle | Oct 10, 2013 |
It's interesting. I was actually a little surprised at how engrossing this book was. I loved the way the author traced Hell from the polytheistic influence on the Christian perception, through the various theological and political influences until we arrived at our most modern interpretation. I particularly enjoyed some of the religious theories she cited and how they altered theology in various ways. Some of the facts she included were a fascinating surprise -- the book as a whole was just a delightful journey of discovery.

I have to admit, I also liked it because I could never pin the author's theological beliefs down. There were points when I thought she was Catholic, other times when I'd decided she must be atheist, and once or twice when I was convinced she was some fringe religion like Mormonism. I really appreciated this ambiguity, because it never felt as though she was coming at the topic from a biased direction. ( )
  mephistia | Apr 6, 2013 |
I was disappointed but that is entirely my own fault - this is only an overview of how Hell picked up all its characteristics, since the Bible has surprisingly little to say about it. Much of what we think of as biblical is a weird mishmash of ancient religions, folk tales and literature - . It was certainly interesting but nothing was developed very much, so I intend to treat the book as a jumping off point for further research into the areas that interest me - less Swedenborg and more Zoroastrianism and medievalism. The prose is readable, the tone jaunty without being inappropriate and for the mildly interested, a great book. If you are interested in how Hell gained such a grasp on the Western imagination and, especially, some forms of American evangelicalism,then perhaps not. ( )
1 vote AuntieCatherine | Jan 7, 2012 |
This is not a new book; I dug it from my shelves just to write this review. It's not a scholarly-looking book; the oversize cover, glossy pages, and color pictures on every other page make it look more like a children's book than a theological treatise. It's not the work of a notable scholar; Ms. Turner is better known for her fiction and as an editor for Playboy. So what is this review doing on my blog today?

Against all odds, this is an important book about an important topic. Is it Alice's fault that she manages to turn it into a fun read as well?

The History of Hell begins at the beginning, with the earliest religious beliefs of an underworld. You'll explore the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Zoroastrianism. You'll move forward in time to the Greek understanding of Hades, the Platonic description of Hell, and the Hebrew teachings of Sheol. As these ideas merge into one, you begin to see glimpses of today's Christian version of Hell emerging.

In time, Purgatory arrives. Christian ideas continue to evolve through the centuries, giving birth to artwork and stories like Dante's Inferno, as imaginations let loose. Satan, once destined to chains in a dark netherworld transforms before your eyes into an evil taskmaster. Now, trident in hand, he gleefully tortures lost souls in a lake of fire forever and ever, amen.

You continue to travel through the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, through the 19th century, and on into today's time, as Hell continues to evolve. Why is this journey important? Why put yourself through Hell? Because, as Christians, it's vitally important to our spiritual well-being to understand that we have made our own version of Hell. Ideas have evolved from the beginning of religion, and understanding this, knowing the "history of Hell," can set you free from the undertow of today's spiritually-damaging teachings.

And if you're going to take this frightful journey, you may as well make it an entertaining one. Pick up Alice's book. ( )
2 vote DubiousDisciple | Apr 6, 2011 |
While most of our images of Hell may come from the Bible, The History of Hell shows readers how different cultures have interpreted the underworld, including the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and early Christians. In addition to dominent cultures, literature has played a part in developing our perceptions of Hell through the works of The Venerable Bede, Christopher Marlowe, Dante Alighieri, Edmund Spenser, John Milton, John Donne, and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Also included are photographs of sculptures and paintings from notable artists such as Auguste Rodin, William Blake, and Michelangelo. A wonderful brief introduction to notable writers and artists - sure to inspire more reading on the topic! ( )
2 vote westfargolibrary | Mar 31, 2011 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Alice K. Turnerprimary authorall editionscalculated
Mouwen, ChrisTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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The first accounts of the Land of the Dead that we know about were written nearly four thousand years ago on baked clay tablets from the Tigris-Euphrates Valley north of the Persian Gulf in Iraq.
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Haiku summary
Hell's many faces--
From myths to modernity--
All in a nutshell.


Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0156001373, Paperback)

A “lively...generously illustrated” (Washington Post Book World) survey of how, over the past four thousand years, religious leaders, artists, writers, and ordinary people in the West have visualized Hell-its location, architecture, purpose, and inhabitants. Illustrations; full-color inserts.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:07 -0400)

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"A survey of how, over the past 4,000 years, religious leaders, poets, painters, and ordinary people have visualized Hell--its location, architecture, furnishings, purpose, and inhabitants."--inside cover.

(summary from another edition)

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