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A History of Heaven:
The Singing Silence
Jeffrey Burton Russell

Winner of the 1998 Book Award, Christianity Today
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 1997

Paperback | 1999 | $35.00 | £27.95 | ISBN: 9780691006840
256 pp. | 6 x 9 1/4 | 18 halftones
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Chapter 1

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Well-known for his historical accounts of Satan and hell, Jeffrey Burton Russell here explores the brighter side of eternity: heaven. Dispensing with the cliché images of goodness that can make even heaven seem unbearable, the author stimulates our imagination with a history of how the joy of paradise has been conceived by writers, philosophers, and artists for whom heaven was an imminent reality. Russell not only explores concepts found among the ancient Jews, Greeks, and Romans as well as early and medieval Christians, but also addresses the intellectual problems heaven poses: how does time "pass" in eternity? is heaven a place or a state? who is in and who is not? what happens to the body and soul between death and Judgment Day? Russell stresses that the best way to approach the logic-defying concept of a place occupying neither space nor time is through poetry and paradox, and through the visions of such mystics as Bernard, Julian of Norwich, and Eckhart.

After the Revelation of Saint John the Divine, the most sublime and encompassing portrait of heaven to date has come not from a theologian but from a poet--Dante Alighieri in his Divine Comedy. Russell's history of heaven culminates in a lively analysis of how Dante described the glories of the indescribable. The unsurpassed images of light, movement, and community that Dante uses so skillfully to convey the presence of God are rooted in the Jewish picture of heaven as a garden or court and in the Greek picture of the Elysian Fields.

Using current scholarly insights together with a vast store of knowledge gathered from the past, Russell takes the idea of heaven as valid and important in itself--something to be understood from the point of view of those believing in it. His very use of language immerses us in the thoughts of those who have sought heaven and provides rich material for contemplation.


"An honest, erudite and personal paean to heaven."--Publishers Weekly

"At minimum, it is the most rigorous modern study of the various strains of Western tradition that culminate in [Dante's] Paradiso. But its introductory chapter goes beyond that to sketch out an apologia for passionate heavenly belief. In effect, Russell tries to re-establish the honor of the Christian mystical tradition. . . . Like Dante's, Russell's paradise is deeply God-oriented."--David Van Biema, Time

"Russell offers ever deepening insights into the human notion of heaven. . . . His work holds plenty of historical information on heaven drawn from early and medieval Christianity, yet its style is clear and readable."--Library Journal

"[T]he book will be a contribution of lasting literary and spiritual significance as well as a contribution to historical scholarship."--Booklist

"Thoughtful and elegant. . . A rare combination of scholarship, poetic sensitivity, and insight."--Kirkus Review

"As a survey or overview of Christian (and some Jewish) religious thought about Heaven as the destiny of human life over these 1500 years this is an excellent if necessarily compact history. . . . Clearly Russell knows his subject intimately and his personal devotion to it comes across warmly on every page."--Hugh Dickinson, The Financial Times

"[Russell's goal] is to explore the history of 'concepts' of heaven, which he does with encyclopedic knowledge and a lovely gift for language."--Monica Furlong, The Times Literary Supplement

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Table of Contents:

List of Illustrations
Ch. 1. Understanding Heaven
Ch. 2. Elysium, Jerusalem, and Paradise
Ch. 3. The Heaven of the Early Christians
Ch. 4. Returning to God
Ch. 5. Heaven, East and West
Ch. 6. Visions of Heaven
Ch. 7. Journeys to Heaven
Ch. 8. Wooing the Bridegroom
Ch. 9. The Desire of the Intellect
Ch. 10. The Fire of Love
Ch. 11. Approaching Paradise
Ch. 12. The Heavenly Paradise
Ch. 13. Hearing the Silence

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