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This review is taken from PN Review 73, Volume 16 Number 5, May - June 1990.

INSTRUCTED HEADS Colleen McDannell & Bernhard Lang: Heaven, A History. (Yale University Press) £16.95, $29.95.

'It is not always the case that two heads are better than one,' say Colleen MacDannell and Bernhard Lang, but both are by definition instructed heads, one being a lecturer in history and religion at the University of Maryland and the other Professor of Religion at Paderborn. It is an odd book they have put together - a publisher's book rather than a scholar's. It is 'a history of the images Christians use to describe what happens after death.' The authors have looked into a lot of libraries and at a lot of pictures, but although the chapters run from ancient Judaism to 'contemporary Christianity', it is hard to see on what principle the evidence has been selected. 'We have with great pain and trepidation omitted many heavenly visions,' they admit, whether jokingly or in earnest it is hard to tell.

'We are not theologians, visionaries, or spiritualists presenting our other-wordly reflections.' Few readers will need this warning. 'We study heaven because it represents a deep and profound (sic) longing in Christianity to move beyond this life and to experience more fully the divine.' Clearly we are being offered something more than a history of the iconography of an alleged after-life. But it never becomes quite clear whether we are to take the divine seriously. The authors make much of a distinction between what they call 'theocentric' and 'anthropocentric' models of heaven, but it is difficult to understand what could be meant by the latter. If God ...


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