Throughout Western culture, heaven is considered the place where God resides and where good people go after death. But how and why did we come to imagine the heavenly realm in such terms? Why is heaven commonly thought to be "up there," far beyond the visible sky:? And what is the source of the idea that the post mortem abode of the righteous exists in this heavenly realm with God? Seeking to discover the roots of these familiar notions, the author traces the origins and development of images of the heavenly realm in the ancient Near East, early Judaism, and Christianity. He begins by examining the beliefs of ancient Israel's neighbors in Egypt and Mesopotamia, reconstructing the intellectual context in which the earliest biblical images of heaven arose. He shows how the biblical authors and editors transformed common Near Eastern images of heaven to conform to their own strictly monotheistic beliefs and their refusal to allow any physical images of God. But many ancient Israelites, however, did not hesitate to imagine God and his realm in explicitly physical terms, although in the biblical texts the "thou-shalt-make-no-graven-image" ideology clearl prevailed. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam inherited the rather restrictive biblical ideas of the divine presence in heaven, yet the older Near Eastern images of God's throne, the heavenly palace, other heavenly beings, and the gates of heaven persisted as well.
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