Before Heaven and Hell: The Afterlife in the Ancient Mediterranean

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Taught by Nick Fokas

Nick misspent his youth studying and teaching ancient history and classics. When not yelling at kids to get off his lawn, he raises a ruckus playing guitar in the band Reserved For Rondee.

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In the modern popular imagination, one's place in the afterlife is contingent upon his or her moral behavior in the present life: those who have lived good and righteous lives in the eyes of their god will be rewarded with eternal paradise, while those who have not will be condemned to eternal punishment in the underworld. But the afterlife has not always been viewed through such a lens of morality and judgment, and one's actions in the present life did not necessarily have an impact on his or her place in the afterlife.

The diverse societies of the ancient Mediterranean believed in a multiplicity of gods, and the nature of these gods influenced how each society viewed the afterlife. Beginning with the ancient Near Eastern epic of Gilgamesh and the societies of Mesopotamia, this class will explore how the religions of various societies in the ancient Mediterranean world, including the ancient Egyptians, the ancient Israelites, the ancient Persians, and the ancient Greeks and Romans, viewed their respective afterlives and examine how and why these views evolved over time into our more familiar conceptions of Heaven and Hell.

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