Study on Heaven

1)      These are preliminary notes – biblical, personal, theological, philosophical – on this concept or term or belief


2)      Borg seeks to restore meaning to traditional Christian terms yet has little to say on this one. His chapter on it fits comfortably with contemporary atheism, jettisoning traditional inquiry quickly. Problem remains that term has been foundational for many Christian beliefs, and remains so today in many quarters. It is tied to other terms as sin, salvation, eternal life.


3)      Heaven is metaphysical idea, moreso than many other ethical terms of faith. Metaphysics is branch of philosophy concerned with natural world, universe, cosmology, reality. It is still commonly used in philosophy study. The study of heaven is done not only through the bible. The bible reflects and responds to ideas current in many traditions and beliefs, especially in metaphysics.


4)      Heaven as a traditional term is layered by centuries of intellectual and artistic representation and debate, including Greek, Roman, medieval and protestant. It has been seen variously as a “physical or transcendent place from which heavenly beings (such as a Sky deity, God, angels, King or Queen of Heaven, Heavenly Father or Heavenly Mother or Son of Heaven, heavenly saints or venerated ancestors) originate, are enthroned or inhabit. It is commonly believed that heavenly beings can descend to earth or take on earthly flesh and that earthly beings can ascend to Heaven in the afterlife or in exceptional cases enter Heaven alive”.  The notion of angels is associated with heaven, as is sacred space, sacristry, steeples, and the height and position of church buildings.

Much of these connotations result from art and literary history… imaginary uses e.g. Angels over Berlin

5)      ‘Heaven’ has scientific meaning. This meaning was current in “ancient times – e.g. The modern English word heaven is derived from the earlier (Middle English) spelling heven (attested 1159); this in turn was developed from the previous Old English form heofon. By c. 1000, heofon was being used in reference to the Christianized “place where God dwells”, but originally, it had signified “sky, firmament”[1] (e.g. in Beowulf, c. 725). The English term has cognates in the other Germanic languages: Old Saxon heƀan “sky, heaven”, Middle Low German heven “sky”, Old Icelandic himinn “sky, heaven”, Gothic himins; and those with a variant final -l: Old Frisian himel, himul “sky, heaven”, Old Saxon/Old High German himil, Dutch hemel, and modern German Himmel. All of these have been derived from a reconstructed Proto-Germanic form *Hemina-.[2] In many languages, the word for “heaven” is the same as the word for “sky”.

The ancient concept of “Heaven” as a synonym for “skies” or “space” is also evident in allusions to the stars as “lights shining through from heaven”, and the like.”

Scientific and mythical associations blurred by astrology and search for meaning in stars etc. Also sense of lesser known reality, dark matter, in modern cosmology, allows us still to entertain diverse ideas about universe that can correspond to ancient speculation.


6)      This referential meaning provides field for wide and powerful source of symbols and metaphors often used in everyday speech. Someone dies and go to heaven. There is vague truthfulness – individual is given up to a higher universal reality of time and space. Ascension was probably a conscious use of symbols  to express some deeper spiritual or earthly event.



7)      Traditional idea of heaven was disconnected with earth. This is still philosophically respectable – known as Platonism. Many mathematicians believe in an ideal, unseen higher reality.  


8)      In place of sustained conceptual attention Borg posits his own point of view or opinion. This is a fairly poor method for assessing metaphysical truth claims. On other hand we can agree with him to a limited extent is that personal experience can be relevant, especially in longer narrative or accounts (which Borg does not provide) of individuals joyful visions, dreams, or near death experiences. Orthodox faiths can take such individual visions to an extreme – almost making given saintly status to subjective events. Similar to subjective reasons for existence of god. What do we all think? What do we have to share?


9)      Heaven exists in contradictory state between two oppositions – it is not a stable or simple idea. Both these oppositions seem overlooked by Borg. Once is between heaven and hell, the other an earthly paradise vs a transcendental one. “Heaven is often described as a “higher place”, the holiest place, a Paradise, in contrast to Hell or the Underworld or the “low places””


10)  If heaven can be symbolic then certainly hell can. Partly symbolic – Hades was place of cremation outside Jerusalem … yet why use? John in Revelations – struggle for values under Rome worse bucherous regime on worse scale than Nazism.


11)  Question then where did idea of transcendental heaven come from … one answer is surprising. Roman, Greek, Egyptian etc imperial … where gods given special status above indigenous earth spirits and gods i.e. heaven not natural or universal belief but in part political ideas ideology discourse.

Ancient Egyptian faith, belief in an afterlife is much more stressed than in ancient Judaism. Heaven was a physical place far above the Earth in a “dark area” of space where there were no stars, basically beyond the Universe. According to the Book of the Dead, departed souls would undergo a literal journey to reach Heaven, along the way to which there could exist hazards and other entities attempting to deny the reaching of Heaven. Their heart would finally be weighed with the feather of truth, and if the sins weighed it down their heart.”


12)  Despite evidence of universalism in New Testament many Christian have seen  Heaven as “conditional on having lived a “good life” (within the terms of the spiritual system) or “accepting God into your heart.” –many reasons why continued … Make sense of short life in this world … A notable exception to this is the ‘sola fide‘ belief of many mainstream Protestant Christians, which teaches that one does not have to live a perfectly “good life,” but that one must accept (believe and put faith in) Jesus Christ as one’s saviour, and then Jesus Christ will assume the guilt of one’s sins; believers are believed to be forgiven regardless of any good or bad “works” they have participated in.  Catholic Christians too speak of heaven as unattainable by even heroic human effort and having been “opened” by the death and resurrection of Jesus. A contrary view is that of Christian Universalism, which holds that, because of divine love and mercy all will ultimately be reconciled to God.”


What do we make of teachings of hell today? Pell recently said it was not catholic teaching. How pernicious is it?


13)  Problem with hell and transcendent heaven is that a primary doctrine of NT is heaven on earth . Term heaven used mainly in radical redeployment, anti transcendental …  consistent with holy special status of Jesus … son of god, god on earth. At heart of gospel teaching. Jesus abolished gates of hell??  eternal life is ambiguated not only as afterlife but one testified and commenced here – continuation of resurrection of dead of Jewish teaching. New creation, second creation … appro to meet on 7th day not of rest but continuation of creation … Jehovah’s Witnesses

One tradition in Christian is quite non platonic…

“In Biblical forms of Christianity, concepts about the future “Kingdom of Heaven” are also professed in several scriptural prophecies of the new (or renewed) Earth said to follow the resurrection of the dead—particularly the books of Isaiah and Revelation. The resurrected Jesus is said to have ascended to heaven where he now sits at the Right Hand of God and will return to earth in the Second Coming.”

“While the concept of heaven (malkuth hashamaim מלכות השמים, the Kingdom of Heaven) is well-defined within the Christian and Islamic religions, the Jewish concept of the afterlife, sometimes known as olam haba, the World-to-come, is not so precise. The Torah has little to say on the subject of survival after death, but by the time of the rabbis two ideas had made inroads among the Jews: one, which is probably derived from Greek thought, is that of the immortal soul which returns to its creator after death; the other, which is thought to be of Persian origin, is that of resurrection of the dead.

Jewish writings refer to a “new earth” as the abode of mankind following the resurrection of the dead. Originally, the two ideas of immortality and resurrection were different but in rabbinic thought they are combined: the soul departs from the body at death but is returned to it at the resurrection. This idea is linked to another rabbinic teaching, that men’s good and bad actions are rewarded and punished not in this life but after death, whether immediately or at the subsequent resurrection.[30] Around 1 CE, the Pharisees are said to have maintained belief in resurrection but the Sadducees are said to have denied it (Matt. 22:23).

Some scholarsassert that the Sheol mentioned in Isaiah 38:18, Psalm 6:5 and Job 7:7-10 was an earlier concept than Heaven, but this theory is not universally held.

The Mishnah has many sayings about the World to Come, for example, “Rabbi Yaakov said: This world is like a lobby before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the lobby so that you may enter the banquet hall.” Judaism holds that the righteous of all nations have a share in the World-to-come. According to Nicholas de Lange, Judaism offers no clear teaching about the destiny which lies in wait for the individual after death and its attitude to life after death has been expressed as follows: “For the future is inscrutable, and the accepted sources of knowledge, whether experience, or reason, or revelation, offer no clear guidance about what is to come. The only certainty is that each man must die – beyond that we can only guess.”

According to Tracey R. Rich of the website “Judaism 101”, Judaism, unlike other world-religions, is not focused on the quest of getting into heaven but on life and how to live it”

14)  Focus on all ecology of heaven, this wordly eternal life that continues not discontinues through the aproria of death but tied to future of transformed planet

by Geoffrey Sykes (quotations from Wikepedia)

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