Beyond ‘This World’: Fantastic Journeys to Heaven, Hell, and the Ends of the Earth
Dr. John C. Reeves
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‘This is the way of truth, this is the stairway that leads to the height, that will lead us up to the light.’ — Manichaean Psalm-Book
This course provides an overview of a wide range of early visionary accounts that feature ascents to and tours of heaven, descents to and tours of hell, and journeys to utopias and fabulous lands positioned in regions located at the ends of or on the other side of ‘our’ world. All of the materials studied in this course stem from ancient and medieval Mesopotamian, Egyptian, Jewish, Christian, Zoroastrian, and Muslim literature.
Web links to some of the primary texts we will read are available on the course website. Other texts and course materials will be distributed by the instructor electronically on Canvas as needed. You do not need to purchase any textbooks for this course from the campus bookstore.
a. Readings. The nature of this course entails a significant amount of close reading and reflection both within and outside of class. Students are responsible for completing the reading assignments (outlined below or assigned in class) in a timely manner. Every student must read and critically engage substantial portions of Bible, other scriptural and parascriptural works, commentaries, testimonia, folktales, myths, legends, and travel narratives which have been englished from texts originally written in Akkadian, Hebrew, Aramaic, Syriac, Mandaic, Greek, Latin, Coptic, Arabic, Persian, Ethiopic, and various medieval European vernaculars. Critical engagement with a select set of secondary readings authored by modern theorists, analysts, and historians is also required.
b. Take-home written exercises. An indeterminate number of written exercises (usually one per week; optimally one per class) will be prepared and submitted for in-class discussion and out-of-class evaluation. These exercises vary in length from less than one (1) to a maximum of five (5) typewritten or electronically printed pages. All of these exercises will be announced and explained by the instructor during the course of or at the conclusion of a class meeting. The instructor’s evaluation of the student’s collective written exercise performance (using a scale √+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D) will comprise 75% of the course grade.
c. Final take-home essay. Instead of an in-class three-hour final examination, you will prepare a final essay wherein you will be expected to synthesize many of the major issues and themes discussed in class and in the required readings, as well as to demonstrate your knowledge of the specific source materials and facts which pertain to those issues and themes. Once its topic is assigned (on the final class meeting day), this essay will be delivered to the instructor before the date and time officially mandated for the final examination of this course by the UNC Charlotte administration. The final essay is worth 15% of the course grade.
d. Individual involvement. Almost perfect attendance (see below) is an essential requirement for this course. Each class meeting builds upon the knowledge gained during previous meetings. Moreover, in-class discussion and analysis comprises a significant portion of every class meeting. Preparation for every class usually involves the completion of a series of assigned readings and/or written assignment(s). Students are expected to contribute in an informed manner to the public analysis and discussion of any assigned topic, and the instructor reserves the right to administer occasional unannounced oral ‘pop-quizzes’ should he deem the situation so warrants (grades for such quizzes are averaged with those of the take-home exercises). The instructor’s assessment of one’s attendance, class preparation, and informed oral contributions will constitute 10% of the final course grade.
e. Zakhor (Remember!): Mastery of the assigned readings and diligent class attendance are necessary prerequisites for the successful completion of this course. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, assignments, and announcements, whether or not s/he is present when they occur.
f. While the state of emergency procedures regarding COVID-19 have been lifted, I have decided to continue to wear my face mask when leading class and meeting with you individually in my office. I will leave it up to you to monitor your own health and to act responsibly should you happen to fall ill during the course of the semester.
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk, wi-fi, and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) There is no such thing as a ‘make-up pop quiz.’ No exceptions will be considered or granted.
2) Homework exercises fall due on the date announced by the instructor in class. They must be typed and submitted by email to me in either Microsoft Word or Adobe format prior to the start of the class for which they have been assigned. No physical copies of homework will be accepted or returned. Since we will normally discuss these exercises together in class on that date, it would clearly be unfair to those who submitted their work on time for me to accept ‘late’ work from those who were privy to our in-class discussion. Hence I will not accept ‘late’ homework submissions (even from those of you who may be physically absent during our discussion); however, ‘early’ submissions (i.e., before the start of class) are always welcome and will receive full credit. These exercises are graded using a scale √+ = A-; √ = C+; √- = D; failure to submit = 0.
3) For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B=85; C+=78; C=75; D=65; F=30. A paper or written exercise that is not typed automatically receives the grade F, as do any typed papers which violate the required formatting parameters or which the instructor deems physically unacceptable and/or grammatically incomprehensible.
4) Since your diligent physical participation is critical for the success of this course, attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One or two absences are regrettable; three absences are the limit of tolerability. Each successive absence lowers this portion of your course assessment by one letter grade; seven (7) or more results in an automatic F for the course. Please note that—with the exception of religious holidays—the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
5) Policy regarding Audits: the instructor expects auditors (whether formally enrolled as such or not) to meet the same attendance, preparation, and oral participation standards as those students who are taking the course for credit. The instructor does not expect auditors to prepare and submit any written assignments.
6) I do not post grades on Canvas or use it for grading. You can easily determine your own course progress (or lack thereof) by paying attention to the number and quality of the grades you earn over the course of the semester and performing the simple arithmetic required (using the equivalency tables listed above) to generate a ‘rough’ grade average.
c. There will be no class meetings on the following days:
Monday, January 16 (Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day)
Monday, February 27 (Spring Recess)
Wednesday, March 1 (Spring Recess)
Wednesday, April 5 (Erev Pesaḥ)
d. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
e. The standards, requirements, and procedures set forth in this syllabus are subject to modification at any time by the course instructor. Notice of such changes will be by announcement in class, or by email, or by changes to this syllabus posted on the course website at https://pages.charlotte.edu/john-reeves/course-materials/.
Rough Course Outline
1. Very brief introduction to ancient cosmologies
2. Touring ‘Heaven’
Adapa (Dalley, 182-88)
1 En. 14:1-16:4 (Sparks, AOT, 200-205)
2 En. 3:1-10:7 (short version); cf. 13:27 (Sparks, AOT, 330-38, 345)
Apoc. Peter 4-20 (Akhmim fragment)//Ethiopic version (James, ANT, 518-19)
Apoc. Paul 19-31a (James, ANT, 535-42)
‘Kerdīr’s Vision’ (Skjærvø, 181-85)
Ardā Wirāz Namag 2-15 (Boyce, 84-87)
Ibn Hishām, Sīrat al-nabī (Guillaume, 184-87)
Ma‘aseh R. Joshua b. Levi (Reeves)
Wahb b. Munabbih apud Tha‘labī, ‘Arā’is (Reeves)
Kisā’ī, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ (Reeves)
Excursus: avoiding customs officials and guards while traveling to Heaven
Ma‘ayan Ḥokmah (Reeves)
3. Touring ‘Hell’
Gilgamesh Tablet XII (Dalley, 120-25)
Descent of Inanna/Isis (Dalley, 154-62)
‘Underworld Vision of an Assyrian Crown Prince’
1 En. 22:1-14 (Sparks, AOT, 210-12)
2 En. 13:23-26 (short version) (Sparks, AOT, 344-45)
Apoc. Peter 21-34 (Akhmim fragment)//Ethiopic version (James, ANT, 514-18)
Apoc. Paul 31b-42 (James, ANT, 542-47)
Ibn Hishām, Sīrat al-nabī (Guillaume, 184-87)
Ma‘aseh R. Joshua b. Levi (Reeves)
Wahb b. Munabbih apud Tha‘labī, ‘Arā’is (Reeves)
Kisā’ī, Qiṣaṣ al-anbiyā’ (Reeves)
Isaiah’s vision(s) of hell (Reeves)
Ardā Wirāz Namag 53-101 (Boyce, 87-89)
4. Bridging ‘Tours’ and Formal Cosmologies
Asclepius (Corpus Hermeticum) §28 (Copenhaver, 84)
Re’uyyot Yeḥezq’el (Reeves)
Midrash Konen (selections) (Reeves)
Seder Rabbah de-Bereshit (selections) (Reeves)
5. Utopian dreams
Essenes (Philo and Josephus in Dupont-Sommer, 21-37)
The ‘naked philosophers’ (Stoneman, 131-33)
‘Sons of Moses’ and Eldad ha-Dani (Reeves)
Prester John (Mandeville, 106-24)
6. Quest leading to the Ends of the Earth
Gilgamesh Tablet XI (Dalley, 109-20)
1 En. 106:1-107:3//1QapGen 2 (Sparks, AOT, 314-17//Reeves)
Syriac Cave of Treasures §27 (Reeves)
7. Touring the Ends of the Earth
1 En. 17-36 (Sparks, AOT, 205-21)
Greek Alexander Romance (Stoneman, 115-25; 142-43)
Syriac Alexander Legend (Budge, 144-58)
Ethiopic Alexander Legend (Budge, 154-59; 477-81)
Monstrous races (Mandeville)
Supplemental Bibliography for RELS 2000
In response to student requests for recommendations regarding useful and enlightening discussions of certain topics, themes, and personalities that are presented in class and/or readings, I offer the following suggestions for further study at the student’s leisure. I confine myself to materials which I myself have used with profit. Not all of these may be currently available at Atkins Library.
It is often helpful for the student to begin with appropriate articles in the standard Bible dictionaries. The most up to date are The New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible (5 vols.; ed. Katherine Doob Sakenfeld; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2006-09) and The Anchor Bible Dictionary (6 vols.; New York: Doubleday, 1992). Dated but still reliable are The Interpreters’ Dictionary of the Bible (4 vols.) and its Supplementary Volume (ed. George A. Buttrick; Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1962 & 1976), and the Harper’s Bible Dictionary (ed. Paul J. Achtemeier; San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1985). Highly recommended are the relevant articles in the new Encyclopaedia Judaica (22 vols.; Detroit: Macmillan Reference USA/Thomson Gale, 2007), the Encyclopaedia of Islam (2d ed.; 11 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1954-2002), the Encyclopaedia of the Qur’ān (6 vols.; ed. Jane Dammen McAuliffe; Leiden: Brill, 2001-06), and The Qur’ān: An Encyclopedia (ed. Oliver Leaman; London and New York: Routledge, 2006).
In addition, you can consult the following more specialized studies:
Richard Bauckham, “Early Jewish Visions of Hell,” Journal of Theological Studies 41 (1990): 355-85.
Ernest J. Becker, A Contribution to the Comparative Study of the Medieval Visions of Heaven and Hell (Baltimore: John Murphy Company, 1899).
Mary Boyce, ed., Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984).
Jan N. Bremmer, “Christian Hell: From the Apocalypse of Peter to the Apocalypse of Paul,” Numen 56 (2009): 298-325.
Scott G. Bruce, ed., The Penguin Book of Hell (New York: Penguin, 2018).
Ernest A. Wallis Budge, The History of Alexander the Great, Being the Syriac Version of the Pseudo-Callisthenes (Cambridge: At the University Press, 1889).
John J. Collins and Michael Fishbane, eds., Death, Ecstasy, and Other Worldly Journeys (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995).
Brian P. Copenhaver, Hermetica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992).
Jean Delumeau, History of Paradise: The Garden of Eden in Myth and Tradition (trans. Matthew O’Connell; New York, 1995; repr., Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000).
Marcus Dods, Forerunners of Dante: An Account of Some of the More Important Visions of the Unseen World, From the Earliest Times (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1903).
André Dupont-Sommer, The Essene Writings from Qumran (trans. G. Vermes; Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1961).
Eileen Gardiner, Medieval Visions of Heaven and Hell: A Sourcebook (New York: Garland, 1993).
Moses Gaster, “Hebrew Visions of Hell and Paradise,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 23 (1893): 571-611.
Alfred Guillaume, The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Isḥāq’s Sīrat Rasūl Allāh (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1955).
Aaron Gurevich, “The Divine Comedy Before Dante,” in idem, Medieval Popular Culture: Problems of Perception and Belief (trans. János M. Bak and Paul A. Hollingsworth; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 104-52.
______, “Perceptions of the Individual and the Hereafter in the Middle Ages,” in idem, Historical Anthropology of the Middle Ages (ed. Jana Howlett; Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 65-89.
Martha Himmelfarb, Tours of Hell: An Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1983).
Montague Rhodes James, The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924).
______, “The Recovery of the Apocalypse of Peter,” Church Quarterly Review 80 (1915): 1-36.
Christian Lange, Paradise and Hell in Islamic Traditions (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016).
Jacques Le Goff, The Birth of Purgatory (trans. Arthur Goldhammer; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1984), esp. 17-127.
______, The Medieval Imagination (trans. Arthur Goldhammer; Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1988), esp. 27-44, 67-77.
Sir John Mandeville, The Book of Marvels and Travels (trans. Anthony Bale; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012).
Howard Rollin Patch, The Other World, According to Descriptions in Medieval Literature (Cambridge, Mass., 1950; repr., New York: Octagon Books, 1970).
John C. Reeves, Trajectories in Near Eastern Apocalyptic: A Postrabbinic Jewish Apocalypse Reader (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2005).
John C. Reeves and Annette Yoshiko Reed, Enoch from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, Volume I: Sources from Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2018).
Seth L. Sanders, “The First Tour of Hell: From Neo-Assyrian Propaganda to Early Jewish Revelation,” Journal of Ancient Near Eastern Religions 9 (2009): 151-69.
Emilie Savage-Smith and Evelyn Edson, Medieval Views of the Cosmos (Oxford: Bodleian Library, 2004).
Alessandro Scafi, ed., The Cosmography of Paradise: The Other World from Ancient Mesopotamia to Medieval Europe (Warburg Institute Colloquia 27; London: The Warburg Institute, 2016).
Daniel Selden, “Text Networks,” Ancient Narrative 8 (2010): 1-23.
Prods Oktor Skjærvø, The Spirit of Zoroastrianism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2011).
H. F. D. Sparks, ed., The Apocryphal Old Testament (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984).
Helen Spurling, “Hebrew Visions of Hell and Paradise,” in Richard Bauckham, James R. Davila, and Alexander Panayotov, eds., Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures, Volume One (Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdmans, 2013), 699-753.
Richard Stoneman, The Greek Alexander Romance (London & New York: Penguin Books, 1991).
Z. David Zuwiyya, ed., A Companion to Alexander Literature in the Middle Ages (Leiden: Brill, 2011).