Book review: The History of Hell

by Alice K. Turner

★★★★★

This is not a new book; I dug it from my shelves just to write this review. It’s not a scholarly-looking book; the oversize cover, glossy pages, and color pictures on every other page make it look more like a children’s book than a theological treatise. It’s not the work of a notable scholar; Ms. Turner is better known for her fiction and as an editor for Playboy. So what is this review doing on my blog today?

Against all odds, this is an important book about an important topic. Is it Alice’s fault that she manages to turn it into a fun read as well?

The History of Hell begins at the beginning, with the earliest religious beliefs of an underworld. You’ll explore the Egyptian Book of the Dead and Zoroastrianism. You’ll move forward in time to the Greek understanding of Hades, the Platonic description of Hell, and the Hebrew teachings of Sheol. As these ideas merge into one, you begin to see glimpses of today’s Christian version of Hell emerging.

In time, Purgatory arrives. Christian ideas continue to evolve through the centuries, giving birth to artwork and stories like Dante’s Inferno, as imaginations let loose. Satan, once destined to chains in a dark netherworld transforms before your eyes into an evil taskmaster. Now, trident in hand, he gleefully tortures lost souls in a lake of fire forever and ever, amen.

You continue to travel through the Middle Ages, the Reformation, the Enlightenment, through the 19th century, and on into today’s time, as Hell continues to evolve. Why is this journey important? Why put yourself through Hell? Because, as Christians, it’s vitally important to our spiritual well-being to understand that we have made our own version of Hell. Ideas have evolved from the beginning of religion, and understanding this, knowing the “history of Hell,” can set you free from the undertow of today’s spiritually-damaging teachings.

And if you’re going to take this frightful journey, you may as well make it an entertaining one. Pick up Alice’s book.

Share