Inventing Hell

Inventing Hell

Dante, the Bible and Eternal Torment

Book - 2014
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"Hell: The word means terror, darkness, and eternal separation from God. Some people think the Bible is clear about hell, but what if they're mistaken? With gripping narrative and solid scholarship, Sweeney charts hell's "evolution" from the Old Testament underworld Sheol, through history and literature, to the greatest influencer of all: Dante's Inferno. He reveals how the modern idea of hell is based mostly on Dante's imaginative genius-but in the process, he offers a more constructive understanding of the afterlife than ever before. Disturbing and enthralling, Sweeney will forever alter what we think happens to us after we die-and more importantly, he will make us reconsider how we live"-- Provided by publisher.
Publisher: New York :, Jericho Books,, 2014
ISBN: 9781455582242
Characteristics: x, 192 pages ; 21 cm


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Jun 30, 2014

I had high hopes that this book would help me to understand Dante's thinking about the concept of hell, his reasons and strategies for characterizing it as he did, and how he fit hell, and eternal damnation, into an overall framework of theologic belief and a theory of punishment. No luck. The author, who is described as an independent scholar, doesn't seem to understand the basics of analyzing philosophic or literary history, and has written much of the book in a way that I can only describe as sophomoric. He often writes in a hip, slangy, voice that seems intended to appeal to the average 7th-grade reader, and I would describe this as "Dante lite." If the book were aimed at a juvenile audience, that would be all right...but the title, and other aspects of his approach, seem to claim legitimacy as a worthy entry in the academic sense. He ranges quite far afield, it seems to me, from the core topic of Dante's "invention" of hell as he reviews pagan and faith-based (Christian, Islamic, Jewish) concepts of 'satanic' (oppositional, evil) entities and the places in which they were thought to exist. While this results in a superficially impressive catalog of possible sources, there is hardly any evidence regarding Dante's acquaintance with them, and his possible use of them. He footnotes quite sparingly, and the bibliography is an odd and rather slender assortment of very old (and often Catholic) books--far, far less then one would expect from a current and competent research into what is, after all, a fascinating subject. In that respect, I give full credit for Mr. Sweeney's choice of title: It points to an extremely important aspect of what Dante was aiming at in the core structural and conceptual elements of The Inferno. Unfortunately, if doesn't deliver an orderly discussion, nor use the assembled elements, to produce an effective essay.


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