Dead Men Talking: Ancient and Modern Apocalypses of the Afterlife

The central doctrine of Christianity is found in its eschatology that the dead will live eternally, especially if they died in righteous faith. Thus, the fear of death and it’s limitations on human mortality can be overcome via faith. Though they are few in number, some of these righteous believers are given guided tours by angels which reveal the states of the afterlife with wonderful views of paradise (Heaven) as well as the horrible suffering of the wicked being tormented (Hell).

Although the Christian Bible includes only two full apocalypses (the Book of Daniel and the Book of Revelation) there are also apocalyptic sections to be found in six books: Ezekiel 40 – 48; Isaiah 24 – 27, 34f., 56 – 66; Zechariah 9 – 14; Mark 13 and especially as expressed by Paul in 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15.

The hunger for any proof of an eternal afterlife can be found readily today by simply by going to Amazon which lists some 1,504 titles concerning Heaven. Of these title, the most in demand at present was written just six months ago and has remained #1 on the New York Times Best Sellers List (although #6 on the list is also a "proof" of Heaven titled: HEAVEN IS FOR REAL) as well as #6 on Amazon’s top sellers list. The author of this 20 week top best seller is Neurosurgeon Dr. Eben Alexander who, during a coma, was given a tour of the afterlife to be reveal as undisputable proof of Christian things to come.

Proof of Heaven: A Neurosurgeon's Journey into the Afterlife by Dr. Eben Alexander, MD (Oct. 2012)

This book has 3,523 reviews on Amazon and is growing by an amazing 200 reviews per week. These brake down as followers:

5 star: (1,989)
4 star: (720)
3 star: (397)
2 star: (200)
1 star: (217)

An update to this post:
Here’s one major problem about Eben Alexander’s NDE and other Near Death Experiences:
Near Death IS NOT Death! Death in the United States of a patient is defined “in a formal process called “pronouncement”. The clinician must verify the absence of spontaneous respirations and cardiac activity. A note describing these findings and time of death is entered in the patient’s chart.” Quoted from: 2011 Current Medical Diagnosis & Treatment, p. 93. For a patient to be declared dead, but later revived would result in a major malpractice lawsuit!

Ironically, although the Gospels tell us Jesus was dead for 3 days, upon his resurrection he has no knowledge what-so-ever of any afterlife. The claim by 1 Peter 3: 19 – 20 that Jesus preached to the “spirits in prison” was made about a century after Jesus' death to answer the problem of theodicy. Thus, Dr. Alexander was given more information about the afterlife than even Jesus Christ was himself!

But Dr. Eben Alexander’s so-called proof is nothing new as both Second Temple Judaism and Early Christianity were both fixated with afterlife Apocalypses attributed to saintly Biblical authors who - just like Dr. Alexander in his best-selling book - were presented a divine guided tour. The eschatology of texts can be found in most any volume that deals with The Old Testament Pseudepigraphia (many of these same texts were found among the Dead Sea Scrolls) while this theme was the foundation for the Blessed Hope in early Christian Apocryphal works.

The Old Testament Pseudepigraphia proofs of the afterlife are:

1 Enoch; 2 Enoch; 3 Enoch; Treatise of Shem; The Apocryphon of Ezekiel; The Apocalypse of Zephaniah; IV Ezra; The Apocalypse of Ezra; The Vision of Ezra; The Revelation of Ezra; The Apocalypse of Sedrach; I Baruch; II Baruch; 3 Baruch; The Apocalypse of Abraham; The Apocalypse of Adam; The Apocalypse of Elijah; and The Apocalypse of Daniel.

Early Christian proofs of the afterlife are:

The Apocalypse of Peter; The Apocalypse of Paul; Apocalypse of Thomas; The Questions of Bartholomew and the Book of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ by Bartholomew the Apostle; The Letter of James (not the Canonical Epistle); The Assumption of the Virgin; The Apocalypse of Stephen; The Apocalypse of John; The Apocalypse of Bartholomew; V Ezra; VI Ezra; The Book of Elchasai; The Epistle of Barnabas; The Didache and the Apocalypse of the Virgin.

From the academic (non-believer's) point of view, the following texts should be consulted:

A good introduction to this genre of literature is Ascent to Heaven in Jewish and Christian Apocalypses by Martha Himmelfarb which followed her 1985 book: Tours of Hell: An Apocalyptic Form in Jewish and Christian Literature

An important modern introduction to this period and literature is George Nickelsburg’s Resurrection, Immortality, and Eternal Life in Intertestamental Judaism and Early Christianity: Expanded Edition 2nd ed. (Harvard Theological Studies)

Still of value, but dated is R.H Charles’ Eschatology: The Doctrine of a Future Life in Israel, Judaism, and Christianity, A Critical History

Update on Dr. Eben Alexander’s book from the web:

Sam Harris’ response to the book: This Must Be Heaven

This was followed by Dr. Eben Alexander claim that Sam Harris won’t debate him.