Hell Hath No Fury: New Book Examines Early Christian Ideas About Life After Death: University of Dayton, Ohio


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Only 20% of people believe in hell. Yet early Christian ideas about the underworld – and who is punished there – resonate in today’s society, writes religious studies scholar Meghan Henning in her new book, Hell Hath No Fury.

“What’s important about Hell is that it doesn’t just describe the punishment, it decides and prescribes who is guilty,” Henning said. “When we look at Christian texts on the afterlife, hell is not an equal opportunity punisher. Women are often tortured for crimes like adultery while their male counterparts are conspicuously absent.

Henning’s findings, in what is described as the first major book to examine ancient Christian literature on hell through the lens of gender and disability studies, were inspired by relatively obscure texts that proposed “tricks.” from hell “. Popular among early Christians for their specific representations of how people would be punished for their sins – details missing in the New Testament. In these texts, a saint or an apostle, even the Virgin Mary, is guided through hell by someone who explains the sins and tortures he sees.

“The punishments are meant to ‘match the crimes’,” said Henning, an associate professor of Christian background. “Slanderers, for example, chew their tongues. Yet we clearly find double standards. In his most famous sermon, Jesus preached that men should avoid hell by pulling their eyes out rather than looking at a woman with lust. It is therefore quite remarkable that the later Christian hells considered chastity to be the prerogative of women and single women. “

Henning said that while the tortures in these visits to hell are imaginary, the performances had a real impact in reinforcing the idea that people in positions of authority have the right to make rules and make decisions. concerning the body of women.

“This is one of the first places where we see women’s bodies become communal and public property,” Henning said. “This legacy is still felt in modern society and decision-making. Even a quick glance at school dress codes reminds us that we are not so far removed from a world in which female bodies are hypersexualized and policed. So, although we may want to congratulate ourselves on how far we have come in relation to these scenes of fiery torture that disproportionately affect women, gender stereotypes are not as remote as one might imagine.

More information on Henning’s book is available online.

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