The first major book to examine ancient Christian literature on hell through the lenses of gender and disability studies
“Enthralling, engaging, and challenging. . . . [Henning] has successfully given hell the right sort of attention, at last filling a major gap in the story and simultaneously charting new territory.”—Jarel Robinson-Brown, Los Angeles Review of Books
Throughout the Christian tradition, descriptions of hell’s fiery torments have shaped contemporary notions of the afterlife, divine justice, and physical suffering. But rarely do we consider the roots of such conceptions, which originate in a group of understudied ancient texts: the early Christian apocalypses.
In this pioneering study, Meghan Henning illuminates how the bodies that populate hell in early Christian literature—largely those of women, enslaved persons, and individuals with disabilities—are punished after death in spaces that mirror real carceral spaces, effectually criminalizing those bodies on earth. Contextualizing the apocalypses alongside ancient medical texts, inscriptions, philosophy, and patristic writings, this book demonstrates the ways that Christian depictions of hell intensified and preserved ancient notions of gender and bodily normativity that continue to inform Christian identity.
Meghan R. Henning is associate professor of Christian origins at the University of Dayton. She is the author of Educating Early Christians Through the Rhetoric of Hell.
“This groundbreaking study provides the most erudite introduction to Christian hell to date, even as it elevates the scholarly conversation about the underworld to new heights of sophistication. Lucid, impeccably researched, and theoretically informed, this book is not only essential reading for anyone interested in the afterlife; it revolutionizes our understanding of Christian theories of punishment and embodiment from antiquity to the present day.”—Candida Moss, University of Birmingham
“Meghan Henning immerses the reader in the depths of early Christians’ hell, in the company of sinners, saints, and most notably Christ’s mother. The tormented bodies on display show a remarkable resemblance to the world Christians inhabited and their judgments about bodies, male and female, able and disabled. Provocative and engrossing.”—Harold Attridge, Yale Divinity School
“Meghan Henning’s analysis of early Christian hellscapes breaks entirely new ground. This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in the imaginations of the afterlife, then and now.”—Jan N. Bremmer, University of Groningen
“In this original, subtle, and stunning monograph, Henning demonstrates that early Christian apocalypses conceptualized tortured, disabled individuals in hell as female. These seemingly obscure texts still echo in today’s concepts of punishment.”—Bernadette J. Brooten, author of Love Between Women: Early Christian Responses to Female Homoeroticism
“Troubling the line between the literary and the real, Henning decisively shows the interplay in ancient thinking between imagined bodies in hell and non-normative bodies on earth—a formidable advance in our understanding of early Christian speculation on what it means to be human.”—Ben Dunning, Fordham University
“In this crucial and compelling book, Meghan Henning offers a powerful account of hell in early Christian literature—showing how gender, disability, and bodily normativity become inextricably intertwined with ancient fantasies of punishment and moral order.”—Julia Watts Belser, author of Rabbinic Tales of Destruction: Gender, Sex, and Disability in the Ruins of Jerusalem
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