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Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology) [Hardcover]

By Jeffrey a. Trumbower (Author)
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Item description for Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology) by Jeffrey a. Trumbower...

Christianity is a religion of salvation in which believers have always anticipated post-mortem bliss for the faithful and non-salvation for others. Here, Trumbower examines how and why death came to be perceived as such a firm boundary of salvation. Analyzing exceptions to this principle from ancient Christianity, he finds that the principle itself was slow to develop and not universally accepted in the Christian movement's first four hundred years. In fact, only in the West was this principle definitively articulated, due in large part to the work and influence of Augustine.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology) by Jeffrey a. Trumbower has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • Choice - 07/01/2002 page 1980

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Oxford University Press, USA
Pages   206
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 6.25" Height: 9.25"
Weight:   1.2 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Sep 27, 2001
Publisher   Oxford University Press
Edition  New  
ISBN  0195140990  
ISBN13  9780195140996  

Availability  79 units.
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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Social Sciences > Sociology > Death
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > Soteriology

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Reviews - What do customers think about Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity (Oxford Studies in Historical Theology)?

Fascinating  Jan 4, 2007
I found the information in this book both fascinating and well researched in its revelation on the various concepts of "posthumous salvation" that existed in the earliest days of the Christian Church. Anyone interested in this subject should definitely take the time to read "Rescue for the Dead" by Jeffrey A. Trumbower.
Death and Hope  Mar 25, 2004
George and Martha Washington, along with 380,000 Jewish victims of the Holocaust, share a unique status. All were posthumously baptized-by proxy-by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. In the 1840s, Shakers similarly saw posthumous salvation as possible for Native Americans. The Shakers believed that the souls of dead Native Americans could possess them, and, as a result, these dead non-Christians could receive the gospel and experi-ence salvation. However alien or peculiar these practices may seem, both Mor-mons and Shakers grounded them in what they saw as first-century Christian claims that death represented a permeable boundary.

In early Christianity were dead non-Christians seen as permanently separated from God, perhaps in eternal torment? Or could they be saved posthumously? In Rescue for the Dead, Jeffrey A. Trumbower acknowledges the existence of both perspectives, but he highlights the latter, examining those references, traditions, and theological perspectives in early Christianity which seem to support the belief that at least some non-Christians could experience salvation after death. Trumbower does so by focusing not just on Marcion, Origen, and the so-called gnostic writings but also on the Shepherd of Hermas, the Martyrdom of Perpetua, the Acts ofPaul and Thecla, and the Apocalypse of Peter. Key passages in these writings are linked both to "Greek, Roman, and Jewish Succor for the Dead" and to relevant New Testament passages such as 1 Corinthians 15.29 (where Paul speaks of baptism on behalf of the dead) and 1 Peter 3.19-20 and 4.6 (which describe Jesus as proclaiming the gospel even to the dead).

Trumbower concludes Rescue for the Dead by acknowledging that "although I have much sympathy for those in every age who have wished to rescue the dead, it is not the goal of this volume to take sides or to chart a course for Christian theology. Those who take on such a task, however, should be informed of the early history of the question in all its facets, and if this book has shed some light on that history, then it will have achieved its goals" (155).

The book clearly accomplishes those goals. It should become a standard work for persons interested in issues of universalism either in the early church or, as Trumbower notes, in modernity. At the same time, as its closing words imply, the book does not read like a sustained argument with an explicit thesis. In part, this is because "there was no clear uniform position on posthumous rescue for the pagan dead in the first four centuries of Christianity" (84). As a result, many users of the volume may find individual chapters, which can stand alone, to be of particular interest. For instance, the reflections and research on the Perpetua and the Thecla literature are thorough and are of use to anyone studying these works. Furthermore, Trumbower's comparisons of Perpetua and Mormons, and his reflections on Gregory the Great's prayer for Trajan simply make for interesting reading. Although the analysis of the New Testament passages (especially 1 Corinthians and 1 Peter) is disappointingly thin, and although more discussion of these passages would have made chapter 2 particularly of interest to seminary students and ministers, Trumbower does include and highlight references to the most exhaustive exegetical discussions of these passages.

Readers engaged by Droge and Tabor's A Noble Death: Suicide and Martyrdom among Christians and Jews in Antiquity will find Rescue for the Dead interesting in similar ways. Even though the two works focus on different phenomena, each reflects on Christian views of death. Each examines the historical development of a particular theological concept with attention to Greco-Roman and Jewish influences. Each explicitly claims that modern theological beliefs should be informed by the early church. Each highlights a perspective which has come to be marginalized but which seems to have been pervasive within the early church. In addition, at the end of each work Augustine is seen as the pivotal figure: his influence is presented as having resulted in the marginalization of a widely accepted Christian practice, either the acceptance of suicide or the belief in posthumous salvation.

Near the end of his book, Trumbower presents Augustine as speaking against every type of posthumous salvation described in early Christianity (125, 126-40). Beyond everything else, Rescue for the Dead seeks to ensure that Augustine's voice not drown out the recognition that "the posthumous salvation of individual non-Christians was more widespread in early Christianity than is usually supposed" (49). And that goal the work achieves very well.

Craig Wansink

An Unfamiliar history  Mar 23, 2004
The relationships between the living and the dead have always been in the center of religious experience and have always provided privileged material for reflection, both in the ancient world and in Christianity, from the origins up till the present day. Due to its mysterious nature, the borderline experience of death has always aroused not only curiosity for the unknown, but also the desire of the living not to allow the link of solidarity that binds them to those who have passed on to be interrupted, but to perpetuate it in some way.

Trumbower's fine work, newly published in the prestigious "Oxford Studies in Historical Theology" series, is dedicated to this fascinating theme. The author's interest was stimulated initially by the need to understand the real implications of the at first glance "surprising" prayer of the virgin Thecla, the disciple and companion of the apostle Paul, in favor of the deceased pagan Falconilla, a prayer quoted in the apocryphal Acts of Paul and Thecla (28-31) of the second century C.E. After a rapid but effective panoramic review of the Greco-Roman and Jewish world, Trumbower deals with the theme of the "posthumous salvation of the non-Christian dead," starting from the New Testament and arriving at the late discussions on purgatory at the Council of Ferrara (1438), with some interesting observations even on modern and contemporary documents: a very long period of time, indeed! In eight agile chapters, he analyzes the developments of that belief over the centuries, its possible social implications, and the various cultural and theological environments in which it was expressed, and identifies at least four different types of doctrine on the salvation of non-believers after death: (1) scenarios of the last judgement in which the chosen can save part of the damned; (2) intercession for non-Christian dead by characters (fictitious ones such as Thecla or historic ones such as Perpetua), who possess the particular spiritual power of the confessors of the faith; (3) a general offer of salvation to the dead during Christ's descent to Hell; (4) philosophical and theological speculations on the justice of God and on the possibility of a final universal salvation even for the wicked.

The central thesis of the book is that, after the great variety of positions expressed in the first four centuries, especially due to the decisive influence of Augustine, in the medieval Latin West death was considered as an insuperable boundary beyond which no form of recovery is possible for those who have not been baptized and have not taken active steps to ensure their own salvation. On the other hand, the Byzantine East, while rejecting the idea of universal salvation, seems to have been on the whole more open towards alternative forms of salvation after death.

This work, carried on with sympathy and keen personal participation in the topic, is well written and a pleasure to read. The numerous ancient sources analyzed in the discussion are of various nature and origin: literary and epigraphic, pagan, biblical and Judaic, apocryphal, Gnostic, hagiographie; their interpretation is often problematic and controversial, but they are generally treated with prudence and equilibrium, thanks also to the use of a vast and highly qualified bibliography. A few slips may be easily corrected in a second edition: for instance, "Pausanius" (12 and 21) instead of the correct "Pausanias"; "Perenzo" (77) instead of "Parenzo"; "lude more infantum, 8.3" (86) instead of "ludere more infantium, 8.4"; "Gosp. Thorn. 112" (165, note 27) instead of "114"; "Gregory Hoffmann" (175, note 33 and 187: co-editor with L. Petit of the documents on Purgatory issued at the Ferrara/Florence Council), instead of George Hofmann; "Pontificorum" (187) instead of "Pontificium" (Institutum Studiorum Orientalium).

The prospects drawn up and the explanations proposed by Trumbower may also be enriched, confirmed or modified, by an apt reference to, and an in-depth study of, further texts that have not been directly considered in this book. For example, Pseudo-Hippolytus's homily, In Sanctum Pascha, chapter 58, could be usefully added to the already rich dossier of texts on the descensus ad inferos (chapter 5): here it is claimed that the purpose of Christ's descent to Hell was to save the entire human race that had lived before the Law, under the Law, and after the coming of Christ. As far as concerns the decisive role of Augustine, which is well illustrated in chapter 7, the Pelagian controversy certainly offered him more than one opportunity to define his rejection of the idea of a "posthumous salvation." However, it should not be forgotten that this rejection was in some way connected with the criticism of the pagan survival of the cult of the dead, which Augustine had already developed during the last decade of the Fourth century. (See the classic book by V. Saxer, Morts, martyrs, reliques en Afrique chretienne aux premiers siecles. Les temoignages de Tertullien, Cyprien et Augustin a la lumiere de l'archeologie africaine [Paris: Beauchesne, 1980]). And quite apart from contingent polemical motivations, it was part of his doctrine of the "universal damnation" of the massa peccati, already clearly stated in the treatise Ad Simplicianum (396 C.E.). The difficulty Western theology at the end of the Fourth century had in understanding and preserving the traditional message of redemption implicit in the old doctrine of the descensus ad inferos is also proved by Rufinus of Aquileia's Commentary on the Apostles' Creed, chapter 18: here he claims that the meaning of the clause on the descent into Hell is the same as that contained in the clause on Christ's burial.

On the whole, Trumbower has written a dense and stimulating book, a clear and accessible synthesis. On the one hand this study reveals the author's familiarity with the Greco-Roman, Jewish, and Christian sources, while on the other it offers excellent updated historic information and casts new light on a delicate and important theme of Christian theology that every now and then returns strongly to the fore. The author seems to have perfectly achieved his aim.

Pier Franco Beatrice
University of Padua, Italy

Review of Rescue for the Dead  Nov 13, 2002
An excellent, and unbiased, scholarly review of some practices in
ancient Christianity. Though considered unorthodox in our day,
Jeffery Trumbower puts all preconception aside and looks at the
means that some early Christians used to save the unsaved dead.
Whether by prayer, or actual proxy baptism, he shows that the
thought, at least, was there.

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