Heaven (religion)

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In many religions, heaven is a sphere which cannot be understood spatially and which, as an alternative to empirical reality, is home to supernatural beings, appearances or gods. In addition, this can be a place or state in or in which the otherworldly life is lived and where the gods or the god have their home.

Heaven is a frequent topos in religions as the home of divine beings and as a hoped-for place of continuation after earthly life . What these ideas have in common is a transcendence of this place and, associated with it, the important role of heaven in eschatological ideas.

Hell is seen as the counterpart of heaven . Heaven is then regarded as the place of greatest possible closeness to God, hell as the place of greatest possible distance from God; However, a distinction must be made here between a transferred connection, which can sometimes be reached during one's lifetime, or an actual hope for an encounter with God that can only take place after death.



Only during the time of the Second Temple (up to 70 AD) did the belief in a physical resurrection gain importance within Judaism. Important Old Testament testimonies for this can be found at Dan 12.3  EU . The Pharisees were the greatest followers of this belief. At the center of this belief is that God sends people either to Paradise or to Hell at judgment. The time and type of judgment are controversial in rabbinic Judaism , but there is agreement that heaven as the place of God and the angel are inaccessible to people even after the resurrection. Heaven and paradise are therefore thought of separately.

Heaven in the Old Testament

The idea of ​​the two-part world, which consists of heaven on the one hand and earth on the other, plays a decisive role in the narrative of Genesis, according to which the creator god YHWH in the six-day work of "desert and emptiness" from the " tohu wawohu " heaven and created earth. In this sense, the term heaven and earth stands more for all visible things (earth) and all invisible things except God. Shamajim ("heaven") means heaven. In addition to YHWH, the heavenly hosts and angels are also at home in this heaven . In addition, this is the place from which divine theophania occur (see Dtn 33.26  EU ; Ri 5.4  EU ; Ps 18.10–18  EU ).

The sky as the home of YHWH is characterized as beyond reach, so that the attempt to achieve this is acknowledged with divine punishment (s. Deut 30:12  EU ; Gen 11,1-9  EU ).


The question of how, whether and in what form an afterlife can be thought of has been the subject of theological discussion throughout the history of Christianity . First of all, it should be noted that until the 18th century there was no noteworthy discussion about whether. There were debates in particular about the question of whether heaven, as indicated in the New Testament , is the place where people meet God, i.e. a theocentric interpretation of the hereafter, or whether this is the place where for people what is in Gen 2 -3 created paradise is restored.

From 1900 onwards, Protestantism became disillusioned with the speculations that had prevailed until then. Thus, Ernst Troeltsch that "can we speculate about the fate of the individual less today than in the past." With Rudolf Bultmann and the debate on the demythologizing of the Bible , this view was supported and the hope of a life after death in heaven as human Presumption rejected.

On the part of the Catholic Church, the debate proceeded in such a way that the view of heaven is dogmatically brought into line with the resolutions of the Popes of the Middle Ages until today: the main motive for the Catholic doctrine of heaven is therefore the divine vision (the Visio beatifica ), its blissful Experience can already come to people during their lifetime. The fundamental moment is communion with the Divine Trinity .

In the New Testament, especially in the Gospel of Matthew, heaven has a special role: In contrast to the phrase used by Mark about the kingdom of God , here the kingdom of heaven is at the center of Jesus' sermons . Two reasons are given for this: On the one hand, it could be the fear of the Jews before pronouncing the name of God, which prevented Jesus from pronouncing the name of God and instead used a common transcription: In order not to pronounce the name of God YHWH , various other ways of speaking were established in Judaism . One of them, which is not yet detectable in the Old Testament, is Ha-Shem (The Name). Subsequently, due to the close proximity to Ha-Shamajim (Heaven), this was also used as an invocation to God, and so at the time of Jesus the two formulations kingdom of God and kingdom of heaven were identical in content. A theological implication is assumed as a second reason: According to Matthew 28:18, Jesus is given all power and authority in heaven and on earth. Thus, Matthew speaks in Mt 13.41  EU ; Mt 16.28  EU and Mt 20.21 EU from the kingdom of the Son  of Man.

The Revelation of John provides a specific conception of heaven with the motif of the Heavenly Jerusalem , which conceptually ties in with the vision of a restored, eschatological Jerusalem described in the Book of Ezekiel of the Old Testament .


In Islam heaven is paradise and the abode of the elect and the good after the last judgment . Both heaven and hell are given different names in the Koran . Names for the sky are, for example, Janna ( Arabic جنّة 'Garden', e.g. B. Sura 2:35 ), Eden ( ʿadn  /عدن, e.g. B. Sura 20 : 76) and Paradise ( firdaus  /فردوس, Sura 18 : 107 and Sura 23 : 11). The Islamic idea of ​​heaven is a physical one. According to this, the sky is a garden that is crossed by brooks in which water, milk and honey flow. It is furnished with carpets and precious armchairs, beautiful women, huris , and young boys serve exquisite fruits and poultry. Heaven is separated from Hell Djahannam by the Barzach partition . Another aspect is illuminated by the ascension of Muhammad , which is briefly indicated for the first time in sura 53 , verses 13-18 and is further embellished in later traditions. Accordingly, Muhammad , like the prophets of the Old Testament, was given the honor of being raptured into heaven before his death.


In Bahaitum the terms heaven and hell are avoided and stand symbolically for the proximity or distance to God, thus describe states of the human soul that can exist both in this world and in the hereafter .


Fundamental is the conviction that the human soul continues to exist after death and that it is possible with the help of media to communicate with the souls of the deceased. The deceased therefore differ only little from their earlier earthly existence, retain their peculiarities, and the “other world” in which they live is similar to this world, although it is “better” in some respects. Originally connected with this was the conviction that the existence of souls or spirits could be proven by means of scientific experiments.

The spiritualism assumes that the souls of the dead to rise in various stages and will go "into the light" after all.

Jehovah's Witnesses

According to Jehovah's Witnesses, people do not have an "immortal soul ". They take an annihilationist point of view and therefore negate an eternal life for all people and the existence of a hell . According to the author Robert Schmidt, belonging to one's own group is considered necessary for salvation ; according to Merit Petersen, they see themselves as a substitute for Israel as “God's people of salvation”. Jehovah's Witnesses advocate a twofold doctrine of salvation : They believe that some of the people found “faithful” by God will receive immortal life in heaven after death, the others will be resurrected to eternal life after Armageddon on earth. According to Joseph F. Zygmunt , the number of "144,000, sealed from each tribe of the sons of Israel " ( Rev 7,4–8  Elb ) is interpreted as the number of Jehovah's Witnesses who would live in heaven. On the other hand, the “great crowd” from Rev 7 :Elf is the totality of those who receive eternal life on earth.


  • Bernhard Lang , Colleen McDannell: Heaven: a cultural history ; edition suhrkamp 1586: new series 586; Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, ​​1990; Orig .: Heaven: a History ; London, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988
  • Bernhard Lang: Heaven, Hell, Paradise. Beyond worlds from antiquity to today. Munich: CH Beck, 2019, ISBN 978-3-406-74241-5 .
  • Marius Reiser : The Last Things in the Light of the New Testament . Patrimonium-Verl., Heimbach / Eifel 2013. ISBN 3-86417-018-4 .
  • Meinolf Schumacher : Painted heavenly joys in the Last Judgment. On the intermediality of the last things in Heinrich von Neustadt ; in: Michael Scheffel u. a. (Ed.): Aesthetic transgressions. Festschrift for Ulrich Ernst ; Literature Series 69; Trier 2006, ISBN 3-88476-792-5 , pp. 55-80 ( digitized version ).
  • Walter Simonis: Resurrection and Eternal Life? The Real Origin of the Easter Faith ; Düsseldorf: Patmos, 2002, ISBN 3-491-70345-X .
  • Ludwig Ott : Outline of Catholic Dogmatics ; Freiburg i.Br .: Herder, 1981 10 , ISBN 3-451-13541-8 .
  • Knaur's Lexicon of Mythology ; Munich, 1989, ISBN 3-8289-4155-9 .
  • Rudolf Simek : Lexicon of Germanic Mythology (= Kröner's pocket edition . Volume 368). 3rd, completely revised edition. Kröner, Stuttgart 2006, ISBN 3-520-36803-X .

Individual evidence

  1. quoted from Ulrich Kuder, Art. "Himmel", in: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart , 4th ed., Volume 3, Col. 1739.
  2. ^ Pnina Navè Levinson, Introduction to Rabbinical Theology, p. 77.
  3. ^ Pnina Navè Levinson, Introduction to Rabbinical Theology, p. 78.
  4. Bernhard Lang, Art. "Heaven", in: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th ed., Volume 3, Col. 1742.
  5. See Bernhard Lang, Art. "Himmel", in: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th ed., Volume 3, Col. 1742.
  6. quoted from Bernhard Lang, Art. "Himmel", in: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th ed., Volume 3, Col. 1742
  7. Bernhard Lang, Art. "Heaven", in: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th ed., Volume 3, Col. 1743
  8. Bernhard Lang, Art. "Heaven", in: Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 4th ed., Volume 3, Col. 1743
  9. ^ Eduard Schweizer , Das Neue Testament Deutsch, 1986, p. 23.
  10. ^ Spiritualism in: Encyclopedia of Occultism and Parapsychology 5th Edition, p. 1470.
  11. ^ Robert Schmidt: Jehovah's Witnesses . In: Metzler Lexikon Religion. Present - everyday life - media . JB Metzler, Stuttgart and Weimar 2000, p. 710.
  12. Merit Petersen: “The fine line between tolerance and persecution. Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormons in the Third Reich. ”In: Manfred Gailus , Armin Nolzen (Hrsg.): Disputed“ Volksgemeinschaft ”. Belief, Denomination and Religion in National Socialism. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 2011, p. 127.
  13. ^ Joseph F. Zygmunt: Prophetic Failure and Chiliastic Identity. The Case of Jehovah's Witnesses . In: American Journal of Sociology 75 (1970), p. 929.