Korea’s first Bible commentary, Direct Exposition of the Bible for Widespread Benefit (Syŏnggyŏng chikhae kwangik), is marked by a strong emphasis on human guilt and eternal judgment in its extensive didactic explication. How might this seemingly pessimistic message, read widely by Korean Catholics during the nineteenth century, support conversion in spite of the burden it imposes? This article explores the theme of soul judgment in Direct Exposition against the background of preexisting Korean cultural paradigms. It shows that this teaching carried a logic that could be compelling to Chosŏn Catholics, and that the psychological burdens such threats of judgment in the afterlife might impose could be mitigated by promises of help featured in the same text. This analysis also concludes that, in the political and social situation of nineteenth-century Korea, the emphasis on soul judgment offered validation of suffering and control over destiny.

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