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The Bible Hell
Part 6


While nearly all "orthodox" authorities of eminence concede that Sheol and Hades do not denote a place of torment in the future world, most of those who accept the doctrine of endless torment claim that Gehenna does convey that meaning.

Campbell, in his "Four Gospels," says: "That Gehenna is employed in the New Testament, to denote the place of future punishment, prepared for the devil and his angels, is indisputable. This is the sense, if I mistake not, in which Gehenna is always to be understood in the New Testament, where it occurs just twelve times. It is a word peculiar to the Jews, and was employed by them some time before the coming of Christ, to denote that part of Sheol which was the habitation of the wicked after death. This is proved by the fact of its familiar use in the New Testament, and by the fact of its being found in the Apocrypha books and Jewish Targunis, some of which were written before the time of our Savior."

But no such force resides in the word, nor is there a scintilla of evidence that it ever conveyed such an idea until many years after Christ. It is not found in the Apocrypha, Campbell mistakes.

Stuart says (Exeg. Ess.); "It is admitted that the Jews of a later date used the word Gehenna to denote Tartarus, that is, the place of infernal punishment."

In the second century Clemens Alexandrinus says: "Does not Plato acknowledge both the rivers of fire, and that profound depth of the earth which the barbarians call Gehenna? Does he not mention prophetically, Tartarus, Cocytus, Acheron, the Phlegethon of fire, and certain other places of punishment, which lead to correction and discipline?" Univ. Ex.

But an examination of the Bible use of the term will show us that the popular view is obtained by injecting the word with pagan superstition. Its origin and the first references to it in the Old Testament, are well stated by eminent critics and exegetes.


Says Campbell: "The word Gehenna is derived, as all agree, from the Hebrew words ge hinnom; which, in process of time, passing into other languages, assumed diverse forms; e.g., Chaldee Gehennom, Arabic Gahannam, Greek Gehenna.

The valley of Hinnom is part of the pleasant wadi or valley, which bounds Jerusalem on the south. Josh. 15:8; 18:6. Here, in ancient times and under some of the idolatrous kings, the worship of Moloch, the horrid idol-god of the Ammonites, was practiced. To this idol, children were offered in sacrifice. II Kings 23:10; Ezek. 23:37, 39;  II Chron. 28:3; Lev. 28:21; 20:2. If we may credit the Rabbins, the head of the idol was like that of an ox; while the rest of the body resembled that of a man. It was hollow within; and being heated by fire, children were laid in its arms and were literally roasted alive. We cannot wonder, then at the severe terms in which the worship of Moloch is everywhere denounced in the Scriptures. Nor can we wonder that the place itself should have been called Tophet, i.e., abomination, detestation, (from toph, to vomit with loathing)." Jer. 8:32; 19:6; II Kings 23:10; Ezek. 23:36, 39.

"After these sacrifices had ceased, the place was desecrated, and made one of loathing and horror. The pious king Josiah caused it to be polluted, i.e., he caused to be carried there the filth of the city of Jerusalem. It would seem that the custom of desecrating this place thus happily begun, was continued in after ages down to the period when our Savior was on earth. Perpetual fires were kept up in order to consume the rubbish which was deposited there. And as the same rubbish would breed worms, (for so all putrefying meat does of course), therefore came the expression, 'Where the worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched.' " Stuart's Exegetical Ess., pp. 140-141.

"Gehenna, originally a Hebrew word, which signifies the valley of Hinnom, is composed of the common noun, Gee, valley, and the proper name Hinnom, the owner of this valley. The valley of the sons of Hinnom was a delightful vale, planted with trees, watered by fountains, and lying near Jerusalem, on the south-east, by the brook Kedron. Here the Jews placed that brazen image of Moloch, which had the face of a calf, and extended its hands as those of a man. It is said, on the authority of the ancient Rabbins, that, to this image, the idolatrous Jews were wont not only to sacrifice doves, pigeons, lambs, rams, calves and bulls, but even to offer their children. I Kings 9:7; II Kings 15:3, 4. In the prophecy of Jeremiah, (Ch. 7:31), this valley is called Tophet, from Toph, a drum; because the administrators in these horrid rites, beat drums, lest the cries and shrieks of the infants who were burned, should be heard by the assembly. At length, these wicked practices were abolished by Josiah, and the Jews brought back to the pure worship of God.

II Kings 23:10. After this, they held the place in such abomination, it is said, that they cast into it all kinds of filth, together with the carcasses of beasts, and the unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed. Continual fires were necessary, in order to consume these, lest the putrefaction should infect the air; and there were always worms feeding on the remaining relics. Therefore it came, that any severe punishment, especially a shameful kind of death, was denominated Gehenna." Schleusner.

As we trace the history of the locality as it occurs in the Old Testament we learn that it should never have been translated by the word Hell. It is a proper name of a well-known locality, and ought to have stood Gehenna, as it does in the French Bible, in Newcome's and Wakefield's translations. In the Improved Version, Emphatic Diaglott, etc. Babylon might have been translated Hell with as much propriety as Gehenna. It is fully described in numerous passages in the Old Testament, and is exactly located.


"And the border went up by the valley of the son of Hinnom unto the south side of the Jebusite; the same is Jerusalem, and the border went up to the top of the mountain that lieth before the valley of Hinnom westward." Joshua 15:8. "And he (Josiah) defiled Tophet, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch." II Kings 23:10. "Moreover, he (Ahaz) burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen." II Chron. 28:3. "And they (the children of Judah) have built the high places of Tophet which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, says the Lord, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter; for they shall bury in Tophet till there be no place." Jer. 7:31, 32. "And go forth into the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell you. Therefore, behold, the days come, says the Lord, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter." Jer 19:2, 6.

These and other passages show that Gehenna was a well-known valley, near Jerusalem, in which the Jews in their idolatrous days had sacrificed their children to the idol Moloch, in consequence of which it was condemned to receive the rubbish and refuse and sewage of the city, and into which the bodies of criminals were cast and where to destroy the odor and poisonous-toxic influences, continual fires were kept burning. Here fire, smoke, worms bred by the corruption, and other repulsive features, rendered the place a horrible one, in the eyes of the Jews. It was locality with which they were as well acquainted as they were with any place in or around the city. The valley was sometimes called Tophet, according to Schleusner, from Toph, a drum, because drums were beat during the idolatrous rites, but Adam Clarke says in consequence of the fact that Moloch was hollow, and heated, and children were placed in its arms, and burn to death; the word Tophet he says, meaning fire stove; but Prof. Stuart thinks the name derived from "Toph, to vomit the loathing." After these horrible practices, King Josiah polluted the place and rendered it repulsive.

"Therefore, behold, the days come, says the Lord, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter; for they shall bury in Tophet till there be no place. And the carcasses of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judah, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of merriment, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride: for the land shall be desolate." Jer. 7:32-34. "At that time, says the Lord, they shall bring out the bones of the kings of Judah, and the bones of the princes, and the bones of the prophets, and the bones of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, out of the graves: and they shall spread them before the sun, and the moon, and all the host of heaven, whom they have loved, and whom they have served, and after whom they have walked, and whom they have sought, and whom they have worshipped; they shall not be gathered, nor be buried; they shall be for dung upon the face of the earth. And death shall be chosen rather than life by all the residue of them that remain of this evil family, which remain in all the places whither I have driven them, says the Lord of hosts. And I will make this city desolate, and a hissing; every one that passes thereby shall be astonished and hiss, because of all the plagues thereof. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, whereas their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall confine them. And they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury. Thus will I do unto this place, says the Lord, and to the inhabitants thereof, and even make the city as Tophet: and the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, shall be defiled as the place of Tophet, because of all the houses upon whose roofs they have burned incense unto all the host of heaven, and have poured out drink offerings unto other gods. Then came Jeremiah from Tophet, where the Lord had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the Lord's house, and said to all the people: Thus saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Behold I will bring upon this city and upon all her towns all the evil that I have pronounced against it, because they have hardened their necks, that they might not hear my words." Jer. 19:8-15.

These passages show that Gehenna or Tophet was a horrible locality near Jerusalem, and that to be cast there literally, was the doom threatened and executed originally. Every reference is to this world, and to a literal casting into that place.

In Dr. Bailey's English Dictionary, Gehenna is defined to be "a place in the valley of the tribe of Benjamin, terrible for two sorts of fire in it, that wherein the Israelites sacrificed their children to the idol Moloch, and also another kept continually burning to consume the dead carcasses and filth of Jerusalem."

But in process of time Gehenna came to be an emblem of the consequences of sin, and to be employed figuratively by the Jews, to denote those consequences. But always in this world. The Jews never used it to mean torment after death, until long after Christ. That the word had not the meaning of post-mortem torment when our Savior used it, is demonstrable:

Josephus was a Pharisee, and wrote at about the time of Christ, and expressly says that the Jews at the time (corrupted from the teaching of Moses) believed in punishment after death, but he never employs Gehenna to denote the place of punishment. He uses the word Hades, which the Jews had then obtained from the heathen, but he never uses Gehenna, as he would have done, had it possessed that meaning then. This demonstrates that the word had no such meaning then. In addition to this neither the Apocrypha, which was written from 280 to 150 years. B. C., nor Philo, ever uses the word. It was first used in the modern sense of Hell by Justin Martyr, one hundred and fifty years after Christ.

Dr. Thayer concludes a most thorough exposition on the word ("Theology, etc.,") thus: "Our inquiry shows that it is employed in the Old Testament in its literal or geographical sense only, as the name of the valley lying on the south of Jerusalem-that the Septuagint proves it retained this meaning at late as B. C. 150--that it is not found at all in the Apocrypha; neither of Philo, nor in Josephus, whose writings cover the very times of the Savior and the New Testament, thus leaving us without a single example of contemporary usage to determine its meaning at this period-that from A. D. 150-195, we find in two Greek authors, Justin and Clement of Alexandria, the first resident in Italy and the last in Egypt that Gehenna began to be used to designate a place of punishment after death, but not endless punishment since Clement was a believer in universal restoration-that the first time we find Gehenna used in this sense in any Jewish writing is near the beginning of the third century, in the Targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, two hundred years too late to be of any service in the argument-and lastly, that the New Testament usage shows that while it had not wholly lost its literal sense, it was also employed in the time of Christ as a symbol of moral corruption and wickedness; but more especially as a figure of the terrible judgments of God on the rebellious and sinful nation of the Jews."

The Jewish talmuds and targums (Aramaic translations of the OT) use the word in the sense that the Christian Church has so long used it, though without attributing endlessness to it, but none of them are probably older than A. D. 200. The oldest is the targum of Jonathan Ben Uzziel, which was written according to the best authorities between A. D. 200 and A. D. 400.

Most of the eminent critics now agree, that it could not have been completed till some time between two and four hundred years after Christ.  "Neither the language nor the method of interpretation is the same in all the books. In the historical works, the text is translated with greater accuracy than elsewhere; in some of the Prophets, as in Zechariah, the interpretation has more of the Rabbinical and Talmudical character. From this variety we may properly infer, that the work is a collection of interpretations of several learned men made toward the close of the third century, and containing some of a much older date; for that some parts of it existed as early as in the second century, appears from the additions which have been transferred from some Chaldee paraphrase into the Hebrew text, and were already in the text in the second century." Jahn Int. p. 66. Horne's Intro. Vol. 2. p. 160.

Dr. T. B. Thayer in his "Theology," says: "Dr. Jahn assigns it to the end of the third century after Christ; Eichhorn decides for the fourth century; Bertholdt inclines to the second or third century, and is confident that it 'cannot have attained its present complete form, before the end of the second century.' Bauer coincides generally in these views.

Some critics put the date even as low down as the seventh or eighth century.  See Horne's Introduction, Vol. 2, 157-163. Justin Martyr. A. D. 150, and Clement of Alexandria, A. D. 195, both employ Gehenna to designate the place of future punishment; but the first utters an opinion only of its meaning in a certain text, and the last  did not, of course, believe that Gehenna was the place of endless punishment. Augustine, A. D. 400, says Gehenna 'stagnum ignis el sulphuris corporeus ignis erit.' De Civitate Dei, L. 21. C. 10."

At the time of Christ the Old Testament existed in Hebrew. The Septuagint translation of it was made between two hundred and four hundred years before his birth. In both Gehenna is never used as the name of a place of future punishment.  Both the Apocrypha, and the works of Philo, when compared together, afford circumstantial evidence that the word cannot have been currently employed, during their age, to denote a place of future torment. . . . From the few traces which remain to us of this age, it seems that the idea of future punishment, such as it was among the Jews, was associated with that of darkeness, and not of fire; and that among those of Palestine, the misery of the wicked was supposed to consist rather in privation, than in positive infliction. . . . But we cannot discover, in Josephus, that either of these sects, the Pharisees or the Essenes, both of which believed the doctrine of endless misery, supposed it to be a state of fire, or that the Jews ever alluded to it by that emblem.

Thus the Apocrypha, B. C. 150-500, Philo Judaeus A. D. 40, and Josephus, A. D. 70-100, all refer to future punishment, but none of them use Gehenna to describe it, which they would have done, being Jews, had the word been then in use with that meaning. Were it the name of a place of future torment, then, can any one doubt that it would be found repeatedly in their writings? And does not the fact that it is never found in their writings demonstrate that it had no such use then, and if so, does it not follow that Christ used it in no such sense?

Canon Farrar says of Gehenna (Preface to "Eternal Hope): "In the Old Testament it is merely the pleasant valley of Hinnom (Ge Hinnom), subsequently desecrated by idolatry, and especially by Moloch worship, and defiled by Josiah on this account. (See I Kings 11: 7; II Kings 23:10.) (Jer. 7:31; 19:10-14; Isa. 30:33; Tophet). Used according to Jewish tradition, as the common sewage of the city, the corpses of the worst criminals were flung into it unburied, and fires were lit to purify the contaminated air. It then became a word which secondarily implied (1) the severest judgment which a Jewish court could pass upon a criminal-the casting forth of his unburied corpse amid the fires and worms of this polluted valley; and (2) a punishment-which to the Jews a body never meant an endless punishment beyond the grave. Whatever may be the meaning of the entire passages in which the word occurs, 'Hell' must be a complete mistranslation, since it attributes to the term used by Christ a sense entirely different from that in which it was understood by our Lord's hearers, and therefore entirely different from the sense in which he could have used it. Origen says (c. Celsus 6: 25) that Gehenna denotes (1) the vale of Hinnon; and (2) a purificatory fire (eis ten meta basanon katharsin). He declares that Celsus was totally ignorant of the meaning of Gehenna."


Gehenna is the name given by Jews to Hell. Rev. H. N. Adler, a Jewish Rabbi, says: "They do not teach endless retributive suffering. They hold that it is not conceivable that a God of mercy and justice would ordain infinite punishment for finite wrong-doing." Dr. Dentsch declares: "There is not a word in the Talmud that lends any support to that damnable dogma of endless torment." Dr. Dewes in his "Plea for Rational Translation," says that Gehenna is alluded to four or five times in the Mishna (first section of the Talmud), thus: "The judgment of Gehenna is for twelve months;" "Gehenna is a day in which the impious shall be burnt." Bartolocci declares that "the Jews did not believe in a material fire, and thought that such fire as they did believe in would one day be put out." Rabbi Akiba, "the second Moses," said: "The duration of the punishment of the wicked in Gehenna is twelve months." Adyoth 3:10. some rabbis said Gehenna only lasted from Passover to Pentecost. This was the prevalent conception. (Abridged from Excursus 5, in Canon Farrar's "Eternal Hope." He gives in a note these testimonies to prove that the Jews to whom Jesus spoke, did not regard Gehenna as of endless duration). Asarath Maamaroth, f. 35, 1: "There will hereafter be no Gehenna." Jalkuth Shimoni, f. 46, 1: "Gabriel and Michael will open the eight thousand gates of Gehenna, and let out Israelites and righteous Gentiles." A passage in Othoth, (attributed to R. Akiba) declares that Gabriel and Michael will open the forty thousand gates of Gehenna, and set free the damned, and in Emek Hammelech, f. 138, 4, we read: "The wicked stay in Gehenna till the resurrection, and then the Messiah, passing through it redeems them." See Stephelius' Rabbinical Literature.

Rev. Dr. Wise, a learned Jewish Rabbi, says: "That the ancient Hebrews had no knowledge of Hell is evident from the fact that their language has no term for it. When they in after times began to believe in a similar place they were obliged to borrow the word 'Gehinnom,' the valley of Hinnom,' a place outside of Jerusalem, which was the receptacle for the refuse of the city-a locality which by its offensive smell and sickening pollution was shunned, until vulgar superstition surrounded it with hob-goblins. Haunted places of that kind are not rare in the vicinity of populous cities. In the Mishna of the latest origin the word Gehinnom is used as a locality of punishment for evil-doers, and hence had been so used at no time before the third century, A. D."

From the time of Josephus onwards, there is an interval of about a century, from which no Jewish writings have descended to us. It was a period of dreadful change with that ruined and distracted people. The body politic was dissolved, the whole system of their ceremonial religion had been crushed in the fall of their city and temple; and they themselves scattered abroad were accursed on all the face of the earth. Their sentiments underwent a rapid transformation, and when next we see their writings, we find them filled with every extravagant conceit that mad and visionary brains ever cherished. Expos. Vol. 2. Art, Gehenna, II Ballou, 2d.

Part 7