GEHENNA (Hebr. ; Greek, Γέεννα):
Table of Contents
Nature and Situation.
Sin and Merit.
Nature and Situation.
The place where children were sacrificed to the god Moloch was originally in the “valley of the son of Hinnom,” to the south of Jerusalem (Josh. xv. 8, passim; II Kings xxiii. 10; Jer. ii. 23; vii. 31-32; xix. 6, 13-14). For this reason the valley was deemed to be accursed, and “Gehenna” therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for “hell.” Hell, like paradise, was created by God (Soṭah 22a); according to Gen. R. ix. 9, the words “very good” in Gen. i. 31 refer to hell; hence the latter must have been created on the sixth day. Yet opinions on this point vary. According to some sources, it was created on the second day; according to others, even before the world, only its fire being created on the second day (Gen. R. iv., end; Pes. 54a). The “fiery furnace” that Abraham saw (Gen. xv. 17, Hebr.) was Gehenna (Mek. xx. 18b, 71b; comp. Enoch, xcviii. 3, ciii. 8; Matt. xiii. 42, 50; ‘Er. 19a, where the “fiery furnace” is also identified with the gate of Gehenna). Opinions also vary as to the situation, extent, and nature of hell. The statement that Gehenna is situated in the valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem, in the “accursed valley” (Enoch, xxvii. 1 et seq.), means simply that it has a gate there. It was in Zion, and had a gate in Jerusalem (Isa. xxxi. 9). It had three gates, one in the wilderness, one in the sea, and one in Jerusalem (‘Er. 19a). The gate lies between two palm-trees in the valley of Hinnom, from which smoke is continually rising (ib.). The mouth is narrow, impeding the smoke, but below Gehenna extends indefinitely (Men. 99b). According to one opinion, it is above the firmament, and according to another, behind the dark mountains (Ta’an. 32b). An Arabian pointed out to a scholar the spot in the wilderness where the earth swallowed the sons of Korah (Num. xvi. 31-32), who descended into Gehenna (Sanh. 110b). It is situated deep down in the earth, and is immeasurably large. “The earth is one-sixtieth of the garden, the garden one-sixtieth of Eden [paradise], Eden one-sixtieth of Gehenna; hence the whole world is like a lid for Gehenna. Some say that Gehenna can not be measured” (Pes. 94a). It is divided into seven compartments (Soṭah 10b); a similar view was held by the Babylonians (Jeremias, “Hölle und Paradies bei den Babyloniern,” pp. 16 et seq., Leipsic, 1901; Guthe, “Kurzes Bibel-wörterb.” p. 272, Tübingen and Leipsic, 1903).
Because of the extent of Gehenna the sun, on setting in the evening, passes by it, and receives from it its own fire (evening glow; B. B. 84a). A fiery stream (“dinur”) falls upon the head of the sinner in Gehenna (Ḥag. 13b). This is “the fire of the West, which every setting sun receives. I came to a fiery river, whose fire flows like water, and which empties into a large sea in the West” (Enoch, xvii. 4-6). Hell here is described exactly as in the Talmud. The Persians believed that glowing molten metal flowed under the feet of sinners (Schwally, “Das Leben nach dem Tode,” p. 145, Giessen, 1892). The waters of the warm springs of Tiberias are heated while flowing past Gehenna (Shab. 39a). The fire of Gehenna never goes out (Tosef., Ber. 6, 7; Mark ix. 43 et seq.; Matt. xviii. 8, xxv. 41; comp. Schwally, l.c. p. 176); there is always plenty of wood there (Men. 100a). This fire is sixty times as hot as any earthly fire (Ber. 57b). There is a smell of sulfur in Gehenna (Enoch, lxvii. 6). This agrees with the Greek idea of hell (Lucian, Αληθεῖς Ιστορίαι, i. 29, in Dietrich, “Abraxas,” p. 36). The sulfurous smell of the Tiberian medicinal springs was ascribed to their connection with Gehenna. In Isa. lxvi. 16, 24 it is said that God judges by means of fire. Gehenna is dark in spite of the immense masses of fire; it is like night (Yeb. 109b; comp. Job x. 22). The same idea also occurs in Enoch, x. 4, lxxxii. 2; Matt. viii. 12, xxii. 13, xxv. 30 (comp. Schwally, l.c. p. 176).
It is assumed that there is an angel-prince in charge of Gehenna. He says to God: “Put everything into my sea; nourish me with the seed of Seth; I am hungry.” But God refuses his request, telling him to take the heathen peoples (Shab. 104). God says to the angel-prince: “I punish the slanderers from above, and I also punish them from below with glowing coals” (‘Ar. 15b). The souls of the sons of Korah were burned, and the angel-prince gnashed his teeth at them on account of their flattery of Korah (Sanh. 52a). Gehenna cries: “Give me the heretics and the sinful [Roman] power” (‘Ab. Zarah 17a).
It is assumed in general that sinners go to hell immediately after their death. The famous teacher Johanan b. Zakkai wept before his death because he did not know whether he would go to paradise or to hell (Ber. 28b). The pious go to paradise, and sinners to hell (B. M. 83b). To every individual is apportioned two shares, one in hell and one in paradise. At death, however, the righteous man’s portion in hell is exchanged, so that he has two in heaven, while the reverse is true in the case of sinners (Ḥag. 15a). Hence it would have been better for the latter not to have lived at all (Yeb. 63b). They are cast into Gehenna to a depth commensurate with their sinfulness. They say: “Lord of the world, Thou hast done well; Paradise for the pious, Gehenna for the wicked” (‘Er. 19a).
There are three categories of men; the wholly pious and the arch-sinners are not purified, but only those between these two classes (Ab. R. N. 41). A similar view is expressed in the Babylonian Talmud, which adds that those who have sinned themselves but have not led others into sin remain for twelve months in Gehenna; “after twelve months their bodies are destroyed, their souls are burned, and the wind strews the ashes under the feet of the pious. But as regards the heretics, etc., and Jeroboam, Nebat’s son, hell shall pass away, but they shall not pass away” (R. H. 17a; comp. Shab. 33b). All that descend into Gehenna shall come up again, with the exception of three classes of men: those who have committed adultery, or shamed their neighbors, or vilified them (B. M. 58b). The felicity of the pious in paradise excites the wrath of the sinners who behold it when they come from hell (Lev. R. xxxii.). The Book of Enoch (xxvii. 3, xlviii. 9, lxii. 12) paraphrases this thought by saying that the pious rejoice in the pains of hell suffered by the sinners. Abraham takes the damned to his bosom (‘Er. 19a; comp. Luke xvi. 19-31). The fire of Gehenna does not touch the Jewish sinners because they confess their sins before the gates of hell and return to God (‘Er. 19a). As mentioned above, heretics and the Roman oppressors go to Gehenna, and the same fate awaits the Persians, the oppressors of the Babylonian Jews (Ber. 8b). When Nebuchadnezzar descended into hell, all its inhabitants were afraid that he was coming to rule over them (Shab. 149a; comp. Isa. xiv. 9-10). The Book of Enoch also says that it is chiefly the heathen who are to be cast into the fiery pool on the Day of Judgment (x. 6, xci. 9, et al.). “The Lord, the Almighty, will punish them on the Day of Judgment by putting fire and worms into their flesh, so that they cry out with pain unto all eternity” (Judith xvi. 17).
Valley of Ge-Hinnom.(From a photograph by Bonfils.)
The sinners in Gehenna will be filled with pain when God puts back the souls into the dead bodies on the Day of Judgment, according to Isa. xxxiii. 11 (Sanh. 108b). Enoch also holds (xlviii. 9) that the sinners will disappear like chaff before the faces of the elect. There will be no Gehenna in the future world, however, for God will take the sun out of its case, and it will heal the pious with its rays and will punish the sinners (Ned. 8b).
Sin and Merit.
It is frequently said that certain sins will lead man into Gehenna. The name “Gehenna” itself is explained to mean that unchastity will lead to Gehenna (; ‘Er. 19a); so also will adultery, idolatry, pride, mockery, hypocrisy, anger, etc. (Soṭah 4b, 41b; Ta’an. 5a; B. B. 10b, 78b; ‘Ab. Zarah 18b; Ned. 22a). Hell awaits one who indulges in unseemly speech (Shab. 33a; Enoch, xxvii.); who always follows the advice of his wife (B. M. 59a); who instructs an unworthy pupil (Ḥul. 133b); who turns away from the Torah (B. B. 79a; comp. Yoma 72b). For further details see ‘Er. 18b, 101a; Sanh. 109b; Ḳid. 81a; Ned. 39b; B. M. 19a.
On the other hand, there are merits that preserve man from going to hell; e.g., philanthropy, fasting, visiting the sick, reading the Shema’ and Hallel, and eating the three meals on the Sabbath (Giṭ. 7a; B. B. 10a; B. M. 85a; Ned. 40a; Ber. 15b; Pes. 118a; Shab. 118a). Israelites in general are less endangered (Ber. 10a) than heretics, or, according to B. B. 10a, than the heathen. Scholars (Ḥag. 27a; comp. Men. 99b and Yoma 87a), the poor, and the pious (Yeb. 102b) are especially protected. Three classes of men do not see the face of hell: those that live in penury, those suffering with intestinal catarrh, and those that are pressed by their creditors (‘Er. 41b). It would seem that the expressions “doomed to hell” and “to be saved from hell” must be interpreted hyperbolically. A bad woman is compared to Gehenna in Yeb. 63b. On the names of Gehenna see ‘Er. 19a; B. B. 79a; Sanh. 111b; et al.
Winer, B. R. i. 491;
Hamburger, R. B. T. i. 527-530;
Hastings, Dict. Bible, ii. 343-346;
H. Guthe, Kurzes Bibelwörterb. pp. 271-274, Tübingen and Leipsic, 1903;
G. Brecher, Das Transcendentale, etc. pp. 69-73, Vienna, 1850;
A. Hilgenfeld, Jüdische Apocalyptik, Index, Jena, 1857;
F. Weber, Jüdische Theologie, pp. 336 et seq.;
E. Stave, Der Einfluss des Parsismus auf das Judenthum, pp. 153-192 et seq., Haarlem, 1898;
James, Traditional Aspects of Hell, London, 1903.
2 kings 23:10 NIV-
‘He desecrated Topheth, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek.’
Genesis 15:17 NIV-
‘When the sun had set and darkness had fallen, a smoking firepot with a blazing torch appeared and passes between the pieces.’
Matthew 15:42, 50-
‘They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
‘and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Isaiah 66:16 and 24
‘For with fire and with his sword the Lord will execute judgment on all people, and many will be those slain by the Lord.’
‘And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.’
‘To the land of deepest night, of utter darkness and disorder, where even the light is like darkness.’
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At the gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment , he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side, so he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
“But Abraham replied, ‘son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things,” but now he is comforted here and you are in agony, And besides all this between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, hor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“Abraham replies, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.;
“ ‘No, father Abraham,” he said, ‘, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent .’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, the ywill not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “
Isaiah 14:9 and 10 NIV
The realm of the dead below us is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirites of the departed to greet you—all those who were leaders in the world;
It makes them rise from their thrones—all those who were kings over the nations.
They will all respond, they will say to you, “You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us”
The book of Enoch http://www.sacred-texts.com/bib/boe/
- Therefore they shall be wanting in doctrine and wisdom,
And they shall perish thereby together with their possessions;
And with all their glory and their splendour,
And in shame and in slaughter and in great destitution,
Their spirits shall be cast into the furnace of fire.
Enoch, xxvii. 1
- Then said I: ‘For what object is this blessed land, which is entirely filled with trees, and this accursed valley⌈⌈between⌉⌉?’ 2. ⌈⌈Then Uriel, one of the holy angels who was with me, answered and said: ‘This⌉⌉accursed valley is for those who are accursed for ever: Here shall all ⌈the accursed⌉be gathered together who utter with their lips against the Lord unseemly words and of His glory speak hard things.
Enoch, lxvii. 6
- And when all this took place, from that fiery molten metal and from the convulsion thereof in that place, there was produced a smell of sulphur, and it was connected with those waters, and that valley of the angels who had led astray (mankind) burned beneath that land.
Enoch, x. 4, lxxxii. 2
And again the Lord said to Raphael: ‘Bind Azâzêl hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dûdâêl, and cast him therein.
2. I have given Wisdom to thee and to thy children,
[And thy children that shall be to thee],
That they may give it to their children for generations,
This wisdom (namely) that passeth their thought.
The Book of Enoch (xxvii. 3, xlviii. 9, lxii. 12
And I will give them over into the hands of Mine elect:
As straw in the fire so shall they burn before the face of the holy:
As lead in the water shall they sink before the face of the righteous,
And no trace of them shall any more be found.
And they shall be a spectacle for the righteous and for His elect:
They shall rejoice over them,
Because the wrath of the Lord of Spirits resteth upon them,
And His sword is drunk with their blood.