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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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GEHENNA . A word derived from Ge-Hinnom , the valley on the west of Jerusalem. In this valley it is possible that Molech and Tammuz were worshipped ( 2 Kings 23:18 , 2Ch 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:6 , Jeremiah 7:31; Jeremiah 32:35 ). The recollection of this terrible worship gave to the valley a sinister character, and led to its being defiled by Josiah ( 2 Kings 23:6; 2 Kings 23:10 ), for the purpose of preventing these rites. Thereafter it became the place for the burning of the refuse of the city, along with dead animals and the bodies of criminals. It was natural, therefore, that the name should become a synonym of hell (cf. Matthew 5:29; Matthew 10:28 ). In its eschatological force Gehenna was the place of punishment. It generally was conceived of as being under the earth, but it was very much vaster in extent than the earth. It was believed to be filled with fire intended for the punishment of sinners, who apparently went there immediately after death. Late Rabbinic thought would seem to imply that men who are neither great saints nor great sinners might be purified by the fire of Gehenna. Only those who had committed adultery or shamed or slandered their neighbours were believed to be hopelessly condemned to its fires, while the Jews were not to be permanently injured by them. According to the later belief, Gehenna was to be destroyed at the final consummation of the age. There is no clear evidence that Gehenna was regarded as a place for the annihilation of the wicked, although there are some passages which give a certain support to this opinion. No systematic eschatological statement has, however, been preserved for us from Jewish times, much less one which may be said to represent a general consensus of opinion. The NT writers employ the word in its general force as a synonym for the idea of endless punishment for sinners, as over against ‘heaven’ the synonym of endless bliss for those who have enjoyed the resurrection. They attempt, however, no description of suffering within its limits further than that implied in the figures of fire and worms.

Shailer Mathews.

Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Gehenna'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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