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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
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 (Joshua 15:8, passim; 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 2:23; 7:31-32; 19:6,13-14). 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 (Soá¹ah 22a); according to Gen. R. 9:9, the words "very good" in Genesis 1:31 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. , end; Pes. 54a). The "fiery furnace" that Abraham saw (Genesis 15:17, Hebr.) was Gehenna (Mek. 20:18b, 71b; comp. Enoch, 98:3, 103:8; Matthew 13:42,50; '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, 27:1 et seq.), means simply that it has a gate there. It was in Zion, and had a gate in Jerusalem (Isaiah 31:9). 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 (Numbers 16:31-32), 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 (Soá¹ah 10b); a similar view was held by the Babylonians (Jeremias, "HÃ¶lle und Paradies bei den Babyloniern," pp. 16 et seq., Leipsic, 1901; Guthe, "Kurzes Bibel-wÃ¶rterb." p. 272, TÃ¼bingen 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 (á¸¤ag. 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, 17:4-6). 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 9:43 et seq.; Matthew 18:8, 25:41; comp. Schwally, 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, 67:6). This agrees with the Greek idea of hell (Lucian, ÎÎ»Î·Î¸Îµá¿Ï ÎÏÏÎ¿ÏÎ¯Î±Î¹, 1:29, in Dietrich, "Abraxas," p. 36). The sulfurous smell of the Tiberian medicinal springs was ascribed to their connection with Gehenna. In Isaiah 66:16,24 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 10:22). The same idea also occurs in Enoch, 10:4, 82:2; Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30 (comp. Schwally, 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 (á¸¤ag. 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. ). The Book of Enoch (27:3, 48:9, 62:12) 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 16:19-31). 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. Isaiah 14:9-10). 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 (10:6, 91:9, 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 16:17).
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 Isaiah 33:11 (Sanh. 108b). Enoch also holds (48:9) 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. (Soá¹ah 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, ); who always follows the advice of his wife (B. M. 59a); who instructs an unworthy pupil (á¸¤ul. 133b); who turns away from the Torah (B. B. 79a; comp. Yoma 72b). For further details see 'Er. 18b, 101a; Sanh. 109b; á¸²id. 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 (Giá¹. 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 (á¸¤ag. 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. 1:491;
- Hamburger, R. B. T. 1:527-530;
- Hastings, Dict. Bible, 2:343-346;
- H. Guthe, Kurzes BibelwÃ¶rterb. pp. 271-274, TÃ¼bingen and Leipsic, 1903;
- G. Brecher, Das Transcendentale, etc. pp. 69-73, Vienna, 1850;
- A. Hilgenfeld, JÃ¼dische Apocalyptik, Index, Jena, 1857;
- F. Weber, JÃ¼dische 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.
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Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Gehenna'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/g/gehenna.html. 1901.