Gehenna is the name for Judaism's equivalent of the Christian Hell. However, Gehenna is a place of purging, the idea being that one's soul should emerge from it clean "like a firebrand pulled from the flames". Some say that everyone, even tzadikim, visit Gehenna for a period of 30 days before continuing to Heaven. The most interesting description of Ghenna that I have ever heard is that you and everyone who knows you sits down and watches a movie of your life from your POV and including your thoughts at those times. And you can't leave.

Geographically speaking, Gehenna is indeed a place. It is the Gei Hinom Valley just outside Jerusalem's Old City. The Damascus Gate is the closest entrance to the valley. Gei Hinom, a loose translation for Ben Hinom, or "son of Hinom", was a place where the local pagan tribes conducted their rituals which included, but were not limited to, child sacrifice, orgies, beastiality, and so forth. Blood ran through the area in rivers, provoking the new connotation.

The Gei Hinom Valley was revived by a mention in "Life of Brian" when they refer to the Valley of the Cheesemakers, or the Trippolean Valley.

Where do bad folks go when they die?
Don't go to heaven where the angels fly.
Go to a Lake of Fire and fry.

- Meat Puppets, Lake of Fire (Covered by Nirvana).

In addition to the more informative notes here and at Gehennom, a plane in the Dungeons and Dragons Planescape Multiverse. Like much of that setting's geography, it draws on Jewish and Christian imagery. Moloch was said to rule in Gehenna, due to his association with the burnt sacrifice of children. Gehenna is the Outer Plane of Lawful Neutral Evil, and takes the form of four immense double-ended volcanoes hanging in space. Force of will, cruelty and malice are supreme in this land. Pain is the means of enforcing the will of the strong. Baator and the Grey Waste lie on either hand.

It should be noted that the ultimate punishment for an Israelite back in those days was to be executed and then have his body thrown into Gehenna, where it would be forever denied proper burial and funeral rites.

Why is this important? Because no living beings were ever thrown into the fires of Gehenna. Thus, the metaphor of Gehenna as Hell, supposedly a place of eternal torment, does not hold. Gehenna was often used as a literary symbol for oblivion, as anything thrown there was considered to be totaly destroyed, but it was never used to symbolize torture.

There is one other word commonly translated to Hell, namely Sheol (this one is more common in the Old Testament than then the New Testament, but it appears in both). This Hebrew word means, simply put, death. That's it. It implies nothing about what lies beyond, and is itself just a metaphor (the "place" of Sheol = the state of death). So again, the metaphor doesn't hold.

The point of all this? Nothing really, except that there is no Biblical basis for the existence of Hell or anything analogous to it. Just something to think about.

Ge*hen"na (?), n. [L. Gehenna, Gr. , Heb. G Hinnm.] Jewish Hist.

The valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem, where some of the Israelites sacrificed their children to Moloch, which, on this account, was afterward regarded as a place of abomination, and made a receptacle for all the refuse of the city, perpetual fires being kept up in order to prevent pestilential effluvia. In the New Testament the name is transferred, by an easy metaphor, to Hell.

The pleasant valley of Hinnom. Tophet thence And black Gehenna called, the type of Hell. Milton.

 

© Webster 1913.

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