Opinions Of Scholars

Says Campbell: "The word Gehenna is derived, as all agree, from the Hebrew words ge hinnom; which in diverse forms; e.g., Chaldee Gehennom, Arabic Gahannam, Greek Gehenna. The valley of Hinnom is a part of the pleasant wadi or valley which bound 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 practised. To this idol children were offered in sacrifice. 2 Kings 23:10; Ezek. 23:37,19; 2 Chron. 28:3; Lev. 18:21; 30:2. 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; 2 Kings 23:10; Ezek. 23:36,39.

"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 southeast, by the brook Kidron. 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. 1 Kings 9:7; 2 Kings 15:3,4. In the prophecy of Jeremian, (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 nefarious practices were abolished by Josiah, and the Jews brought back to the pure worship of God. 2 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. Hence 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 translation, 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 on earth.

"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 (Joshua) 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." 2 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." 2 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, saith 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 thee. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith 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 offal and refuse and sewage of the city, and into which the bodies of malefactors were cast, and where, to destroy the odor and pestilential 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 a locality with which they were as well acquainted as they were with any place in or around the city. After these horrible practices, King Josiah polluted the place and rendered it repulsive.

"Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the sons 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 beast of the earth; and none shall fray them away. Then will I cause to cease from the cities of Judea, and from the streets of Jerusalem, the voice of mirth, and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom, and the voice of the bride; for the land shall be left desolate." Jer. 7:32-34. "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, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them. And they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury. Thus will I do unto this place, saith the Lord, and to the inhabitants thereof, and even make this 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, whither the Lord had sent him to prophesy; and he stood in the court of the Lord's house, and said to 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. 19:12-15.

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

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 that time (corrupted from the teachings of Moses) believed in endless punishment, but he never employs Gehenna to denote the place of punishment. He uses the word Hadees, 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 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 excursus on the word ("Theology") 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 menaing as late as B.C. 150—that it is not found at all in the Apocrypha; neither in 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 talmud and targums 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 (translation) of Johathan Ben Uzziel, which was written according to the best of 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." Univ. Expos. Vol. 2, p.368.

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. A writer in the Universalist Expositor remarks, (Vol.2):

"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. And 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."

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 1 Kings, 11:7; 2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31 19:10-14; Isa. 30:33; Tophet). Used according to Jewish tradition, as the common sewerage 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 unbur-ied corpse amid the fires and worms of this polluted valley; and (2) a pun-ishment—which to the Jews as 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 vi:25) that Gehenna denotes (1) the vale of Hinnom, and (2) a purificatory fire (eis tem meta basanon katharsin). He declares that Celsus was totally ignorant of the meaning of Gehenna."

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