Hell & Hebrew Parallelisms
Premise: Christians are told that they need to study their Bibles. Christians are rarely given tools and techniques that help them study the Bible. They are not shown various biblical interpretative methods that exist and are taught with Judaism. They have little knowledge of the Hebrew language.
Question: What is a Hebrew parallelism and how would it help us understand our Bibles and in particular, the subject of hell?
For centuries, rabbis have used various interpretative methods to study their Bible. For example, there are the 7 Rules of Hillel, the 32 Rules of Eliezer B. Jose Ha-Ge-lili and The 13 Rules of Rabbi Ishmael. Each rule is a tool that enhances the study of the Bible.
PaRDeS, a Hebrew word interpreted as paradise, orchard, park, orange grove, etc. forms an acronym using the 4 consonants representing four different “levels” of biblical interpretation that can be applied to verses and passages in the Bible. The “P” stands for “Pshat” and means literal, simple or straight-forward. It deals with what we have to do. The “R” stands for “Remez” and is the more allegoric interpretation. On this level we discover what is the meaning behind what we have to do? The “D” stand for “Derash.” This is the parabolic level of interpretation. To put it another way, this is where we figure out the contemporary relevance of a verse or passage. At this level we figure out how to apply the verse or passage in our own lives. Finally there is the “S” which stands for Sod. This is the mystical or secret interpretation, the deep hidden meaning. This is where we discover the metaphysical meaning of the verse or passage. We aren’t going to get into these rules and levels of interpretation but I mention them to point out that Bible study within Judaism is far from sciolistic or superficial. They have tools that will help you further your studies.
In this segment we are going to look at a very basic grammatical construct that occurs all over your Bible which will shed some light upon our topic, hell and eternal punishment. You may not know that your Bibles contain a large amount of Hebrew poetry. Some estimate the Old Testament to be about 75% Hebrew poetry and one of the very common components of Hebrew poetry is a Hebrew parallelism. Poetry was used because initially the stories in the Bible were passed down orally. As an aid to remembering them they were constructed as poetry and songs. The rabbis believed if something was worth saying, it was worth saying beautifully, providing one more reason for the creation of poetry and songs.
Hebrew parallelism is very simple to explain. It is the expression of one idea in two or more different ways. Here is a rather famous example. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” Psalm 119:105. Here is another one. “My son, my teachings you shall not forget and my commands your heart shall guard.” Proverbs 3:1.
In Psalm 119:105 “lamp” and “light” are paralleled as are “feet” and “path.” The writer of this Psalm is saying the same thing in two different ways. In Proverbs 3:1 the words "my teachings" are paralleled with "my commands" and "you shall not forget" is paralleled with "your heart shall guard.” In essence lamp and light, feet and path, teachings and commands and forget and your heart shall guard are defining and explaining each other. If you don’t want to forget, you need your heart to act as a guard.
One other point may be helpful. In English we have ways to say things if we want to emphasize the importance of something or point out that it is better than something else or even that it is the best. In ancient Hebrew, the way to do that was repetition. Something that was more than just beautiful would be described as beautiful, beautiful. Remember in Genesis 2:17 I told you that the Hebrew word for “die” was actually the word “muth” and for emphasis it is it repeated twice in that verse.
Not only can I repeat a word but I can repeat a phrase to emphasize it. Read Proverbs 3:1 again and perhaps you can "hear" the writer’s emphatic plea as he repeats himself. Perhaps you can even "hear" his voice become more forceful as he repeats his desire that his teachings/commands will not be forgotten, that they will be guarded by the heart.
With this understanding, let’s look at some Hebrew parallelisms in the Bible.
Psalm 116:3 reads, “The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow.” Based on the principle of Hebrew parallelisms, how would you define the pains of hell using Psalm 116:3. The author of Ps. 116 wasn’t talking about some place of eternal punishment getting hold of him. He was speaking of the death of his body, his mortality.
Speaking of a “strange woman” Proverbs 5:5 reads, “Her feet go down to death; her steps take hold on hell.” Again this has nothing to do with an eternal place of punishment. Feet parallel steps and hell again is paralleled with death. Referring to the same “strange woman” Proverbs 7:27 states, “Her house is the way to hell, going down to the chambers of death.” The way to hell parallels chambers of death. Nothing here is speaking of everlasting punishment.
Isaiah 28:15 actually contains 2 examples of parallelism. It reads, “Because ye have said, We have made a covenant with death, and with hell are we at agreement; when the overflowing scourge shall pass through, it shall not come unto us: for we have made lies our refuge, and under falsehood have we hid ourselves:” First we have covenant and agreement and death and hell paralleling each other. Later in the verse lies and falsehood and refuge and hid ourselves are parallelisms. You can see how consistent the Bible is when we look at the underlying Hebrew. Hell or sheol is simply the place or the state of the dead, i.e. death and Hebrew parallelisms are confirming this over and over.
Job 26:6 has an interesting parallelism. It reads, “Hell is naked before him, and destruction hath no covering.” Hell is paralleled with destruction and naked is paralleled with no covering. What does the Hebrew word translated as destruction mean? Basically it means to perish. What it doesn’t mean is a place of eternal punishment.
In Daniel 3:89 in the New Jerusalem Bible, which is the “Catholic” Bible, we read “he hath delivered us from hell, and saved us from the hand of death” Again we see the same parallelism. (In case you opened up your Bible and looked for Daniel 3:89, Daniel 3 in the Catholic Bible has a lot more verses than the King James Bible.)
To conclude this segment, in 2 Samuel 22:6 using the Revised Version we read these words from David, “The cords of Sheol were round about me: the snares of death came upon me.” Here we have 3 parallelisms at work, cords and snares, round about me and came upon me and of course, sheol and death. If you look up this verse, which is repeated in Psalm 18:5, in the KJV, you will find the word hell instead of sheol. I used the Revised Version to show you that some translators were wise enough to leave out the word hell. In fact, they didn’t even try to translate the Hebrew word sheol.
I think the translators realized that they would have to do some smooth talking to convince anyone that King David was talking about and worried about ending up in some place of everlasting torment. Here is just one more example of Hebrew parallelism confirming what we have said so far regarding a) the meaning of sheol, b) the absence of any word in Hebrew meaning a place of eternal torment and c) the absence of any verse in the Old Testament describing such a place.
Blessings, shalom, namaste