What The Hell Is Hell?
Is It An Eternal Prison or Something Much Different?
What Did Jesus Really Say?
Is This Your Version of Hell?
The Ultimate Oxymoron may be that the God whose mercy is said to be everlasting supposedly punishes people forever in a place called hell. Oxymoron or not, the doctrine of hell is extremely useful if the goal is to keep people enslaved in a religious system. Just one problem, to believe in "hell" absolutely diminishes God and means one believes in a God that will fail. Think about the following statements from the Bible.
God is NOT willing that any should perish.
Love NEVER fails.
God IS love. (Therefore God cannot fail.)
And yet most of humanity will be punished forever in hell... supposedly.
A Questionable Translation
Joshua 15:8 “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, which is at the end of the valley of the giants northward”
In the Old Testament, you will read of a place called the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. (i.e. Joshua 15:8) Hinnom is simply a proper name. The word for valley in Hebrew is basically pronounced "gay" so we have gay hinnom in Hebrew. In New Testament Greek it was transliterated and we got Gehenna. Understand that Gehenna is literally the Valley of Hinnom, not some spiritual prison called hell.
The Valley of Hinnom Today
Where is the Consistency?
If "gay hinnom" means "valley of hinnom" and that translation is confirmed by the Greek word "gehenna," why do translators suddenly drop that meaning and change the words of Jesus from "valley of Hinnom" into "hell?" Might there be an ulterior motive at work for there is really no justification for such a change to take place? They don’t translate the Hebrew words gay hinnom as hell in the Old Testament. Why then translate “gehenna” as hell in the New Testament?
The picture is the Valley of Hinnom today. It is a literal place on the south side of Jerusalem. Without getting into detail, the Old Testament records some terrible things happening in the Valley of Hinnom. By the time of Jesus, it had become the garbage dump for Jerusalem and fires were burning in Hinnom continually, in order to dispose of the waste that was dumped there. Quoting Smith's Bible Dictionary we read "It became the common lay-stall garbage dump of the city, where the dead bodies of criminals, and the carcasses of animals, and every other kind of filth was cast." Note that this was not only a garbage dump but a "crematorium" as well.
However, we need to understand that cremation in the Bible, i.e. the burning of a body after death, was basically reserved for criminals and those who had lived unworthy lives. To have your body burnt after death said a great deal about the kind of life you lived and what it said wasn't good.
The Cave of the Patriarchs In Hebron
Within Judaism, a burial site is a holy and sacred site. The second most holy city in Israel to Jews is Hebron because it is believed Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah are buried in Hebron in the Cave of the Patriarchs. Joseph's tomb in Nablus and Rachel's tomb near Bethlehem are sacred spots as well.
The Lesson: What Did It Mean to End Up in The Fires of the Valley of Hinnom?
Jesus did warn people about ending up in the fires of the Valley of Hinnom. Was he speaking of some eternal place of torment never mentioned previously in the Bible or was he speaking figuratively using a burning garbage dump outside Jerusalem to vividly make a point?
Was Jesus threatening people with an eternity in hell? Or was he telling those who thought they were superior spiritually that they were in fact just the opposite and when they died, their lives would be of so little value that "cremation" in a local garbage dump would be totally appropriate? I am convinced it is the latter and knowing the context and culture, we can understand how angry the religious leaders would be to hear this indictment of their lives.
Jesus wasn't telling anyone that the God who tells us to forgive seventy times seven and is said to have everlasting mercy and who will not settle for 99 out of 100 sheep but will go find the lost one, was threatening humanity with an eternity of punishment in hell. He was however, telling us to take stock of how we live our lives. He was warning people who thought they were spiritual but truly weren't, to rethink how they were living so that when this life came to an end, respect for their lives would warrant a proper burial rather than a disgraceful burial in the fires of the Valley of Hinnon ---- a message that, though not literal, is still extremely relevant for us today as well.
Blessings, shalom, namaste