Awhile back I read a news report about a young lady who had been brutally raped and murdered. At the sentencing trial, the distraught father shouted at the guilty party … “I hope you Rot in Hell!”
Other times, I’ve heard enraged individuals condemn their adversary by shouting … “I hope you Burn in Hell!”
And on more than one occasion, I’ve heard someone say to another (usually in a fit of anger) … “Go to Hell!”
It’s apparent that “Hell” is widely accepted as a less-than-desirable place to be.
But what is “Hell?” Is it truly that hotter-than-hot place mentioned in the Bible? And where is it located?
More to the question, how did the story of “Hell” get started in the first place?
It seems the ancient Egyptians were the first to teach afterlife judgment. They believed the deceased would be judged by Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld. If he deemed a soul as evil, it would be doomed to experience either terrifying darkness or a river of fire.
Then the Zoroastrians came along (a Persian religion), who agreed with the Egyptians about an afterlife judgment. The difference being they believed the dead would be resurrected (rather than sent to the underworld) – either to a good life or to a place of unspeakable torment.
The early Greeks also taught that the soul lived on after death and Hades was their realm for the dead (good or bad). However, in later years, the philosophy of afterlife judgment (and either reward or curse) permeated their beliefs. Can you guess where the bad guys went? Of course! To a place (below Hades) where they suffered eternal torment.
And then along comes Paul (our favorite Christian) who declares the “evil” will receive wrath and fury … anguish and distress … at life’s end.
One source that also talks about this undesirable place – and that few know about — is the Book of Enoch, which was written during the post-exilic period of Jewish history. This book provides several detailed accounts about some underworld journeys that Enoch took. I was struck by the number of times he used the word “fire” to describe what he saw. He talks about fiery bows and arrows, fiery swords, rivers of fire, tongues of fire, portals of fire, streams of fire, mountains of fire, and of course, the abyss of fire that holds the naughty angels (that supposedly bred with human women).
What stood out to me is that Enoch never uses the word “Hell,” yet it is apparent to those who condemn others to this awful place that this is exactly what they have in mind.
One more interesting fact about Hell. Tertullian, a noted second century theologian, has been credited in numerous places with the following statement:
At that greatest of all spectacles, that last and eternal judgment how shall I admire, how laugh, how rejoice, how exult, when I behold so many proud monarchs groaning in the lowest abyss of darkness; so many magistrates liquefying in … flames … philosophers blushing in red-hot fires …
(It seems the “Hell” curse is nothing new.)
One last tidbit to consider about “Hell” – do you know where the actual word came from? It’s derived from the Old English word hel, helle and came into being around 725 CE as a reference to the netherworld of the dead. Its core meaning is “to hide, conceal.” Obviously, its meaning has evolved over the years. Where it was once used to describe the dark and dismal abode of departed spirits, in today’s idiom it has come to mean the place of eternal punishment for the wicked.
So … if we take it all away, where are we going to send those “sorry bastards who never should have been born”?