Friday, 25 March 2011

Was hell 'invented' by gentle Jesus?

What are the origins of the concept of hell? Christopher Hitchens claims that in the Old Testament there is effectively no concept of hell in the modern sense. The idea of eternal suffering was only brought to us by 'gentle Jesus meek and mild'.

Of course Islam also has a concept similar to that of the christian hell, and it is called Jahannam. The origin of this word is thought to be from the same root as the Hebrew name Gehenna which was originally the name of a valley near Jerusalem. It was a place more like the Catholic concept of 'purgatory', and in Jewish tradition nobody would stay in Gehenna for a period longer than twelve months.

Gehenna is often translated into English as hell. However the King James version of the bible also translates the words 'sheol' and 'hades' as hell.

The Jewish meme of 'sheol' is sometimes translated to Greek as 'hades'. All the dead go there, regardless of their moral choices in life. Sheol predates all christian and muslim ideas of judgement and it is considered to be totally different from heaven and hell.

Even within one faith there are disagreements. For example, in Acts 23, verses 6-8 the Pharisees and Sadducees were unable to agree whether angels and spirits even exist, let alone where the spirits go after death.

Confusion reigns. If theologians cannot agree about the subject then surely it is futile to worry about it. Even within the three great mono-theistic religions followers are required to take different actions to avoid eternal damnation, so on the basis of this it is clear that the majority of people will be wrong and suffer the consequences.

Much as I hate to disagree with the great Hitch, I think his explanation might be a little simplistic.  But its a good story and vaguely true.

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