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Gehenna: Garbage, Murder, or Hell

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Gehenna, Topheth


Gehenna is an English transliteration of the Greek word γέεννα, which is from the Hebrew word gê’ hinnom, literally meaning the valley of Hinnom.

The Valley of Kidron was on the Eastern side of Jerusalem and connected with the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna) on the south side. About the 4th century A.D., the Kidron valley was also called the Valley of Jehosophat which means in Hebrew, the Valley of Judging.

Eventually, the Hebrew name ge-hinnom (canyon of Hinnom) evolved into geenna (gehenna).

In the New Testament the actual word “Gehenna” is almost always translated as “hell”. The following translations (i.e. in my collection) use the word Gehenna rather than the word “hell”: Restored Holy Bible; Young’s Literal Translation; Concordant Literal Version. The exeGesis Companion Bible translates as “Hinnom/the Valley of Burning”; and the Phillips version as “rubbish heap”.

If you are reading the KJV, the NET, or the NIV, whenever Jesus uses the word “hell”, just consider it to actually be the word “gehenna”.

Matthew 5:29 NET If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away! It is better to lose one of your members than to have your whole body thrown into hell (Gehenna).

Matthew 10:28 NET Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Instead, fear the one who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell (Gehenna).

Other instances, in the Gospels, include: Matthew 5:22; 5:30; 19:9; 23:15; and 23:23. Gehenna translated as hell are in the Gospels other than one instance in James.

The Hinnom Garbage Dump

Almost all sources agree that the section of the valley of Hinnom immediately outside of the temple area was used as a garbage dump. Not just any garbage but a place for dead animals and various leftover animal parts that had been sacrificed in the temple. It is also said that executed criminals were dumped there as well. One read commentator said that sulphur was used to maintain a continuous fire to aid the burning of the rotting flesh of various types. 

Typically, flies and maggots were a permanent feature of the garbage dump. Together with Sulphur this qualifies the statement of Jesus that Gehenna was a place: “Where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:44).

Mark 9:44 is an abbreviated quote from Isaiah 66:24 where God states: “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.

It is not certain that the statement of God in Isaiah 66 was referring to a garbage dump or the sacrifice of babies to Moloch. It is also not certain that Jesus was referring to the past ritual of sacrificing babies. However, during His time on earth the area was a garbage dump of dead animal parts and humans that was infested with flies and maggots (worms). Jesus was certainly aware of the Moloch issue although it is not certain if anyone during His time were familiar with the Moloch sacrificial system.

Todd Bolin of says archeological investigation claims that no evidence can be found to support a continual burning of flesh in the Gehenna area.

[Kimchi] maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources.

An answer to Todd Bolin would be the following paragraph:

A Moloch cemetery unearthed recently contained the remains of more than twenty thousand children. The Greek author Kleitarchos described this practice of sacrificing infants to Baal three hundred years before Christ….. 

Topheth – Moloch Sacrifice

Within the Hinnom valley was a place known as Tophet(h) This location, in Jerusalem, is where pre-Christ worshipers, influenced by the ancient Canaanite religion, engaged in the human sacrifice of children to the gods Moloch and Baal by burning them alive.

Some claim the explanation for the “fire of Gehenna” is not necessarily due to a burning trash dump, but in the burning of sacrificed children to the Canaanite god known as Moloch. Jeremiah is explicit that such sacrificial actions occurred there:

Jeremiah 7:31–32 (ESV) And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into My mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere.

Topheth (Hebrew: תוֹפֶת‎; Greek: Ταφεθ; Latin: Topheth) was a location in Jerusalem in the Gehinnom where worshipers influenced by the ancient Canaanite religion engaged in the human sacrifice of children to the gods Moloch and Baal by burning them alive. Tophet became a theological or poetic synonym for Hell within Christendom.

Topheth may come from the Aramaic root t-ph-t or the Hebrew toph or taph, meaning “to burn,” while others interpret it to mean “altar” whereon children were sacrificed. Still others claim it means “drum,” suggesting that they used drums to drown out the cries of the children being burned as sacrifices on the altar to Moloch. Perhaps there is an element of truth in all three suggestions.

One section of the Hinnom Valley was called Topheth (also Tophet or Topeth), where the children were slaughtered.

2 Kings 23:10 KJV And he (King Josiah) defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Moloch.

Some may ask the question, “Why did they (Israel – Judah) ever stoop so low as to have their own children pass through the fires of Moloch at Topheth in this valley of Hinnom”? 

Another question that could be asked, “Why would many people engaging in recreational sex, without using birth control, kill a child by having an abortion?” MOST OBVIOUS ANSWER: For most unmarried recreational sex participants it makes their lifestyle much easier, less costly (raising a baby is expensive), and their recreational sex can continue with very little downtime (although the post-psychological conditions are usually not considered). See also: Baal Sacrifice Abortion

Does Christian theology also teach that the God of heaven and earth can also only be appeased by having people burned in real fire endlessly in the pagan hell of hades or Gehenna? Yes, and Christian theology teaches and preaches the identify of this fiery hell as the “lake of fire”.

Gehenna as a Symbol of Hell (or the Lake of Fire)

The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi‘s commentary on Psalm 27:13. He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it.

Two teachers, with posted articles concerning hell and Gehenna can be found immediately below. Mr. Walvoord and Mr. Crockett are two esteemed Bible teachers. It should be noted that both writers are deeply imbedded within the dispensation, 7 year tribulation of the Darby-Scofield conjecture. Mr. Walvoord is a long-time associate of the Dallas Theological Seminary which, it is told, allows no other teaching than dispensationalism.

These two Bible teachers should give the reader an appropriate idea of the thoughts and beliefs many people have today.

John F. Walvoord

Mr. Walvoord is a long-time president of Dallas Theological Seminary. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1931. That fall Walvoord entered the fledgling Dallas Seminary, where he earned his bachelor’s and master’s of theology (Th.B, Th.M.) degrees, magna cum laude, in 1934 and doctorate in theology (Th.D.) in 1936.

In this place human sacrifices were offered to Moloch; these altars were destroyed by Josiah (2 Kings 23:10). The valley was later declared to be ‘the valley of slaughter’ by Jeremiah (Jer. 7:30-33). The valley was used as a burial place for criminals and for burning garbage, traditionally considered by the Jews the place of the final punishment of the ungodly. 

Whatever its historical and geographic meaning, its usage in the New Testament is clearly a reference to the everlasting state of the wicked, and this seems to be the thought in every instance. In James 3:6 the damage accomplished by an uncontrolled tongue is compared to a fire which ‘corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell (i.e. Gehenna).’ Though not always expressly stated, the implication is that the punishment will have duration and be endless (if it is not expressly stated then why does he teach an implication?).

William Crockett

Mr. Crockett has a B.A. in Philosophy (Univ. Winnipeg), M.Div. in New Testament studies (Princeton Seminary), and a Ph.D. in New Testament (Univ. Glasgow). He has been a professor of New Testament studies at Alliance Seminary in New York for 30 years. 

“In the New Testament the final destination of the wicked is pictured as a place of blazing sulfur, where the burning smoke ascends forever. This would have been an effective image because sulfur fires were part of life for those who lived in the Jerusalem of Bible times. Southwest of the city was the Valley of Hinnom, an area that had a long history of desecration. The steep gorge was once used to burn children in sacrifice to the Ammonite god Moloch (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Jeremiah denounced such practices by saying that Hinnom Valley would become the valley of God’s judgment, a place of slaughter (Jer. 7:32; 19:5-7). As the years passed, a sense of foreboding hung over the valley. People began to burn their garbage and offal there, using sulfur, the flammable substance we now use in matches and gunpowder. 

Last Words on Hell

The Bible, was originally written in (mostly) Hebrew and Greek. It uses the Hebrew word sheʼohlʹ (sheol) and its Greek equivalent haiʹdes (hades) more than 70 times. Both words are related to the aftermath of death or the grave. The King James (and some other versions) seem to translate hades as hell. The KJV and others even translate the place Gehenna, spoken by Jesus, as hell. This interpretation can be confusing to those without a handy Greek-English thesaurus.

As for the actual word ‘Hell’…according to Wikipedia “The modern English word Hell is derived from Old English hel, helle (about 725 AD to refer to a nether world of the dead) reaching into the Anglo-Saxon pagan period, and ultimately from Proto-Germanic *halja, meaning “one who covers up or hides something… 

Subsequently, the word was used to transfer a pagan concept to Christian theology and its vocabulary…” 

Ecclesiastes 9:10 NET Whatever you find to do with your hands, do it with all your might, because there is neither work nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave, the place where you will eventually go.

All of the proposed “last chance for salvation” timestamps some teachers have placed on the events of future history are nothing more than figments of their own blind deluded minds. Everyone past, present, future, aborted, miscarried, or Amazon Indian will be reconciled to God and His Kingdom at some point in time. Universal Reconciliation


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