A Picture of Hell

Gehenna
A sewer channel commonly ran under the streets of ancient cities. It traveled through the city gate and emptied into a nearby valley. Though the channels were probably used to drain rainwater from the towns, people also used them to dump human waste, garbage, and debris.

Such sewer channels were built in Jerusalem, where they were called the Hinnom Valley. Remains of channels have also been found at Beth Shan, Gezer, Beth Shemesh, and Lachish.

Trash and carcasses of unclean animals were continually burning in these valleys. A leper colony was sometimes nearby, since they had to be separated from the town’s inhabitants. Although these practices were unsanitary and unattractive, they suited the ancient culture’s needs and continued on into New Testament times.

By Jesus’ time, the Hinnom Valley (Ge-Hinnom in Hebrew) was know by its Greek translation, Gehenna (see Matt. 5:22, 29; 10:28; 8:9; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 48; James 3:6). Like other religious ideas that were portrayed in concrete images, Gehenna became the Hebrew picture of hell. It formed an appropriate image for the eternal burning and decay of hell, where worms were said to never die (Mark 9:48).

As ancient Israelites emptied their garbage and sewer into the Hinnom Valley each day, they were given a vivid image of hell and an important reminder of the price for disobeying God’s commands.


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