Is Hell a Jewish concept?

Is the whole Christian concept of Hell as being a hot fiery place, where the damned go after life to be presided over by Satan, shared by Jews? Is there any scriptural reference to Hell (in either the Tanakh (“Old Testament”)) or the Christian New Testament? If not where did this concept come from?

I can’t quote Tanakh, Torah, Talmud or Midrash to this, but my experience with most Jews has been that the afterlife is not a very important concept. The general consensus seems to be that we should be more concerned with life on Earth than what happens afterward.

I don’t recall offhand any scriptual reference to hell in the Old Testement, but I could be wrong on that.

As far as the New Testement goes, IIRC, there are three words that get translated as “hell”. I’d have to look them up to be sure. Each one can be more accurately translated. One means “the grave”, one (Gehenna<sp>) refers to a valley where dead bodies were burned, and I don’t remember the third one.

One of Jesus’ parable mentions a man looking across the divide between hell and heaven and asking Jesus to go tell his brothers how bad hell is.

In Revelation, John describes the lake of fire, into which the Beast and the false prophet are thrown and tortured forever. Other people are thrown in too, but whether they burn up or are burned forever is open to interpratation.

Most of our views of hell come from Dante, I think. The standard heaven/hell, which you see in joke and comics, isn’t really supported in the new testement.

Apparently I was wrong about a thing or two… and somehow a smilie got into my post unwanted. However, here’s what appears to be a very good link on the subject:

It claims that there is no reference to hell in the old testement and makes claims against hell being a new testement concept. However, it does seem to do a good job of exploring why these concepts came about. I’ve only skimmed it so far though, so don’t hold me to anything.


THe evil one probably came from zoroastrainism. The story of Lucifer being one of God’s favorite angel and then being cast into Hell is pretty much plaguarized from Greek mythology. These stories came later in the old testament, likely during the Persian, and then Greek occupation.

I personally thought that the early christians’ idea of hell was inspired by the Bible. The Catholic Encylopædia says:

Encyclopædia Britannica says:

Encyclopædia Britannica: hell

Catholic Encyclopædia: hell

I agree with cooldude, most of the more vivid religous myths/legends are borrowed from the Persians. Another instance where Christianity owes a debt to Mithrianity.

IIRC the Pope has recently said that Hell is not a burning lake of fire. Just an absence from God.

The Catholic Encyclopædia says that the damned suffer both the pain of loss (poena damni - loss of the vision of God: “The pain of loss is not the mere absence of superior bliss, but it is also a most intense positive pain”) and the pain of sense (poena sensus - the torment of fire: “there have never been wanting theologians who interpret the Scriptural term fire metaphorically, as denoting an incorporeal fire; and secondly, thus far the Church has not censured their opinion. Some few of the Fathers also thought of a metaphorical explanation. Nevertheless, Scripture and tradition speak again and again of the fire of hell, and there is no sufficient reason for taking the term as a mere metaphor.”)

That being said, there may have been newer Church pronouncements since the article in the Catholic Encyclopædia was written.

Most definitely (assuming you got that from the online version.) - the online version is taken from the 1910 edition.

There MUST be a post-Vatican II edition published, but it doesn’t seem to be online.

My Jewish friend tells me that Jews don’t believe in hell.

cooldude, you are completely right. Zoroastrianism influenced many religions including to a great degree Judaism. Thus it also influenced Christianity and Muslim religions. To quote Mary Pat Fisher’s 1999 book Living Religions, “These [beliefs] include a belief in heaven and hell, and evil force, judgement of the individual and resurrection of the body after death, and a dramatic apocalyptic end of the world with final resurrection of the dead.”
Basically, inthe mid-sixth century BCE a Persian empire was ruled by a King Cyrus. He was a follower of an off-shoot of Zoroastrianism (close to the original, but changed somewhat by priestly specialists called The Magi). His kindom went from the Indus Valley to Greece. The Jews in this territory were allowed to practice their religion by apparently many of them decided to adopt numerous traits of the Zoroastrians.
Among other beliefs that they influenced: and angelic hierarchy, an immortal soul, and reward or punishment in the afterlife. Zoroastrianism is also thought to have influenced Buddhism, though that is not as clear.
Actually, Zoroastrianism is still practiced to this day. Though now there are only around 130,000 practitioners.

O.K. Aside from the 130,000 Zoroastrians, and the Persians, and the Catholic Encylopedia, and the Pope, my Jewish friend says that Jews don’t believe in Hell. Which I think was the original question.

Well, “hell”, as in Sheol, is certainly in the OT. In Numbers 16:33, the rebelling Ruebenites are sent alive into the Pit, ie Sheol. As in Psalms18.5 "the sorrows of hell (sheol) compassed me about.

Per my sources the early OT Jews viewed Sheol/Hell as a dim joyless underground. Towards the end of the OT times, Hell became a place of punishment.

In Psalms88:11, Sheol is referred to as “the Destruction”, or “Abaddon”, showing an idea it is becoming more a place of torment. Also see Isaiah30:33 “for Tophet is ordained of old… the pile therof is fire and much wood; the breath of the Lord, like a stream of brimstone, doth kindle it”, where “Tophet” apparently refers to a particularly nasty bit of Shoel, and now we start to get fire & brimston. And hell as a place for the non-believers = Ezek. 32:18,19 “…The multitudes of Egypt, and cast them down,… unto the nether parts of the earth, with them that go down into the Pit…go down, and be laid with the uncircumcised”.

Sure sound like an OT “hell” to me.

Bah. It’s a semantic ‘sheol’ game. I hereby declare myself to be infallable on the subject of Hell and I make the following declaration: If you need to believe in Hell for your life to proceed in an orderly and satisfactory manner, I grant it to you. If not, You’re OK too.

popokis5, the OP’s question was is the concept of Hell shared by the Jews and if not where did it come from? I was merely stating where the beliefs come from. I don’t know if “Hell” is a belief currently held by the Jewish people or not. It did, however, at the time (6 BCE) make its way into the Jewish faith and thus into Christianity.

TC: I was not tallking about “beliefs” here, I was simply quoting OT sources. They asked, I answered.

I know you were Daniel. No offense intended. I was trying to toss a little pun in the mix. I do not disagree with, nor discount your answers. But how could I pass up ‘sheol game’? Sorry, I just HAD to. The Devil made me do it.

In regards to whether or not Jew currently believe in Hell, they certainly don’t talk about it in my Reform Synagogue. Then again, since I have not converted (and don’t foresee doing so in the future), I haven’t been through any classes, Torah studies or the like where they might have covered it. It certainly doesn’t figure as prominently as it does in the conservative Christian circles, where the basic proposition was that if you weren’t “born again”, not only would your life be pointless and miserable, but you’d spend eternity in hell squealing like a pig for the Evil One (OK, I added the pig part :wink: ).

I don’t know how Conservative or Orthodox Jews feel about this subject. Since Judaism evolves over time, it’s quite possible that the concept of hell fell into favor around the time of the Zoroastrians, then fell out of favor.

Now my main exposure to Judaism is in Reform, but there doesn’t seem to be as much of the “do it or else” proposition that Christianity has. Where the “or else” comes into play seems to be in the Days of Awe (the interval between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Tradition holds it that is when G-d decides who will die in the next year (with the implied warning not to piss him off). So the difference seems to be that Christianity is about making a contract with G-d to avoid damnation, where Judaism is about leaving it up to G-d whether or not you continue to live (with no mention of an afterlife).

Another thing that seems to be different between Jews and Christians is the concept of who Satan is. I think I read somewhere that the Jewish concept of Satan is more in line with what we see in Job, where he is the accuser of the righteous. In Christianity, he is a seducer bent on enticing the morally weak into his domain, hell. Again, where did that come from?

Pardon my ignorance, but is there not a section in the Bible where Christ went down into hell, threw the gates aside and brought someone back?