Gehenna (, [1]) or Gehinnom (literally translated as "Valley of Hinnom") is thought to be a small valley in Jerusalem. In the Hebrew Bible, Gehenna was initially where some of the kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire.[2] Thereafter, it was deemed to be cursed (Book of Jeremiah 7:31, 19:26).[3]

In rabbinic literature, Gehenna is also a destination of the wicked.[4] Gehinnom is not Hell, but originally a grave and in later times a sort of purgatory where one is judged based on one's life's deeds, or rather, where one becomes fully aware of one's own shortcomings and negative actions during one's life. The Kabbalah explains it as a "waiting room" (commonly translated as an "entry way") for all souls (not just the wicked). The overwhelming majority of rabbinic thought maintains that people are not in Gehinnom forever; the longest that a Jew can be there is said to be 11 months (unless he is a fully wicked person, in which case 12 months), however there has been the occasional noted exception.

This is different from the more neutral Sheol/Hades, the abode of the dead, although the King James Version of the Bible misleadingly translates both with the Anglo-Saxon word hell.

In the King James Version of the Bible, the term appears 13 times in 11 different verses as Valley of Hinnom, Valley of the son of Hinnom or Valley of the children of Hinnom. The Valley of Hinnom is the modern name for the valley surrounding Jerusalem's Old City, including Mount Zion, from the west and south. It meets and merges with the Kidron Valley, the other principal valley around the Old City, near the southeastern corner of the city.

Gehenna ; from Ancient Greek: Γέεννα, Geenna from Hebrew: גֵּי בֶן־הִנֹּם, Modern: gei ben-Hinnom, Tiberian: gē ben-Hinnṓm, also Hebrew: גֵי־הִנֹּם, Modern: gei-Hinnom, Tiberian: gē-Hinnṓm; Mishnaic Hebrew: גהנום‎/גהנם‎, Gehinnam/Gehinnom

English "Gehenna" represents the Greek Geenna (Γέεννα) found in the New Testament, a phonetic transcription of Aramaic Gēhannā (ܓܝܗܢܐ),[5] equivalent to the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, literally "Valley of Hinnom".

This is known in the Hebrew Bible as Gei Ben-Hinnom,[6] literally the "Valley of the son of Hinnom",[7] and in the Talmud as גיהנם‎ or גהנוםGehinnom.

The exact location of the Valley of Hinnom is disputed. Older commentaries give the location as below the southern wall of ancient Jerusalem, stretching from the foot of Mount Zion eastward past the Tyropoeon to the Kidron Valley. However the Tyropoeon Valley is usually no longer associated with the Valley of Hinnom because during the period of Ahaz and Manasseh, the Tyropoeon lay within the city walls and child sacrifice would have been practiced outside the walls of the city. Smith (1907),[8] Dalman (1930),[9] Bailey (1986)[10] and Watson (1992)[11] identify the Wadi ar-Rababi, which fits the description of Joshua that Hinnom valley ran east to west and lay outside the city walls. According to Joshua, the valley began at En-rogel. If the modern Bir Ayyub is En-rogel, then Wadi ar-Rababi, which begins there, is Hinnom.[12]

No archaeological evidence such as mass children's graves has been found; however, it has been suggested that such a find may be compromised by the heavy population history of the Jerusalem area compared to the Tophet found in Tunisia.[19] The site would also have been disrupted by the actions of Josiah "And he 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 Molech." (2 Kings 23). A minority of scholars have attempted to argue that the Bible does not portray actual child sacrifice, but only dedication to the god by fire; however, they are judged to have been "convincingly disproved" (Hay, 2011).[20]

The oldest historical reference to the valley is found in Joshua 15:8, 18:16 which describe tribal boundaries. The next chronological reference to the valley is at the time of King Ahaz of Judah who sacrificed his sons there according to 2 Chron. 28:3. Since Hezekiah, his legitimate son by the daughter of the High Priest, succeeded him as king, this, if literal, is assumed to mean children by unrecorded pagan wives or concubines. The same is said of Ahaz' grandson Manasseh in 33:6. Debate remains as to whether the phrase "cause his children to pass through the fire" referred to a religious ceremony in which the moloch priest would walk the child between two lanes of fire, or to literal child sacrifice; throwing the child into the fire.

The Book of Isaiah does not mention Gehenna by name, but the "burning place" 30:33 in which the Assyrian army is to be destroyed, may be read "Topheth", and the final verse of Isaiah which concerns of those that have rebelled against God, Isaiah 66:24.

In the reign of Josiah a call came from Jeremiah to destroy the shrines in Topheth and to end the practice Jeremiah 7:31–32, 32:35. It is recorded that Josiah destroyed the shrine of Molech on Topheth to prevent anyone sacrificing children there in 2 Kings 23:10. Despite Josiah's ending of the practice, Jeremiah also included a prophecy that Jerusalem itself would be made like Gehenna and Topheth (19:2–6, 19:11–14).

A final purely geographical reference is found in Neh. 11:30 to the exiles returning from Babylon camping from Beersheba to Hinnom.

Frequent references to 'Gehenna' are also made in the books of Meqabyan, which are considered canonical in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church.[21]

The ancient Aramaic paraphrase-translations of the Hebrew Bible known as Targums supply the term "Gehinnom" frequently to verses touching upon resurrection, judgment, and the fate of the wicked. This may also include addition of the phrase "second death", as in the final chapter of the Book of Isaiah, where the Hebrew version does not mention either Gehinnom or the Second Death, whereas the Targums add both. In this the Targums are parallel to the Gospel of Mark addition of "Gehenna" to the quotation of the Isaiah verses describing the corpses "where their worm does not die".[22]

The picture of Gehenna as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked occurs frequently in classic rabbinic sources.[23] Gehenna is considered a purgatory-like place where the wicked go to suffer until they have atoned for their sins. It is stated in most Jewish sources that the maximum amount of time a sinner can spend in Gehenna is one year. The Mishnah names seven Biblical individuals who do not get a share in Olam Ha-Ba: Jeroboam, Ahab, Menasseh, Doeg the Edomite, Ahitophel, Balaam, and Gehazi. According to the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda, Menasseh got a share in Olam Ha-Ba[24] The worst part of Gehenna is called Tzoah Rotachat.

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 (ca. 1200 AD). He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Hermann Strack and Paul Billerbeck state that there is neither archaeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources.[25] Also, Lloyd R. Bailey's "Gehenna: The Topography of Hell"[26] from 1986 holds a similar view.

There is evidence however that the southwest shoulder of this valley (Ketef Hinnom) was a burial location with numerous burial chambers that were reused by generations of families from as early as the seventh until the fifth century BCE. The use of this area for tombs continued into the first centuries BCE and CE. By 70 AD, the area was not only a burial site but also a place for cremation of the dead with the arrival of the Tenth Roman Legion, who were the only group known to practice cremation in this region.[27]

In time it became deemed to be accursed and an image of the place of destruction in Jewish folklore.[28][29]

Eventually the Hebrew term Gehinnom[30] became a figurative name for the place of spiritual purification for the wicked dead in Judaism. According to most Jewish sources, the period of purification or punishment is limited to only 12 months and every Sabbath day is excluded from punishment.[31] After this the soul will move on to Olam Ha-Ba (the world to come), be destroyed, or continue to exist in a state of consciousness of remorse.[32] Gehenna became a metonym for "Hell" due to its morbid prominence in Jewish religious texts.

Maimonides declares, in his 13 principles of faith, that the descriptions of Gehenna, as a place of punishment in rabbinic literature, were pedagogically motivated inventions to encourage respect of the Torah commandments by mankind, which had been regarded as immature.[33] Instead of being sent to Gehenna, the souls of the wicked would actually get annihilated.[34]

In the synoptic Gospels the various authors describe Jesus, who was Jewish, as using the word Gehenna to describe the opposite to life in the Kingdom (Mark 9:43–48). The term is used 11 times in these writings.[35] In certain usage, the Christian Bible refers to it as a place where both soul (Greek: ψυχή, psyche) and body could be destroyed (Matthew 10:28) in "unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:43).[36]

Christian usage of Gehenna often serves to admonish adherents of the religion to live pious lives. Examples of Gehenna in the Christian New Testament include:

Another book to use the word Gehenna in the New Testament is James:[37]

The New Testament also refers to Hades as a place distinct from Gehenna.[citation needed] Unlike Gehenna, Hades typically conveys neither fire nor punishment but forgetfulness. The Book of Revelation describes Hades being cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). The King James Version is the only English translation in modern use to translate Sheol, Hades, Tartarus (Greek ταρταρώσας; lemma: ταρταρόω tartaroō), and Gehenna as Hell. In the New Testament, the New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible (among others) all reserve the term "hell" for the translation of Gehenna or Tartarus (see above), transliterating Hades as a term directly from the equivalent Greek term.[38]

Treatment of Gehenna in Christianity is significantly affected by whether the distinction in Hebrew and Greek between Gehenna and Hades was maintained:

Many modern Christians consider Gehenna to be a place of eternal punishment.[42] Annihilationist Christians, however, imagine Gehenna to be a place where "sinners" are tormented until they are eventually destroyed, soul and all. Some Christian scholars, however, have suggested that Gehenna may not be synonymous with the lake of fire, but a prophetic metaphor for the horrible fate that awaited the many civilians killed in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE.[43][44]

The name given to Hell in Islam, Jahannam, directly derives from Gehenna.[45] The Quran contains 77 references to the Islamic interpretation of Gehenna (جهنم) but does not mention Sheol/Hades (abode of the dead), and instead uses the word 'Qabr' (قبر, meaning grave).