“Moving from Satan’s fictional origins to his subterranean headquarters, the concept of hell is also completely lacking in the Hebrew Bible. Hell does not exist at all in the original canon. Once again, it is only in the extra-biblical writings of the Intertestamental Period that these concepts were created and expanded upon. The idea of hell relates to the earlier topic of the Jewish belief of an afterlife in sheol, as hell was spawned from the concept of Gehenna, the imagined gateway to the underworld. Gehenna was a perpetually burning garbage dump outside the city walls of Jerusalem in the Valley of Hinnom, where child sacrifices used to be held. This tainted location eventually came to be known as the expected destination for sinners.”
“What are you talking about? The ancient Israelites never practiced child sacrifice; that’s preposterous.” Linda protested.
“Hello, anyone home? Ever hear of Abraham trying to barbecue his son, Isaac?”
“Big deal, one reference to an attempted sacrifice that God stopped anyway; that doesn’t prove your point.”
“Well, as I do so love to prove my points by kicking your clueless butt into the next Sabbath, shall we look up a few more biblical references—seeing as you’re unconvinced? Shall we go in order again? We can skip Genesis 22 as we’ve already covered Abraham’s tailgate party. Let’s start with Exodus 22:29. ‘Thou shalt not delay to offer the first of thy ripe fruits, and of thy liquors: the firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto me.’ Now to be fair, the editors of the good book thought this might be a bit too much for the faithful to swallow, so they inserted an escape clause at Exodus 34:19-20 that stated: ‘All that openeth the matrix is mine; and every firstling among thy cattle, whether ox or sheep, that is male. But the firstling of an ass thou shalt redeem with a lamb: and if thou redeem him not, then shalt thou break his neck. All the firstborn of thy sons thou shalt redeem. And none shall appear before me empty.’”
“There you go, Jeff, you’re wrong again. There are no sacrifices, as that verse saves the firstborn sons.”
“O, ye of little faith. Hold on sister, I’m only getting warmed up—just like the kiddies on the barbecue spit. Next, let’s move to Judges 11:30-31, ‘And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.’ Sadly, the poor, dumb bastard put his foot in his proverbial mouth, as his only daughter came running out the door to greet her daddy on his homecoming. I sense your growing dread and your fears are not misplaced. I’m sure—from the doctrinal whooping I’ve been giving you all day—that you know exactly what’s coming next. Let’s put you and the poor girl out of your collective miseries by picking up at verse thirty-nine. ‘And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed.’ Alas, this time God didn’t prevent the sacrifice of an innocent child to soothe his galactic-sized inferiority complex by telling dear, old dad to stop at the last moment, now did he?”
Linda failed to acknowledge the uncomfortable truth and simply stared at the top of her desk in defeat. Picking up where he left off, “Thankfully, there were those who spoke out against this barbaric and superstitious practice, like Josiah and the prophet Jeremiah who condemned child sacrifice at the altar of Tophet in Ge Hinnom, or Gehenna. During the reforms implemented by Josiah the shrines to other gods were destroyed and additionally ‘he defiled Tophet, 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,’ as written in 2 Kings 23:10.
“Continuing on, let’s read from Jeremiah 7:31-32 and see what he had to say on this subject. ‘And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place.’ Should I go on? I have more examples and I can keep going if you like.”
“No, you can stop now. You’ve made your point,” Linda conceded sadly. “Those examples are horrible and I don’t want to hear anymore,” Linda exclaimed, truly shocked and horrified at the barbarity of the ancients.
“I do get a kick out of using your own book against you. There is something almost poetic about using the Bible against itself. However, to be fair, many other prophets like Jeremiah spoke out against sacrificial practices in general, not just of children, though I am sure this in particular disturbed them a great deal. Allow me to read a few passages to highlight their view on the utterly futile nature of sacrifices, and which matters were truly more important. Starting with Isaiah 1:11-17,
To what purpose is the multitude of your sacrifices unto me? saith the Lord: I am full of the burnt offerings of rams, and the fat of fed beasts; and I delight not in the blood of bullocks, or of lambs, or of he goats. When ye come to appear before me, who hath required this at your hand, to tread my courts? Bring no more vain oblations; incense is an abomination unto me; the new moons and sabbaths, the calling of assemblies, I cannot away with; it is iniquity, even the solemn meeting. Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hateth: they are a trouble unto me; I am weary to bear them. And when ye spread forth your hands, I will hide mine eyes from you: yea, when ye make many prayers, I will not hear: your hands are full of blood. Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil; Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.
“See, doesn’t that sound reasonable? Forget sacrifices and just do what you can to help the less fortunate with good works. That is a religion I might have been able to support, but look at all of the mythological crap we got instead. It is too bad no one listened to Isaiah, for his radically sane ideas didn’t catch on and the message had to be repeated in Jeremiah 6:20. ‘To what purpose cometh there to me incense from Sheba, and the sweet cane from a far country? Your burnt offerings are not acceptable, nor your sacrifices sweet unto me.’
“Sadly, the superstitious believers didn’t listen to Jeremiah either, because apparently Hosea, Amos and Micah had to keep reminding them. From Hosea 6:6 it reads, ‘For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.’ From Amos 5:21-23, ‘I hate, I despise your feast days, and I will not smell in your solemn assemblies. Though ye offer me burnt offerings and your meat offerings, I will not accept them: neither will I regard the peace offerings of your fat beasts. Take thou away from me the noise of thy songs; for I will not hear the melody of thy viols.’ Finally, from Micah 6:6-8, ‘Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the high God? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves of a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the Lord require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?’
“It also seems the Temple priests self-servingly ignored the prophets of their own Scriptures. I guess the priests simply didn’t care, despite the pleas and sharp criticisms from their respected prophets, that all this spilling of blood was counter-productive to the moral tenets of their religion. A morality that included justice and mercy, which is at odds with the cruel, delusional and selfish thinking that sacrificing animals or children would transfer the stains of their own sins to others in order for them get a clean slate.
“So, Linda, I trust I have shown you enough evidence to convince you that the concept of hell arose from the Jewish legends about a burning garbage dump and former site of child sacrifice. Not only is hell the product of the frenzied nightmares of control freaks with overactive imaginations, but it is totally absent from the Hebrew Bible and it is only mentioned in the New Testament, where it is not even referred to as hell.”
“Yes, it is,” Linda challenged yet again.
“In your English versions, yes, but in the original manuscripts the word used was Gehenna or the Greek equivalent, Hades. Hell is a German word, derived from the name of a Germanic underworld goddess which was used in our English translations. Just a quick detour through history to highlight my point: the first major work to be printed with movable type was the Gutenberg Bible, created on a printing press invented in Germany. So, you do the math why a German word for the underworld entered our collective over-imaginations. Yet, once again, important clues and meanings got lost in translation, since Gehenna would have been instantly recognizable to the early apocalyptic Jewish-Christians as the dumping ground of Jerusalem and all it symbolically implied—the portal to the underworld realm of sheol.”
“So, you’re saying our modern concept of hell is a late invention of Judeo-Christian religious beliefs? Mr. Hobbes inquired.
“That is exactly what I’m saying. And, not only was it an afterthought, but its fire and brimstone attributes were also added as time went on with imagery borrowed from other cultures. As many of the older Canaanite and pagan gods of surrounding cultures would have been viewed as threats to the worship of the one God, these gods and their associated imagery were personified as evil incarnations.
“Neptune’s trident is Satan’s pitchfork. And you remember Set, who killed his brother Osiris in the Egyptian creation story; from him we got the forked tail and red skin. Pan, a Greek deity renowned for his eroticism and lusts, was symbolized as having the horns and legs of a goat which became the basis for images of Satan. Throw in Baal with his horns and you get another demon with satanic imagery, as in Baal Zebub, or Beelzebub. There is also Baal’s archenemy, Mot, who reputedly dwells in an underworld pit like someone else you all imagine and fear. In fact, Satan also shares Mot’s residence with Ahriman, the dark lord of Persian myth; and Hades, the Greek god of the underworld. In all these belief systems the underworld was a place where souls were sent to be judged, a common factor that was key to incorporating the pagan beliefs of others into this Christian insanity.
“It should be evident by now that the hell Christians think they know is a completely fictional, relatively late, synthesized compilation of varying regional beliefs. And, in keeping with the best traditions of religious mythology, the authors of these legends rarely demonstrated any original creativity, but simply ripped off the ideas from others and passed them off as their own. Odd, why does that theme keep recurring?”
“Or maybe, just like the widespread flood stories from all over the world proves there must have been one, all these stories of underworld punishment from different cultures must prove hell is true too,” Linda added with her trademark obtuse thinking.
“Then why doesn’t Paul say anything about hell in his letters, at least not in the seven books scholars undoubtedly attribute to him?”
“I don’t know why not.”
“Of course you don’t, you are just absolutely sure hell is a real place. Okay then, why isn’t hell mentioned in the Gospel of John either?”
“Um . . .”
“Yeah, exactly; and just like you know hell is a real place, you sure as hell know that hell is in the Bible somewhere, you just don’t know where, or who said it, or in what context, or why. Sweetie, if you get any more clueless you may just qualify for a seat on the Texas State Board of Education, selecting what facts to remove from textbooks and what fictions to include. I foresee a long and stable future ahead of you as a mindless, career bureaucrat,” Jeff proclaimed.
“Be nice, Jeff. Why don’t you tell us where the references to hell are in the Bible, instead of insulting your classmates,” Mr. Hobbes chastised him gently.
“Sorry,” Jeff uttered half-heartedly. “The earliest references and the first indications that first-century zealots began to believe in hell as a real place for punishment don’t show up until the Gospels, starting some thirty-plus years after Jesus and another fifteen or twenty after Paul. The only reference to hell in Mark is the passage in 9:43-48, which is echoed in Matthew 5:29-30. You all know that quote popular among fire and brimstone Christians, say it along with me—pluck out your eyes or cut off your hands, lest your whole body should be cast into hell. What lovely imagery. Luke 16 has only a single depiction of the imagined tormenting flames of hell, but a certain devilish someone is conspicuously absent. Come on, I’ll give you three guesses who isn’t there. No takers? Ah, you guys are no fun. Maybe Satan was off on a recruiting trip for souls when Luke wrote about hell and he didn’t see the big, red, bad boy and so he just assumed there was no resident caretaker. However, the only reference in the entirety of the Gospels to Satan residing in hell is Matthew 25:41 which stated, ‘Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.’ That’s it; no other links between Satan and hell exist in the Gospels.
“But, have no fear. Just because Satan isn’t present in Luke’s hell doesn’t mean the fun is over. In the most self-righteous and sadistic aspect of Luke’s description of hell, he paints a picture that Thomas Aquinas would repeat over a thousand years later with his own plentiful brand of monotonous and sanctimonious rubbish. In Luke and Tommy’s warped minds, saintly souls would get to spend an eternity in heaven floating around on puffy clouds, delighting in the torment of the non-faithful as they looked down their angelic noses on those stupid bastards roasting their naughty bits in hell, stick out their tongues and say, ha-ha, I told you so.
“That revenge fantasy alone screams volumes about the fragile, wounded psyches of the holier-than-thou crowd. It’s too bad psychoanalysis didn’t exist way back then as these fantasies, provoked by impotent rage, are all very Freudian. Think of all the hundreds of millions of souls in the Western world over the past two millennia that could have been saved from the self-inflicted mental cruelty this kind of thinking breeds, if only Luke and Tommy hadn’t thought up this nonsense in the first place. Maybe those two didn’t play well with others as children. Instead, they projected their resentment at being outcasts onto everyone around them, concocting mental fantasies of hellish retribution, rather than having a healthy outlet for their issues—like getting laid.”