A Hebrew word (š e'ôl ) that occurs more than 60 times in the Old Testament to signify the nether world. Its etymology is very uncertain, being variously derived from šā’al, "ask, inquire," [thus, a place that keeps asking for more (Prv 27.20; 30.15–16) or a place of interrogation of the dead], from šā’âl, "be hollow, deep," from šwl, "be low," from šā’â, "be desolate," plus an archaic suffix l, or from various Akkadian roots.
In the Bible it designates the place of complete inertia that one goes down to when one dies whether one be just or wicked, rich or poor.
See Also: afterlife, 2; gehenna; abraham's bosom.
Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 2196.
According to Hebrew tradition, Sheol—which means the pit—was a realm beneath the earth where the spirits of the dead resided. It was in many ways the opposite of the world of the living. While light shone on the earth, darkness veiled Sheol. On earth the living had solid bodies, but in Sheol the dead existed as shadows.
The souls of all people went to Sheol, regardless of their behavior during life. As a result, it was not considered a place of punishment for wickedness. In fact, a person who was properly mourned by his relatives after death was believed to join his ancestors in Sheol. In some accounts the souls in Sheol slept, while in others they experienced hopelessness or fear.
See also Afterlife; Hell; Semitic Mythology; Underworld.