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Netherworld

NETHERWORLD

NETHERWORLD , the abode of the dead. The peoples of the Ancient Near East had elaborate doctrines concerning the dead and their abode. The Egyptians were very optimistic concerning the afterlife. They believed that ceremonies of mummification, rituals and spells, and declarations of guiltlessness would ensure them a happy afterlife almost identical to the life they led in this world. In the afterlife they would plow, harvest, eat, and drink; in short, do all they did while they were alive (The Book of the Dead, 110).

For the Babylonians, on the other hand, the realm of the dead was a place to be dreaded. It was a well-organized kingdom with Ereshkigal and *Nergal as its queen and king, respectively. To enter it one had to pass through seven gates and remove one's garments. The netherworld is depicted as "… the land of no return … the dark house … the house which none leave who have entered it … the road from which there is no way back … the house wherein the entrants are bereft of light, where dust is their fare and clay their food, [where] they see no light, residing in darkness, [where] they are clothed like birds, with wings for garments, [and where] over door and bolt is spread dust" (Descent of Ishtar to the Netherworld, 1–11, in Pritchard, Texts, 107; cf. Epic of Gilgamesh, 7, 3:33–39, in Pritchard, Texts, 87). The plight of the dead could be worsened or alleviated depending on whether they were properly buried, and whether or not food and drink were brought to them. Such practices and speculations are not entirely wanting in the Bible. Deuteronomy 26:12, 14 implies that only food that has been consecrated as tithe may not be left as a gift for the dead, the practice of feeding the dead as such being permitted, while Isaiah 14:14–19 and Ezekiel 38:18ff., reflect a belief that those who are slain by the sword (and not decently buried), as also such as die uncircumcised, are assigned the lowest–and no doubt the least desirable–level of the netherworld (see Ginsberg in bibl.). On the other hand, the practice of occult arts including necromancy was abhorred by the Bible (Deut. 18:11; Isa. 8:19), and there was no sacrifice to the dead (Ps. 106:28). Sacrifice to the dead means sacrifice to nogods, such as Baal-Peor; cf. Numbers 25:2–3.

Apart from the Isaiah and Ezekiel passages referred to above, the numerous biblical references to the netherworld are vague and inspired by Ancient Near Eastern folklore. Several names are given to the abode of the dead, the most common being She'ol–always feminine and without the definite article–a sign of proper nouns. The term does not occur in other Semitic languages, except as a loan word from the Hebrew She'ol, and its etymology is obscure. Other common designations of the netherworld are: ʾereẓ, "earth" or "underworld" (e.g., i Sam. 28:13; Jonah 2:7; Job 10:21–22); qever, "grave" (Ps. 88:12); ʾafar, "dust" (Isa. 26:5, 19; cf. Gen. 3:19); bor, "pit" (e.g., Isa. 14:15; 38:18; Prov. 28:17); shaḥat, "pit" (Ps. 7:16); ʾavaddon, "Abaddon" (e.g., Job. 28:22); dumah (apparently = "the place of abiding"; Ps. 94:17; 115:17); naḥale beliyyaʿal ["the torrents of *Belial"; ii Sam. 22:5); "the nether parts of the earth" (Ezek. 31:14); "the depths of the pit" (Lam. 3:55); "the land of darkness" (Job 10:21). The netherworld is located somewhere under the earth (cf. Num. 16:30ff.), or at the bottoms of the mountains (Jonah 2:7), or under the waters–the cosmic ocean (Job 26:5). It is sometimes personified as a voracious monster with a wide-open mouth (e.g., Isa. 5:14; Hab. 2:5; Prov. 1:12). Kings and commoners, nobles and paupers, masters and slaves are equal in Sheol (Job 3:13–19; Ezek. 32:18–32). For Israel's neighbors, the rule of the universe was divided among various deities, and the netherworld was the dominion of a pair of infernal gods. For Israel, however, the Lord rules over the whole universe, His sovereignty extends from heaven to Sheol (Ps. 139; Job 26:6; cf. Ps. 90:2; 102:26–28). However, there is no communication between the dead and the Lord (Ps. 88:6); no praise to the Lord comes from the netherworld (Isa. 38:18; Ps. 30:10; 88:12–13).

[Laurentino Jose Afonso]

In the Aggadah

In the aggadah, the name Gehenna takes the place of the biblical Sheol as the abode of the dead. The name is derived from Gei Ben Hinnom (Valley of the son of Hinnom, Josh. 15:8; 18:16; et al.), a valley south of Jerusalem where children were made to pass through fire to the god *Moloch (see *Gehinnom). Jeremiah prophesied that it would become "a valley of slaughter" and a place of burial (Jer. 7:32). In the course of time, the name of this accursed valley, designated for suffering, became identified with the place of retribution for the wicked after their death.

No suggestion of this later notion of Gehenna is to be found in Scripture, but in the Talmud and Midrash "Gehenna" is so used. Joshua b. Levi refers to it by seven names (Er. 19a), all of which are synonyms for the netherworld of Scripture. Later, these seven names were given to the seven divisions of Gehenna (Mid. Ps. to 11:6, Sot. 10b). Descriptions of Gehenna include foreign elements which were widespread in the Hellenistic world (through Orphic and Pythagorean sources). The punishment of "the wicked one whose tongue hangs out to lap the water of the river but is unable to reach it" (tj, Ḥag 2:2 77d) is reminiscent of the punishment of Tantalus in Hades (Odyssey, 11:582–5). The source of this description is probably Greek, passing to Judaism, and thence to Christianity (Luke 16:24) and Islam. Most accounts of Gehenna, however, draw chiefly on the scriptural descriptions of the land of the dead. There is discernible in the aggadot on Gehenna a tendency to mitigate the application of strict justice, by limiting the categories of its victims (Ber. 10a; Er. 41b; et al.), and by detailing the many possibilities whereby the Jew might be delivered from its punishment (Pes. 118a; Git. 7a; et al.).

The aggadot about Gehenna in the Talmud and Midrash speak of its site, size, entrances, gates, divisions, and princes. A variety of motifs and partial descriptions from the Bible (sometimes self-contradictory) are combined. The aggadah, basing itself on verses which describe the site of the land of the dead, variously, as beneath the earth (Gen. 37:35; Deut. 32:22; et al.) and beneath the sea (Jonah 2:3–4; Job 26:5), states that Gehenna has entrances in the sea and on dry land (Er. 19a). In the school of Johanan b. Zakkai it was stated that one of its entrances is in the valley of Hinnom, near Jerusalem. There are also traditions, however, that Gehenna is in the sky (Tam. 32b), and that it is "beyond the dark mountains" (ibid.).

As against aggadot which, in the main, speak of the fire of Gehenna (Pes. 54a; bm 85a; bb 74a; et al.), there are those which describe the darkness reigning there (i Enoch, 10:4; et al.). According to Josephus, the Essenes described it as a cold and dark cave (Wars, 2:155). There are also sources combining both ideas, speaking of a fire found in Gehenna which gives no light–"fire causing darkness," or "the darkness of eternal fire." Descriptions of rivers of fire (Ḥag. 13b) in Gehenna appear also to be combinations of descriptions of its fire and of a river flowing in or near it (tj, Ḥag. 2:2, 77d; Shab. 39a) with descriptions of the hot springs of Tiberias, whose heat is conceived as deriving from their passing the entrance to Gehenna. Extravagant accounts are given of the size of Gehenna and the power of its fire. "The world is one sixtieth of the Garden, the Garden one sixtieth of Eden, Eden one sixtieth of Gehenna–hence the world to Gehenna is as the lid to the pot. Others say Gehenna is immeasurable" (Ta'an. 10a). The account of the gates of Gehenna is followed by descriptions of the gate-keepers (Ḥag. 15b; Mid. Gan Eden, in: A. Jellinek (ed.), Beit ha-Midrasch, 5 (1938), 42–51) and these gatekeepers are identified with its princes (Shab. 104a).

The descriptions of the sufferings of the wicked in Gehenna are faithful reflections of the judicial procedures during the era of their composition. The concept of "measure for measure" lies at the root of these punishments. "The suffering commences from the limb that began the transgression" (Sif. Num. 18; Tosef., Sot. 3:2). The cruel torments of Gehenna, such as hanging by different limbs of the body (tj, Ḥag. 2:2, 77d; Mid. Gan Eden, ibid.; Mid. Ke-Tappu'ah), roasting by fire (excerpt from "Ḥazon Eliyahu" quoted by Lieberman, in Louis Ginzberg Jubilee Volume (1946), 249–70 (Hebrew Section)) and suffocating by smoke (Mid. Gan Eden, ibid.), are also found in Christian books of the second, third, and fourth centuries which describe the divisions of Gehenna and the suffering of the wicked therein (e.g., "The Vision of Peter," "The Acts of Thomas," and "The Vision of Paul," the influence of the Jewish aggadah being easily recognizable). Undoubtedly, the cruel torments used by the Roman government in its system of punishments played their part in the envisioning of Gehenna. The punishment of the wicked in Gehenna was conceived of as parallel to the procedures for punishment in this world. Just as the lower court does not inflict punishment on the Sabbath, so in Gehenna: "During weekdays they suffer, but on the Sabbath they are given rest" (Gen. R. 11:5).

Some are characterized by severe contrast. The wicked are cast into fire, then into snow, and the process repeated (tj, Sanh. 10:3, 29b; pdrk, 97). There is a difference of opinion between Bet Shammai and Bet Hillel as to the duration of the punishment in Gehenna (rh 16b–17a); according to the former, the thoroughly wicked remain there for everlasting disgrace; the intermediate ones (between the wicked and the good) descend to Gehenna to be purged, and ascend after purification. According to the latter, the intermediate ones do not go there at all (arn1 41:15), and whereas transgressors (both Jewish and gentile) are punished in Gehenna for only 12 months, only special categories of sinners–informers, those who deny the resurrection of the dead and those who lead the masses into sin–are punished there for all time (rhibid.). Rabbinic literature incorporates legends of visits to Eden and Gehenna of a type similar to that found among other peoples. Some of these are solitary visits in a dream (tj, Ḥag. 2:2, 177d), and some escorted visits, in a dream at night. At times the visit takes place in a vision ascribed to one of the scriptural personalities, such as Moses (Mid. Ke-Tappu'aḥ), Isaiah (Mid. Gan Eden, ibid.), Daniel, Enoch, and Baruch (Apocrypha). Similar visits are attributed to tannaim and amoraim (Joshua b. Levi in Ket. 77b), of whom many aggadot are extant.

[Batya Kedar]

bibliography:

M. Jastrow, in: ajsll, 14 (1897), 165–70; A. Lods, La croyance a la vie future et le culte des morts dans l'antiquité israélite (1906); P. Dhorme, in: rb, 4 (1908), 59–78; E. Ebeling, Todund Leben nach den Vorstellungen der Babylonier (1931); K. Tallquist, Sumerisch-akkadische Namen der Totenwelt (1934); T.H. Gaster, Thespis (1950); H.L. Ginsberg, in: jaos, 88 (1968), 51–52, n. 27. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, index; Neubauer, Géogr, 36–37; P. Volz, Die Eschatologie der juedischen Gemeinde im neutestamentlichen Zeitalter… (1934), 328–9; Lieberman, in: Harry Austryn Wolfson Jubilee Volume (1965), 495–532 (Eng. section) = Texts and Studies (1974), 29–56.

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