The Hell meaning




Medieval illustration of Hell in the Hortus deliciarum manuscript of Herrad of Landsberg (about 1180)Hell - detail from a fresco in the medieval church St. Nicolas in Raduil, Bulgaria

Painting representing hell in the Church of Debra Berhan Selassie, Gondar, Ethiopia
Hell, in many religious and folkloric traditions, is a place or state of tormentand punishment in an afterlifeReligions with a linear divine history often depict hells as eternal destinations while Religions with a cyclic history often depict a hell as an intermediary period between incarnations. Typically these traditions locate hell in another dimension or under the Earth's surface and often include entrances to Hell from the land of the living. Other afterlife destinations include HeavenPurgatoryParadise, and Limbo.
Other traditions, which do not conceive of the afterlife as a place of punishment or reward, merely describe hell as an abode of the dead, the grave, a neutral place located under the surface of Earth (for example, see sheol and Hades).

Etymology and Germanic mythology

Hel (1889) by Johannes Gehrts

An illustration by Doré of Dante's 6th circle of Hell, from the Divine Comedy
The modern English word hell is derived from Old English helhelle (about 725 AD to refer to a nether world of the dead) reaching into the Anglo-Saxon pagan period, and ultimately from Proto-Germanic *halja, meaning "one who covers up or hides something"[1] The word has cognates in Latin (see verb cēlō, "to hide") and in related Germanic languages such as Old Frisian hellehilleOld Saxon helljaMiddle Dutch helle (modern Dutch hel), Old High German helle (Modern German Hölle), DanishNorwegian and Swedishhelvede/helvete (hel + Old Norse vitti, "punishment" whence the Icelandic víti"hell"), and Gothic halja.[1] Subsequently, the word was used to transfer a pagan concept to Christian theology and its vocabulary[1] (however, for the Judeo-Christian origin of the concept see Gehenna).
Some have theorized that English word hell is derived from Old Norse hel.[1]However, this is very unlikely as hel appears in Old English before the Viking invasions. Furthermore, the word has cognates in all the other Germanic languages and has a Proto-Germanic origin.[2] Among other sources, the Poetic Edda, compiled from earlier traditional sources in the 13th century, and the Prose Edda, written in the 13th century by Snorri Sturluson, provide information regarding the beliefs of the Norse pagans, including a being named Hel, who is described as ruling over an underworld location of the same name.

Religion, mythology, and folklore

Hell appears in several mythologies and religions. It is commonly inhabited by demons and the souls of dead people. A fable about hell which recurs in folklore across several cultures is the allegory of the long spoons. Hell is often depicted in art and literature, perhaps most famously in Dante's Divine Comedy.


Punishment in Hell typically corresponds to sins committed during life. Sometimes these distinctions are specific, with damned souls suffering for each sin committed (see for example Plato's myth of Er or Dante's The Divine Comedy), but sometimes they are general, with condemned sinners relegated to one or more chamber of Hell or to a level of suffering.
In many religious cultures, including Christianity and Islam, Hell is often depicted as fiery, painful, and harsh, inflicting suffering on the guilty. Despite these common depictions of Hell as a place of fire, some other traditions portray Hell as cold. Buddhist - and particularly Tibetan Buddhist - descriptions of hell feature an equal number of hot and cold hells. Among Christian descriptions Dante's Inferno portrays the innermost (9th) circle of Hell as a frozen lake of blood and guilt.[3] But cold also played a part in earlier Christian depictions of hell, beginning with the Apocalypse of Paul, originally from the early third century;[4] the "Vision of Dryhthelm" by the Venerable Bede from the seventh century;[5] "St Patrick's Purgatory", "The Vision of Tundale" or "Visio Tnugdali", and the "Vision of the Monk of Enysham", all from the twelfth century;[6] and the "Vision of Thurkill" from the early thirteenth century.[7]


Ancient Egypt

In this ~1275 BC Book of the Deadscene the dead scribe Hunefer's heart is weighed on the scale of Maatagainst the feather of truth, by the canine-headed Anubis. The ibis-headed Thothscribe of the gods, records the result. If his heart is lighter than the feather, Hunefer is allowed to pass into the afterlife. If not, he is eaten by the crocodile-headed Ammit.[8]
With the rise of the cult of Osiris during the Middle Kingdom the "democratization of religion" offered to even his humblest followers the prospect of eternal life, with moral fitness becoming the dominant factor in determining a person's suitability. At death a person faced judgment by a tribunal of forty-two divine judges. If they had led a life in conformance with the precepts of the Goddess Maat, who represented truth and right living, the person was welcomed into the heavenly reed fields. If found guilty the person was thrown to Ammit, the "devourer of the dead" and would be condemned to the lake of fire.[9] The person taken by the devourer is subject first to terrifying punishment and then annihilated. These depictions of punishment may have influenced medieval perceptions of the inferno in hell via early Christian and Coptic texts.[10] Purification for those considered justified appears in the descriptions of "Flame Island", where humans experience the triumph over evil and rebirth. For the damned complete destruction into a state of non-being awaits but there is no suggestion of eternal torture; the weighing of the heart in Egyptian mythology can lead to annihilation.[11][12]The Tale of Khaemwese describes the torment of a rich man, who lacked charity, when he dies and compares it to the blessed state of a poor man who has also died.[13] Divine pardon at judgement always remained a central concern for the Ancient Egyptians.[14]
Modern understanding of Egyptian notions of hell relies on six ancient texts:[15]
  1. The Book of Two Ways (Book of the Ways of Rosetau)
  2. The Book of Amduat (Book of the Hidden RoomBook of That Which Is in the Underworld)
  3. The Book of Gates
  4. The Book of the Dead (Book of Going Forth by Day)
  5. The Book of the Earth
  6. The Book of Caverns


In classic Greek mythology, below Heaven, Earth, and Pontus is Tartarus, or Tartaros (Greek Τάρταρος, deep place). It is either a deep, gloomy place, a pit or abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides within Hades (the entire underworld) with Tartarus being the hellish component. In the GorgiasPlato (c. 400 BC) wrote that souls were judged after death and those who received punishment were sent to Tartarus. As a place of punishment, it can be considered a hell. The classic Hades, on the other hand, is more similar to Old Testament Sheol.


Early Judaism had no concept of Hell, though the concept of an afterlife was introduced during the Hellenic period, apparently from neighboring Hellenistic religions. It occurs for example in Book of Daniel. Daniel 12:2 proclaims "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, Some to everlasting life, Some to shame and everlasting contempt."
Judaism does not have a specific doctrine about the afterlife, but it does have a mystical/Orthodox tradition of describing Gehinnom. 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 one can be there is said to be 12 months, however there has been the occasional noted exception. Some consider it a spiritual forge where the soul is purified for its eventual ascent to Olam Habah (heb. עולם הבא; lit. "The world to come", often viewed as analogous to heaven). This is also mentioned in the Kabbalah, where the soul is described as breaking, like the flame of a candle lighting another: the part of the soul that ascends being pure and the "unfinished" piece being reborn.
According to Jewish teachings, hell is not entirely physical; rather, it can be compared to a very intense feeling of shame. People are ashamed of their misdeeds and this constitutes suffering which makes up for the bad deeds. When one has so deviated from the will of God, one is said to be in Gehinnom. This is not meant to refer to some point in the future, but to the very present moment. The gates of teshuva (return) are said to be always open, and so one can align his will with that of God at any moment. Being out of alignment with God's will is itself a punishment according to the Torah.
Many scholars of Jewish mysticism, particularly of the Kabbalah, make mention of seven "compartments" or "habitations" of Hell, just as there are seven divisions of Heaven. These divisions go by many different names, and the most frequently mentioned are as follows:[22]


"Gehenna", Valley of Hinnom, 2007

The parable of the Rich man and Lazarus depicting the rich man in hell asking for help to Abraham and Lazarus in heaven by James Tissot

Harrowing of hell. Christ leads Adam by the hand, c.1504

The Last Judgement, Hell, circa 1431, by Fra Angelico
The Christian doctrine of hell derives from the teaching of the New Testament, where hell is typically described using the Greek words Tartarusor Hades or the Hebrew word Gehinnom. In the Septuagint and New Testament the authors used the Greek term Hades for the Hebrew Sheol, but often with Jewish rather than Greek concepts in mind, so that, for example, there is no activity in Hades in Ecclesiastes.[32] However, since Augustine, Christians have believed that the souls of those who die either rest peacefully, in the case of Christians, or are afflicted, in the case of the damned, after death until the resurrection.[33]

  • The Roman Catholic Church defines Hell as "a state of definitive self-exclusion from communion with God and the blessed." One finds themselves in Hell as the result of dying in mortal sin without repenting and accepting God's merciful love, becoming eternally separated from Him by one's own free choice[47] immediately after death.[48] In the Roman Catholic Church, many other Christian churches, such as the Baptists and Episcopalians, and some Greek Orthodox churches,[49] Hell is taught as the final destiny of those who have not been found worthy after the general resurrection and last judgment,[50][51][52] where they will be eternally punished for sin and permanently separated from God. The nature of this judgment is inconsistent with many Protestant churches teaching the saving comes from accepting Jesus Christ as their savior, while the Greek Orthodox and Catholic Churchesteach that the judgment hinges on both faith and works. However, many Liberal Christians throughout Liberal Protestant and Anglican churches believe in Universal Reconciliation (see below) even though it might contradict more evangelical views in their denomination.[53]
    Hades has similarities to the Old Testament term, Sheol as "the place of the dead" or "grave". Thus, it is used in reference to both the righteous and the wicked, since both wind up there eventually.[44]


Prophet Muhammad, along with Buraqand Gabriel, visit Hell, and they see "shameless women" being eternally punished for exposing their hair to the sight of strangers. Persian, 15th century.
In Islam, jahannam (in Arabic: جهنم) (related to the Hebrew word gehinnom) is a place filled with blazing fire, boiling water, and a variety of other torments for those who have been condemned to it in the hereafter. After the Day of Judgement, it is to be occupied by those who do not believe in God, those who have disobeyed his laws, or rejected His messengers.[72] "Enemies of Islam" are sent to Hell immediately upon their deaths.[73]
Like Zoroastrians, Muslims believe that on Judgement Day, all souls will pass over a bridge over hell (Chinvat Bridge in Zorastrianism, As-Sirāt in Islam) which those destined for hell will find too narrow and fall from into their new abode.[74] Jahannam resembles the Christian versions of Hell in being below heaven and full of fire, but it is primarily a place of punishment, created by God, instead of devils domain to wage war against the heavens above.[75][76]
The holy book of Islam, the Qur'an, gives many literal descriptions of the condemned in a fiery Hell, contrasting them with the garden-like Paradise (jannah) enjoyed by righteous believers. Suffering in hell is both physical and spiritual,[73][77] and varies according to the sins of the condemned.[75]
Heaven and Hell are each divided into seven different levels, with occupants assigned to each depending on their actions—good or bad—during their lifetimes. The gate of Hell is guarded by Maalik, who is the leader of the angels assigned as the guards of hell, also known as Zabaaniyah. While hell is usually described as hot, there is one pit (Zamhareer) characterized in Islamic tradition as unbearably cold, with blizzards, ice, and snow.[78]
Polytheism (shirk) is particularly grievous sin therefore entering Paradise is forbidden for polytheist (musyrik) because his place is Hell;[79] and the lowest pit of Hell (Hawiyah), is intended for hypocrites who claimed aloud to believe in God and his messenger but in their hearts did not.[80] Not all Muslims and scholars agree whether hell is an eternal destination or whether some or all of the condemned will eventually be forgiven and allowed to enter paradise.[73][75][81][82]



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