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Abyss (religion)

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For other uses, see Abyss.

In biblical literature, abyss refers to a bottomless pit, to the underworld, to the deepest ocean floor, or to hell.

The English word "abyss" derives from the late Latin abyssimus (superlative of abyssus) through French abisme (abîme in modern French), hence the poetic form "abysm", with examples dating to 1616 and earlier to rhyme with "time". The Latin word is borrowed from the Greek abussos (also transliterated as abyssos), which is conventionally analyzed as deriving from the Greek element meaning "deep, bottom" with an alpha privative, hence "bottomless."[1]

In the Septuagint, or Greek version of the Hebrew Bible, the word represents both the original chaos (Genesis 1:2) and the Hebrew tehom ("a surging water-deep"), which is used also in apocalyptic and kabbalistic literature and in the New Testament for hell; the place of punishment; in the Revised (not the Authorized) version of the Bible "abyss" is generally used for this idea. Primarily in the Septuagint cosmography the word is applied both to the waters under the earth which originally covered it, and from which the springs and rivers are supplied and to the waters of the firmament which were regarded as closely connected with those below.

In the parable of Lazarus there is an abyss between the righteous dead and the wicked dead in Sheol. [2]

Revelation 9:11 states that the destroying angel shall arise out of the abyss during the end times.


  1. For more on the Greek etymology with the possibility of an ultimately Sumerian origin, see Abyzou: Origin and Abzu.
  2. Luke 16:26

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