Valley of Hinnom, c. 1900

Gehenna (/ɡɪˈhɛnə/; from Ancient Greek: Γέεννα, Geenna from Hebrew: גיא בן הינום‎, Gei Ben-Hinnom; Mishnaic Hebrew: גהנום/גהנם, Gehinnam/Gehinnom) is a small valley in Jerusalem which was the common wasteyard for all the refuse of Jerusalem. Here the reeking dead bodies of animals, decaying rubbish, and even human excrement were cast and, according to legend, consumed by a constant fire.

Eventually the Hebrew term Gehinnom[1] became a figurative name for the prison for the wicked dead in Judaism, a site at the greatest possible distance from heaven. According to most Jewish sources, the period of purification or punishment is limited to only 12 months and every shabbath day is excluded from punishment.[2] After this the soul will ascend to Olam Ha-Ba, the world to come, or will be destroyed if it is severely wicked.[3]

Initially the site where followers of Ba'al sacrificed their children by fire to the god Moloch(2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6). In time it became deemed to be accursed and an image of the place of everlasting destruction in Jewish folklore.[4][5] However, Jewish folklore suggests the valley had a 'gate' which led down to a molten lake of fire (see Sheol).

Gehenna is cited in the New Testament and in early Christian writing to represent the final place where the wicked will be punished or destroyed after resurrection.

In both Rabbinical Jewish and Christian writing, Gehenna as a destination of the wicked is different from Hades, the abode of the dead, and is but loosely analogous to the concept of Hell.


English "Gehenna" represents the Greek Geena (γεεννα) found in the New Testament, which is not a Greek word, but a phonetic transcription of Aramaic Gehena (ܠܓܗܢܐ), equivalent to the Hebrew "Ge Hinnom," literally "Valley of Hinnom". This was known in the Old Testament as Gai Ben-Hinnom, literally the "Valley of the son of Hinnom", and in the Talmud as Gehinnam (גהנם) or Gehinnom. In the Qur'an, gehenna (Gehennem, Jahannam, جهنم) is a place of torment for sinners or the Islamic equivalent of hell.


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Tombs in the Valley of Hinnom

The exact location of the Valley of Hinnom is disputed. Older commentaries give the location as below the southern wall of ancient Jerusalem, stretching from the foot of Mount Zion eastward past the Tyropoeon to the Kidron Valley. However the Tyropoeon Valley is usually no longer associated with the Valley of Hinnom because during the period of Ahaz and Manasseh, the Tyropoeon lay within the city walls and child sacrifice would have been practiced outside the walls of the city. Smith (1907),[6] Dalman (1930),[7] Bailey (1986)[8] and Watson (1992)[9] identify the Wadi er-Rababi, which fits the data of Joshua that Hinnom ran East to West and lay outside the city walls. According to Joshua, the valley began in En-rogel. If the modern Bir Ayyub is En-rogel then the Wadi er-Rababi which begins there is Hinnom.[10]

In the King James Version of the Bible, the term appears 13 times in 11 different verses as "valley of Hinnom," "valley of the son of Hinnom" or "valley of the children of Hinnom."

The concept of Gehenna

in the Hebrew Bible

The oldest historical reference to the valley is found in Joshua 15:8, 18:16 which describe tribal boundaries.

The next chronological reference to the valley is at the time of King Ahaz of Judah who sacrificed his sons there according to 2 Chron. 28:3. Since his legitimate son by the daughter of the High Priest Hezekiah succeeded him as king, this, if literal, is assumed to mean children by unrecorded pagan wives or concubines. The same is recorded of Ahaz' grandson Manasseh in 33:6. There remains debate about whether the phrase "cause his children to pass through the fire" meant a simple ceremony or the literal child sacrifice.

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Valley of Hinnom, 2007.

The Book of Isaiah does not mention Gehenna by name, but the "burning place" 30:33 in which the Assyrian army are to be destroyed, may be read "Topheth", and the final verse of Isaiah which concerns the corpses of the same or a similar battle, Isaiah 66:24, "where their worm does not die" is cited by Jesus in reference to Gehenna in Mark 9:48.

In the reign of Josiah a call came from Jeremiah to destroy the shrines in Topheth and to end the practice Jeremiah 7:31-32, 32:35. It is recorded that King Josiah destroyed the shrine of Molech on Topheth, to prevent anyone sacrificing children there in 2 Kings 23:10. Despite Josaiah's ending of the practice, Jeremiah also included a prophecy that Jerusalem itself would be made like Gehenna and Topheth (19:2-6, 11-14).

A final purely geographical reference is found in Neh. 11:30 to the exiles returning from Babylon camping from Beersheba to Hinnom.

in extra-Biblical Documents

There is a lack of direct references to Gehenna in the Apocrypha, Dead Sea Scrolls,Pseudepigrapha and Philo.

Josephus does not deal with this aspect of the history of the Hinnom Valley in his descriptions of Jerusalem for a Roman audience. Nor does Josephus make any mention of the tradition commonly reported in older Christian commentaries that in Roman times fires were kept burning and the valley became the garbage dump of the city, where the dead bodies of criminals, and the carcasses of animals were thrown. Source references for this tradition seem to be lacking.

The southwestern gate of Jerusalem, overlooking the valley, came to be known as "The Gate of the Valley" (Hebrew: שער הגיא‎).

in Rabbinical Judaism

The picture of Gehenna as the place of punishment or destruction of the wicked occurs frequently in the Mishnah in Kiddushin4.14, Avot1.5; 5.19, 20, Tosefta t.Bereshith 6.15, and Babylonian Talmud b.Rosh Hashanah 16b:7a; b.Bereshith 28b. Gehenna is considered a Purgatory-like place where the wicked go to suffer until they have atoned for their sins. It is stated that the maximum amount of time a sinner can spend in Gehenna is one year, with the exception of five people who are there for all of eternity Sanhedrin 7.

In Judaism there is general acceptance of the historical veracity of the accounts of child sacrifice. Biblical commentator Rashi explains that priests would bang on drums (Hebrew: tof, tupim) (Hebrew: תופים‎) so fathers would not hear the groans of children being sacrificed. Hence the name Topheth.

in the New Testament

In the synoptic gospels Jesus uses the word Gehenna 11 times to describe the opposite to life in the promised, coming Kingdom (Mark 9:43-48).[11] It is a place where both soul and body could be destroyed (Matthew 10:28) in "unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:43).

Gehenna is also mentioned in the Epistle of James 3:6, where it is said to set the tongue on fire, and the tongue in turn sets on fire the entire "course" or "wheel" of life.

The complete list of references is as follows:

  • Matt.5:22 whoever calls someone "you fool" will be liable to Gehenna.
  • Matt.5:29 better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna.
  • Matt.5:30 better to lose one of your members than that your whole body go into Gehenna.
  • Matt.10:28 rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.
  • Matt.18:9 better to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna.
  • Matt.23:15 Pharisees make a convert twice as much a child of Gehenna as themselves.
  • Matt.23:33 to Pharisees: you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to Gehenna?
  • Mark 9:43 better to enter life with one hand than with two hands to go to Gehenna.
  • Mark 9:45 better to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into Gehenna.
  • Mark 9:47 better to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into Gehenna
  • Luke 12:5 Fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into Gehenna
  • James 3:6 the tongue is set on fire by Gehenna.

Translations in Christian Bibles

The New Testament also refers to Hades as a destination of the dead. Hades is portrayed as a different place from Gehenna. The Book of Revelation describes Hades being cast into the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:14). Although the idea of casting a place into itself doesn't actually make much sense, some Christians today interpret Hades as meaning the same thing as Gehenna. The King James Version of the bible is the only English translation in modern use to translate Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna as Hell. The New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible (among others) all reserve the term hell only for when Gehenna is used.

Treatment of Gehenna in Christianity is significantly affected by whether the distinction in Hebrew and Greek between Gehenna and Hades was maintained:

Translations with a distinction:

  • The New International Version, New Living Translation, New American Standard Bible, and basically every English translation except the King James in modern use, all reserve the term Hell only for when Gehenna is used. All translate Sheol and Hades in a different fashion.
  • The Arabic Van Dyke distinguishes Gehenna from Sheol.
  • In texts in Greek, and consistently in the Orthodox Church, the distinctions present in the originals were often maintained. The Russian Synodal Bible (and one translation by the Old Church Slavonic)also maintain the distinction.

Translations without a distinction:

  • The Latin Vulgate does not distinguish between Gehenna and Sheol/Hades rendering both as inferno, but also predates the concept of Purgatory
  • The Old English of Ælfric and then the English of Wycliffe render Latin inferno as Hell. Tyndale and later translators had access to the Greek, but Tyndale translated both Gehenna and Hades as same English word, Hell.
  • The King James Version of the bible is the only English translation in modern use to translate Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna as Hell.

Many modern Christians understand Gehenna to be a place of eternal punishment called hell.[12]

On the other hand, annihilationists understand Gehenna to be a place where sinners are utterly destroyed, not tormented forever. Christian Universalists, who believe that God will eventually save all souls, interpret the New Testament references to Gehenna in the context of the Old Testament and conclude that it always refers to the imminent divine judgment of Israel and not to eternal torment for the unsaved.

The Valley of Hinnom is also the traditional location of the Potter's Field bought by priests after Judas' suicide with the "blood money" with which Judas was paid for betraying Jesus.

in Islam

The name given to Hell in Islam, Jahannam, directly correlates with Gehenna as well. The Quran contains 76 or 77 references to Gehenna (جهنم), but no references to Hades (هيدز).

Literary references

[Moloch] made his Grove
The pleasant Vally of HINNOM, TOPHET thence
And black GEHENNA call'd, the Type of Hell.

And thus, joy suddenly faded into horror, and the most beautiful became the most hideous, as Hinnom became Gehenna.

Down to Gehenna or up to the Throne,
He travels the fastest who travels alone.

Vocalist Randy Blythe of the band Lamb of God mentions Gehenna in the song "Hourglass" from the album Ashes of the Wake. The line goes: God forbid you read the signs, Watch for meaning between the lines. Gehenna has now arrived, No hindsight for the blind. Your trust has been misplaced, believed the lies told to your face. Became another casualty, And now it's too late.

Gehenna is also the name of a song by metal band Slipknot from their album "All Hope Is Gone". Gehenna is also the name of the second episode of the television series, "Millennium".


  1. "Gehinnom is the Hebrew name; Gehenna is Yiddish." Gehinnom - Judaism 101 websourced 02-10-2010.
  2. "The place of spiritual punishment and/or purification for the wicked dead in Judaism is not referred to as Hell, but as Gehinnom or She'ol." HELL - Judaism 101 websourced 02-10-2010.
  3. [1]
  4. "The place where children were sacrificed to the god Moloch was originally in the "valley of the son of Hinnom," to the south of Jerusalem (Josh. xv. 8, passim; II Kings xxiii. 10; Jer. ii. 23; vii. 31-32; xix. 6, 13-14). For this reason the valley was deemed to be accursed, and "Gehenna" therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for 'hell'." GEHENNA JewishEncyclopedia By : Kaufmann Kohler, Ludwig Blau; web-sourced: 02-11-2010.
  5. "gehenna." Easton's 1897 Bible Dictionary. 27 Aug. 2009. <>.
  6. Smith, G. A. 1907. Jerusalem: The Topography, Economics and History from the Earliest Times to A.D. 70. London.
  7. Dalman, G. 1930. Jerusalem und sein Gelande. Schriften des Deutschen Palastina-Instituts 4
  8. Bailey, L. R. 1986. Gehenna: The Topography of Hell. BA 49: 187
  9. Watson, Duane F. Hinnom. In Freedman, David Noel, ed., The Anchor Bible Dictionary, New York Doubleday 1997, 1992.
  10. Geoffrey W. Bromiley International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: E-J - 1982
  11. Blue Letter Bible. "Dictionary and Word Search for geenna (Strong's 1067)".
  12. Metzger & Coogan (1993) Oxford Companion to the Bible’’, p. 243.

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Gehenna. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.