From Academic Kids

Sheol (שאול) is the Hebrew language word denoting the "abode of the dead"; the "underworld", "grave" or "pit". In the Hebrew Bible it is portrayed as a comfortless place beneath the earth, beyond gates, where both the bad and the good, slave and king, pious and wicked must go after death to sleep in silence and oblivion in the dust.

In some sources, for example in Deuteronomy 32:22, Sheol seems to be synonymous with the "depths of the earth". Sheol is generally compared to the gloomy, twilight afterlife of Hades or Tartarus from Greek mythology. Sheol is the common destination of both the righteous and the unrighteous dead; the righteous Job sees it as his destination (Job 3). In the Book of Job, while Satan is portrayed as tormenting and testing the living, he does not appear to have any particular presidency over Sheol, or to dwell in Sheol.

Indeed, Sheol in many cases does not seem to be an afterlife destination or a location at all, but merely "the grave". In Ecclesiastes, for example, it is stated that "...the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten." and "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might, for in the grave [Sheol], where you are going, there is neither working nor planning nor knowledge nor wisdom." (Ecc. 9:5-10, NIV) Jehovah's Witnesses interpret Sheol as an unconscious condition of the dead.

Jacob, not comforted at the reported death of Joseph, exclaims: "I shall go down to my son a mourner unto Sheol" (Genesis 37:35). Sheol may be personified: Sheol is never satiated (Proverbs 30:20); she "makes wide her soul," (Isaiah 5:14).

Psalms Chapter 18:

5 The breakers of death surged round about me; the menacing floods terrified me. 6 The cords of Sheol tightened; the snares of death lay in wait for me. 7 In my distress I called out: LORD! I cried out to my God. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry to him reached his ears.

Psalms Chapter 86:13: "Your love for me is great; you have rescued me from the depths of Sheol."

The Hebrew concept is paralleled in the Sumerian Netherworld to which Inanna descends. See also Ereshkigal..

The English word hell comes from Germanic mythology, now used in Judeo-Christian and senses to translate the Hebrew word "Gehinnom," which was a valley outside Jerusalem used for burning refuse (basically a landfill), and the Greek Hades and Tartarus.

The New Testament seems to draw a distinction between Sheol and "Gehinnom", or Gehenna (Jahannam in Islam). The most "hellish" notion in Jewish tradition is the Biblical word Gehinnom, later interpreted to refer to a place of condemnation. But the source of the word is most interesting. Gei Hinnom was the valley of Hinnom (Joshua 15:8, 18:16; II Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31; Nehemiah 11:30), a place where children were sacrificed to the Canaanite god Moloch. In Islam, this same word became Jahannam, an Islamic term for Hell.

The prominent Biblical scholar William Foxwell Albright points out that the Hebrew root for SHE'OL is SHA'AL, which normally means "to ask, to interrogate, to question." Sheol therefore should mean "asking, interrogation, questioning." This could refer to the questioning of the human soul, newly arrived in the afterworld, by supernatural entities. John Tvedtnes, also a Biblical scholar, connects this with the common theme in the Near-Death Experience (which see)of the interrogation of the soul after crossing the Tunnel.

External links

Bibilical references to Sheol

Genesis 37:33-35; Genesis 42:37-38; Genesis 44:27-31; Numbers 16:23-33; Deuteronomy 32:22; 1 Samuel 2:6; 2 Samuel 22:5-6; 1 Kings 2:6; 1 Kings 2:9; Job 7:9-10; Job 11:7-8; Job 14:11-14; Job 17:13-16; Job 21:13; Job 24:19; Job 26:6; Psalms 6:5; Psalms 9:17; Psalms 16:10; Psalms 18:4-5; Psalms 30:3; Psalms 31:17; Psalms 49:14-15; Psalms 55:15; Psalms 86:13; Psalms 88:3; Psalms 89:48; Psalms 116:3; Psalms 139:8; Psalms 141:7; Proverbs 1:11-12; Proverbs 5:5; Proverbs 7:27; Proverbs 9:18; Proverbs 15:11; Proverbs 15:24; Proverbs 23:14; Proverbs 27:20; Proverbs 30:16; Ecclesiastes 9:10; Isaiah 5:14; Isaiah 7:11; Isaiah 14:11; Isaiah 14:15; Isaiah 28:15; Isaiah 28:18; Isaiah 38:10; Isaiah 38:18; Isaiah 57:9; Ezekiel 31:15-17; Ezekiel 32:21; Ezekiel 32:27; Hosea 13:14; Amos 9:2; Jonah 2:2; Habbakuk 2:5


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