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Note: All quotes from the Bible in this article are from the King James Version.

Gehenna is a word tracing to Greek, ultimately from Hebrew Gai-Ben-Hinnom meaning Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and is still called Gai Ben Hinnom in Modern Hebrew(גיא בן הינום), though this is sometimes shortened to Gai-Hinnom in rabbinical texts. Originally it refered to a garbage dump in a deep narrow valley right outside the walls of outside Jerusalem (in modern-day Israel).

It served as a garbage dump in both Old Testament times and at the time of Jesus, but there's more to the word's history. It has come to have connotations relating to the underworld.

Table of contents
1 An unpleasant place
2 Old Testament observations
3 New Testament observations and matters of translation
4 Islam
5 Wikipedia links
6 External links and references

An unpleasant place

There are stories of fires that were kept burning via the adding of brimstone (sulfur). Light a match and one knows what sulfur dioxide smells like. Smith’s Dictionary of the Bible Volume I, explains,

“It became the common lay-stall [garbage dump] of the city, where the dead bodies of criminals, and the carcasses of animals, and every other kind of filth was cast.”

It was a truly unpleasant place, full of rotting garbage, where spontaneous combustion sometimes took place, and maggots and bacteria sent up a stench that could be smelled for miles.

Old Testament observations

It is mentioned in the Old Testament several places, notably 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:2-6; 32:35. We quote Jeremiah, 19:2-6, which speaks of the Jews worshipping pagan idols and committing abominations:

"19:2 And go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee, 19:3 And say, Hear ye the word of the LORD, O kings of Judah, and inhabitants of Jerusalem; Thus saith the LORD of hosts, the God of Israel; Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, the which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle. 19:4 Because they have forsaken me, and have estranged this place, and have burned incense in it unto other gods, whom neither they nor their fathers have known, nor the kings of Judah, and have filled this place with the blood of innocents; 19:5 They have built also the high places of Baal, to burn their sons with fire for burnt offerings unto Baal, which I commanded not, nor spake it, neither came it into my mind: 19:6 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter."

The ancient Jews sometimes sacrificed their children to pagan idols in the fires in Gehenna, and this was an abomination; in 2 Kings, 23:10, King Josiah forbade the sacrificing of children to Moloch at Gehenna (though Baal is not mentioned in this particular verse).

New Testament observations and matters of translation

It is often mentioned in the New Testament of the Christian Bible as the place of everlasting torment of unrepentant sinners.

In the Book of Matthew, 23:33, Jesus observes,

"Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

Jesus used the word gehenna, not hell, and his audience understood quite well that gehenna meant a place of everlasting torment, where Jews cast aside the worship of the true God to defile themselves by committing abominations. Human garbage, sinners, would be destroyed forever.

We note, the King James Bible (and other translations as well) speak of “hellfire” and of being “cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched." The original Greek scriptures of the New Testament actually used the word gehenna, which tended to become hell in English translation.


The word gehenna also occurs in the Islamic holy book, the Qur'an, as a place of torment for sinners. It is an Arabic borrowing from ultimate Hebrew.

Wikipedia links

See also:

External links and references