Above all, if there is a God behind this universe, he would be much too wise and much too kind to create anything like hell. That would be the act of a fiend, of something of low intelligence. Can you imagine Einstein saying to himself, “If my student, Mary, doesnʼt believe in special relativity Iʼll run her over in the parking lot!” Can you imagine God, supposedly so much wiser and grand, saying, “I gave Mary a brain, but if she uses it and concludes that I donʼt exist then Iʼll roast her forever and ever on my hottest fire!” It doesnʼt make any sense, does it? No being worthy of respect could possibly act in that manner.
It might interest you to know that hell is an evolved concept! The authors of the Old Testament believed that when a person died, good or bad, they went to a shadowy underworld, sheol, and lived out some kind of marginal existence. The ancient Greek epic poem, the Odyssey, also written in Old Testament times, reflects that view. Though the King James translation uses the word “hell” in both the Old and New Testaments, the biblical manuscripts use several different words. In almost all of the Old Testament the word translated as “hell” is the Hebrew “sheol.” Hell was short of fuel at that time!
There was no personal judgment in the Old Testament, save by occasional rewards and punishment for the living. Job didnʼt get his reward in Heaven! Judgment was usually reserved for nations. In the final judgment, the end-time, all of Israelʼs enemies would be crushed. A new, golden era would begin on earth with Israel the top dog.
Unfortunately, the ancient Jewish state took some very nasty knocks, especially when Nebuchadnezzar cleaned out the Temple and took the Jewish elite hostage. That captivity brought them into close association with Babylonian ideas, ideas which pop up in the Genesis creation account and in Noahʼs flood, accounts that were written up around that time. (Genesis is not the oldest part of the Bible!)
After the Persian conquest of Babylon by Cyrus, who allowed everyone to return to their homelands, many Jews remained in Babylon by choice, and they became very inundated with Persian philosophy. Persian (Iranian) philosophy dealt with the battle between the dark forces (read devil) and the forces of light, a battle in which the forces of light would eventually prevail. In the end, individuals would be judged by an ordeal of fire, and the wicked would be destroyed. (I could be wrong, but I donʼt think the Iranians believed in eternal punishment.)
With the old idea that Yahweh would bless their nation (if they did all the right things) on the rocks, with no light at the end of the tunnel, these new Iranian ideas started seeping into the Jewish consciousness. Ideas from Greece were also becoming influential after Alexanderʼs great conquest. The Jewish revolt against Antiochus IV, who attempted to totally Hellenize the Jews, temporarily restored the Jewish state for a time before the Romans took over. It was during the persecution by Antiochus IV that, in order to boost moral, the Book of Daniel was written. Its Prophecies relate to that era, not to some indefinite future! Its author made some serious mistakes describing the time of Nebuchadnezzar, supposedly the time Daniel lived. But, the closer the text gets to 164 BC the more accurate it is in its details. That was the time the book was actually written. Its author ventured several more prophecies, real prophecies this time, and they all fell flat! (Fundamentalists try to shift this last bunch of prophecies into the remote future! What else is new?)
The idea that justice would be done after all, in a time yet to come, began taking over. The Jewish idea of a messiah became popular. This messiah, descended from King David, would, with Godʼs special help, overthrow the Romans (or whatever) and institute a new, golden age for Israel. He would literally be a king and would occupy the Jewish throne. (Note that there was little or no concept of a Jewish messiah prior to the total destruction of the Jewish state by Nebuchadnezzar. Jewish kings were anointed and referred to as “sons of God,” but there was no messiah as such. Messiahs only became popular when things started going sour. The idea that Jesus is the Messiah is an idea advanced by the New Testament authors who simply ripped material out of context from the Old Testament. Suddenly, as far as Christians were concerned, every mention of “messiah” in the Old Testament was attached to Jesus!)
About this time the idea of individual judgment started taking hold, at least for some groups. Between the Old and New Testaments judgment shifts from nations to individuals. God formerly the author of good and evil becomes purely good (as in the Persian counterpart) while the devil, formerly a court functionary in Godʼs employee, becomes a superstar of evil (as in the Persian counterpart). Thus, individuals would now be judged at the end-time and go to heaven or hell. (By now, hell had warmed up considerably and was definitely a place of punishment, though not necessarily eternal punishment!)
Hell was now compared to the yuggiest place in Israel, namely the dump just outside Jerusalem where rubbish fires were constantly burning. The image of the worm (maggots) fit in nicely with a garbage dump. I suspect that even then the idea of eternal punishment was not universal, a point suggested by certain verses in the Bible. The bad guys would simply be burned up like so much trash, and that would be that. But, alas, those favoring the idea of eternal punishment won out. As a club to be held over the believerʼs head, nothing could rival roasting for ever and ever in the big oven. Maybe that had something to do with the view winning out; it was a great recruiter! Later, Dante turned the heat way up, making hell hotter than ever! Lots of red-hot iron tickled oneʼs tootsies, and the smog was just unbearable—right up there with Mexico City!
Even little kids and babies now roasted in hell! (The latter concept may well be the only original Christian contribution to the Christian religion. Christianity is built virtually entirely on pagan and Jewish rituals, ideas which have been taken over.)
Heaven for climate, hell for good company! (Besides, you can have one helluva marshmallow roast down there.)
Well thatʼs hell in a peanut shell!