Definitions

Sheol

Sheol

[shee-ohl]
Sheol: see hell.
Sheol (pronounced "Sheh-ole"), in Hebrew שאול (Sh'ol), is the "abode of the dead", the "underworld", "the common grave of mankind" or "pit". Sheol is the common destination of both the righteous and the unrighteous dead, as recounted in Ecclesiastes and Job.

Sheol is sometimes compared to Hades, the gloomy, twilight afterlife of Greek mythology. The word "hades" was in fact substituted for "sheol" when the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek (see Septuagint). The New Testament (written in Greek) also uses "hades" to refer to the abode of the dead.

By the second century BC, Jews who accepted the Oral Torah had come to believe that those in sheol awaited the resurrection either in comfort (in the bosom of Abraham) or in torment. This belief is reflected in Jesus' story of Lazarus and Dives. At that time Jews who rejected the Oral Torah believed that Sheol meant simply the grave.

Anglicans, who do not share a concept of "hades" with the Eastern Orthodox, have traditionally translated "sheol" (and "hades") as "hell" (for example in the King James Version). However, to avoid confusion of what are separate concepts in the Bible, modern English versions of the Bible tend either to transliterate the word sheol or to use an alternative term such as the "grave" (e.g. the NIV). Roman Catholics generally translate "sheol" as "death."

Etymology

The origin of the term sheol is obscure.

Biblical scholar William Foxwell Albright suggests that the Hebrew root for SHE'OL is SHA'AL, which means "to ask, to interrogate, to question." Sheol therefore should mean "asking, interrogation, questioning." John Tvedtnes, also a Biblical scholar, connects this with the common theme in near-death experiences of the interrogation of the soul after crossing the Tunnel.

An alternative theory is that Sheol is connected ša'al, the root of which means "to burrow" and is thus related to šu'al "fox" or "burrower".

As regards the origin not of the term but of the concept, the Jewish Encyclopedia considers more probable the view that it originated in primitive animistic conceits: "With the body in the grave remains connected the soul (as in dreams): the dead buried in family graves continue to have communion (comp. Jer. xxxi. 15). Sheol is practically a family grave on a large scale. Graves were protected by gates and bolts; therefore Sheol was likewise similarly guarded. The separate compartments are devised for the separate clans, septs, and families, national and blood distinctions continuing in effect after death. That Sheol is described as subterranean is but an application of the custom of hewing out of the rocks passages, leading downward, for burial purposes.

Sheol in the Hebrew Bible

In the Tanakh, which is the Hebrew Bible (the books that Christians call the Old Testament), the word "sheol" occurs more than sixty times. It is used most frequently in the Psalms, wisdom literature and prophetic books.

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 30:16); she "makes wide her throat" (Isaiah 5:14).

Other examples of its usage:

  • Job 7:9 "Just as a cloud dissipates and vanishes, those who go down to Sheol will not come back."
  • Psalm 18:5-7 "The breakers of death surged round about me; the menacing floods terrified me. The cords of Sheol tightened; the snares of death lay in wait for me. 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.''
  • Psalm 86:13: "Your love for me is great; you have rescued me from the depths of Sheol."
  • Psalm 139:8: "If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there."
  • Jonah 2:2: "...Out of the belly of Sheol I cried, And You heard my voice."

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

Book of Enoch

The Book of Enoch (ca. 160 BCE) purportedly records Enoch's vision of the cosmos. The author describes Sheol as divided into four sections: one where the faithful saints blissfully await Judgment Day (see Bosom of Abraham), one where the moderately good await their reward, one where the wicked are punished and await their Judgment at the resurrection (see Gehenna), and the last where the wicked who don't even warrant resurrection are tormented.

Sheol in the New Testament

The New Testament follows the Septuagint in translating sheol as hades (compare Acts 2:27, 31 and Psalm 16:10). The New Testament thus seems to draw a distinction between Sheol and "Gehinnom" or Gehenna (Jahannam in Islam). The former is regarded as a place where the dead go temporarily to await resurrection (according to some traditions, including Jesus himself), while the latter is the place of eternal punishment for the damned (i.e. perdition). Accordingly, in the book of Saint John's Revelation, hades is associated with death (Revelation 1:18, 6:8), and in the final judgment the wicked dead are brought out of hades and cast into the lake of fire, which represents the fire of Gehenna; hades itself is also finally thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15).

In Luke 16:19-31 (the story of Lazarus and Dives), Jesus portrays hades as a place of torment, at least for the wicked. Jesus also announces to St. Peter that "the gates of hades" will not overpower the church (Matthew 16:18), and uses hades to pronounce judgment upon the city of Capernaum (Matthew 11:23).

The English word "hell" comes from Germanic mythology, and is now used in the Judeo-Christian sense to translate the Greek word Gehenna—a term which originally referred to a valley outside Jerusalem used for burning refuse, but came to designate the place of punishment for sinners. Although older translations (such as the King James Version) also translated Hades as "hell", modern English translations tend to preserve the distinction between the two concepts by transliterating the word hades and reserving "hell fire" for gehenna fire.

In the Esperanto translation of the New Testament, wherever the word "Hades" might appear, it is merely transliterated; but in places where the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament it uses Sheol, rendered into Esperanto spelling, corresponding with Zamenhof's translation in the original. (Cf. Acts 2:31, Psalm 16:10.)

Secular outlook

According to Professors Stephen L. Harris and James Tabor, sheol is a place of "nothingness" that has its roots in the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament).

"The ancient Hebrews had no idea of an immortal soul living a full and vital life beyond death, nor of any resurrection or return from death. Human beings, like the beasts of the field, are made of "dust of the earth," and at death they return to that dust (Gen. 2:7; 3:19). The Hebrew word nephesh, traditionally translated "living soul" but more properly understood as "living creature," is the same word used for all breathing creatures and refers to nothing immortal...All the dead go down to Sheol, and there they lie in sleep together–whether good or evil, rich or poor, slave or free (Job 3:11-19). It is described as a region "dark and deep," "the Pit," and "the land of forgetfulness," cut off from both God and human life above (Pss. 6:5; 88:3-12). Though in some texts Yahweh's power can reach down to Sheol (Ps. 139:8), the dominant idea is that the dead are abandoned forever. This idea of Sheol is negative in contrast to the world of life and light above, but there is no idea of judgment or of reward and punishment. If one faces extreme circumstances of suffering in the realm of the living above, as did Job, it can even be seen as a welcome relief from pain–see the third chapter of Job. But basically it is a kind of "nothingness," an existence that is barely existence at all, in which a "shadow" or "shade" of the former self survives (Ps. 88:10).

Professor Harris shares similar remarks in his Understanding the Bible: "The concept of eternal punishment does not occur in the Hebrew Bible, which uses the term Sheol to designate a bleak subterranean region where the dead, good and bad alike, subsist only as impotent shadows. When Hellenistic Jewish scribes rendered the Bible into Greek, they used the word Hades to translate Sheol, bringing a whole new mythological association to the idea of posthumous existence. In ancient Greek myth, Hades, named after the gloomy deity who ruled over it, was originally similar to the Hebrew Sheol, a dark underground realm in which all the dead, regardless of individual merit, were indiscriminately housed. While some believers in the Bible think that it contains one doctrine of Hell (regardless of what they think about the nature of Hell), Harris and nontheists may view the doctrine as changing throughout the Bible.

By the time of Jesus, many Jews had come to believe in a future resurrection of the dead. The dead in Sheol were said to await the resurrection either in comfort or in torment, as in the story of Lazarus and Dives.

In popular culture

In the The Wheel of Time book series by Robert Jordan, Shayol Ghul is a giant black mountain in which lies the Pit Of Doom ; an otherworldly place where the Dark One is closest to touching the world and his presence can be most keenly felt.

Sheol is the name of an album by Swedish blackened-death metal band Naglfar.

In the Robert A. Heinlein science fiction novel Starship Troopers, Sheol is also the name of an Arachnid colony planet, decimated by a Terran military attack. Likewise in the Walter Jon Williams novel Voice of the Whirlwind, Sheol is the name of a planet on which a terrible war is waged.

In the book Memnoch the Devil by Anne Rice Sheol is a name given to the realm where the spirits of the dead go, should they not be worthy to go to Heaven. This land is turned into Hell by Memnoch as a way to show these souls the error of their ways so that they may pass on into Heaven and so that he can end the suffering of the human race and return to God himself.

Cordwainer Smith used the variant spelling "Shayol" for the Instrumentality of Mankind's prison planet, a world in which humans exposed to the native microbial life would begin growing additional limbs and organs, all the while experiencing horrific pain. These organs would then be harvested for transplantation, which was seen as a restitution for their crimes. Eventually, after a pair of children were wrongfully sent there to be imprisoned, the underpeople serving as jailors rebelled, and the prisoners were released from their punishment.

Sheol is the name of an asteroid mining base referred to in the user manual's plot foreword for the computer game Wing Commander: Privateer.

In the Fury3/Hellbender game universe, "red sheol" is a mineral, the "isomorphic decay" of which can be used to attract wormholes for faster than light travel. In Fury3, it is found on the planet Ares, the setting of one of the game's missions.

At Regent's Park College, the Baptist Permanent Private Hall at the University of Oxford, the subterranean complex comprising a laundry and bathrooms is amusingly known as Sheol.

Sheol is the name of one of the Ravers in the series of books, The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, by Stephen Donaldson.

Sheol is the name of one of the TimeKeeper Demons in the series of books, The Wayfarer Redemption by Sara Douglass.

In the MMORPG Anarchy Online, there is a massive area called "Scheol" in the Shadowlands, an alternate universe that is slowly degrading into nothingness.

In the Hellboy comics collection, Strange Places, Hellboy's father is described as a "Prince of Sheol".

Sheol is also the name of a San Francisco bay area rock band.

On the back cover of the Megadeth album, United Abominations, Vic Rattlehead is carrying a ring of keys; one reads death, one reads Hades, and one reads Sheol.

In the Christian youth fantasy series Dragons In Our Midst, Sheol contains seven circles, the last of which is Hades.

In a Season 2 episode of Transformers, Smokescreen bargains for his friends' lives in a town on a bleak asteroid, and the town is named Sheol.

Sheol is also referred to in the John Constantine:Hellblazer book Subterranean. in on of the chapters one of the characters refers to the underworld: "some call it Shambala, some call it Sheol"

Shores of Sheol is an Austrian one-man black metal project by Marko Köfler.

The protagonist of Walter Jon Williams' novel Voice of the Whirlwind is the clone of a man who fought a brutal war on an alien planet named Sheol. The planet was named for its devastating winter storms, though it appeared paradisical during the warm seasons.

In the RPG In Nomine, Shoel is principality of hell. Specficly it belongs to Belial the prince of Fire. It's described as hell's only volcano (it's about the size of Mt. everest)

See also

Notes

References

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External links

  • Sheol entry in Jewish Encyclopedia

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