Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Fire and the Bible, sacrifices and Gehenna

There are some excellent and thought provoking points on fire worship from an anonymous writer in wikipedia pointing also at the connection between the God of Israel and His people through burnt offerings, holocaust.

Semitic religions
Fire is an element of theophany in the Hebrew Bible's burning bush, pillar of fire, and the Eternal flame of the Menorah.

The highest form of sacrifice is the Korban Olah, performed twice-daily, which is an animal sacrifice completely consumed by fire.

In the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is manifested as "tongues of flame".

The Qarmatians, a branch of Ismailism (in turn a branch of Shia Islam) claimed to have found the Mahdi in the 10th century and appointed him caliph, but later deposed him because of an ensuing power struggle. Among his so-called heretical beliefs were fire worship and book burning of religious texts.

Holy fire in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem has been consecutively documented since 1106 A.D. It is considered by many to be the longest-attested annual miracle in the Christian world.

End of the world fires
Bible contains references to significant cosmological fires that in New Testament letters have the meaning of ultimate destruction of this world before the creation of a new world of justice.

The Book of Revelations has an eternal lake of fire as the ultimate punishment of the Evil.

Mostly in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says that in the coming life some people will be thrown out into Gehenna. There was a Gehenna in Herodian period Jerusalem, a burning place for garbage in the deep valley on the southern side of Jerusalem, Gae Bne Hinnom, the Valley of the sons of Hinnom, from which the Greek word Gehenna.

It has been told that Gehenna was a detested place because of the bad smell from rotten garbage, fires and smoke and also the fact that criminal's bodies were thrown there after execution covered only by lime.

The Gehenna in the language of Jesus is thus not a very cosmic place in the structure of the Universe but the word has a rather local Jerusalem based meaning from which it may have, of course, expanded to include spiritual realities.

During the First Crusade it was said that it took some six months to burn the bodies in the Valley of Gehenna of the victims from the slaughter of conquered Jerusalem in 1099 AD.


  1. "It has been popularly said that the Lord Jesus borrowed the imagery of Gehenna from a perpetually lit rubbish dump outside Jerusalem that was used for consuming the cities rubbish and even to destroy the godless. It is understood that such graphic imagery would have helped Jesus to convey what the end-time judgment will be like. Apparently this idea was first written about in a commentary by a Rabbi by the name of David Kimhi who lived around A.D. 1200.
    However, this notion of Gehenna as a perpetual rubbish dump has been contested by some notable scholars. Herman Strack & Paul Billerbeck, scholars of Judaism and its related writings, state that there is neither archaeological nor literary evidence to support this claim in either the early intertestamental literature or later rabbinic sources. In 1986 Lloyd R. Bailey in his book “The Topography of Hell” came to the same conclusion." quoted from http://www.afterlife.co.nz/2012/theology/tracing-the-road-to-gehenna/

  2. Thank you for your comment!
    The name Gehenna itself is considered a Koinee Greek form of Aramaic ge-hinnom, the Valley of Hinnom. In the Torah it is Gai Ben Hinnom.
    The Valley of Ben Hinnom where children were burned alive as sacrifices to Moloch. This Phoenician religious practice abhorred by other nations and strictly condemned in the Bible has been studied by American archaeologists excavating the Phoenician layers of Carthage. Talmud has Gehinnom.
    For more information on the etymology see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gehenna