A couple of weeks ago I began a series about hell. In part 1
of the discussion I gave a brief overview of the topic of hell in the Old Testament. I concluded that there is no explicit mention of hell in the OT and that any attempt to identify Sheol
with hell would be futile. Today I want to take a brief look at the topic of hell in the Second Temple Period. Again, I am not a biblical scholar, so if you find some gaps in my scholarship, please contribute to the discussion below and let us know your thoughts.
As I have already mentioned, in the Hebrew Bible (OT), hell, in the way that many modern western Christians conceive of it, is simply unknown. We do not find a fiery place of torment where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. What we do find in the Old Testament is the grave. God is the one who lives in heaven and human beings live on earth. When a human being dies, in the OT, they go into the depths of the earth. It does appear that the person continues to exist in some way, but they do not go to heaven or hell, at least not in the minds of early Jewish writers. Things begin to shift, however, when we arrive at the Second Temple Period (roughly 200 b.c. – 200 a.d.). In and around this era, the Jewish people have been exasperated by empires and persecuting rulers. Having recently been freed from exile, the Jewish people found themselves under the attack of Alexander the Great then Antiochus IV Epiphanes, and finally the Roman Empire. In the Second Temple Period (hereafter 2TP), the Jewish writers are often seen trying to make sense of the world around them. In 1 Enoch we read of fallen angels from Genesis 6, who slept with human women and bore hybrid offspring who would continue to torment the earth while their parents (the angels) were subjected to punishment. In a book called Jubilees we find a similar story of angelic beings disobeying God and bearing hybrid offspring who tempted the faithful under the rule of a leader named Mastema (or Satan). In both of these stories, the offspring of these fallen angels appear to be the cause of evil in the world and the reason that the Jewish people are continually tormented. Read the rest of this entry »