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The Burning Garbage Dump of Gehenna is a myth


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#1 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 09:48 PM

I've long accepted (without checking - shame on me) the argument that in NT Jerusalem, the valley of Hinnom contained a permanently burning garbage dump, and lay behind the use of Gehenna as a metaphor for complete and total destruction. One theologian who works for Baker Book House notes that the evidence for this is meagre at best and likewise appears to have accepted this argument. When he did research it, he found that things weren't necessarily so:



So imagine my complete shock when I stumbled across this passage from an article by Peter Head:

“Gehenna is presented as diametrically opposed to ‘life’: it is better to enter life than to go to Gehenna. . .It is common practice, both in scholarly and less technical works, to associate the description of Gehenna with the supposedly contemporary garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom. This association often leads scholars to emphasize the destructive aspects of the judgment here depicted: fire burns until the object is completely consumed. Two particular problems may be noted in connection with this approach. First, there is no convincing evidence in the primary sources for the existence of a fiery rubbish dump in this location (in any case, a thorough investigation would be appreciated). Secondly, the significant background to this passage more probably lies in Jesus’ allusion to Isaiah 66:24.” (“The Duration of Divine Judgment in the New Testament” in The Reader Must Understand edited by K. Brower and M. W. Ellion, p. 223, emphasis mine)

What?! Surely he’s wrong. He’s a lone voice contradicting all my study Bibles. How can he be right? But then I realized that in all my reading about this garbage dump no one ever provided any supporting documentation. So I dug a little further and found this from G. R. Beasley-Murray in Jesus and the Kingdom of God:

“Ge-Hinnom (Aramaic Ge-hinnam, hence the Greek Geenna), ‘The Valley of Hinnom,’ lay south of Jerusalem, immediately outside its walls. The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi (sic) made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source.” (p. 376n.92)

And consider this from an article from the journal Bibliotheca Sacra

“The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13 (ca. A.D. 1200). He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources (Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. [Munich: Beck, 1922-56], 4:2:1030). Also a more recent author holds a similar view (Lloyd R. Bailey, “Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archeologist 49 [1986]: 189. (p. 328n.17)

I don’t know about you but this is enough to cause me to seriously doubt the garbage dump theory. At the very least one of the many study Bibles or commentaries could say that the theory is seriously doubted. Only one or two commentaries that I consulted even noted that there was any doubt as to the validity of the theory.


Looks convincing to me. I'll place that common belief in the 'not proven' basket.

HT: BiblePlaces blog


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#2 Russell

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 10:41 PM

I've long accepted (without checking - shame on me) the argument that in NT Jerusalem, the valley of Hinnom contained a permanently burning garbage dump, and lay behind the use of Gehenna as a metaphor for complete and total destruction. One theologian who works for Baker Book House notes that the evidence for this is meagre at best and likewise appears to have accepted this argument. When he did research it, he found that things weren't necessarily so:



So imagine my complete shock when I stumbled across this passage from an article by Peter Head:

“Gehenna is presented as diametrically opposed to ‘life’: it is better to enter life than to go to Gehenna. . .It is common practice, both in scholarly and less technical works, to associate the description of Gehenna with the supposedly contemporary garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom. This association often leads scholars to emphasize the destructive aspects of the judgment here depicted: fire burns until the object is completely consumed. Two particular problems may be noted in connection with this approach. First, there is no convincing evidence in the primary sources for the existence of a fiery rubbish dump in this location (in any case, a thorough investigation would be appreciated). Secondly, the significant background to this passage more probably lies in Jesus’ allusion to Isaiah 66:24.” (“The Duration of Divine Judgment in the New Testament” in The Reader Must Understand edited by K. Brower and M. W. Ellion, p. 223, emphasis mine)

What?! Surely he’s wrong. He’s a lone voice contradicting all my study Bibles. How can he be right? But then I realized that in all my reading about this garbage dump no one ever provided any supporting documentation. So I dug a little further and found this from G. R. Beasley-Murray in Jesus and the Kingdom of God:

“Ge-Hinnom (Aramaic Ge-hinnam, hence the Greek Geenna), ‘The Valley of Hinnom,’ lay south of Jerusalem, immediately outside its walls. The notion, still referred to by some commentators, that the city’s rubbish was burned in this valley, has no further basis than a statement by the Jewish scholar Kimchi (sic) made about A.D. 1200; it is not attested in any ancient source.” (p. 376n.92)

And consider this from an article from the journal Bibliotheca Sacra

“The traditional explanation that a burning rubbish heap in the Valley of Hinnom south of Jerusalem gave rise to the idea of a fiery Gehenna of judgment is attributed to Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27:13 (ca. A.D. 1200). He maintained that in this loathsome valley fires were kept burning perpetually to consume the filth and cadavers thrown into it. However, Strack and Billerbeck state that there is neither archeological nor literary evidence in support of this claim, in either the earlier intertestamental or the later rabbinic sources (Hermann L. Strack and Paul Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud and Midrasch, 5 vols. [Munich: Beck, 1922-56], 4:2:1030). Also a more recent author holds a similar view (Lloyd R. Bailey, “Gehenna: The Topography of Hell,” Biblical Archeologist 49 [1986]: 189. (p. 328n.17)

I don’t know about you but this is enough to cause me to seriously doubt the garbage dump theory. At the very least one of the many study Bibles or commentaries could say that the theory is seriously doubted. Only one or two commentaries that I consulted even noted that there was any doubt as to the validity of the theory.


Looks convincing to me. I'll place that common belief in the 'not proven' basket.

HT: BiblePlaces blog



Is this fair comment?

Some ancient writers claim a fire was continuously burning there in the first century, and was used to destroy rubbish and the bodies of executed criminals. Whether or not this is the case, the name of the Valley of Hinnom came to be despised.


Edited by Russell, 15 April 2011 - 10:43 PM.


#3 Ken Gilmore

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Posted 15 April 2011 - 11:10 PM

Is this fair comment?

Some ancient writers claim a fire was continuously burning there in the first century, and was used to destroy rubbish and the bodies of executed criminals. Whether or not this is the case, the name of the Valley of Hinnom came to be despised.


It's a measured comment, which acknowledges that the existence of a constantly burning garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom may or may not be true. I'd argue its a fair comment.



“I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason, and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” - Galileo Galilei

#4 Fortigurn

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 12:18 AM

I've long accepted (without checking - shame on me) the argument that in NT Jerusalem, the valley of Hinnom contained a permanently burning garbage dump, and lay behind the use of Gehenna as a metaphor for complete and total destruction. One theologian who works for Baker Book House notes that the evidence for this is meagre at best and likewise appears to have accepted this argument. When he did research it, he found that things weren't necessarily so:


Yep, I found this out when I read Bailey's article 'Gehenna: The Topography of Hell' in BibSac (cited in the Hildebrandt article your source quotes). I thought we had thrashed this out earlier actually. Good to see an example of research done properly.

#5 Mercia2

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 04:11 PM

Just wondering, has anyone asked someone who believes in the pagan idea of hell here what their explanation for death and the grave being cast in to it? Never actually had this discussion with any of them.
"If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” = "Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?" = "Bless the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, thou art very great; thou art clothed with honour and majesty. Who maketh His angels spirits; his ministers a flaming fire" Psalms (104:1) = "They saw what seemed to be flames of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them." Acts 2 - the secret is over, your ministering angel you need to be saved is the Holy Spirit.

Who Is the Holy Spirit?
http://www.btdf.org/forums/topic/20950-holy-spirit-mercia/

Mark Of The Beast - his Name is the charachter/image of the medievil popes (now modern man)
http://www.btdf.org/forums/topic/4997-mark-of-the-beast/page__pid__439951__st__120#entry439951

Historicists - Dual Fulfillment (seven thunders = more literal warning)
http://www.btdf.org/forums/topic/14248-historicists-revelation-has-a-dual-fulfillment/

#6 daysha

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 05:23 PM

Spam. Can't moderate it as I'm not at home and on my iPhone!

Would another type of latest phone allow you to action spam? I'm currently on the look-out for a new phone to replace my oldie. :)
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#7 daysha

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Posted 16 April 2011 - 05:30 PM

I've long accepted (without checking - shame on me) the argument that in NT Jerusalem, the valley of Hinnom contained a permanently burning garbage dump, and lay behind the use of Gehenna as a metaphor for complete and total destruction.

So'd I.

Looks convincing to me. I'll place that common belief in the 'not proven' basket.

:thank: for that post Ken. Same here too.
Reminds me of "...prove all things..." and "...searched the Scriptures...".

I wonder how many other loads of things I take for granted because someone told me and I didn't at the time have the means/resources nor maturity of age to check stuff out for myself? :book:
Do all to the glory of God. Read His word prayerfully, think about it, meditate upon it and do.

#8 Evangelion

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 09:38 AM

Ken, if the evidence against the "burning rubbish dump" interpretation is ironclad, I have to ask why the NET footnotes still support it.

:confused:
'Abba Antony said, "A time is coming when men will go mad, and when they see someone who is not mad, they will attack him saying, 'You are mad, you are not like us.'"'

Ward, Benedicta. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers (2006), Antony 25, p. 5.

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#9 Fortigurn

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 09:46 AM

Many commentaries still contain this information. It's a matter of diffusion, and this information hasn't diffused fully yet.

#10 luke

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 03:54 PM

There were a few of conversations about this on the old forum, with Soxy leading the way:
1. http://www.btdf.org/...-and-ezekiel-39
2. http://www.btdf.org/...ic/9827-gehenna
3. http://www.btdf.org/...oenician-sicily

Edited by Flappie, 19 April 2011 - 04:32 PM.
Changed links to BTDF


#11 Flappie

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 04:33 PM

Luke, they are available on this forum, so I've changed the links :)
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#12 daysha

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 08:14 PM

:confused: So who's right then? Was there or wasn't there such a rubbish dump at gehenna just outside of Jerusalem? Would Bro. Ritmeyer perhaps know?
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#13 Fortigurn

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Posted 19 April 2011 - 08:18 PM

:confused: So who's right then? Was there or wasn't there such a rubbish dump at gehenna just outside of Jerusalem? Would Bro. Ritmeyer perhaps know?


The point is that there's no evidence for such a dump earlier than the Medieval era. Brother Ritmeyer may have more information.




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