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Transliteration vs. Translation vs.Travesty vs. Allegory

Gehenna or Valley of Hinnom or Djennem or Hell?

Through the prophecy and book of Jeremiah the Valley of Hinnom (ge hinnom) east of Jerusalem became a synonym for a place of curse and death and destruction. In the Aramaic targumim it was then added as explanatory to texts like the last verse of the earlier book of Isaiah (fire and decomposition). The meaning then seemed to have changed in the course of time so that an apokryphal (fairy-tale type) book of Judith (16:17) speaks of torment and eternal howling with pain, which is quite different from that original meaning with Jeremiah (ch.7) and Isaiah (ch.66). In the interpretation of the Greek books of Matthew, Luke, Mark, which used (in parts) Aramaic/Hebrew as source language, Later church commentators and teachers obviously were more inclined towards an understanding that - in terms of natural justice and human sense - went far beyond the goodness of the average sensible person - in the opposite direction. Is - after all - the parable told by Christ about the self-infatuated and content rich pious man not rightly to be viewed rather as a sharp and cutting parodism than as a parable in the narrow sense of the word? In order to conclude: How can a valley with such a clearly depicted significance like that of Hinnom (respectively of his sons) end up as we find it still in our days and bibles: a hell of a cruelty worse than all Nazi and Stalin and any terror you could name and think of? Neither Paul nor Moses seem to know anything of that sort of device God supposedly contrieved against enemies of his. Was this the task of the Son of Man: to correct the prophets in their misled mildness (i.e. merely curse and death after disadvantageous judgement) and teach and inspire the wording of the Quran, which did not fail to leave nothing to doubt about the meaning of dschehennem in the centuries to come after bringing to an end the curse of the law. For the purpose of liberty for churches and bible translators to teach after their own pleasure? The law certainly seemed too weak to some to be taught as a standard of justice against perpetrators, especially for such ones of the stature of a Calvin in Geneva or a Luther in Germany and certain popes before and after them?

How would a sensible translation of the (in Greek merely transliterated from Aramaic/Hebrew) Valley of Hinnom term this place and put its significance (better than the traditional one)?

The question is a hermeneutic and interpretatory one: Can we know today what the notion and his meaning was when Jesus according to Matthew 5:22 (compare verses 29, 30) spoke the judgement of (Aramaic/Hebrew) ge henna /ge hinnom against a hateful offender? Did he think in terms far beyond Law and Prophets or in accordance with them (assuming they do not talk of our antique, medieval, modern hell)? The question may seem ridiculous.(Flavius Josephus writes that Pharisaic religion and thought was inclined towards eternal things like soul and judgement, the latter more for others.It may have seemed ridiculous to them as well, but not to everyone's pleasure.)

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Thank you. I tried my best. – hannes Apr 16 '13 at 5:48
Even after your edits, I am rather confused by what your issue is here. Most of this doesn't seem to be a question so much as a ramble through philosophical and doctrinal issues. Perhaps you could start over with an edit that just features the text and word issue you would like to see analyzed and possibly shown some interpretations for? – Caleb Apr 16 '13 at 13:47
I'm intrigued by this question, but I'm not sure I understand it entirely. You seem to answer your own question. I can definitely help you understand the terms (גהנום/גהנם / γέεννα), but I want to make sure that's what you're looking for before attempting. – Dan Apr 18 '13 at 6:17
Hi Dan, I would be interested to learn how you would translate. – hannes Apr 18 '13 at 18:12
OK @hannes - I offered my thoughts. – Dan Apr 30 '13 at 15:02

As you've pointed out, Gehenna (γέεννα) is just a transliteration of the Hebrew for "Valley of Hinnom" (גֵּי הִנֹּם) and the Aramaic for the same (גֵיהִנָּם / ܓܗܢܐ). The NET translators point out,

This was the valley along the south side of Jerusalem. In OT times it was used for human sacrifices to the pagan god Molech (cf. Jer 7:31; 19:5–6; 32:35), and it came to be used as a place where human excrement and rubbish were disposed of and burned. In the intertestamental period, it came to be used symbolically as the place of divine punishment (cf. 1 En. 27:2, 90:26; 4 Ezra 7:36).

Hebrew Bible

The Valley of Hinnom, more commonly the "Valley of the Son(s) of Hinnom," is located just outside Jerusalem. It shows up in the Tanakh as the place where followers of pagan Gods sacrificed their children by fire ("passed their sons through fire"). For instance, 2 Chronicles 28:3 (NET):

[Ahaz] offered sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and passed his sons through the fire, a horrible sin practiced by the nations whom the Lord drove out before the Israelites.

It appears again in 2 Chronicles 33 (vv. 1-6, NET):

Manasseh ... set up altars for the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the stars in the sky and worshiped them.... He passed his sons through the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and practiced divination, omen reading, and sorcery. He set up a ritual pit to conjure up underworld spirits and appointed magicians to supervise it. He did a great amount of evil in the sight of the Lord and angered him.

It appears elsewhere as well (2 Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31; 19:2-6 and some other places). In Jeremiah 19:4-6, a possible prophecy is made:

Because the people have forsaken me and have profaned this place by making offerings in it to other gods whom neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah have known; and because they have filled this place with the blood of innocents, and have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as burnt offerings to Baal, which I did not command or decree, nor did it come into my mind—therefore, behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when this place shall no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.

According to the Jewish Encyclopedia, "'Gehenna' therefore soon became a figurative equivalent for 'hell.'" The word also shows up frequently in the Aramaic Targums in reference to the fate of the wicked in the afterlife (source).

New Testament

The Christian New Testament scriptures contain 12 references to γέεννα (Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6). Of these, 11 are spoken directly by Jesus Christ with an obvious emphasis on final punishment.

Translation Proposals

My personal preference is just to transliterate the word into English as "Gehenna." However, I think it would also be appropriate to translate this word as "hell" (note that I do not believe "Hades"/"Sheol" should be translated as "hell"). Gehenna would be the one term that truly captures what comes to mind when English speakers use the term "hell" (torment after death). Even so, to avoid confusion with modern Western notions of 'hell' it may be best to transliterate this.

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@GoneQuiet good point. I was playing off of the idea of the 'second death' being equated with Ge Hinnom in Isaiah (which only comes out in the Aramaic Targums), but I didn't really clarify this connection. To me it was apparent that Ge Ben Hinnom came to represent something figuratively, i.e. something divinely erected. But this is why "Gehenna" is my first choice (a direct transliteration). – Dan Apr 30 '13 at 15:01

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