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.)

  • 5
    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
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 13:47
  • At some point I would have rendered this Valley of Hinnom as utter death and destruction (leaning on Jeremiah' words in ch. 7 of his book). But now it begins to seem silly to me. The whole issue is an annoying one. It annoys me greatly.
    – hannes
    Commented Apr 16, 2013 at 22:20
  • 4
    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
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 6:17
  • 1
    Hi Dan, I would be interested to learn how you would translate.
    – hannes
    Commented Apr 18, 2013 at 18:12
  • 1
    OK @hannes - I offered my thoughts.
    – Dan
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 15:02

3 Answers 3


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.


As with many other scriptures, maybe we have all been incorrectly taught the traditions of men regarding "hell". Sheol, translated as "hell" in the KJV is equated with "death" in the couplet of 2 Sam. 22:6,

"The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me;" (KJV)

"Sheol" is Strong's Hebrew 7585 and according to Brown-Driver-Briggs means the underworld, or the condition of the wicked who are consumed or waste away, and also as a place of the deep or a pit. Source: here

Making connections from the scriptures:

Josh. 18:16, in describing the land still to be allotted to seven of the tribes of Israel,

"And the border came down to the end of the mountain that lieth before the valley of the son of Hinnom, and which is in the valley of the giants on the north, and descended to the valley of Hinnom, to the side of Jebusi on the south, and descended to Enrogel," (KJV)

The valley of the giants, whom Caleb slew and was then granted their land for his portion, was also called the valley of the Rephaim.

Josh. 14:12-15, Caleb reminding Joshua of God's promise -

"12 Now therefore give me this mountain, whereof the LORD spake in that day; for thou heardest in that day how the Anakims were there, and that the cities were great and fenced: if so be the LORD will be with me, then I shall be able to drive them out, as the LORD said.

13 And Joshua blessed him, and gave unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh Hebron for an inheritance.

14 Hebron therefore became the inheritance of Caleb the son of Jephunneh the Kenezite unto this day, because that he wholly followed the LORD God of Israel.

15 And the name of Hebron before was Kirjatharba; which Arba was a great man among the Anakims. And the land had rest from war."

Josh. 15:8,

" and the border hath gone up the valley of the son of Hinnom, unto the side of the Jebusite on the south (it [is] Jerusalem), and the border hath gone up unto the top of the hill-country which [is] on the front of the valley of Hinnom westward, which [is] in the extremity of the valley of the Rephaim northward;" (YLT)

Josh 15:13-14,

"13 And unto Caleb the son of Jephunneh he gave a part among the children of Judah, according to the commandment of the LORD to Joshua, even the city of Arba the father of Anak, which city is Hebron.

14 And Caleb drove thence the three sons of Anak, Sheshai, and Ahiman, and Talmai, the children of Anak." (KJV)

The sons of Anak, the Anakim, were giants. The land of Hebron -the same as Kirjatharba - was previously held by the Anakim.

Deu. 2:10-11,

"10 `The Emim formerly have dwelt in it, a people great, and numerous, and tall, as the Anakim;

11 Rephaim they are reckoned, they also, as the Anakim; and the Moabites call them Emim." (YLT)

The Rephaim were as tall as the Anakim, and were also called the Emim by the Moabites, and Zamzummim by the Ammonites (Deu. 2:20)

The valley of the giants, the valley of the Rephaim was a land of slaughter and pagan sacrifice. The valley of the Rephaim was also where many battles with the Philistines were fought. (S Sam. 5:18, 22; 23:13; 1 Chron. 11:15, 14:9).

It was a place of destruction and death.

References to the Rephaim became known as speaking of the dead. The giants had been slaughtered, and the use of that name became known for those who had died and been wiped out, desolated, destroyed. The Rephaim was symbolic of the state of dead and destroyed souls.

As the valley of Hinnom (the valley of the giants) had begun as a place of fire and burning and slaughter of the wicked, then reference of gehenna is to the slaughter, the act of desolation and ultimate destruction.

From "The Fires of Gehenna: View of Scholars" by Todd Bolen,

"The first is Edward Robinson, preeminent explorer of the Holy Land beginning in 1838. He wrote: “In these gardens, lying partly within the mouth of Hinnom and partly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and irrigated by the waters of Siloam, Jerome assigns the place of Tophet; where the Jews practised the horrid rites of Baal and Moloch, and ‘burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.’ It was probably in allusion to this detested and abominable fire, that the later Jews applied the name of this valley (Gehenna), to denote the place of future punishment or the fires of hell. At least there is no evidence of any other fires having been kept up in the valley; as has sometimes been supposed” (Biblical Researches, vol. 1 [1841], 404-5).

The origin of the “garbage dump” theory appears to be Kimchi. James A. Montgomery observes this medieval commentator’s logic, but does not accept it.

“With the common sense which often characterizes Jewish commentators, Kimchi says that the place was the dump of the city, where fires were always kept burning to destroy the refuse; ‘therefore the judgment of the wicked is parabolically called Gehenna.’ But from the Biblical references the place appears to have nothing physically objectionable about it; in contrast to its contemporary condition Jeremiah prophesied that it would one day be called ‘Valley of Slaughter’” (“The Holy City and Gehenna,” JBL 27/1 [1908], 34)." Source: here

The focus, then, was of destruction; not continual torment - but permanent destruction. This is as the Holy Spirit used it in Isa. 17:5 concerning the destruction of Damascus:

" And it shall be as when the harvestman gathereth the corn, and reapeth the ears with his arm; and it shall be as he that gathereth ears in the valley of Rephaim." (YLT)

The valley of the Rephaim, or the valley of the giants, or the valley of Hinnom, or the valley of slaughter, or Gehenna. They were all the same place; the place of destruction.

Rev. 21:8,

" But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." (KJV)

Matt. 10:28,

" `And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna." (YLT)

The second death equals Gehenna.

Jude 1:7,

" Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire." (KJV)

Fire was always a symbol of God's judgment (Deu. 4:24; 32:22; Ezek. 38:19; Jer. 21:12; Heb. 12:29).

Lam. 2:4,

" He hath bent his bow like an enemy: he stood with his right hand as an adversary, and slew all that were pleasant to the eye in the tabernacle of the daughter of Zion: he poured out his fury like fire." (KJV)

All of the references to fire in the NT is the symbol of God's judgment. God's judgment is the first association we should make with the word "fire". The never ceasing fire, the eternal fire is symbolic of God's never-ceasing and eternal judgment. Once He pronounces judgment it is an eternal judgment, and cannot be undone.

So, as His fire / judgment is permanent, then those condemned to the second death have been permanently destroyed by the fire of God's judgment.

The traditional teaching of most churches that "hell" is a place of eternal torment is not hermeneutically sound. As the first death is a separation of the soul from the body, the second death is everlasting separation of the soul from God. It does not mean it is a state of permanent torment, although He will do whatever He decides with the condemned soul.

Once that sentence of judgment has been pronounced the separation is permanent / eternally and forever determined. The sentence of judgment is the eternal state / condition. What happens to that soul afterward ...we don't know. That is up to God. He mentions "outer darkness" in Matt. 22:13, and "mist of darkness" in 2 Pet. 2:17.

Everlasting death, everlasting separation is a state of darkness where there is no light. As nothing can live without light, the second death may very well indicate the permanent destruction of the condemned soul.

Rev. 21:23-24,

" And the city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof. 24 And the nations of them which are saved shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth do bring their glory and honour into it." (KJV)

There is more scripture regarding the giants in a post at my blog - "Giants: Rephaim, Zamzummin, Emim, Anakim, Nephilim, Zuzim" here.

You may also be interested in the judgment language of God discussed in Parts III & VI of "It's Not The End of The World" here and here.

(All bold emphasis is mine.)

  • Is Jesus' teaching that hell is were the flames are not ever quenched and the worm dies not sound or not? Commented Jun 16, 2019 at 21:27
  • The literal view of an eternal PLACE of torment misses what is eternally existing.... the fire, which is a metaphor for God's judgment. the lake of fire is the process of God's judgment, and the sentence He pronounces on the wicked. Only those in Christ are promised eternal life & that only exists in heaven. Those judged unworthy are cast out into the mist of darkness (Matt. 22:13; 2 Pet. 2:17). Being cast out, they r eternally judged, everlastingly condemned. Some will say their souls are destroyed in that process. See my post The Lake of Fire at shreddingtheveil.org.
    – Gina
    Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 15:23
  • Jesus is only teaching the Jewish doctrine on hell: "Woe be to the nation that riseth up against my people: for the Lord almighty will take revenge on them, in the day of judgment he will visit them. For he will give fire, and worms into their flesh, that they may burn, and may feel for ever" (Judith 16:20-21). You must understand that what you are proposing is an interpretive step away from the surface meaning of a lake of fire that burns forever, and a place prepared for the devil and his angels not to be destroyed, but to suffer, hence them not wanting to be sent back to hell in the Gospels Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 16:40
  • The book of Judith is not considered scripture. Apocrypha /pseudepigrapha thought to have beeen written circa 2nd cent BC... expressing Jewish thought does not make it scripture. Christ shot down many Jewish beliefs in His ministry. What burns forever is God's judgment. Fire was a metaphor for God's fury & judgment. Pls read my post to see more.
    – Gina
    Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 18:33
  • Not considered Scripture by Protestants... Commented Jun 17, 2019 at 19:34

Gehenna in the Gospels may have carried implications of afterlife torment, but not "forever" torment.

Jesus may have been playing to superstition, since both major Jewish schools of Jesus' day (Shammai and Hillel) believed it to be a place of purging from sin 3-12 months. Only a very few - the most reprobate - would eventually be annihilated.1

Jesus' use of Gehenna mirrored Jeremiah's warnings of Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC. The same was coming at the hands of Rome in 70AD.

Ref: Hart, David Brentley, The New Testament: A Translation, 2017, Oxford University Press p 545

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