This recent question asked about the Hebrew word Sheol: https://christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/79582/does-the-old-testament-word-sheol-have-greek-or-hebrew-origins

My question is about a seeming difference in interpretation of Isaiah 5:14 with regard to "Hell" and "the Grave":

"Therefore hell hath enlarged herself, and opened her mouth without measure: and their glory and their multitude, their pomp and he that rejoiceth, shall descend into it." (Authorised Version)

"Therefore the grave enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revellers." (New International Version)

"Therefore She'ol has made its soul spacious and has opened its mouth wide beyond bounds; and what is splendid in her, also her crowd and her uproar and the exultant one will certainly go down into it." (New World Translation)

Is the Hebrew word qe'ver used here, or is it Sheol?

Does Qe'ver refer to "Hell" or does it mean "the place of the dead" or "the grave" which is where dead bodies go?


3 Answers 3


An intriguing point about the Hebrew word qe’ver is that it can refer to either a singular grave, or to many graves. But the Hebrew word she’ohl’ always has to be singular. There is only one she’ohl’, but while there can be one individual qe’ver, there can also be many of them. Finding out why there is only ever one she’ohl’ is revealing as to explaining the difference in meaning between the two words, and what they speak of. They do not mean the same thing although the words you mention seem to be interchangeable in many places in the Hebrew scriptures. In the following quote, note why it is admitted that qe’ver can be used as parallel to she’ohl’, but it is not equivalent to she’ohl’:

"The Hebrew word qe'ver is the common word used to designate a burial place, a grave, or a graveyard. (Ge 23:7-9; Jer 8:1; 26:23) The related word qevurah' similarly may refer to an earthen grave or to a tomb excavated in rock. - Ge 35:20; 1 Sa 10:2 In Greek the common word for grave is ta'phos (Mt 28:1), and the verb form (tha'pto) means 'bury'. (Mt 8:21,22)... Since these Hebrew and Greek words refer to an individual burial place or grave site, they are often used in the plural as referring to many such graves. They are, therefore, distinct from the Hebrew she'ohl' and its Greek equivalent hai'des... Nevertheless, since one's entry into Sheol is represented as taking place through burial in an individual grave or at a burial site, words pertaining to such places of interment are used as parallel though not equivalent terms with Sheol." (Insight On The Scriptures Vol. 1 pages 994-5 Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, 1988)

One way of expressing this unequivalent parallelism would be to say that the grave was the entry point into she'ohl' so that the two are bound together, yet distinct. That, basically, is why different translations of the Hebrew scriptures at Isaiah 5:14 say either ‘place of the dead’ or ‘the grave’. Saying ‘hell’ can be a bit misleading, however.

“There is no English word that conveys the precise sense of the Hebrew word she'ohl'. Commenting on the use of the word ‘hell’ in Bible translation, Collier’s Encyclopedia (1986, Vol. 12, p. 28) says, “Since Sheol in Old Testament times referred simply to the abode of the dead and suggested no moral distinctions, the word ‘hell’, as understood today, is not a happy translation.” More recent versions transliterate the word into English as “Sheol”. – RS, AT, NW. (Insight On The Scriptures Vol. 2 page 992 Watchtower Bible & Tract Society, 1988)

Sheol is never used in the plural but 'graves' can be plural and singular. Qe’ber is used in the plural 29 times.

Sheol is never used to say bodies go there - not even bones - but they body goes to qe’ber 37 times.

Sheol is never said to be near the surface of the ground, as is a grave, but qe’ber is located on or near the face of the earth 32 times.

Sheol is never used as in this made-up sentence "There is Joseph's grave." But that's just how qe’ber is used, 44 times.

Sheol is never used about a dead person being put in, or laid in it. But a dead body is put in the qe’ber 33 times (1 Kings 13:30).

Sheol is never described as being dug, as is a grave. But qe’ber is used that way 6 times (Gen. 50:5)


The OT speaks of the place where dead, material bodies are put, and that is qe’ber. The OT speaks of the place where the immaterial part of those dead people go, and that is she'ohl'. Beyond the grave lies Sheol but there’s no short-circuiting the way into Sheol – the body has to die.

A translation of Isaiah 5:14 that says ‘Sheol’ is not at odds with another that says ‘grave’, given a possible root word for she'ohl' being the verb sha.’al’, meaning ‘ask: request’, providing the thought of an insatiability to the grave, that it’s never satisfied, always seeking more. One can picture the grave as an opening, black mouth, swallowing corpses that disappear down into the depth of Sheol, or hell (if that should be the ‘compartment’ of hell that the immaterial part of the deceased is allocated.) Bear in mind that some Jewish rabbinic schools taught that Sheol had two sections, with an uncrossable chasm between them, one a place of torment, the other a place of bliss (known as ‘The Bosom of Abraham’.) Consider Jesus’ words about the rich man dying and finding himself in torments, as opposed to Lazarus who died and found himself in bliss in ‘The Bosom of Abraham.’ Jesus also mentioned that huge chasm – see Luke 16:19-31.

"The Life And Times of Jesus The Messiah" by Alfred Edersheim (1971) Appendix XIX, On Eternal Punishment, according to the Rabbis and the New Testament" (see vol. II Book V ch. vi) http://www.ccel.org/ccel/e "Josephus' Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades" as in "The Works of Josephus" translated by William Whiston, 1980, page 637 http://www.ccel.org/search/fulltext/Josephus%27%20Discourse%20to%20the%20Greeks%20Concerning%20Hades

  • 1
    If I understand you correctly, the essence of your answer is that in the O.T. qe'ber is where dead bodies are placed but the place where the immaterial part of those dead people go is Sheol. Sheol has two sections, with an uncrossable chasm between them, one a place of torment, the other a place of bliss (known as ‘The Bosom of Abraham’). Jesus made reference to this in Luke 16:19-31. Sheol does not contain bodies or bones. Appreciate that link comparing the meaning/use of qe'ber and Sheol.
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 8:26

The word used there in interlinear is sheol. Qe'ver/Qeber is the word used for the grave of a person.

Definition of Qeber

קֶבֶר qeber, keh'-ber; or (feminine) קִבְרָה qibrâh; from H6912; a sepulchre:—burying place, grave, sepulchre.

Example of qeber being used:

2 Samuel 3:32

And they buried Abner in Hebron: and the king lifted up his voice, and wept at the grave of Abner; and all the people wept.

Here the word being used for grave is qe'ver or qeber

Another example of the word sheol being translated into grave

1 King 2:6

Do therefore according to thy wisdom, and let not his hoar head go down to the grave in peace.

Here the word being used is sheol.

In conclusion sheol is refering to the realm of the dead and Qe'ver/Qeber is refering to a person grave or place of buriel

  • "qeber" refers to a tomb, sepulchre, burying place, grave site, memorial, etc.
    It is the physical place or evidence of burial that living people can see and visit.

  • "sheol" is the hidden place where a body actually is.
    It can't be seen without exhumation, etc.

Neither word necessarily has any supernatural meaning.

Attaching supernatural attributes to the word "hell" and assuming the Biblical authors intended that meaning is religious doctrine.

For the original derivation of the word "hell", Online Etymology Dictionary says:

Literally "concealed place" (compare Old Norse hellir "cave, cavern"), from PIE root *kel- (1) "to cover, conceal, save."

Storing potatoes in a cellar over winter used to be known as "helling potatoes".

Translators can let personal beliefs affect them. In general consider "sheol" as "grave" as experienced by the body, and "qeber" as the visible "tomb" as experienced by observers.

  • Thanks, Ray, but my interest is not in anything "supernatural." I'm curious to know why sometimes the word 'qeber' is translated as hell (a place of torment), sometimes it is translated as a tomb or sepulchre, or a burial ground/grave site, and other times as 'sheol'. We know a dead body goes into the ground (or into a tomb) and there it disintigrates, a totally normal physical result of death. So why is the word qeber sometimes translated as hell?
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 16:31
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    @Lesley, "a place of torment" for the dead is supernatural. The attachment of such attributes to the word "hell" and assuming the Biblical authors intended that meaning is religious doctrine. For the original derivation of the word "hell", Online Etymology Dictionary says: "Literally 'concealed place' (compare Old Norse hellir 'cave, cavern'), from PIE root kel- (1) 'to cover, conceal, save.'". Storing potatoes in a cellar over winter was known as "helling potatoes". Translators can let personal beliefs affect them. In general consider "sheol" as "grave" and "qeber" as the visible "tomb". Commented Nov 3, 2020 at 17:07
  • @RayButterworth the reply to Lesley in comments would be a nice edit for your answer
    – Kris
    Commented Nov 4, 2020 at 22:03
  • @Kris, done, thanks. Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 1:25
  • @RayButterworth - I agree with you that a dead body goes into qe'ber and that it can be exhumed before it completely disintegrates. How then can Sheol contain dead bodies? You can't exhume a dead body from Sheol so what does it contain?
    – Lesley
    Commented Nov 5, 2020 at 8:42

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