Examining Hell…More Polytheism?

Hell is an interestting topic, since it does appear in scripture in a variety of forms (hades being the most popular).

In the Luke passages we see the use of hell as a place for people that do not follow a ‘righteous’ path…a sort of deterrent. However, this doesn’t seem like an idea steeped in Jewish theology – and seems to be borrowed from the time period with the Greeks and Romans…namely the Greeks who used hades as an ‘underworld’ (which we see clearly in both Luke pieces).

Hell is also described in a variety of ways.

Matt 8 – ‘outer darkness’
Mark 9 – ‘worm does not die and fire not quenched’ – worm mean underground?
Luke 16 – called ‘Hades’ (a greek underworld) and ‘fire scenario’
Luke 13 – likely Hades again – ‘weeping and gnashing of teeth’ – like Luke 16 – can see heaven.
Jude 1 – ‘eternal fire and black darkness’
Rev 20 – ‘lake of fire’ (new take on Hades)

Question is, what is Hades and what does it look like according to Greek Mythical thought. Are there striking similarities? Taken from Wikipedia on the subject ‘Hades’.

(1) “In older Greek myths, the realm of Hades is the misty and gloomy abode of the dead…where all mortals go. Later Greek philosophy introduced the idea that all mortals are judged after death and are either rewarded or cursed. Very few mortals could leave his realm once they entered

(2) “Tartarus It is a deep, gloomy place, a pit, or an abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the underworld. In the Gorgias, Plato (c. 400 BC) wrote that souls were judged after death and those who received punishment were sent to Tartarus.”

(3) “The Styx forms the boundary between the upper and lower worlds

(4) “Hades (the “unseen”), the god of the underworld…Hades, god of the dead, was a fearsome figure to those still living

First problem with the biblical idea of hell is it is deeply rooted in Grecian Mythological thought…which most Christians will easily swear is ‘not factual’ (ie: Zeus or Hercules). But for some reason Hades survived. Fear of death maybe?

– Hades is a place of judgment – first as an underworld then as a punishment for the wicked (ie: Tartarus)
– Tartarus is one of the greek words used directly in the bible in 2 Peter 2:4 – which comes from Platonic thought of the afterworld
– Styx was a chasm between the living and the dead – and no one could cross back (except for Hercules and Theseus)…and now include Jesus according to some interpretations of ‘going to the underworld and coming back’. In the parable we see a ‘seperation’ or ‘chasm’.
– Hades, which included hell (tartarus), was run by Hades – a god of the underworld. Isn’t this basically the Christian devil for many centuries?

It’s fairly easily to recognize that Christian theology on hell/hades was actually Grecian/Roman thought on Hades…in fact most popular term for hell in the NT – hades. The similarities speak for themselves as well.

But if Christians are willing to drop every other Greco-Roman concept on mythological gods – why hang on to Hades/Pluto? Paul not once in his travels included a single other god into the faith of Christianity…and Hades is a god.

*Topic originally aired under Hackman’s Musings ‘That He May Have Mercy on Them All’


One thought on “Examining Hell…More Polytheism?

  1. Great info! It is always interesting that most of Christianity references Hell as if it were this monolithic scriptural thought, when it is anything but.

    I read somewhere that the thought of an underworld really wasn’t part of the Jewish conversation, until the exile to Babylon.

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