A History of Hell

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A History of Hell
By
Ralph Monday
World Literature I
The Judeo-Christian Tradition
• Probably most individuals reared in this
cultural mythos think of a burning, eternal
Hell, ruled over by the fallen rebellious
angel, Lucifer, or Satan, the most beautiful
of angels turned, by his prideful sin, into the
most hideous of supernatural creatures.
The typical
image of
Hell—
a
smoldering
underground
world of
eternal flame
and
unending
torment.
Michelangelo's
vision of the
torments of
Hell.
Unrepentant
sinners are
punished here
for their crimes
in life.
A horrific
Satan rules
this underground
kingdom.
More beast than
human, he revels
in the torments
of the human soul.
He is the
Fallen One.
No longer able
to glory in
God’s light,
his purpose
is to rule over
human souls
in the pits of
Hell.
SATAN EXULTING OVER EVE
William
Blake
Tim Curry in
the movie
Legend (doesn’t
look much like a
“sweet
transvestite” here,
does he?)
The common
Halloween
image of the
dread, dark
lord.
• However, Hell has a
long history that is not
just confined to the
Christian conception.
• Hell—or the
underworld—is an
ancient archetype, a
cultural mythos that
can be found all over
the world, in all times,
all places, all
environments.
• Indeed, the
Sumerian/Babylonian
conception is the
proper place to begin
an examination of this
horrid, yet fascinating
“world” that awaits
human beings after
death.
The
mysterious
place where
the sun settled
into the
Western
Sea was the
Underworld
for ancient
people.
THE GREAT BELOW
In the Babylonian/Sumerian conception, the war of
dark and light, good and evil, an archetype that we have
inherited and incorporated into our own psychological
mythos, is a powerful reminder of our own frail
humanity.
When the sun emerged triumphant in the east each
day, this event symbolically reinforced the
archetypal concept of the LIGHT overcoming the
DARK.
In this belief, ancient peoples, tied to the natural
environment, LITERALLY believed that the sun
might not rise in the east, that the dark forces
had triumphed.
Here, the sun
rising each
morning from
the horizon,
reiterated the
power of
Light over
Darkness.
Land Of The Dead
• The first account that
we have of this
mysterious abode
originates in the land
of Sumer.
• This is modern day
Iraq, as we have seen.
• Inanna, the Great
Goddess, journeys to
the underworld to visit
her sister Ereshkigal,
for obscure reasons.
• Inanna passes through
six succeeding gates,
and at each one she is
stripped of an article
of clothing.
• Finally, she is naked
and must confront her
sister.
• Three days and nights
pass, and in this time
no fertility takes place
in the above world.
When the
goddess is
trapped in the
Netherworld,
no procreation
can take place,
for she is the
symbol of all
Re–Creation.
(pun intended)
Osiris, Egyptian god of the Dead
Believe it or not,
he has parallels to
Christianity.
Nice hat
The Egyptian Book Of The Dead
•Osiris was an Egyptian god who represented the dead
pharaoh.
•He was the god of dying and resurrecting nature, the
judge of the dead, and was represented as a mummy.
•Like Jesus Christ, he was the product of a virgin birth.
Osiris
(not Mylie Cyrus)
•Like Jesus Christ, he was the sacrificed and resurrected
god.
•His divine son Horus ruled the living.
Zoroastrianism
•Named after Zoroaster, a Persian middle east prophet.
•The Avesta, the sacred book of the religion was not
written down until the fifth century A.D.
•Zoroastrianism had an ENORMOUS influence on
Christian thinking, especially in regard to the conception
of Hell.
Zoroastrianism
(continued)
•Zoroaster taught a dualistic religion: the divine force of
good, Ahura Mazda (Wise Lord), lives above with his
seven angels.
•Ahriman (Evil Spirit), the Lord of Lies, dwells in the
darkness of Hell under the earth, and sends out his daevas
(devils) to torment the world.
Zoroastrianism
(continued)
•Law, order, and light oppose darkness, filth, and death.
•Their conflict is the history of the world, and the object
of the conflict is the soul of man.
(continued)
• After death the soul
goes to the
Underworld where it
is judged.
• Good deeds are
entered in a great
ledger as credits; bad
deeds as debts.
• If the deeds are
positive, a beautiful
maiden escorts the
soul across a bridge to
the House of Song.
Zoroastrianism
(continued)
• If negative, the soul
falls into hell.
• If even, the soul passes
into a kind of limbo
where it will stay until
the Apocalypse.
• Finally, a great cosmic
battle between Good
and Evil takes place—
with Evil being
conquered forever.
Zoroastrianism
(continued)
• A savior named
Soshyans, born of a
virgin impregnated
with the seed of
Zoroaster, will harrow
hell.
• Penitent sinners will
be forgiven and there
will be a universal
resurrection of the
body.
(continued)
• The body will reunite
with the soul.
• Hell will be destroyed,
burned clean by
molten metal—and the
Kingdom of God on
earth will begin.
• This concept is typical
of apocalyptic ideas
concerning an end
time and the coming
Messiah.
Classical Hades
• For more than a
thousand years, until
the Western world
changed in the fifth
century A.D., the
ancient religions of
Greece and Rome had
many gods and
goddesses capable of
good or vindictive
behavior.
• They had no particular
religious system that
punished “evil”
behavior.
• However, Hesiod
relates that Erebus and
Tartarus, the upper
and lower realms of
Hades, were born,
together with Night
and Earth, from the
primeval chasm.
Hall of Hades Where Odysseus And His Men
Traveled
•One of the
classical
journeys to
the
Underworld
Hades and Persephone
•King and Queen of
Hell.
•Hey Hades, why so
stiff?
•Notice the mutant
puppy dog.
ORPHEUS
(don’t get excited, this isn’t Morpheus. This isn’t The Matrix.
Another important
cult was based on
Orpheus the
Harper; he went to
the Underworld
down a passage of
the Taenarus Cave
to win back his
wife, Eurydice.
This cult lasted for
centuries and
influenced both the
Greek and Christian
religions.
Two other pictorial versions
of the Orpheus mythos.
CROSS CULTURAL MYTHOLOGICAL
SHARING
• Artists in the Hellenistic
period frequently
• Fire insurance?
borrowed the attributes
• However, Orpheusof Orpheus for Jesus.
Christos, the Good
• Patrons who wanted to
Shepherd and Harrower
hedge their bets with the
of Hell, eventually
gods, also borrowed
became the most
from the Egyptian Horus powerful and popular of
the Dying and
and from the Persian
Resurrected gods
Mithras.
archetype.
A TYPICAL VIEW OF THE UNDERWORLD
THE ROMAN EMPIRE AND VIRGIL
•The illustration in the next slide represents the moment in
the Aeneid when Aeneas seeks to cross the Styx to
embrace his father Anchises in the Underworld, holding
out to Charon the boatman the Golden Bough that he has
to present to Proserpine.
•The Cumaen Sibyl stands beside him, telling him the
descent to Avernus is not hard:
“But to retrace the steps and escape to upper airs, that
is the task and that is the toil” (Aeneid, VI, 123 ff).
Aeneas waiting to cross the Styx.
Aeneas in the
Underworld
with the
prophetic
Sibyl.
• The Romans, of course, • However, Virgil gives us
borrowed the majority
the first graphic description
of their mythology
of Hell.
from the Greeks.
• Although the images were
• The underworld of
known to his era, Virgil’s
Aeneas is the same
influence was enormous,
shadowy, ill-defined
not only for later poets like
underworld of the
Dante, but also for men
Greeks, where
who created the early
everyone went except
Christian cosmology:
for a favored few who
Clement of Alexandria,
go to the Elysian Fields
Origen, Tertullian, and
like Menelaus and other
most especially Augustine,
favored individuals of
who quoted Virgil
the ancient world.
frequently.
AENEAS AND THE SIBYL:
LAKE AVERNUS
MAP OF VIRGIL’S UNDERWORLD
AENEAS AND SIBYL IN THE UNDERWORLD
SHEOL
•This is the
cosmology of
the Old
Testament.
•This universal
view is an
inheritance of
the
Babylonian/Su
merian cosmos.
The Jewish Afterlife
• The ancient Jews, as
evidenced by the Old
Testament, were either
the least morbid or the
least imaginative of the
Mediterranean peoples.
• Unlike other countries,
they had no relationship
with the dead.
• They did not worship
them, sacrifice to them,
visit them, or hope to
reunite with them in an
afterlife.
• Neither did they expect any
interaction with Yahweh
after death.
• The dead, to the Jewish
people, were unclean.
• Sheol occurs often in the
O.T., sometimes translated
as “hell,” “the grave,” or
“the pit.”
• Nowhere does it indicate
anything other than where a
body was laid to rest.
The Jewish Afterlife
•Sometimes Sheol is compared to a prison.
•A second word usually translated as Hell is Gehenna,
which means the Valley of Hinnom.
•This was an “unclean” place, a garbage heap or town
dump where trash, the bodies of criminals and animals
were thrown into a perpetually burning fire.
•Gehenna was used as a metaphor for an unpleasant place
and as a curse.
The Jewish Afterlife
• Death in a place like this would have demonstrated a
life far removed from the laws of Yahweh.
• Apparently the ancient Jews did not envision the
Underworld as a place for living souls, but merely the
final resting place of the body.
Gehenna
today,
located
southwest
of
Jerusalem.
Pagan
sacrifices
were
reported to
have also
taken place
there.
GNOSTICISM
•Gnostic Christianity held one of the stranger views of
Hell during late antiquity.
•The ancient church effectively wiped out this radical
religious view until the discoveries of the Gnostic Gospels
in 1945 at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt.
•The most common Gnostic myth: an aeon or angel
named Sophia (wisdom) admired the “High Unknown” or
Alien God (a Platonic idea).
•Sophia tried to imitate the self-sufficient asexual
creativity of the High God.
•This delusion caused her to fall from the clear, light, and
pure upper heavens.
•In agony and despair she brought forth a shapeless
abortion, the Demiurge, Lower God, the creator of the
• The Demiurge made all of
this in ignorance of the
High God and Sophia.
• He believed that he was
the only god.
• Thus, our world was
conceived in ignorance
and folly, and so were
humans.
• We are created in the
image of the Demiurge.
• Sophia, attempting to
atone for her mistake,
breathed into us whatever
good or spiritual in nature
that we have.
• Sophia has been
reincarnated in a series
of famous women:
• Eve, Noah’s wife,
Helen of Troy, and
Mary Magdalene.
• However, where the
Gnostic myth fired the
imagination was in its
interpretation of the
incarnation of Jesus
Christ.
• The Gnostics believed
that the world was
hell, or at least a type
of Hades or Limbo
• Ruled over by an
ignorant and ignoble
Devil.
• Christ’s descent from
purity into the world
was a plunge into the
material hell.
• His purpose was to
harrow or plunder the
• Unhappy domain of
the Demiurge in order
to save human souls
• By bringing them
gnosis or secret
knowledge.
• This philosophy did
influence Christianity
in the idea of a fallen,
• Corrupt, imperfect
world.
• Hell was on earth.
MEDIEVAL HELL
• The richest period in the
history of Hell is the
millennium that followed
the fall of Rome—
• A middle period between
the classical world and the
one born with the
Renaissance or rebirth of
the classical approach to
learning.
• All the foundations of Hell
were already in place
when Rome fell, but the
Middle ages vastly
elaborated on the project.
• Medieval theologians
continued to refine
doctrine made by the
church fathers—
• Except for one crucial
event: the formal
advancement of the
doctrine of Purgatory in
1253.
• Thomas Aquinas, in
particular, followed
Augustine in insisting on a
real fiery Hell with
physical torments added to
those of the mind and
spirit.
Of course, Christ
Was the antithesis
Of Hell.
Baptism of
Christ.
From the medieval
Paintings of
The three Limbourg
Brothers (1416)—the
Tres Riches Heures
(Book of Hours)
Made for the Duke
Of Berry.
FALL OF THE REBEL ANGELS
A
Defining
Moment
For the
Medieval
Period.
Brueghel the
Elder—
1569.
Limbourg
Brothers—
Hell.
1416
Luca Signorelli
The Damned.
1441-1523.
Memling
Hell.
1485.
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