I was directed by Justin Taylor to a post by Trevin Wax discussing common urban legends propagated by preachers. I went to the list expecting to have a good laugh. And I was not disappointed. Wax spoke of the “the eye of the needle was a gate in Jerusalem” legend, the “rope-around-the-high-priest’s-ankle” legend, and the “scribes took baths before writing the divine name” legend. Oh how I chuckled!
But my laughter turned to surprise when I read #6: “Gehenna was a burning trash dump outside Jerusualem.” Wait a second! That’s something I believed to be true! My interest was obviously piqued. I followed a link to Todd Bolen, and then another link, and learned that there is no evidence for this idea whatsoever. Our first record of the notion comes from Rabbi David Kimhi’s commentary on Psalm 27 from c. 1200 AD. While the rabbi may have known something we don’t, if our only source of information comes from someone 1100 years removed from the events, and no primary sources mention it, we should be extremely skeptical. While we can’t say with absolute confidence that it is a legend, it probably is, and we probably should stop speaking of it as if it were a settled fact of history.
So why did Jesus liken hell to Gehenna (thevalleyofHinnom)? Read Bolen to find out.