To the southwest of Jerusalem is a deep valley. A valley that down through the ages developed quite a reputation because many people lost their lives in this valley through battles with warring nations and also through the barbaric practice of human sacrifices to foreign deities. The O.T. renders this valley as the “Valley of the Hinnom,” or “Ben Hinnom.”
In the book of Second Kings, chapter 23 the author tells of how children were made to pass through the fire to Molech, the chief deity of the Ammonites. The people of Judah also burned incense unto Baal, a Phoenician deity. They not only burned incense unto Baal, but also to the sun, to the moon, and to the planets. There is even an account in Second Chronicles where King Ahaz forces his own son to pass through the fire unto the Ammonite deity.
II Ki 23:5, “And he put down the idolatrous priests, whom the kings of Judah had ordained to burn incense in the high places in the cities of Judah, and in the places round about Jerusalem; them also that burned incense unto Baal, to the sun, and to the moon, and to the planets, and to all the host of heaven.”
II Ki 23:10, “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.”
Ahaz, the twelfth king of Judah, a strong supporter of the deities Molek and Baal, succeeded his father as king over the nation of Judah while he was in his early twenties in the 740’s B.C. Because of this idolatrous worship of these false deities, Yahweh (the God of the Israelites) allowed Judah to fall into the hands of the king of Syria, and they slaughtered his army. The Syrians captured a large number of them and held them captive, and brought them to Damascus. Ahaz was also delivered into the hand of the king of Israel, who killed a great many of them. Scripture says: “For Pekah the son of Remaliah slew in Judah an hundred and twenty thousand in one day, which were all valiant men; because they had forsaken Yahweh, God of their fathers.”
Manasseh, the fourteenth king of Judah, the son of Hezekiah, came to the throne at the age of twelve and reigned for fifty-five years. He reigned longer than any other Israelite king and had the reputation of being Judah’s most wicked king. Although his father tried to serve Yahweh, Manasseh reverted to the ways of his evil grandfather, Ahaz.
Manasseh restored everything his father had abolished. He erected altars to Baal. He erected an image of Asherah in the Temple. He worshipped the sun, moon and stars. He recognized the false deity, Molech, and also sacrificed his son to him. He approved of divination and killed anyone who protested his evil actions. Scripture summarizes Manasseh’s reign by saying he “seduced them (Judah) to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel.”
Manasseh was temporarily banished to Babylon where he humbled himself before Yahweh. Upon his return to Jerusalem, he tried to reverse the trends he had set, but his son Amon reversed his reforms after his death back to the idolatrous practices.
The prophet Jeremiah foretold that Yahweh would judge this awful abomination of human sacrifices and would cause such a destruction that “The Valley of the Son of Hinnom” would become known as “The Valley of Slaughter.” The place was also called “Tophet.”
Josiah, the sixteenth king of Judah and the son of King Amon and his wife Jedidah, at the age of eight years, succeeded his father on the throne of Judah. He followed in the footsteps of his forefather, King David, and strove to worship the true God, Yahweh. He destroyed the pagan altars to remove any temptation to revert to idolatrous worship from the Hebrew people and brought about reform in the country of Judah.
Years later, the Valley of Hinnom was used as a garbage dump for the growing city of Jerusalem. Refuse, waste materials, and the carcasses of dead animals were burned there. Fires continually smoldered and smoke from the burning debris rose day and night. Those who were convicted of certain crimes were executed and their bodies were thrown into the valley to be burned.
The Israelites esteemed proper burial rites as essential, and the prospect of being thrown into the Valley of Gehenna (Hinnom) was very repulsive to them, especially since the prophecy in the book of Jeremiah indicated that a burial there would be considered judgment direct from Yahweh. To the Israelite of that day, Gehenna was to be avoided at all cost.
Christ, in His rebuke to the rebellious nation, reminded them that the unfulfilled prophecy was to be executed in that generation. Their carcasses were to be dumped into the dreaded ravine for their rejection of His visitation. History tells us those that did not act upon His instruction to leave Jerusalem and hide themselves in the surrounding hills when the break came after Titus and his soldiers encircled Jerusalem suffered just such a fate.
Through the influence of the Septuagint translation of the sacred writings, Hellenistic Greeks and Jews picked up on the term, “fires of Gehena,” and depicted its continual burning as the eternal burning of an under ground abyss and called it “Hell.” Sheol, the Hebrew word used for the unseen state of the dead, was translated Hades, the name of the Greek god of the underground. It was later changed to “hell” by Jerome.
Under “Hel” (same as “hell”), in most encyclopedias, you will see that, in Norse mythology, Hel is the goddess of the dead. She dwelt beneath one of the three roots of the sacred ash tree Yggdrasil and was the daughter of Loki, the spirit of mischief or evil, and the giantess Angerbotha. Odin, and All-Father, hurled Hel into Niflheim, the realm of cold and darkness, itself also known as Hel, over which he gave her sovereign authority.