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Heaven and Hell


Moral death entered the Hebrew Bible gradually and late. Judaism's neutral otherworld (Sheol) draws the scorn of Job, because the wicked and the just "lie down alike in the dust" (21:26). Jeremiah begins to distinguish a separate fate for those who worshipped false gods. In Ge-hinnom (Gehenna), a ravine outside Jerusalem, he says, the dead lie unburied, their bones exposed to the sun and the stars whom they wrongly worshipped (7:30–8:2, 19:7). Their evil loyalties should determine their evil fates, which should never end. Isaiah (14:15) imagines the wicked king of Babylon not merely in Sheol, but reviled in the depths of the Pit. Psalm 73 identifies moral categories: the false dispatched "far from thee" and the loyal "near God." These images of place follow from the idea of paradise as the Garden of Eden, where God set Adam and Eve, but from which he banished them. Return to gan eden, which Christians would call "the Earthly Paradise," is physical yet also beyond time: an eternally blissful state. The most recent book of the Hebrew Bible articulates moral death clearly. Daniel (12:2) proclaims resurrection and assignment either to "everlasting life" or "everlasting contempt."

Postbiblical Judaism offered great latitude on these matters. Though all pray for "a portion in the world to come," the Talmudic sages left open the questions of how God renders judgment, where his justice parts from his mercy, and how long sinners remain in Gehenna. The tenth-century Sa adia Gaon argues for eternal reward and punishment. Around 1200, Moses Maimonides regarded these as childish ideas that students should outgrow. In contrast to tolerance concerning the otherworld, the Talmud and subsequent speculation insist on the resurrection of the flesh.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Habit memory: to HeterodontHeaven and Hell - Egypt, Zoroastrianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Ancient Greek Religion, Etruscans And Romans, Judaism