THE ONE PLACE IN THE WORLD WORTHY OF THAT NAME
Thinking of what might qualify as being hell on earth, one might think of the Colosseum at Rome, the most blood drenched piece of ground in the world. Maybe being incarcerated in a Russian Gulag comes to mind. Some Vietnam veterans might remember a prisoner of war camp in a Cambodian jungle. Our minds all may go back to that solemn day, August 6, 1945 to Hiroshima and then again, three days later, to Nagasaki.
As terrible as the events that occurred in those places were, I do not feel as though they come close to being the one place on earth worthy to be called Hell.
There is a place so insidious, so putrid with the stench of the smoldering refuse of the worst that humanity can throw off, that for a thousand years, it was the epitome of everything that is ugly about humanity.
Allow me to take you on a tour of the Valley of Hinnom:
- Its nefarious beginning: the name (Hinnom) is said to have come from an ancient Jebusite hero. Jebusites were a subgroup of Amorites, one of the tribes of people driven from Canaan by Joshua. The Gibeonites were descendants of the Jebusites and were the Canaanite people that used deceit to gain the trust of Joshua, who entered a covenant with them even in the face of God’s instructions not to do so. Honoring the agreement, Joshua could not drive them from the land, so the Gibeonites have always been found among the children of Israel.1
- Kings Ahaz2 and Manasseh3, during a dark period in Israel’s history, both instituted human sacrifice and burned their sons and daughters in the Valley of Hinnom. Tophet altars are said to be named for the noisy drum4 that devotees of the mysterious dark god Moloch would beat to drown out the ghastly cries of children burned in sacrifice in front of their own willing parents.
- The righteous boy-king, Josiah, defiled the valley, making it ceremonially unclean by spreading filth and bones so that no more child sacrifices could be offered, but it remained desolate.5
- Gradually, the valley became the place to discard the carcasses of animals, the dead bodies of criminals and the filth of a civilized city. It became a dump just outside the walls of Jerusalem, what we would call a landfill today, except it never was filled over, even into the days of Jesus. It just continually burned.6
- The remains of those who could not afford a proper burial and foreigners, could be taken to the Potter’s Field (Aceldama) at the end of Hinnom7, but the bodies of the dishonored dead were dumped to burn in the valley
- Judas hung himself there. The 30 pieces of silver that he was paid to betray the Lord was given back and used to buy the Potter’s Field (the Field of Blood). Judas himself, went headlong off one of the highest points, tumbling and being crushed down the side of the ravine and landing at the bottom, his insides gushed out.8
- I cannot help but think that the Valley of Hinnom, because of its proximity to Jerusalem, the Mount of Olives, the Valley of Jehoshaphat, itself being called the Valley of Slaughter, will factor significantly in the end of the age when Christ defeats the armies of the world at Armageddon – where the rotting carcasses of the slain armies of the world will lay after their defeat to be devoured by birds. (Jeremiah 7:31-34)
The Valley of Hinnom in the Hebrew tongue is ge hinnom, but in the Greek, it is Gehenna, the one place in the world worthy to be called, hell on earth.
1“Sons of Hinnom”, an unknown person (prob. one of the original Jebusites), whose name (perh. as resident) was given to the valley (“Valley of Hinnom,” otherwise called “the valley of the son” or “children of Hinnom.” Taking its name, according to Stanley, from “some ancient hero, the son of Hinnom,” having encamped in it (S. and Pal. p. 172). McClintock & Strong
2Moreover [Ahaz] offered in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, according to the abominations of the heathen, whom the LORD cast out before the children of Israel. (2 Chronicles 28:3)
3And [Manasseh] caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger. (2 Chronicles 33:6)
4World Heritage Encyclopedia Edition, “Tophet”, Project Gutenberg website (accessed 5/3/2021) http://self.gutenberg.org/articles/Tophet
5And 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. (2 Kings 23:10, 13-14,16 KJV)
6William I. Barclay, The New Daily Study Bible: The Gospel of Mark (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), 268-269.
7In his Onomasticon (ed. Klostermann, p. 102, 16), Eusebius says the “field of Haceldama” lies nearer to “Thafeth of the Valley of Ennom”
8Matthew 27:3-10, Acts 1:16-20