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The Afterlife in the Hebrew Bible: Sheol

When trying to figure out where the Christian ideas of heaven and hell came from, an obvious place to start is with the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus himself held to the authority of the Hebrew Scriptures.   To be sure, there was not a completely fixed canon in his day, which all Jews everywhere agreed to.  But virtually all Jews we know of ascribed to the high authority (and Mosaic authorship) of the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy); and most Jews  – including Jesus – also considered the prophets authoritative; Jesus also accepted the authority of the book of Psalms and a probably number of the other books.  It was not until a century or so after Jesus that most Jews agreed on virtually all the books of what we now think of as the Hebrew Bible – but Jesus and his followers would have accepted most of them.

That means that the views found in these books were highly influential on what Jews like Jesus would have thought about most theological topics.  And so, what does the Hebrew Bible teach about the afterlife?

To start with I can make two very basic points:

  1. There is not just one view about the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible. The Bible contains lots of books written by lots of authors at different periods of time and in different places for different audiences.  Naturally there were various views about many, many things, including the afterlife.
  2. But one view that is NOT represented in the Hebrew Bible is the later Christian notion of heaven and hell, that is, heaven as a place of eternal reward for souls that are faithful to God (or who have lived good lives) and hell as a place of eternal punishment for souls who are not faithful (or good).

Both points, especially the second, may come as a surprise to modern casual readers of the Bible, especially Christians who naturally assume that their own views of the afterlife are the views set forth consistently in the Bible.  But

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Returning from the Dead in the Hebrew Bible
Eternal Life and Damnation

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    mkahn1977  March 29, 2017

    What do you think about the influences of Zaroatrinism during the Babylonian Exile on the good/evil, heaven above and hell below on Judeo-Christian thought?

  2. Avatar
    AngeloNasios  March 29, 2017

    Can you provide commentary on the Septuagint’s translation using Hades?

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  March 29, 2017

    Dr. Ehrman, if it’s any help, I once catalogued every instance of שְׁאוֹל in the TaNaKh for my research and the total came to 58. Here are all the references for your perusal.

    Gen. 42:38
    Deut. 32:22
    1 Sam. 2:6
    2 Sam. 22:6
    1 Kings 2:9
    Amos 9:2
    Hosea 13:14 (twice)
    Isaiah 5:14
    Isaiah 14:9
    Isaiah 14:11
    Isaiah 14:15
    Isaiah 28:15
    Isaiah 28:18
    Isaiah 38:10
    Isaiah 38:18
    Isaiah 57:9
    Hab. 2:5
    Ezek. 31:15
    Ezek. 31:16
    Ezek. 31:17
    Ezek. 32:21
    Ezek. 32:27
    Jonah 2:3
    Song 8:6
    Psalm 6:6
    Psalm 9:18
    Psalm 16:10
    Psalm 18:6
    Psalm 30:4
    Psalm 31:18
    Psalm 49:15 (twice)
    Psalm 49:16
    Psalm 55:16
    Psalm 86:13
    Psalm 88:4
    Psalm 89:49
    Psalm 116:3
    Psalm 139:8
    Psalm 141:7
    Eccl. 9:10
    Job 7:9
    Job 11:8
    Job 14:13
    Job 17:13
    Job 21:13
    Job 24:19
    Job 26:6
    Prov. 1:12
    Prov. 5:5
    Prov. 7:27
    Prov. 9:18
    Prov. 15:11
    Prov. 15:24
    Prov. 23:14
    Prov. 27:20
    Prov. 30:16

    • Bart
      Bart  March 30, 2017

      Thanks! Very helpful. I think you may have missed a few: e.g. Genesis 37:35; 44:29,31 etc.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  March 30, 2017

        Ah, interesting. It seems in those cases Sheol has a different spelling. In the case of Gen. 37:35, for instance, it’s spelled without the Waw and adds a Cholem in its place. Not only that, but it also ends with a Hey, making it שְׁאֹלָה — She’olah. (This may be a feminization of Sheol, which might explain the missing mater lectionis.) The case is the same for Gen. 44:29 and 31. My guess is that the other missing Sheols from my list have the same anomaly.

        • Bart
          Bart  March 31, 2017

          That would make sense. I asked my colleague Joseph Lam about the etymology of Sheol. He’s a semitic philologist. This is what he said:

          The etymology of this word (as so often is the case) is obscure. The main options are: (1) from the root “to ask”; (2) a loan word from Akkadian or Egyptian (but not that plausible to me); and (3) taking the last letter as a rather rare example of the noun-derivational suffix {l} and thus considering the word to be a root Shin-’aleph-heh (“to be desolate”). For details, see HALOT (Koehler-Baumgartner). I guess the third option might have to be considered the best among a set of not-so-good options.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  March 31, 2017

            Yeah, I’m feeling the Akkadian connection. The fact that there’s a Semitic god of the underworld named “Shul” and the Hebrew word for the underworld is “Sheol” looks too insurmountable to be a coincidence. However, since all these Semitic cultures share similar languages and ideas, it’s possible that both options 2 and 3 are related. The name of the underworld god Shul may come from the Semitic root שאה, which does carry meanings like “desolation,” “nothingness,” “worthlessness,” etc. In fact, the Hebrew word for the Holocaust — שׁוֹאָה — comes from this root.

          • Avatar
            dankoh  April 2, 2017

            I wouldn’t go for option 1 either. There are cognates in Hebrew just as in any other language, and “to ask” doesn’t make sense in this context.

            My general sense of sheol (and I’m still working on it) is that it is kind of akin to Hades, meaning that everybody foes there after dearth. David tells Solomon in 1 Kings 1 not to let Joab go down to Sheol in peace (apparently still angry with him over Absalom).

            Another interesting confirmation of your point about heaven and hell is that all the rewards and punishments promised by Moses and the prophets apply to THIS world, never to the afterlife. In the Talmud, there is speculation about punishment after death, but this is more rabbis playing with ideas that any kind of fixed dogma. The (few) really bad characters are punished by having no afterlife at all (see Pirke Avot).

            The reason children say kaddish for their parents for 11 months is that Rabbi Akiva thought that the maximum punishment after death was 12 months (though it would seem longer to to the victim), and saying kaddish would ease the punishment. So if a child said kaddish for the full 12 months, that would imply the parent deserved the maximum punishment, and we don’t want to say that. So it was limited to 11 months.

            (In another place, the Talmud says that someone could be liable to a sentence of 70 years in hell. Go figure.)

  4. talmoore
    talmoore  March 29, 2017

    Incidentally, while Sheol is, technically, a Hebrew word, because it’s found in the Hebrew Bible, it doesn’t “sound” like a Hebrew word to me. (To my ears, it sounds “foreign,” if that makes sense.) There’s no obvious Hebrew shoresh that Sheol appears to come from. When I looked into it, I found a Semitic god named by the Akkadians Shulmanu, who, funny enough, was the Mesopotamian god of the underworld. We find his name, for example, in the theophoric title of the 14th century Assyrian king Shalmanesser III. His name is ostensibly made up to two roots: “shwl” and “m-n”, so it’s possible that the “shwl” part was a common abbreviated variant. Either way, since worship of Shulmanu did extend as far as Canaan, it’s possible (and I believe likely) that this is where the Hebrew Sheol came from. What probably happened is that the name of the god Shulmanu became associated with his abode itself, the netherworld — just as Hades is the name of both the god and the place — so that when the Israelites would refer to a slain warrior going to “Sheol,” they originally meant he was going to abide with the god of death (Shulmanu in the Akkadian). Eventually, the allusion to the god was dropped and “Sheol” simply meant the place itself. We would expect this especially from the authors of the TaNaKh who are determined to minimize other gods besides YHWH.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 30, 2017

      Yes, as you know there have been a couple of suggestions over the years. I can’t type Hebrew or diacrhonics on this keyboard, but you’ll know what I”m referring to: 1. Related to sh’l the common verb for to ask? Probably not. But if so: connected to “inquiring” from the dead? 2. Related to sh`l, “hollow”? As in “hollow place,” “hell”? These days my sense is most people throw up their hands and say they don’t know the etymology. But maybe there are linguistic developments I don’t know of. I’ll ask my philologist colleagues.

      • talmoore
        talmoore  March 30, 2017

        Yeah, my guess is שאל is a non-starter. As one can tell from the Book of Samuel, though Saul and Sheol are spelled consonantally exactly the same, they are pronounced differently (as evidenced by the Nikkudot). And Saul’s name actually does come from שאל, meaning “Inquirer”. From the received orthography and pronunciation, it looks to me like the Shin in Sheol is a prefix (or the result of an elision of two words), which would give the remaining אול the meaning of “strength”. Alas, the etymology is probably lost in ancient Mesopotamian mythology, but I think the deity to abode hypothesis is the most likely origin.

  5. Avatar
    Jon1  March 29, 2017

    Bart,

    This may be off topic, but what do you think has happened to the bodies (i.e., “bones”) of the dead children in the Testament of Job 39-40 passage below? Are the children’s bodies rotting in heaven and it is just their spirits that have been made alive again in heaven? Or have the children’s physical bodies been made alive again, like Lazarus, but the children now reside in heaven? Or have the children received their final immortal physical bodies, as in what Jews expected at the general resurrection, but the children reside in heaven until the end times? Other options?

    She asked him [the commanders of some soldiers] saying: “I ask as favor of you, my Lords, that you order your soldiers that they should dig among the ruins of our house which fell upon my children, so that their bones could be brought in a perfect state to the tombs…” [As the narrator of the story, the woman’s husband then says,] And the kings gave order that the ruins of my house should be dug up. But I prohibited it, saying ‘‘Do not go to the trouble in vain; for my children will not he found, for they are in the keeping of their Maker and Ruler’’. And the kings answered and said: “Who will gainsay that he is out of his mind and raves? For while we desire to bring the bones of his children back, he forbids us to do so saying: ‘They have been taken and placed in the keeping of their Maker’. Therefore prove unto us the truth”. But I said to them: “Raise me that I may stand up”, and they lifted me, holding up my arms from both sides. And I stood upright, and pronounced first the praise of God and after the prayer I said to them: ‘‘Look with your eyes to the East’’. And they looked and saw my children with crowns near the glory of the King, the Ruler of heaven. And when my wife Sitis saw this, she fell to the ground and prostrated [herself] before God, saying: ‘‘Now I know that my memory remains with the Lord”.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 30, 2017

      Almost certainly the children died and went to Sheol.

      • Avatar
        Jon1  March 30, 2017

        It wasn’t clear from your answer what you thought happened to the bodies (i.e., “bones”) of the dead children in the Testament of Job 39-40 passage. Do you think that passage intends that the bodies of the dead children went to Sheol too? If so, do you think the children’s bodies stayed dead in Sheol or were brought back to life (end of passage suggest they are alive again)?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 31, 2017

          Sorry, my bad. I thought you were talking about the children of Job in the Hebrew Bible. Ah, the Testament of Job. Yes, it appears that the children have been taken up completely — body and soul — into heaven. Again, no separation of the body that corrupts and the soul that ascends.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  March 31, 2017

            You said the children in Testament of Job 39-40 “have been taken up completely — body and soul — into heaven.” Which option below do you think is intended when the passage says, “They looked and saw my children with crowns near the glory of the King, the Ruler of heaven”:

            A) The children’s earthly physical bodies are rotting in heaven and it is just their spirits that have been made alive again in heaven.

            B) The children’s earthly physical bodies are being preserved (kept from rotting) in heaven and it is just their spirits that have been made alive again in heaven.

            C) The children’s earthly physical bodies been made alive again, like Lazarus, but in heaven.

            D) The children have received their final immortal physical bodies, as in what Jews expected at the end times general resurrection, but the children will reside in heaven until the end times.

            E) ??

          • Bart
            Bart  April 2, 2017

            I suppose C or D, but the text doesn’t really say.

          • Avatar
            Jon1  April 2, 2017

            Bart,

            Can you please point me to any scholarly resources that you found helpful that address the dead children story in Testament of Job 39-40?

          • Bart
            Bart  April 3, 2017

            I’m afraid I don’t know any!

  6. tompicard
    tompicard  March 29, 2017

    Appreciate the explanation, it seems that the Hebrew scripture “did not differentiate between soul and body”, i.e. if body is dead so is the soul and vice versa.

    But I am not sure that is how Jesus saw it
    he talked about dead people who are alive and alive people who are dead, wouldn’t that imply a difference between body and ‘soul’?

    the alive people who are “dead” are the ones who Jesus recommended make the funeral arrangements for his prospective disciple.
    the dead ones who are “alive” are the ones who “lose their life for . . . the gospel [and] save it”

    • tompicard
      tompicard  March 29, 2017

      In Matt 10:28 Jesus clearly differentiates the soul and the body
      “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

    • Bart
      Bart  March 30, 2017

      He appears to be speaking metaphorically. What we have to resist is importing the commonsense that we have — derived from Greek roots — that dead and alive means without the soul (which has departed) and with the soul (that is embodied). These are not the two parts of the human for most ancient Jews.

      • Avatar
        brandon284  April 3, 2017

        Dr. Ehrman, even if Jesus is speaking metaphorically in this passage, it seems he’s aware of the body and soul having some intrinsic linking does he not? I’m not at all trying to import modern sensibilities on the notion of the soul but it seems clear that Jesus thinks there is an ethereal function within a human being.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 3, 2017

          It’s hard to read these passages without the Greek-tinted-glasses we have inherited! But I have to admit, I’m not completely sure how one could kill the body without destroying the soul if they were not two things. I’ll figure it out!

          • Avatar
            brandon284  April 4, 2017

            Thank you! Yes it seems like a bit of a dilemma this passage of body and soul. Please keep us posted on the matter! Loving this thread on the afterlife. Fascination subject

          • Avatar
            Konstantine  April 11, 2017

            Well perhaps Jesus is not talking about two ontologically distinct things that can exist separately, but rather two different “aspects” of the same thing, “body and life/mind/soul” and that even though the body could be killed, the “life/soul” could still exist in a sense to offer the opportunity of resurrection. However, if the life/soul is killed too, then that precludes being saved and resurrected when the Son of Man comes because there is no life or soul anymore. This is what I can discern based on your post on Heaven and Hell and what Jesus thought was going to soon happen. Perhaps it is like a computer. If I take apart a computer, yes it is destroyed, but I can put it back together and “resurrect” it. However, if I destroy all the software of it and energy it runs on, then no matter how I put back together the computer, it won’t run.

    • talmoore
      talmoore  March 30, 2017

      The ancient concepts of the soul can be very confusing to a modern day English speaker. It helps to understand that the ancients seemed to think that a person had two “souls”. One “soul” is the animating part of any and all living things. ALL animals had this “soul,” which is what made them animals (our word “animal” comes from the Latin anima, which is this very same animating “soul”). This first “soul” was ephemeral and transitory, disappearing as soon as the living thing died — both human and animal. This first “soul” in Hebrew is called the Nephesh.

      The second “soul,” on the other hand, was unique to human beings, and was seen as a piece of the divine within us that made us rise above the other animals. This second “soul” was permanent and eternal. In Hebrew, this second “soul” had various names: Ru’ach (which is where the Holy Spirit — Ru’ach ha-Qodesh — comes from), Neshama, etc. Upon death, this second “soul” could have any number of fates, from going “down” to the netherworld, to going “up” to the sky (i.e. heaven). Every culture appears to have had a different theory as to the final destination of the second soul.

      • Bart
        Bart  March 31, 2017

        Where do you find this teaching of the two souls?

        • talmoore
          talmoore  March 31, 2017

          It’s spread out throughout ancient literature. The first example that comes to my mind is Job 12:10 — “In whose hand is the soul (nephesh) of every (every!) living thing, and the spirit (ru’ach) of every man’s flesh.” Notice: EVERY living thing has a nephesh, but only men have the ru’ach. Two kinds of souls! When I have time maybe I’ll make you a list of more instances.

          Outside of Hebrew scripture, we see this as well in Greek philosophy. When Plato posits the tripartite soul, he distinguishes between the appetite, which is purely physical (and thus mortal), from the spirit (ψυχη) and the mind (νους). In modern parlance we would probably separate the psyche and nous into the affective mind (i.e. emotional) and cognitive mind (i.e. rational). Plato believed the psyche only existed as long as the body exists, but that the nous was independent of the body and immortal.

          For instance, in the Meno, Plato (via Socrates) is desperately trying to suss out if virtue is something that can be taught or whether men are born virtuous, and, by extension, are there men who no matter how much you teach them will never learn virtue. Plato concludes (tentatively) that there are, basically, two parts to the soul, the loco-sensary part that takes in input and outputs action, and the rational part, that separates man from beast. The loco-sensary soul is part of the body and only exists with the body. The rational soul, however, is part of the world of Ideas, and, therefore, is immortal and eternal. That’s why, for Plato, some men can be taught virtue while others can’t (because their rational soul is higher level, and when the soul “learns” it is really “remembering” an eternal truth it already knows from the world of Ideas) but, at the same time, men can still be taught to some degree (because their sensual soul is able to take in outside experience and retain it, just like an animal.) Anyway, I’m sure I’m not doing Plato justice. I’d look up other examples of this in Plato, but, honestly, it’s interwoven into just about everything he wrote.

          Aristotle makes the distinction more explicit in his On The Soul, in which he articulates the distinction between the “animal” soul and the “rational” soul. Aristotle credits Anaxagoras with making the distinction, saying Anaxagoras found the animating soul “in all animals…, but the mind (i.e. intelligence) appears not to belong alike in all animals, and indeed not even all human beings.” (De Anima I,2) In fact, Aristotle goes on to cite Democritus as the exception of a philosopher who *doesn’t* distinguish mind from soul (because Democritus was a philosophical naturalist, he believed everything worked at the atomic level, even the soul/mind). If you haven’t already, I couldn’t recommend more that you get a copy of Aristotle’s On The Soul and underline and highlight the crap out of it.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 2, 2017

            I’m not persuaded by Job 12:10. That is just (typical) synonymous parallelism, where “soul” and “spirit” are different ways of saying the same thing in poetic verse.

          • talmoore
            talmoore  April 2, 2017

            Fair enough, Dr. Ehrman. I’ve got some free time. Allow me to convince you.

            Gen. 1:30 — God puts into “every thing that creepeth upon the earth” a “living soul” (nephesh chayyah)
            Gen. 2:7 — God, again, breaths “the breath of life” (nishmath [construct form of neshama] chayyim), making him a “living soul” (nephesh chayyah)
            Gen. 1:2 — The “spirit of God” (ru’ach elohim) hovers over the surface. Note: God isn’t a “nephesh,” the soul of living things. He’s a “ru’ach”.
            Gen. 6:3 — God says His “spirit (ru’ach) will not reside in man forever,” because man is “also flesh” his days are numbered. In other words, God’s spirit (ru’ach) is immortal, but since men are mortal, eventually the physical body will die, and God will take His spirit back.
            Gen. 7:22 — God kills all “flesh” (basar) on earth, including “every man” on dry land, all who “the living spirit of life” was in his nostrils. (נִשְׁמַת-רוּחַ חַיִּים בְּאַפָּיו — nishmath-ru’ach chayyim b’apayu — lit. “spirit-spirit life in his nostil”).
            Gen. 41:38 — “And Pharaoh said unto his servants: ‘Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the spirit (ru’ach) of God is?'” Again, God has a ru’ach (i.e. the Holy Spirit of prophecy), not a nephesh. Two distinct kinds of spirits.

            Ecc. 12:7 — “And the dust returns to the earth, as it was, and the spirit (ru’ach) returns to God, who gave it.”

            Job 32:8 — “But it is a spirit (ru’ach) in man,” along with the nephesh of God “that giveth them understanding.”
            Job 33:4 — “The spirit (ru’ach) of God made me, and the soul (nephesh) of the Almighty gives me life.”
            Job 34:14 — “If He set His heart upon man, if He gather unto Himself his spirit (ru’ach) and his soul (nephesh);” Note: The author of Job appears to be implying that a man’s ru’ach and nephesh are not the exact same thing.

            I should point out that I don’t think the distinction was as clear-cut in the Hebrew literature as it is in the Greek, mainly because A) The Hebrew Bible had so many authors, and B) The Hebrew authors weren’t trying to uncover a fine-tuned philosophy of the soul like the Greeks were. In fact, Jews didn’t seem to adopt the sophistication of the Greeks until the intertestimental period, which is why you’ll find more of the psyche-nous distinction in the Jewish intertestimental literature, such as Philo.

          • Bart
            Bart  April 3, 2017

            Apart from other instances of synonymous parallelism, I’m not seeing anywhere that speaks of two souls. True, some authors speak about ru’ach and others of nephesh, but in the poetry, these are simply treated as synonyms.

      • tompicard
        tompicard  March 31, 2017

        as a ‘modern day English speaker’ I would not differentiate what you call the ‘Nephesh soul’ and my physical body (if as you say this ‘soul’ dies when I die) .

        Whether that other ‘Neshama soul’ continues when my physical body has ceased, is the interesting question.

        Does the Greek have corresponding different words for ‘soul’ ?
        which Greek word did Matthew put in Jesus’ mouth when quoting him in 10:28?

  7. Avatar
    tskorick  March 29, 2017

    I lack a decent method of searching in Hebrew, but multiple online resources say that the word Sheol occurs 65 times in Hebrew in the Masoretic text.

  8. Avatar
    BrianUlrich  March 29, 2017

    In Muslim tradition, and I don’t believe this is in the Qur’an, though it is early, people are actually physically punished for sins in the grave.

    It would be interesting to consider how Hebrew ideas compared to those of surrounding cultures. The idea of a non-corporeal soul seems distinctly Greek and Indian, but the Middle East (and China) were generally on board with a physical afterlife, hence the commonality of grave goods.

  9. Avatar
    mjt  March 29, 2017

    Ecclesiastes 9:5 says the dead are conscious of nothing. Is that the common view in the OT?

  10. Avatar
    Hume  March 29, 2017

    But logically Bart, Sheol is neither good or bad, just dark and unpleasant, yet not torturous, and everyone goes there. Whats the point in believing in Yahweh?! You are going to Sheol anyway.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 30, 2017

      Throughout history most people were highly religious NOT because of the afterlife but because of hte present life. And no one in antiquity would ask whether one “should believe in God” It would be like asking whether you should believe in humans. Everyone believed in the gods.

  11. Avatar
    Hume  March 29, 2017

    You say the soul was a Greek inspired idea. What else did the Jews take from the Greeks?

  12. Avatar
    Wilusa  March 29, 2017

    Did any other ancient cultures have afterlife beliefs similar to the Jews’ concept of Sheol, or was it unique?

  13. Avatar
    Hume  March 29, 2017

    Have you gone to Israel? The Sea of Galilee? Bethlehem? Jerusalem? The Church of the Sepulcher? If not, why not?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 30, 2017

      Of course!!

      • Avatar
        Hume  March 30, 2017

        I want to go badly. However, I’m worried about violence. Did you need security?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 31, 2017

          No, not at all. It’s much safer to be a tourist in Israel than to be a tourist in NYC (statistically).

  14. Avatar
    godspell  March 29, 2017

    Very similar to what the Sumerians seem to have believed, which makes sense. Honestly, sometimes that seems worse to me than hell, and certainly worse than Purgatory.

    The Egyptians were more optimistic, believing it was possible, by careful advance planning, to win yourself a comfortable berth in the afterlife (that was mainly reserved for the well-off).

    Would it be true to say that heaven and hell are drawn from the Greek beliefs about the afterlife? Elysian Fields and Tartarus?

  15. Avatar
    Tempo1936  March 29, 2017

    Senseless suffering and death…
    UPDATE: Texas Department of Public Safety says 13th passenger from church bus crash has died – AP

    Some celebrate the 13 are now in heaven.

    Who is right?

  16. Josephsluna
    Josephsluna  March 29, 2017

    Hello Bart, it has been a while ! i just want to say thank you for being you, and thank you for your hard work! i love this blog and what it stands for!

  17. Avatar
    NewKnox  March 30, 2017

    The following is an actual question given on a University of Arizona chemistry mid term, and an actual answer turned in by a student. (?)

    The answer by this student was so ‘profound’ that the professor shared it with colleagues, via the Internet, which is, of course, why we now have the pleasure of enjoying it as well :

    Bonus Question:

    Is Hell exothermic (gives off heat) or endothermic (absorbs heat)?

    Most of the students wrote proofs of their beliefs using Boyle’s Law (gas cools when it expands and heats when it is compressed) or some variant.

    One student, however, wrote the following:

    First, we need to know how the mass of Hell is changing in time. So we need to know the rate at which souls are moving into Hell and the rate at which they are leaving, which is unlikely. I think that we can safely assume that once a soul gets to Hell, it will not leave. Therefore, no souls are leaving. As for how many souls are entering Hell, let’s look at the different religions that exist in the world today.

    Most of these religions state that if you are not a member of their religion, you will go to Hell. Since there is more than one of these religions and since people do not belong to more than one religion, we can project that all souls go to Hell. With birth and death rates as they are, we can expect the number of souls in Hell to increase exponentially. Now, we look at the rate of change of the volume in Hell because Boyle’s Law states that in order for the temperature and pressure in Hell to stay the same, the volume of Hell has to expand proportionately as souls are added.

    This gives two possibilities:

    1. If Hell is expanding at a slower rate than the rate at which souls enter Hell, then the temperature and pressure in Hell will increase until all Hell breaks loose

    2. If Hell is expanding at a rate faster than the increase of souls in Hell, then the temperature and pressure will drop until Hell freezes over.

    So which is it?

    If we accept the postulate given to me by Teresa during my Freshman year that, ‘It will be a cold day in Hell before I sleep with you,’ and take into account the fact that I slept with her last night, then number two must be true, and thus I am sure that Hell is exothermic and has already frozen over. The corollary of this theory is that since Hell has frozen over, it follows that it is not accepting any more souls and is therefore, extinct….. …leaving only Heaven, thereby proving the existence of a divine being which explains why, last night, Teresa kept shouting ‘Oh my God.’

    THIS STUDENT RECEIVED AN A+.

    • Bart
      Bart  March 30, 2017

      HA!!!

    • Avatar
      smackemyackem  March 30, 2017

      Well played.

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  April 1, 2017

      That’s an excellent joke. It apparently started in a very different form by a scientist in 1920s and has been evolving ever since. This is the best form of it I’ve seen yet. Again it makes me wonder if anything in the gospel stories actually goes back to jesus.

  18. Avatar
    Eskil  March 31, 2017

    Are you going to cover Wisdom Of Solomon?

    “The souls of those who do what is right are in God’s hand.”

    “the body will be turned into ashes. The spirit will evaporate into thin air.”

    There seems to be some mockery about Jewish beliefs and references to reward and punishment after death:

    Wisdom 1

    1 By reasoning in their twisted way, the ungodly said: Our lives are short and painful. There is no antidote for death; no one has come back from the grave. 2 All of us came into being by chance. When our lives are over, it will be just as if we had never been. The breath in our nostrils is mere smoke. Reason is just a spark in the beating of our hearts. 3 When that spark is extinguished, the body will be turned into ashes. The spirit will evaporate into thin air. 4 Over time, our names will be forgotten. No one will remember our deeds. Our lives will pass away like the last wisps of a cloud. Our lives will be dispersed like a morning mist chased away by the sun and weighed down by the day’s heat. 5 Our time here is like a shadow passing by. There’s no turning back from death. It has been sealed, and no one will alter it.

    […]

    Wisdom 3

    1 The souls of those who do what is right are in God’s hand. They won’t feel the pain of torment. 2 To those who don’t know any better, it seems as if they have died. Their departure from this life was considered their misfortune. 3 Their leaving us seemed to be their destruction, but in reality they are at peace. 4 It may look to others as if they have been punished, but they have the hope of living forever. 5 They were disciplined a little, but they will be rewarded with abundant good things, because God tested them and found that they deserve to be with him. 6 He tested them like gold in the furnace; he accepted them like an entirely burned offering. 7 Then, when the time comes for judgment, the godly will burst forth and run about like fiery sparks among dry straw. 8 The godly will judge nations and hold power over peoples, even as the Lord will rule over them forever.

    […]

    10 The ungodly will get what their evil thinking deserves. They had no regard for the one who did what was right, and instead, they rose up against the Lord.

  19. Avatar
    Aage  April 1, 2017

    What about the references in Jude and 2 Peter to the fate of the of fallen angels from the Book of Enoch? The description of their dungeon fits the Hebrew concept of sheol but apparently they were alert enough that the author of 1 Peter thought it worth the effort to send Jesus to preach the gospel to them rather than waste his time in his own grave pretending to be dead.

    “And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day” (Jude 6, NIV)
    “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; (2 Peter 2:4, NIV).

    “After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits–to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water,” (1 Peter 3:19-20).

  20. Avatar
    dankoh  April 2, 2017

    Also look at early Mesopotamian myths about the afterlife; I recall there are some similarities to Sheol.

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