Sunday, March 13, 2011

Blogging heaven and hell: 3

There have been some great contributions to this discussion - my thanks to commenters, etc. Here goes. Bob McDonald has blogged on Psalm 21. This passage provides a counterpoint to my blogging about the watery "deeps,"
When you appear for battle,
you will burn them up as in a blazing furnace.
The LORD will swallow them up in his wrath,
and his fire will consume them.
Read Bob's translation and post on this passage here. To me, it appears that both floodwaters and fire are metaphors for destruction, in the same way that living water and flames of fire are metaphors for life.

Kurk comments,
For a (Jewish) translator of the Greek New Testament such as Willis Barnstone, the changes in meaning are significant. Barnstone, for example, translates Matthew 16:18 as follows:

And I tell you that you are Kefa the rock
And upon this rock I will build my church,*
And the gates of Gei Hinnom will not overpower it.

*Here's Barnstone's footnote:

The Greek words ἐκκλησία (ekklesia) and συναγωγή (synagogue) mean an “assembly,” “gathering,” or “congregation,” and both words can refer to “synagogue.” However, ekklesia (except in the Septuagint Greek version of the Hebrew Bible) is normally translated church, while synagogue is the common word for “synagogue.” Here, in Yeshua’s prophecy, the intentional futurity of “I will build my church” is contrasted with the old Jewish tradition represented by Gei Hinnom, [in this context] the Hebrew word for “hell.” Yeshua’s dramatic message is that he will build on a rock the new church that will overcome the old synagogue, and that Christian heaven will overcome Jewish hell. In his lifetime there was no Christian church, and Yeshua preached in the synagogues. For the observant Jew to say that he would “build a church” is an anachronism, revealing not his voice but that of churchmen many decades later when a Christian church as a building and institution did exist. The superimposition of later terminology, theology, and history on the figures of Yeshua and his followers remains the essential dilemma of the New Testament.
Mike makes an excellent recommendation of the book The Evangelical Universalist. I have been reading through The History of Hell on google books. The section on univeralism starts around page 233. Eric recommended The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds, by Alan E. Bernstein. There is a video from Out of Ur, and a very meticulous series by Randy Olds on Hell.


Paula Fether said...

I was involved in a debate on "Christian Universalism" elsewhere and am out of energy to pick it up again right now. But I did blog about it:

Basically, if everybody's going to heaven, then it would be better to dispense with spreading the gospel and those who have died for converting to Christianity have suffered needlessly. Jesus promised us persecution for our faith; how can this be so if the real gospel is not how to be saved but that you can go to heaven no matter how bad you are or what you believe?

Anonymous said...

Gack! I am surprised that Barnstone thinks Jesus equated Jewish tradition to Gehenna!

Here is my understanding.
Jesus was a Torah observant Jew that did follow many of the Jewish traditions of the time, except when they negated Tanakh. Greek ekklesia has a common meaning of congregation, and Jesus is saying that (1) Simon's new nickname is Stone, (2) upon the bedrock belief of Jesus as Messiah (that Simon had just said), Jesus will build his congregation (people), that is, his (true) disciples. (3) That the Jewish idiom "gates of hell" grotto nearby where Jesus was walking when he said this (that was filled with idolatrous pagan "gods" did not pose any fear to believers in Jesus, contra some Jewish sages who said it was better to just avoid that place, hence the idiomatic name.

Don Johnson

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am sorry that your comments are disappearing. I am receiving them all in my email. I don't know why this is happening. Perhaps the problem will clear up of itself. I hope so.

Anonymous said...

No problem, Sue. I think now that it may be an issue with Blogger, since I remember this happening a few years ago somewhere else. It would allow anonymous comments but not "name / url" comments. So let's see if this one works...

~ Paula

Anonymous said...

That seems to be it. Here's a possible solution I found at Blogger Help:

Have you checked your comment spam folder? Click on "Design" in the Navbar, click on the "Comments" tab, then click on "Spam" in the sub-menu under the tabs. If you see valid comments there from people using Name/URL, check the box to the left of their comments and click the "NOT SPAM" button. By doing that, their comments will be moved to the Published folder and their comments will be made visible on your blog

J. K. Gayle said...

> Don,
Barnstone (in The Gnostic Bible, with Marvin Meyer) glosses "Gehenna" as "Vally of Hinnom, an unholy ravine near Jerusalem, often identified with hell. Referred to in the Gospel of the Great Supper and elsewhere." In his book The Other Bible Barnstone shows "Ge- hinnom" in the context of some likely pseudo Abrahamic text. In the note at Mt 16:18, he's not saying "Jesus equated Jewish tradition to Gehenna" but that "[t]he superimposition of later terminology, theology, and history on the figures of Yeshua and his followers remains the essential dilemma of the New Testament." Barnstone is specifically troubled by the use of ekklesia (and not synagogue) here, which he suggests is "an anachronism, revealing not [Jesus's] voice." (Barnstone translates the feminine and masculine Greek paired words both as rocks, which stresses in English the ambiguity, which is not the focus of his footnote. Ann Nyland does focus on the difference both in her footnote but also in her translation: "Peter, the stone, and I will build my assembly upon me, the rock.") So back to hell / Gei Hinnom: Barnstone in footnotes elsewhere gives the Hebrew and the Greek with English transliterations.

> Suzanne and Paula,
Blogger has done the same thing recently to a commenter at my blogspot blog. Except she signed in with her blogger / google account. Don't know what's going on here. If you find a solution, please post it here. Likewise, I'll share anything that I can find that might help.

Anonymous said...

I agree that gehenna (or with Hebrew spelling) is a garbage dump outside Jerusalem.

However, I have read that "gates of gehenna" was a Jewish idiom to a thoroughly pagan place, a grotto with a bunch of small caves that held pagan idols, so this was a total gross out to a Jew. One can visit this place today, without any idols in it, just the caves.

It is like they were making a deprecatory joke, this way (gates) to the garbage dump or poluted place. But recall that 1st century Jews were concerned about being ritually clean so they could go to temple and avoided things that would make them unclean. The Pharisees extended the things that made one unclean, beyond what the Tanakh taught, so Jews would not normally go to "the gates of gehenna" location. But Jesus is saying not to be concerned about this merely human teaching.

Don Johnson

EricW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
EricW said...

But Matthew doesn't have Jesus saying "the gates of gehenna." Rather, he has him saying, "(the) gates of hades" (no definite article). If hades equates to sheol, the place of the dead, then "(the) gates of hades" would be an idiom for death or the power of death, would it not (and not a reference to the Valley of Hinnom)?

Anonymous said...

Duh! I got my hells mixed up.

The Greek has gates of hades, as you wrote. That was the idiom, my bad, in Hebrew gates of sheol, as pagan idolatry leads to death.

Don Johnson