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Friday, November 16, 2012

Another Reason Why I'm Not Going To Hell

As a Pagan I have no personal belief in Hell. However, as many of my readers fall in to the ChristoPagan category, I felt it was an important subject to cover. Chances are, if you're open about your beliefs - ChristoPagan or not - you've heard the "You're going to Hell" line from someone in your life. I know, doing the amount of "teaching" that I try and do, I usually hear it at least once a week. While I don't generally get in to the "There is no Hell" argument, but on occasion, I'm glad to report I usually win... Barring of course those times that I get the "La-La-La I can't hear you" people, but they are usually the ones I tend to ignore in the first place.

As it is, I was lucky in the fact that I did not grow up with a teaching of Hell. My mother & her family are all Jehovah's Witnesses. And JWs don't hold a belief in Hell. Many people believe this is proof that they are not Christian, which couldn't be further from the truth, or this subject, so I'll discuss that one later. But Witnesses do have a great drive to live and believe according only to the Bible, believing that it is the infallible word of God. While I hated growing up JW at the time, and I still wish things had been different, I'm thankful for the biblical education I was provided with.

Part of that Biblical education was on the subject of Hell. Since it's a common Christian teaching, and yet something which is not taught by the JWs it's a subject which they need to be highly educated on, as it comes up in their ministry work quite a bit. Obviously, I don't share the majority of their beliefs, or their beliefs on an afterlife, but history is history, regardless of ones religious beliefs - Well, usually...

The first thing that needs to be mentioned here is that Hell is NOT mentioned in the Bible, or at least not in the original texts. The King James Version has been proven over and over again to have quite a few "typos" if you will. It seems as if King James had his own agenda beyond preserving the Biblical texts and it affected the translation. These "typos" include the mistranslation of terms such as Sheol or Hades in to the word Hell. And unfortunately this became a trend that later translates would follow. This is the reason that many of today's Bibles do actually contain the word Hell. However, today there is a trend for Christian Religious Organizations and Denominations to re-translate the bible using the original texts, or more properly, the copies of them, using the current understandings of these languages, which creates a more accurate translation. In fact it was the New World Translation, rather than the King James, which won the award for "Most Accurate Biblical Translation" from the Guinness Book Company in the 1990's (a title which they continue to hold). The New World Translation, as well as a growing number of new translations, do not include the word Hell, opting instead for terms such as Hades or Sheol.

But wait, isn't Sheol & Hades really the same thing as Hell? Well, simply, NO! It's important to remember that these terms came out of previous religious beliefs of the people and land of the time in which these texts were written. Hell, is not a concept that the Israelites/Jews or the Ancient Greeks embraced.

In point of fact, the Israelite word "Sheol" simply meant, common grave. That's it, it was nothing more than a hole in the ground! If you read the Old Testament, you'll find that there not only was no belief in Hell, but that the belief of simply returning to dust was the common teaching. I should also mention that the term Gehenna is used as the place which criminals will go to burn. But again, it's worth noting that this was a physical place, not a spiritual one. Gehenna was in fact, the burning garbage dump outside of Jerusalem, where the bodies of the criminals were thrown rather than burying them. Nothing mystical about it. What many people choose to skip over, is the idea that both of these terms are not a part of the Jewish Mythology, but a part of the Messianic Law - which was the common law of the Israelites/Jerusalem. Archeologists have found fragments of these laws during excavations of middle eastern settlements, so it's safe to say the laws found in the Bible are at least for the most part an accurate portrayal of the laws of the day.

I've found that most Pagans today know the difference between Hell and Hades, but unfortunately it's not a completely common understanding, so I am going to cover that as well. Hades is mentioned all through the Bible, and was nearly always mistranslated to mean Hell. However, here we need to understand first that Paul (who mentions Hades) was speaking to Greeks. The Ancient Greeks did not and would not, have seen Hades as an equal to the Christian Hell. Hades, in Ancient Greek beliefs, was not a place of torture or pain. It was the afterlife as a whole. Had Paul been referring to a place of eternal pain, he would not have used the term Hades, but the term Tartarus. Hades as a whole, included three areas, the Elysian Fields, Asphodel Meadows and Tartarus, which was where evil persons (or those to be punished by the Gods) were placed and tortured. The Ancient Greeks would have seen this as a distinction, so we should as well.

So, here's what it all boils down to - Even though Hell is a common belief among many Christian Denominations (not all mind you) it wasn't so until the later part of the third century A.D. Christianity had survived between 300 and 400 years by the time Hell became a commonly heald belief and came more out of the Church's need to convert than anything else. We need to remember that the Texts which today make up the Bible were NOT written to or for the people of today (although still applicable for the resulting belief systems) they were written in the common languages and terminology of the day in which they were written. Why would we take texts which were written 2000 years ago and try to read them as if they were going to meet today's common thinking? Instead we need to look at them through the understandings of the people they were first written for, that means not updating meanings but looking at the terms as they were meant to be understood.

So the next time some overly zealous preacher uses the argument of Hell to tell you why your beliefs are wrong, I suggest pointing out some of these very easy to understand points. I also suggest, if you wish to argue some of these points, that you get yourself a newer translation of the Bible than the KJV and compare. If nothing else, it's a good understanding to have for those who have or use Christian basics in their beliefs or practice.

**Originally published on my One Witch's Wonderland Blog, August 2, 2011.

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