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The Concept and Purpose of Hell: Its Nature and Development in West Semitic Thought

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A number of currents of thought gradually coalesced into the Judaeo-Christian conception of “hell.” This article attempts to relate them. The earliest traceable ideas involve a disembodied, subterranean existence of the common dead, or in exceptional cases total annihilation. Deceased kings were deified and continued to be involved in the affairs of the living, as in the Ugaritic funeral and kispum text KTU 1.161. This was parodied in Isaiah 14, which also indicates that such a belief was current, if criticised, in Israel-Judah. The theme of cosmic rebellion, wrongly traced to text KTU 1.6 i 43–67, actually emerged in such passages as Isaiah 14, Ezekiel 28 and post-biblical derivative texts. The arrogant royal figure of such passages merged with the developing figure of Satan. The tradition of child sacrifice in Israel-Judah, performed at the tophet in the Valley of Hinnom, also contributed to the geography of hell in its Greek form Gehenna.

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