Imagini ale paginilor
PDF
ePub

what the text must teach by the exigencies of the doctrine. They come to the Scriptures, not to ascertain what is there taught, but to search for scraps and fragments which, by skilful arrangement, can be compelled to support a conclusion already assumed.

But let us examine these points, assumed in the usual interpretation of these texts, with the care which the importance of the subject requires. 1. Does Gehenna mean a place or state of endless suffering, for those who depart from this life unregenerate, in the usual meaning of that term? Is it used in the passages under examination, or in any other portion of the Scripture, to designate a place or condition of endless suffering for any portion of the human race? This question leads directly to the inquiry concerning the history and meaning of the term Gehenna.

Learned men inform us that Gehenna is a word unknown in classic Greek,-that, in fact, it is not a Greek word, but a combination of two Hebrew words, written in Greek characters :-Ge, which signifies a valley, and Hinnom, the name of a person who once owned the valley. Hence the primary and literal meaning of the term is, the valley of Hinnom. This place is several times mentioned in the Old Testament. In the division of the land among the tribes, this valley constituted a portion of the boundary between. Judah and Benjamin. It is next mentioned as having already become a place of idolatrous worship, where the apostate Israelites sacrificed their sons and daughters; and as being defiled by king Josiah with a view to prevent any further use of the place for such purposes.2 In this passage Topheth is mentioned as the portion of the valley in which the idolatrous rites were celebrated, and of course the part defiled by the king. Some writers say that it received this name from a Hebrew word which signifies a drum; because -if we may trust the rabbins-instruments of this kind were used, during the celebration of the idolatrous rites, to drown the cries of the children there sacrificed. Others say that the name is derived from a word, signifying a fire-stove, alluding to the manner in which the children were offered in sacrifice. Yet others say that the name is derived from a word which means "to spit out," " to vomit," in allusion

1 Joshua, xv. 8; xviii. 16.

22 Kings, xxiii. 10. 2 Chron. xxviii. 3. Ezekiel, xxiii. 37-39.

to the intense loathing which, in its later history, the place was so well adapted to excite. The next instance in which we find this place mentioned is in a description of the wickedness of Ahaz, where we are told that "he burnt incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire." Again, Manasseh "caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom.” 4 The place is mentioned in five other instances in the Old Testament, but we gain no further information from them.

5

This valley was close under the southern wall of Jerusalem; that is, of the ancient city,-the present city does not extend so far south. From the ancient wall there was a very steep descent into a deep valley, or ravine, which, skirting the city on the west and south, opened near the southeast corner of the city into the valley of Jehoshaphat, which bounded the city on the north and east. In the early history of the place, during the rainy seasons, the water from the fountain of Gihon, on the west of the city, passed through this valley into the brook Kedron. But in later times it is thought, that Hezekiah stopped this passage, and conducted the water from the fountain into reservoirs within the city. After the time of Solomon, this valley or ravine, became the principal place of the idolatrous worship of the Jews. Great pains were taken to adorn and beautify the place. Groves were planted, fountains constructed, altars erected and images set up. The shaded walks, cooled by the play of waters, and ornamented with the various devices of art, rendered this valley one of the most attractive and delightful places imaginable, especially to those who resorted thither to participate in the religious ceremonies which were there observed. Here, as already intimated, was celebrated the worship of the Ammonitish god Moloch. This was the national god of the Canaanites, and under different names, he seems to have been worshiped with similar rites by several neighboring nations. The image or statue of the god was of brass-in the form of the human body, resting upon a large brazen stove or oven, and surmounted by the head of

3 A. Clarke, Com. on 2 Kings, xxiii. 10; Kitto, Cyc. Bib. Lit. Art. Tophet; Robinson's Greek and English Lex. of N. T. Art. Gehenna; Campbell, Prel. Dis. vi. Pt. 2. §1.

42 Chron. xxviii. 3; xxxiii. 6.

5 Jer. vii. 31, 32; xix. 2; xxxii. 35. Neh. xi. 30.

an ox.

The arms were out-stretched in a position to receive the offering or sacrifice. The stove and statue being heated by a fire kindled within, the victim was placed upon the arms of the idol, and passed immediately-probably through an aperture in the breast of the statue-into the blazing furnace beneath. Some say that the space within the image was divided into seven apartments, in which were enclosed as many different sacrifices, one of which was a child. Then the image was heated by a fire kindled on the outside, and all the sacrifices consumed together. From the reign of Solomon to that of Josiah-a period of three hundred years -this form of idolatry appears to have been almost a complete fascination to the Jewish people, and, like the depraved idolators who inhabited the land before them, they did not hesitate, occasionally at least, to celebrate these bloody rites by the immolation of their own children. In the twelfth year of his reign, Josiah determined to rid the land of this abomination. In pursuance of this design, he cut down the groves in the valley of Hinnom; he took the bones of the idolatrous priests from the sepulchres where they had been buried, and burnt them upon the heathen altars; he ground their sacred images to dust; and strowed it upon the graves of those who had worshiped them; he destroyed the fountains, and overturned the altars, leaving neither shred nor fragment of the abominable rites to pollute the land. He even slew the priests that ministered at the altars of Moloch, and then, to deter the people, if possible, from ever resorting thither again for such purposes, he strowed the place with dead men's bones, obtained from the numerous sepulchres in the vicinity. In the mind of a Jew, this was the most odious of all pollutions; and from this time the beautiful valley that had proved such a snare to the Israelites, gradually became as loathsome as it had once been delightful. It was made the receptacle of the offal and filth, so constantly accumulating in large cities. It is said to have been the place of execution for atrocious criminals, whose bodies being denied the rites of burial, were burned with the filth and ordure of the city, in the fires that were kept constantly burning to consume these impurities, lest in decaying they should breed a pestilence in the city. This

6

62 Kings, xxii., xxiii; 2 Chron. xxxiv.

[ocr errors]

custom would naturally give rise to a proverbial or figurative use of the term Gehenna. The wicked, unprincipled, and reckless would be urged to reformation by the terrors of Gehenna. Its loathsome scenes and its horrible penalties would become the ready allusion to deter the impious and profane. Gehenna would become with them the representative of the most cruel and disgraceful punishments, as the gibbet once was, and the gallows now is with us. And since the most terrific punishments, known under the Mosaic dispensation, were inflicted on those guilty of crimes against religion, of course the idolator and the apostate might regard Gehenna with much the same feelings, as in Spain the convicted heretic once experienced at the thought of the Inquisition.

To a Jew an ignominious death and a denial of the rites of burial was a calamity with which nothing else could compare. No lot in life could be so favored as to atone for such disgrace at its close. Hence the proverb: "If a man beget a hundred children, and live many years, so that the days of his years be many, and his soul be not filled with good, and also that he have no burial; I say that an untimely birth is better than he." And the prophet, representing the extremity of evil which should befal the degenerate Jehoiakim, says, "He shall be buried with the burial of an ass, drawn and cast forth beyond the gates of Jerusalem.” 8 This seems to be a direct reference to the custom of throwing the bodies of a certain class of criminals into Gehenna, to be burnt like the bodies of unclean animals, or any other offal from the city. The very fact that it was the last and lowest point of infamy to which the law could pursue the most abandoned and ignominious criminals; the fact that it touched its victim at a point upon which the Jew was most sensitive are sufficient to show how keenly alive must have been the mind of that people to the dreaded doom of Ge

henna.

There is a passage frequently quoted from Jeremiah to show that, even in his time, the name of this valley had already acquired a figurative signification; and that it was used to represent the terrible judgments that were fast hastening upon the nation. But the fact that the prophet was

7 Eccl. vi. 3.

8 Jeremiah, xxii. 19.

contemporary with Josiah-there being but a few years difference between them; that he was called to the prophetic office before the labors of Josiah to purge the land of idolatry, and, consequently, before the delightful and attractive valley had been rendered odious and loathesome by those labors; and also, that the passage in question is contained in one of the earlier messages of the prophet -would seem an ample refutation of any attempt to establish upon the authority of this passage, the figurative use of Gehenna to signify punishment, calamity or distress. While the place was still adorned with the rare productions of art; while it was shaded by beautiful groves-watered by a rippling brook, and cooled by the play of fountains; and especially while it was yet the theatre of those gorgeous and imposing rites with which the heathen nations celebrated their wor ship, it needs no argument to show that it would not be used as the emblem of punishment, ignominy or torture. If, under such circumstances, the term had been used at all in a figurative sense, it would have suggested to the people-at least to those who resorted thither for worshipthoughts of pleasure and delight, rather than otherwise. These suggestions will be justified by a more careful examination of the passage. It is only necessary to read the prophet's language with due caution to convince any one that neither the usual designation of the valley, nor Tophet-which is only another name for the same thing-is used in any figurative sense at all; but unquestionably in their plain, literal signification. The message of the prophet is a denunciation of judgments upon the children of Judah, for the abominations they had committed in the temple of the Lord, as well as for their idolatrous worship, and the sacrifice of their children, in the valley of Hinnom. And there would be the same propriety in saying that the temple is used in this passage figuratively to denote the punishment for their iniquities, as in saying that Gehenna, or Tophet is so used. The fact that this place is particularly mentioned in connexion with those judgments, is no evidence that it is used figuratively to signify those judgments. Neither does the fact that the name of the place should afterwards be called "the valley of slaughter " fur

9 Jeremiah, vii. 30-34.

« ÎnapoiContinuă »