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Definitions of Hell

According to some religious beliefs, hell is a place or a state of painful suffering. The word hell comes from the Teutonic word hel, which translates into ďto cover.Ē

So, how exactly do different religions view the concept of hell?

Letís take a look at the three most prominent world religions:

Rabbinic Judaism

The Kabbalah describes Gehenna as a sort of waiting room for souls. All souls enter into Gehenna, regardless of their qualities of good or evil. The Rabbinic common thought is that souls do not dwell in Gehenna for a long period of time. In fact, a year seems to be the limit. The soul stays in Gehenna for purification until it is ready for itís ascent to Olam Habah, or the world to come. Olam Habah could be considered to be the Rabbinic version of Heaven. The Kabbalah describes this process as the breaking of the soul, like one candle flame lighting another. The part of the soul that ascends to Olam Habah is purified, and the leftover or unfinished part of the soul is reborn.

Geenna (or Gehenna) is the name of a real place. It comes from Hebrew and means "Gorge of Hinnom (Ge-Hinnom)". This gorge can still be visited today near Jerusalem. In the time of the Old Testament it was a place where children were sacrificed to the Ammonite god Molech (2 Kings 23,10).


The concept of Hell varies within the framework of the Christian religions. Most versions include a belief that Hell is the domain of Satan or the Devil. Because of his disobedience of Godís will, Satan was cast along with his followers into Hell. Hell is most often depicted as a hot, fiery underground domain with the spirits of the damned confined to either temporary or eternal damnation.

Other beliefs, such as Roman Catholicism have changed dramatically over the past several years. Pope Paul II clarified the beliefs from Hell being a place or a purgatory to instead being a state of spiritual emptiness, or a separation from the presence of God. This is an amazing transformation given the fact that earlier teachings of the Catholic version of hell included demons, seas of fire, smoke and flame, and shrieks and groans of pain and despair.

Latter-day Saints present an elaborately complex vision of hell. The concept of a Spirit Prison is a place where souls of the wicked temporarily wait for resurrection. If these souls do not make the necessary transitions, then they are sent to a permanent hell, called the Outer Darkness. The Outer Darkness is inhabited by the Sons of Peridition, who are considered to be irredeemable and wicked to the core.

The biblical descriptions in the New Testament describe hell as a place of darkness, fire, and sulphur, with weeping and tears, gnashing of teeth and torment. It is seen as a place apart from heaven, and that at the end of the world the Earth itself will become Hell for all those who are not redeemed.

The population of Hell again varies from belief to belief. Some believe that all the souls who die without accepting Jesus as their savior, who die in sin and without repentance are without Godís grace and therefore are doomed to either temporary or eternal damnation of the soul.

This becomes a real issue for some Christian denominations because their beliefs are Biblically based, and of course, many of the righteous Jews of the Old Testament lived before Christ arrived, and so they could not accept him as their savior. In some traditions these worthy souls went directly to Heaven with Godís permission. In other traditions, however, they were forced to wait in Limbo until the Harrowing of Hell, during the three days between the Crucifixion and the Resurrection.


Islam beliefs are based on Jahannam, a place of hotness, and Jannah, a garden like paradise. Jahannam and Jannah are both multi-level. Where the soul goes after life depends on the level of evil done in life, as well as how well the teachings of Allah were followed. The Qurían says that those who are damned to Jahannam are not damned forever. When Judgment Day arrives, every soul in Jahannam will be judged, and if found worthly, will enter Jannah.

Chinese and Japanese Beliefs

Both the Chinese and Japanese belief systems about Hell are complex. The ruler of Hell is a political figure which in Chinese tradition can be bribed with Hell Bank Notes. These are burned for the dead at funerals. Hell money can be used by the dead for bribes and for spending either in Heaven or in Hell. Going to Hell in either of these traditions really doesnít have a lot to do with whether someone was evil in their lifetime or not.


Beliefs vary about the existence of Hell in different Hindu traditions. For some it is a metaphor for a conscience. In other traditions people who commit paap or sin go to hell and are punished accordingly for the types of sins they have committed. Yama, the god of death, is the king of hell. Records of the sins of each person are kept by Chitragupta, the record keeper in Yamaís court. When a soul arrives before Yama, his sins are read aloud by Chitragupta, and Yama determines the appropriate punishments. These punishments can range from being dipped in boiling oil, burned in fire, and various means of torture. When the soul has been punished enough, they are reborn according to their Karma. According to this particular belief, everyone is created imperfect so all go to hell, but if there is little sin on their record, they are allowed to ascend to Heaven or Swarga very quickly.


As in Hinduism, beliefs about Hell vary from sect to sect. Most beliefs acknowledge the existence of several hells, which are places of suffering for those who commit evil actions. There are hot hells and cold hells. But, all of these Hells are impermanent, as is life. Those with negative karma are reborn in Hell, until their negative karma is used up. At this point they may be reborn into another realm, such as human, hungry ghost, animal, asuras, devas, or demons, depending on individual karma.

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