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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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SHEOL . The Semitic equivalent of the classical conception of Hades . The word has been derived from a number of roots. The two main probable origins seem to be those from the Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] root sha’al (‘to consult an oracle’), and shilu (‘chamber’). The latter derivation seems somewhat more in accordance with the synonym of pit. In any case, according to this derivation of the word, Sheol was regarded as an underworld of the dead in which the shades lived. Hebrew eschatology, although somewhat obscure in its early phase, probably tended to perpetuate the animistic conception. The habit of burying the family in communal tombs may also have lent some meaning to the word. In Sheol the dead continued to live as on earth. It seems to have been a somewhat common belief that they could be summoned by some process of necromancy ( 1 Samuel 2:6 ). In the absence of any consistent Hebrew eschatology, however, it is impossible to determine whether the dead were believed to be conscious or active. Apparently different opinions existed on this point (cf. Psalms 88:13 ; Psalms 94:17 ; Psalms 30:10 , Job 14:3 , with Ezekiel 32:27 ). From the latter it would appear that the non-activity of the dead was the more current opinion.

According to Eth. Enoch 22.1 14, Sheol was divided into four sections, intended respectively for the martyrs, the righteous who were not martyrs, sinners who had lived prosperously, and sinners who had been to some degree punished. The situation of those in these four sections varied from extreme bliss in the first case to loss of all hope of the resurrection in the fourth. The souls in the third division were to be ‘slain’ In the day of judgment; but the meaning of this is obscure. Nor is it at all clear that this fourfold division was commonly held. The twofold division into the abode of the blessed and the abode of those suffering punishment seems the more generally held. At the resurrection, which preceded the judgment, it was believed, at least by those under the influence of Pharisaism, that the righteous shades would rise from Sheol, and, after receiving new bodies, ascend to heaven.

The NT conception of Sheol is not fundamentally other than that of Judaism, if we may judge from the few references. The most important is that of Luke 16:23 , the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Hades (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] hell ) in the NT is either the synonym of death, or of complete loss and misery, although the idea of punishment is usually expressed by Gehenna . It would appear that the idea of purgatorial cleansing, which Rabbinical Judaism introduced into the conception, was altogether absent from NT thought. Christ is said ( Revelation 1:18 ) to have ‘the keys of death and Hades,’ and in 1 Peter 3:18 He is said to have preached to ‘spirits in prison,’ i.e. in Sheol (cf. Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] Baruch 23.4; 2 Es 7:85, 95). Generally speaking, however, the NT does not develop any new doctrine of Sheol, and is as far as possible from favouring the extreme speculation of either Rabbinic Judaism or of Patristic Christianity.

Shailer Mathews.

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These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Sheol'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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