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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia


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Hebrew word of uncertain etymology (see Sheol, Critical View ), synonym of "bor" (pit), "abaddon" and "shaḥ at" (pit or destruction), and perhaps also of "tehom" (abyss).

— Biblical Data:

It connotes the place where those that had died were believed to be congregated. Jacob, refusing to be comforted at the supposed death of Joseph, exclaims: "I shall go down to my son a mourner unto Sheol" (Genesis 37:36 , Hebr. comp. ib. 42:38 44:29,31). Sheol is underneath the earth ( Isaiah 7:11 , 57:9 Ezekiel 31:14 Psalm 86:13 Ecclus. [Sirach] 51:6 comp. Enoch, 17:6, "toward the setting of the sun") hence it is designated as ( Deuteronomy 32:22 Psalm 86:13 ) or (Psalm 88:7 Lamentations 3:55 Ezekiel 26:20 , 32:24 ). It is very deep (Proverbs 9:18 Isaiah 57:9 ) and it marks the point at the greatest possible distance from heaven (Job 11:8 Amos 9:2 Psalm 139:8 ). The dead descend or are made to go down into it the revived ascend or are brought and lifted up from it (1Samuel 2:6 Job 7:9 Psalm 30:4 Isaiah 14:11,15 ). Sometimes the living are hurled into Sheol before they would naturally have been claimed by it (Proverbs 1:12 Numbers 16:33 Psalm 55:16 , 63:10 ), in which cases the earth is described as "opening her mouth" (Numbers 16:30 ). Sheol is spoken of as a land (Job 10:21,22 ) but ordinarily it is a place with gates (ib. 17:16, 38:17 Isaiah 38:10 Psalm 9:14 ), and seems to have been viewed as divided into compartments (Proverbs 7:27 ), with "farthest corners" (Isaiah 14:15 Ezekiel 32:23 , Hebr. R. V. "uttermost parts of the pit"), one beneath the other (see Jew. Encyc. 5:217, s. v. Eschatology ). Here the dead meet (Ezekiel 32 Isaiah 14 Job 30:23 ) without distinction of rank or condition— the rich and the poor, the pious and the wicked, the old and the young, the master and the slave— if the description in Job iii. refers, as most likely it does, to Sheol. The dead continue after a fashion their earthly life. Jacob would mourn there (Genesis 37:35 , 42:38 ) David abides there in peace (IKings 2:6) the warriors have their weapons with them (Ezekiel 32:27 ), yet they are mere shadows ("rephaim" Isaiah 14:9 , 26:14 Psalm 88:5 , A. V. "a man that hath no strength"). The dead merely exist without knowledge or feeling (Job 14:13 Ecclesiastes 9:5 ). Silence reigns supreme and oblivion is the lot of them that enter therein (Psalm 88:13 , 94:17 Ecclesiastes 9:10 ). Hence it is known also as "Dumah," the abode of silence (Psalm 6:6 , 30:10 , 94:17 , 115:17 ) and there God is not praised (ib. 115:17 Isaiah 38:15 ). Still, on certain extraordinary occasions the dwellers in Sheol are credited with the gift of making known their feelings of rejoicing at the downfall of the enemy (Isaiah 14:9,10 ). Sleep is their usual lot (Jeremiah 51:39 Isaiah 26:14 Job 14:12 ). Sheol is a horrible, dreary, dark, disorderly land (Job 10:21,22 ) yet it is the appointed house for all the living (ib. 30:23). Return from Sheol is not expected ( 2Samuel 12:23 Job 7:9,10 10:21 14:7 et seq. 16:22 Ecclus. [Sirach] 38:21) it is described as man's eternal house ( Ecclesiastes 12:5 ). It is "dust" (Psalm 30:10 hence in the Shemoneh ' Esreh , in benediction No. ii., the dead are described as "sleepers in the dust").

God Its Ruler.
God's rulership over it is recognized (Amos 9:2 Hosea 13:14 Deuteronomy 32:22 1Samuel 2:6 [ Isaiah 7:11 ?] Proverbs 15:11 ). Hence He has the power to save the pious therefrom (Psalm 16:10 , 49:16 , the text of which latter passage, however, is recognized as corrupt). Yet Sheol is never satiated (Proverbs 30:20 ) she "makes wide her soul," i.e. , increases her desire (Isaiah 5:14 ) and capacity. In these passages Sheol is personified it is described also as a pasture for sheep with death as the shepherd (Psalm 49:15 ). From Sheol Samuel is cited by the witch of En-dor ( 1Samuel 28:3 et seq. ). As a rule Sheol will not give up its own. They are held captive with ropes. This seems to be the original idea underlying the phrase (2Samuel 22:6 Psalm 18:6 R. V., verse 5, "the cords of Sheol") and of the other expression, ( Psalm 116:3 R. V. "and the pains of Sheol") for they certainly imply restraint or capture. Sheol is used as a simile for "jealousy" ( Song of Song of Solomon 8:7 ). For the post-Biblical development of the ideas involved see Eschatology .


— Critical View:

The word "Sheol" was for some time regarded as an Assyro-Babylonian loan-word, "Shu' alu," having the assumed meaning "the place whither the dead are cited or bidden," or "the place where the dead are ingathered." Delitzsch, who in his earlier works advanced this view, has now abandoned it at least in his dictionary the word is not given. The non-existence of "Shu' alu" has been all along maintained by Jensen ("Kosmologie," p. 223), and recently again by Zimmern (in Schrader," K. A. T." 3d ed., p. 636, note 4) even against Jastrow's explanation (in "Am. Jour. Semit. Lang." 14:165-170) that "sha' al" = "to consult an oracle," or "to cite the dead" for this purpose, whence the name of the place where the dead are. The connection between the Hebrew "Sheol" and the Assyro - Babylonian "shillan" (west), which Jensen proposed instead (in "Zeitschrift fü r Assyriologie," 5:131, 15:243), does not appear to be acceptable. Zimmern (l.c. ) suggests "shilu" (= "a sort of chamber") as the proper Assyrian source of the Hebrew word. On the other hand, it is certain that most of the ideas covered by the Hebrew "Sheol" are expressed also in the Assyro-Babylonian descriptions of the state of the dead, found in the myths concerning Ishtar's descent into Hades, concerning Nergal and Ereshkigal (see Jensen in Schrader, "K. B." vi., part 1, pp. 74-79) and in the Gilgamesh epic (tablets ii. and xii. comp. also Craig, "Religious Texts," 1:79 King, Magic," No. 53).

This realm of the dead is in the earth ("erẓ itu" = comp. Job 10:21,22 ), the gateway being in the west. It is the "land without return." It is a dark place filled with dust (see Sheol, Biblical Data ) but it contains a palace for the divine ruler of this shadow-realm (comp. Job 18:13,14 ). Seven gates guard successively the approach to this land, at the first of which is a watchman. A stream of water flows through Sheol (comp. Enoch, 17:6, 22:9 Luke 16:24 Psalm 18:5 2Samuel 22:5 ).

Origin of Biblical Concept.
The question arises whether the Biblical concept is borrowed from the Assyrians or is an independent development from elements common to both and found in many primitive religions. Though most of the passages in which mention is made of Sheol or its synonyms are of exilic or post-exilic times, the latter view, according to which the Biblical concept of Sheol represents an independent evolution, is the more probable. It reverts to primitive animistic conceits. With the body in the grave remains connected the soul (as in dreams): the dead buried in family graves continue to have communion (comp. Jeremiah 31:15 ). Sheol is practically a family grave on a large scale. Graves were protected by gates and bolts therefore Sheol was likewise similarly guarded. The separate compartments are devised for the separate clans, septs, and families, national and blood distinctions continuing in effect after death. That Sheol is described as subterranean is but an application of the custom of hewing out of the rocks passages, leading downward, for burial purposes.

Bibliography : Stade, Ueber die A. T. Vorstellungen vom Zustande nach dem Tode , Leipsic, 1877 idem, Gesch. des Volkes Israel , 1:418 et seq. idem, Biblische Theologie des A. T. pp. 183 et seq. , Tü bingen, 1905 F. Schwally, Das Leben nach dem Tode , Giessen, 1892 A. Bertholet, Die Israelitischen Vorstellungen vom Zustande nach dem Tode , Freiburg, 1899 G. Beer, Der Biblische Hades , Tü bingen, 1902 idem , in Guthe, Kurzes Bibelwö rterbuch , s.v. Hö lle Zimmern, in K. A. T. 3d ed., 2:641,642, Berlin, 1903 (where the Assyrian literature is given).E. G. H.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Sheol'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901.

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