Mt. 23:15 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
Wow, Jesus. “Son of hell.” Poetically bad mood we’re in, isn’t it?
Of course Jesus didn’t have Screwtape in mind when he said that. “Hell” here is Gehenna, quite a literal place, a valley south of Jerusalem. It had been a place where sacrifices had been offered to the bull god, Molech. Iron statues of him were formed with a fireplace at the bottom and a series of shelves on which sacrifices were placed: crops, herds, and children. Worship of Molech is called an abomination in the Hebrew Scriptures. When the fires were lit, the metal of the statue would contract, and it would look as though the bull were flexing its arms. Milton called him the “horrid king besmeared with the blood of human sacrifice and parents’ tears.” (2 Chron. 28:3, Jer. 7:31)
When Nehemiah rebuilt the city walls, to the south they placed the Dung Gate, the gate through which the waste of Jerusalem was exported, down to the cursed valley, where it was burned. Literally, Gehenna was a place of fire remembered for its child sacrifices.
So when Jesus tells the Pharisees that they are making their converts children of hell, he has in mind children whose lives were robbed of them in dedication to mindless religion. And this is a particularly good interpretation of what legalism does to the human soul. Those who are locked into blind, fearful, law abidance are only sacrifices to mindless religion. And that’s not what Jesus was about. In fact, it sort of ticked him off.
The legalists are “sons of hell.” The children of Gehenna. Poetically bad mood, Jesus.
3 thoughts on “Gehenna”
Thanks. When I find out new things about the story of Jesus, it makes me feel more connected to him. I think that’s called spirituality for nerds.
I liked the additional history lesson this week, really added to the sermon. The mental images made much more sense talking through the text.