One of the words in the Christian New Testament for hell,
the place of destruction. The word is derived from the Hebrew
ge and hinnom, the Valley of Hinnom—originally a valley in Palestine
where the Hebrews passed their children through the
fire to Moloch, the god of the Ammonites (1 Kings 11; 2 Kings
Gehenna was popularly regarded as a place of destruction
to which the wicked were consigned when they died (Matt.
187–8). Gehenna is usually translated as ‘‘hell fire’’ in the New
Testament (Mark 943; Luke 125). Over the centuries it was
merged with other terms for the abode of the dead, and
through the writings of novelists such as Dante and John Milton
the Christian world was given a description of hell as a
place of unutterable anguish, horror, and despair.
The locality of hell and the duration of its torments have for
centuries been the subject of much speculation. Some imagined
there was a purgatorial region—a kind of upper Gehenna ‘‘in
which the souls of just men are cleansed by a temporary punishment’’
before being admitted to heaven. It was believed that
during this period the soul could revisit the places and persons
it had loved. The Persians understood Gehenna as the place inhabited
by the divs (rebellious angels), to which the rebels were
confined when they refused to bow down before the first man.