The word that we know as “Hell” was first used in Joshua 15:8 in the Hebrew Scriptures… “Then the border went up the valley of Ben-hinnom to the slope of the Jebusite on the south (that is, Jerusalem); and the border went up to the top of the mountain which is before the valley of Hinnom to the west, which is at the end of the valley of Rephaim toward the north.”
The Greek word Gehenna (or Gehenom or Gehinom) refers to a fiery place where the wicked are punished after they die or on Judgment Day. It traces its origin to the Hebrew Gêhinnôm (also Guy ben-Hinnom) meaning the “Valley of Hinnom’s son”.
According to the Wikipedia, “The valley forms the southern border of ancient Jerusalem and stretches from the foot of Mt. Zion, eastward, to the Kidron Valley. Originally it referred to a garbage dump in a deep narrow valley right outside the walls of Jerusalem where fires were kept burning to consume the refuse and keep down the stench. It is also the location where bodies of executed criminals, or individuals denied a proper burial, would be dumped. In addition, this valley was frequently not controlled by the Jewish authority within the city walls; it is traditionally held that this valley was used as a place of religious child-sacrifice to Moloch by the Canaanites outside the city.”
So is the garbage dump in the valley of Hinnom’s son what Jesus was talking about when he reffered to, “Hell, the unquenchable fire”. In Mark 9:43, where Jesus is supposed to have said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out”, was he simply using the commonly known local dump as a metaphor for just one heckuva bad state of being? If so, then why do so many Christians think of hell as an actual physical place people go to after they die?
In one of his sermons at the Washington National Cathedral, Rev. Eugene Sutton, notes, “It never ceases to amaze me that that particular exaggeration of Jesus becomes a literal fact of the afterlife in the consciousness of so many people. I’m afraid it says more about the fear and insecurity of the hearers who are taught to think of God as a vengeful and frightful being, than it does about the Compassionate One who sometimes used ‘holy hyperbole’ in order to get people to rethink their priorities and get their spiritual houses in order before it’s too late.”