hell, in Western monotheistic religions, eternal abode of souls damned by the judgment of God. The souls in hell are deprived forever of the sight of God. The punishment of hell is generally analogized to earthly fire. A constant feature is Satan or Lucifer (also known as Iblīs in Islam), considered the ruler of hell. Among ancient Jews, Sheol or Tophet was conceived as a gloomy place of departed souls where they are not tormented but wander about unhappily. The ethical aspect apparently developed gradually, and Sheol became like the hell of Christianity. Gehenna, in the New Testament, which drew its name from the Vale of Hinnom, was certainly a place of punishment. Many Christian churches now regard hell more as a state of being than a place. In Zoroastrianism, the souls of the dead must cross the Bridge of the Requiter, which narrows for the wicked so that they fall into the abyss of horror and suffer ceaseless torment. In ancient Greek religion the great underworld is Hades, ruled by the god of that name (also known as Pluto). The Romans called this underworld also Orcus, Dis, and, poetically, Avernus. In Buddhism, hell is the lowest of six levels of existence into which a being may be reborn depending on that being's karmic accumulations. Hell is often treated with detailed imagination in legend and literature. See heaven; sin.
See M. Himmelfarb, Tours of Hell (1981); P. Toon, Heaven and Hell (1986).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2023, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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