What I learned since my friend sent me a pdf version of Chan and Sprinkle’s new book, Erasing Hell, is that if I owned an e-read of some sort I wouldn’t get much use out of it. Aside from the fact that I have been exceptionally busy, I have had very little desire to sit up with my computer and read. Reading blogs in a hit and run fashion throughout the day is one thing, but I love to curl up with a book and my netbook is no substitute. So I have not read any more of Erasing Hell (beyond chapter one) until it arrived in my hand last week.
Surprisingly – since after watching the trailer I had not gotten my hopes up – I am enjoying this book quite a bit.
After jumping in with both feet in Chapter One where the authors tackle the central issue of universalism, Chapter Two journeys down the exciting road of first century Judaism and asks the question, what did they believe about hell? At times it almost seemed like the authors were apologizing for taking this academic route which ventured mostly outside of the realm of scripture, but I for one am glad they did.
The chapter is titled, Has Hell Changed? Or Have We? The authors uncover three principle beliefs about hell which all (or almost all) first century Jewish literature shared:
- Hell is a place of punishment after judgment.
- Hell is described in imagery of fire and darkness where people lament.
- Hell is a place of annihilation or never ending punishment.
What impressed me about their study is that they don’t seem to make a strong effort to select sources that only agree with their view. This comes out most clearly in the fact that while Chan and Sprinkle seem to share the view that hell is eternal torment (I can’t be sure about this yet), they don’t try and pretend that all first century Jews also shared this view. Many first century Jews believed in annihilation (even if it was not a mainstream belief).
The chapter only gets better when they explore Gehenna asking, “Is Hell a Garbage Dump?” They show how the very idea of Gehenna as being a garbage dump dates no further back then AD 1200, “over a thousand years after Jesus lived!” Prior to that there is not a shred of evidence, they say, that the Valley of Hinnom (i.e. Gehenna) was ever a garbage dump. No historical records can confirm this, neither can archeological records. Nothing.
They go on to explain how the Valley of Hinnom in ancient times was used as a place to worship Canaanite gods and where Israelites began sacrificing their children to these gods (2 Kings 16:3, 21:6), making them “pass through the fire” (Ezekiel 16:20-21). The Valley eventually began to take on metaphorical reference for the place where the bodies of the wicked would be cast (Jeremiah 7:29-34 et al) and at the time of Jesus Jews widely used Gehenna (i.e. the Valley of Hinnom) to refer to the fiery place of judgment for the wicked”.
This was a most valuable and – for me anyways – a very enjoyable chapter to read.
 This whole portion was taken from page 61 of Chan, F., & Sprinkle, P. (2011). Erasing Hell. Colorado Springs: David C Cook.