From BiblePortal Wikipedia

Baker's Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology [1]

Old Testament . The Hebrew word seol [   Psalm 88:3,5 ). Through much of the Old Testament period, it was believed that all went one place, whether human or animal ( Psalm 49:12,14,20 ), whether righteous or wicked ( Ecclesiastes 9:2-3 ). No one could avoid Sheol ( Psalm 49:9;  89:48 ), which was thought to be down in the lowest parts of the earth ( Deuteronomy 32:22;  1 Samuel 28:11-15;  Job 26:5;  Psalm 86:13;  Isaiah 7:11;  Ezekiel 31:14-16,18 ).

Unlike this world, Sheol is devoid of love, hate, envy, work, thought, knowledge, and wisdom ( Ecclesiastes 9:6,10 ). Descriptions are bleak: There is no light ( Job 10:21-22;  17:13;  Psalm 88:6,12;  143:3 ), no remembrance ( Psalm 6:5;  88:12;  Ecclesiastes 9:5 ), no praise of God ( Psalm 6:5;  30:9;  88:10-12;  115:17;  Isaiah 38:18)—;in fact, no sound at all ( Psalm 94:17;  115:17 ). Its inhabitants are weak, trembling shades ( Job 26:5;  Psalm 88:10-12;  Isaiah 14:9-10 ) who can never hope to escape from its gates ( Job 10:21;  17:13-16;  Isaiah 38:10 ). Sheol is like a ravenous beast that swallows the living without being sated ( Proverbs 1:12;  27:20;  Isaiah 5:14 ). Some thought the dead were cut off from God ( Psalm 88:3-5;  Isaiah 38:11 ); while others believed that God's presence reached even to Sheol ( Psalm 139:8 ).

Toward the end of the Old Testament, God revealed that there will be a resurrection of the dead ( Isaiah 26:19 ). Sheol will devour no longer; instead God will swallow up Death ( Isaiah 25:8 ). The faithful will be rewarded with everlasting life while the rest will experience eternal contempt ( Daniel 12:2 ). This theology developed further in the intertestamental period.

The New Testament . By the time of Jesus, it was common for Jews to believe that the righteous dead go to a place of comfort while the wicked go to Hades ("Hades" normally translates "Sheol" in the LXX), a place of torment ( Luke 16:22-23 ). Similarly, in Christianity, believers who die go immediately to be with the Lord ( 2 Corinthians 5:8;  Philippians 1:23 ). Hades is a hostile place whose gates cannot prevail against the church ( Matthew 16:18 ). In fact, Jesus himself holds the keys of Death and Hades ( Revelation 1:18 ). Death and Hades will ultimately relinquish their dead and be cast into the lake of fire ( Revelation 20:13-14 ).

The fact that theology develops within the Old Testament and between the Old Testament and the New Testament does not mean that the Bible is contradictory or contains errors. It only indicates progressive revelation, that God revealed more of himself and his plan of salvation as time went on. That some Old Testament saints believed in Sheol, while the New Testament teaches clearly about heaven and hell, is nor more of a problem than that the Old Testament contains a system of atonement by animal sacrifice now made obsolete in Christ ( Hebrews 10:4-10 ) or that the Old Testament teaches God is one ( Deuteronomy 6:4 ) while the New Testament reveals a Trinity.

William B. Nelson, Jr.

See also Mortality Death; Hades; Hell; Intermediate State; Pit

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]

 Psalm 88:6 Ezekiel 26:20 Ezekiel 31:14-15 Amos 9:2 Job 33:18 Isaiah 38:10 Ezekiel 26:20 2 Samuel 22:6 Psalm 18:5 Proverbs 27:20 Isaiah 5:14 Habakkuk 2:5 Psalm 30:9 Job 17:16 Job 10:21

The Hebrews conceived of the individual as a unity of body and spirit. Thus it was impossible for the dead whose bodies had decayed ( Psalm 49:14 ) to experience more than a marginal existence. Various terms are used by English translators to describe the residents of Sheol ( Job 26:5;  Isaiah 14:9 ), including shades (Nrsv, Reb ) spirits of the dead (TEV), or simply, the dead (KJV). The dead experience no remembrance ( Psalm 6:5;  Psalm 88:12 ), no thought ( Ecclesiastes 9:10 ), no speech ( Psalm 31:17;  Psalm 94:17 ), especially no words of praise ( Psalm 6:5;  Psalm 30:9 ), and no work ( Ecclesiastes 9:10 ). Such existence is fittingly described as sleep ( Isaiah 14:9 ). For the dead Sheol is a place of pain and distress ( Psalm 116:3 ), weakness ( Isaiah 14:10 ), helplessness ( Psalm 88:4 ); hopelessness ( Isaiah 38:10 ), and destruction ( Isaiah 38:17 ).

Sheol was regarded as the abode of all the dead, both righteous and wicked ( Job 30:23 ). It was, in fact, regarded as a consolation that none escaped death ( Psalm 49:10-12;  Ezekiel 31:16 ). Only once does the Old Testament speak of Sheol specifically as the abode of the wicked ( Psalm 9:17 ). Some earthly distinctions were regarded as continuing in Sheol. Thus kings have thrones ( Isaiah 14:9 ); and warriors possess weapons and shields ( Ezekiel 32:27 ). Here the biblical writers possibly mocked the views of their neighbors.  Ezekiel 32:18-30 pictures the dead as grouped by nation with the crucial distinction between the circumcised and uncircumcised continuing in the grave.

To go to Sheol alive was regarded as a punishment for exceptional wickedness ( Psalm 55:15;  Numbers 16:30 ,Numbers 16:30, 16:33 where the earth swallowed Korah and his band alive).   Job 24:19 speaks of Sheol snatching sinners. The righteous, wise, and well-disciplined could avoid a premature move to Sheol (  Proverbs 15:24;  Proverbs 23:14 ).

Though the overall picture of Sheol is grim, the Old Testament nevertheless affirms that God is there ( Psalm 139:8;  Proverbs 15:11 ) or that it is impossible to hide from God in Sheol ( Job 26:6;  Amos 9:2 ). The Old Testament also affirms that God has power over Sheol and is capable of ransoming souls from its depths ( Psalm 16:10;  Psalm 30:3;  Psalm 49:15;  Psalm 86:13;  Job 33:18 ,Job 33:18, 33:28-30 ). In the majority of these passages a restoration to physical life is clearly intended, though several (for example  Psalm 49:15 with its image of God's receiving the one ransomed from Sheol) point the way toward the Christian understanding of afterlife with God. See Death; Eschatology; Future Hope; Hell .

Chris Church

Bridgeway Bible Dictionary [3]

When the Old Testament writers spoke about the afterlife, they referred to it by using the Hebrew word sheol (translated into the Greek as hades). Some early versions of the English Bible translated sheol and hades as ‘hell’, which is unfortunate, for that gives the wrong idea. Hell, as a place of fiery punishment, is the equivalent of the word gehenna. Sheol (or hades), by contrast, is simply the place or state of the dead. More recent English versions either transliterate the words as ‘sheol’ and ‘hades’, or translate them by such expressions as ‘the world of the dead’, ‘the grave’ and ‘the pit’.

The Old Testament writers expressed their view of the afterlife in broad general terms. They saw that all people eventually die and go to sheol, whether they be rich or poor, good or bad ( Job 3:13-19;  Psalms 88:1-5;  Isaiah 38:18;  Ezekiel 31:17;  Ezekiel 32:18-32; cf.  Luke 16:19-31). In fact, the writers often used ‘sheol’ simply as another word for ‘death’ ( Genesis 42:38;  Psalms 18:5;  Psalms 86:13;  Psalms 116:3; cf.  Matthew 16:18). But by speaking of sheol, they made it clear that death does not end human existence. They may have had very little knowledge concerning the state of the person in the afterlife, but they did not doubt that the person continued to exist.

People saw death as an enemy ( Psalms 6:5;  Psalms 56:13;  Ecclesiastes 8:8; cf.  Romans 6:23;  1 Corinthians 15:26;  Revelation 6:8). The mysterious, silent, shadowy existence that lay beyond it was not something they looked forward to ( Job 10:21-22;  Job 17:13-16;  Psalms 94:17;  Psalms 115:17;  Isaiah 14:9-11;  Ezekiel 26:19-20). The hope of the Old Testament believers was that God would not desert them in sheol, but would bring them into a new and joyful experience of life in the presence of God ( Job 19:26;  Psalms 16:10-11;  Psalms 49:15;  Psalms 73:24; cf.  Acts 2:27;  Acts 2:31). For the wicked, however, sheol would bring nothing but terror ( Deuteronomy 32:22;  Job 31:11-12;  Psalms 55:15;  Isaiah 14:19-20;  Ezekiel 32:18-32).

During the latter part of the Old Testament era, believers became more firmly convinced that beyond death lay the resurrection ( Daniel 12:1-2). This confidence grew into bold assurance through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Once Christ had conquered death and hades (sheol), people had no need to fear them any longer. God had now clearly shown immortal life to be a certainty ( Matthew 16:18;  2 Timothy 1:10;  Hebrews 2:14-15;  Revelation 1:18).

Since believers now shared Christ’s conquest, they naturally looked upon those who were not believers as still under the power of death. They therefore associated the afterlife of the wicked dead with the unwelcome aspects of hades ( Matthew 11:23;  1 Peter 3:19-20;  Revelation 20:13). In relation to themselves, however, believers no longer thought of the afterlife as a gloomy existence in sheol or hades, but as a joyful experience of life with Christ in paradise ( Luke 23:42;  2 Corinthians 5:8;  Philippians 1:23; see Heaven ; Paradise ).

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [4]

SHEOL . The Semitic equivalent of the classical conception of Hades . The word has been derived from a number of roots. The two main probable origins seem to be those from the Assyr. [Note: Assyrian.] root sha’al (‘to consult an oracle’), and shilu (‘chamber’). The latter derivation seems somewhat more in accordance with the synonym of pit. In any case, according to this derivation of the word, Sheol was regarded as an underworld of the dead in which the shades lived. Hebrew eschatology, although somewhat obscure in its early phase, probably tended to perpetuate the animistic conception. The habit of burying the family in communal tombs may also have lent some meaning to the word. In Sheol the dead continued to live as on earth. It seems to have been a somewhat common belief that they could be summoned by some process of necromancy (  1 Samuel 2:6 ). In the absence of any consistent Hebrew eschatology, however, it is impossible to determine whether the dead were believed to be conscious or active. Apparently different opinions existed on this point (cf.   Psalms 88:13;   Psalms 94:17;   Psalms 30:10 ,   Job 14:3 , with   Ezekiel 32:27 ). From the latter it would appear that the non-activity of the dead was the more current opinion.

According to Eth. Enoch 22.1 14, Sheol was divided into four sections, intended respectively for the martyrs, the righteous who were not martyrs, sinners who had lived prosperously, and sinners who had been to some degree punished. The situation of those in these four sections varied from extreme bliss in the first case to loss of all hope of the resurrection in the fourth. The souls in the third division were to be ‘slain’ In the day of judgment; but the meaning of this is obscure. Nor is it at all clear that this fourfold division was commonly held. The twofold division into the abode of the blessed and the abode of those suffering punishment seems the more generally held. At the resurrection, which preceded the judgment, it was believed, at least by those under the influence of Pharisaism, that the righteous shades would rise from Sheol, and, after receiving new bodies, ascend to heaven.

The NT conception of Sheol is not fundamentally other than that of Judaism, if we may judge from the few references. The most important is that of  Luke 16:23 , the parable of Dives and Lazarus. Hades (AV [Note: Authorized Version.] hell ) in the NT is either the synonym of death, or of complete loss and misery, although the idea of punishment is usually expressed by Gehenna . It would appear that the idea of purgatorial cleansing, which Rabbinical Judaism introduced into the conception, was altogether absent from NT thought. Christ is said (  Revelation 1:18 ) to have ‘the keys of death and Hades,’ and in   1 Peter 3:18 He is said to have preached to ‘spirits in prison,’ i.e. in Sheol (cf. Apoc. [Note: Apocalypse, Apocalyptic.] Baruch 23.4; 2 Es 7:85, 95). Generally speaking, however, the NT does not develop any new doctrine of Sheol, and is as far as possible from favouring the extreme speculation of either Rabbinic Judaism or of Patristic Christianity.

Shailer Mathews.

Vine's Expository Dictionary of OT Words [5]

She'ôl ( שְׁאֹל , Strong'S #7585), “Sheol.” The 66 occurrences of this word are distributed throughout every period of biblical Hebrew.

First, the word means the state of death: “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” (Ps. 6:5; cf. 18:5). It is the final resting place of all men: “They spend their days in wealth, and in a moment go down to the grave (Job 21:13). Hannah confessed that it was the omnipotent God who brings men to she'ôl (death) or kills them (1 Sam. 2:6). “Sheol” is parallel to Hebrew words for “pit” or “hell” (Job 26:6), “corruption” or “decay” (Ps. 16:10), and “destruction” (Prov. 15:11).

Second, “Sheol” is used of a place of conscious existence after death. In the first biblical appearance of the word Jacob said that he would “go down into the grave unto my son mourning” (Gen. 37:35). All men go to “Sheol”—a place and state of consciousness after death (Ps. 16:10). The wicked receive punishment there (Num. 16:30; Deut. 32:22; Ps. 9:17). They are put to shame and silenced in “Sheol” (Ps. 31:17). Jesus alluded to Isaiah’s use of she'ôl (14:13-15) in pronouncing judgment on Capernaum (Matt. 11:23), translating “Sheol” as “Hades” or “Hell,” meaning the place of conscious existence and judgment. It is an undesirable place for the wicked (Job 24:19) and a refuge for the righteous (Job 14:13). Thus “Sheol” is also a place of reward for the righteous (Hos. 13:14; cf. 1 Cor. 15:55). Jesus’ teaching in Luke 16:19-31 seems to reflect accurately the Old Testament concept of she'ôl  ; it is a place of conscious existence after death, one side of which is occupied by the suffering, unrighteous dead separated by a great chasm from the other side peopled by the righteous dead enjoying their reward.

Webster's Dictionary [6]

(n.) The place of departed spirits; Hades; also, the grave.

Morrish Bible Dictionary [7]


Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [8]

שְׁאוֹל . This Hebrew name for "the place of departed spirits," and the "state of the dead," is used in a variety of senses by the writers of the Old. Test., which it is desirable to investigate, referring to the articles (See Hell), (See Hades), etc. for the general opinions of the Jews respecting the continuance of existence after death.

I. Signification Of The Word. The word is usually said to be derived. from שֹׁאֵל , Shaal, "to ask or seek," and may, be supposed to have the same metaphorical signification as the Orcus Rapax of the Latins, or "the insatiable sepulchre" of English writers. This etymology, however, is rather uncertain, and no aid can be obtained from the cognate Shemitic languages, for, though the word occurs in Syriac and Ethiopic, its use is too indeterminate to afford any clue to its origin. We are therefore left to determine its meaning from the context of the most remarkable passages in which it occurs. s.v.

The first is ( Genesis 37:35) "And (Jacob) said, I will go down Into The Grave ( שְׁאלָה , Sheolah ) unto my son mourning." The, meaning of this passage is obviously given in the translation. There is rather more difficulty in  Numbers 16:30, where Moses declares that Korah and his company shall go down alive into Sheol ( שְׁאֹלָה , Sheolah ) , and in  Numbers 16:33, which describes the fulfilment of the prophecy. But on referring to  Deuteronomy 32:22, we find that Sheol is used to signify "the underworld." "For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and it shall burn to the lowest hell" ( שְׁאוֹל תְּחַתַית , Sheol Techithith ); to which the sequel gives the foilowing parallelism: "It shall set on fire the foundations of the mountains." Hence it would appear" that, in the description of Korah's punishment, Sheol simply means the interior of the earth, and does, not imply a place of torment. In  2 Samuel 22:6, the English version stands thus: "The sorrows of hell compassed me about; the snares of death prevented me." The English word "hell" (from the Saxon Hela "to conceal") does not here mean a place of torment, as will at once appear from a literal translation of the passage in which the parallelism of the Hebrew is preserved. "The snares of Sheol ( חֶבְלֵי שְׁאוֹל , chebley sheol) , encompassed me;" "The nets of death ( מוֹקְשֵׁי מָיֶת , mokeshey maveth) came upon me." Thus viewed, it appears that "the snares of Sheol " are precisely equivalent to "the nets of death." In  Job 11:8, there seems to be "an allusion to a belief common among ancient nations that there is a deep and dark abysss beneath the surface of the earth, tenanted by departed spirits, but not necessarily a place of torment:

Canst thou explore the deep things of God?

Canst thou comprehend the whole power of the Almighty?

Higher than heaven!

What canst thou do?

Deeper than sheol !

What canst thou know?

Again ( Job 26:5-6), in the description of God's onmipotence:

Sheol is open before him,

And there is no covering for the region of the dead.

In  Isaiah 14:9, "Sheol from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming," the meaning of the prophet is, that when the king of Babylon, whose miserable fate he is predicting, should go down into the underworld, or Sheol, the ghosts of the dead would there rise up to meet him with contumely and insult. Our English version in this passage renders Sheol "hell;" but, clearly, the place of torment, cannot be meant, for it is said in  Isaiah 14:18 that all the kings of the nations repose In Glory there that is, "rest in their sepulchres, surrounded by all the ensigns of splendor which the Eastern nations were accustomed to place around the bodies of deceased kings."

These and many other passages which might be quoted sufficiently prove that a belief in futurity of existence was familiar, to the Hebrews, but that it was unfixed and indeterminate. It is difficult, and in some cases impossible, to determine whether the term sheol, when used in a menacing form, implies the idea of future punishment or premature death. Hence, while we are led to conclude, with the Articles of the Church of England, that "the old fathers did not look merely to transitory promises," we see that only through the Gospel were "life, and immortality brought to light."

II. Is Sheol A Place ? According to the notions of the Jews, Sheol was a vast receptacle where the souls of the dead existed in a separate state until the resurrection of their bodies. The region of the blessed during this interval, or the inferior paradise, they supposed to be in the upper part of this receptacle; while beneath was the abyss, or Gehenna (Tatrtarus), in which the souls of the wicked were subjected to punishment.

The question whether this is or is not the doctrine of the Scriptures is one, of much importance, and has, first and last, excited no small amount of discussion. It is a doctrine received by a large portion of the nominal Christian Church; and it forms the foundation of the Roman Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, for which there would be no ground but for this interpretation of the word Hades. The question, therefore, rests entirely up the interpretation of this latter word. At the first view the classical signification would seem to support the sense above indicated. On further, consideration, however, we are referred back to the Hebrew sheol; for the Greek term did not come to the Hebrews from any classical source or with any classical meanings, but through the Sept. as a translation of their own word; and whether correctly translating it or not is a matter of critical opinion. The word Hades is, therefore, in no wise binding upon us in any classical meaning which may be assigned to it. The real question, therefore, is, what is the meaning which sheol bears in the Old Test. and Hades in the New? A careful examination of the passages in which these words occur will probably lead to the conclusion that they afford no real sanction to the motion of an intermediate place of the kind indicated, but are used by the inspired writers to denote the grave the resting place of the bodies both of the righteous and the wicked; and that they are also used to signify hell, the abode of miserable spirits. But it would be difficult to produce any instance in which they can be shown to signify the abode of the spirits of just men made perfect, either before or after the resurrection.

As already seen, in the great majority of instances sheol is, in the Old Test., used to signify the grave, and in most of these cases is so translated in the A.V. It can have no other meaning in such texts, as  Genesis 37:35;  Genesis 42:38;  1 Samuel 2:6;  1 Kings 2:6  Job 14:13;  Job 17:13;  Job 17:16; and in numerous other passages in the writings of David, Solomon, and the prophets. But as the grave is regarded by most persons, and was more especially so by the ancients, with awe and dread as being the region of gloom and darkness, so the word denoting it soon came to be applied to that more dark and gloomy world which was to be the abiding place of the miserable. Where our translators supposed the word to have this sense, they rendered it by "hell." Some of the passages in which this has been done may be doubtful, but there are others of which a question can scarcely be entertained. Such are those (as  Job 11:8;  Psalms 139:8;  Amos 9:3) in which the word denotes the opposite of heaven, which cannot be the grave nor the general state or region of the dead, but hell. Still more decisive are such passages as  Psalms 9:17;  Proverbs 23:9; in which Sheol cannot mean any place, in this world or the next, to which the righteous as well as the wicked are sent, but the penal abode of the wicked as distinguished from and opposed to the righteous. The only case in which such passages could, by any possibility, be supposed to mean the grave would be if the grave that is, extinction were the final doom of the unrighteous.

In the New Test. the word ¯ Δης is used in much the same sense as שאול in the Old, except that in a less proportion of cases can it be construed to signify "the grave." There are still, however, instances in which it is used in this sense, as in  Acts 2:31;  1 Corinthians 15:55; but in general the Hades of the New Test. appears to be no other than the world of future punishments (e.g.  Matthew 11:23;  Matthew 16:18;  Luke 16:23).

The principal arguments for the intermediate Hades as deduced from Scripture are founded on those passages in which things "under the earth" are described as rendering homage to God and the Savior ( Philippians 2:10;  Revelation 5:13. etc.);. If such passages, however, be compared with others (as with  Romans 14:10-11, etc.), it will appear that they must refer to the day of judgment, in which every creature will render some sort of homage to the Savior; but Then the bodies of the saints will have been already raised, and the intermediate region, if there be any, will have been deserted.

One of the seemingly strongest arguments for the opinion under consideration is founded on  1 Peter 3:19, in which Christ is said to have gone and "preached to the spirits in prison." These spirits in prison are opposed to be the holy dead perhaps the virtuous heathen imprisoned in the intermediate place into which the soul of the Savior, went at death that he might preach to them the Gospel. This passage must be allowed to present great difficulties. The most intelligible meaning, suggested by the context is, however, that Christ by his spirit preached to those who in the time of Noah, while the ark was preparing, were disobedient, and whose spirits were thus in prison awaiting the general deluge. Even if that prison were Hades, yet what Hades is must be determined by other passages of Scripture; and, whether it is the grave or hell, it is still a prison for those who yet await the judgment day. This interpretation is in unison with other passages of Scripture, whereas the other, is conjecturally deduced from this single text. (See Spirits In Prison).

Another argument is deduced from  Revelation 20:14; which describes "death and Hades" as "cast into the lake of fire" at the close of the general judgment meaning, according to the advocates of the doctrine in question, that Hades should then cease as an intermediate place. But this is also true if understood of the grave, or, of the general intermediate Condition of the dead, or even of hell, as once more and forever reclaiming what it had temporarily yielded up for judgment just as we every day see criminals brought from prison to judgment, and, after judgment, returned to the prison from which they came.

It is further urged, in proof of Hades being an intermediate place other than the grave, that the Scriptures represent the happiness of the righteous as incomplete till after the resurrection. This must be admitted; but it does not thence follow that their souls are previously imprisoned in the earth, or in any other place or region corresponding to the Tartarus of the heathen. Although at the moment of death the disembodied spirits of the redeemed ascend to heaven and continue there till the resurrection, it is very possible that their happiness shall be incomplete until they have received their glorified bodies from the tomb and entered upon the full rewards of eternity.

On this subject, see Dr. Enoch Pond, On the Intermediate Place, in American Biblical Repository for April, 1841, whom we have here chiefly followed; comp. Knapp, Christian Theology, § 104; Meyer, De Notione. Orci ap. Hebraeos (Lub. 1793); Bahrens, Freimuthige Unters. uber d. Orkus d. Hebraer (Halle, 1786); Witter, De Purgatorio Judoeorum (Helms. 1704); Journ. Sac. Lit. Oct. 1856.;

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [9]

shē´ōl ( שׁאול , she'ōl ):

1. The Name

2. The Abode of the Dead

(1) Not a State of Unconsciousness

(2) Not Removed from God's Jurisdiction

(3) Relation to Immortality

3. Post-canonical Period

1. The Name:

This word is often translated in the King James Version "grave" (e.g.  Genesis 37:35;  1 Samuel 2:6;  Job 7:9;  Job 14:13;  Psalm 6:5;  Psalm 49:14;  Isaiah 14:11 , etc.) or "hell" (e.g.  Deuteronomy 32:22;  Psalm 9:17;  Psalm 18:5;  Isaiah 14:9;  Amos 9:2 , etc.); in 3 places by "pit" ( Numbers 16:30 ,  Numbers 16:33;  Job 17:16 ). It means really the unseen world, the state or abode of the dead, and is the equivalent of the Greek Háidēs , by which word it is translated in Septuagint. The English Revisers have acted somewhat inconsistently in leaving "grave" or "pit" in the historical books and putting "Sheol" in the margin, while substituting "Sheol" in the poetical writings, and putting "grave" in the margin ("hell" is retained in Isa 14). Compare their "Preface." The American Revisers more properly use "Sheol" throughout. The etymology of the word is uncertain. A favorite derivation is from shā'al , "to ask" (compare  Proverbs 1:12;  Proverbs 27:20;  Proverbs 30:15 ,  Proverbs 30:16;  Isaiah 5:14;  Habakkuk 2:5 ); others prefer the root shā'al , "to be hollow." The Babylonians are said to have a similar word Sualu, though this is questioned by some.

2. The Abode of the Dead:

Into Sheol, when life is ended, the dead are gathered in their tribes and families. Hence, the expression frequently occurring in the Pentateuch, "to be gathered to one's people," "to go to one's fathers," etc. ( Genesis 15:15;  Genesis 25:8 ,  Genesis 25:17;  Genesis 49:33;  Numbers 20:24 ,  Numbers 20:28;  Numbers 31:2;  Deuteronomy 32:50;  Deuteronomy 34:5 ). It is figured as an under-world ( Isaiah 44:23;  Ezekiel 26:20 , etc.), and is described by other terms, as "the pit" ( Job 33:24;  Psalm 28:1;  Psalm 30:3;  Proverbs 1:12;  Isaiah 38:18 , etc.), Abaddon (which see) or Destruction ( Job 26:6;  Job 28:22;  Proverbs 15:11 ), the place of "silence" ( Psalm 94:17;  Psalm 115:17 ), "the land of darkness and the shadow of death" ( Job 10:21 f). It is, as the antithesis of the living condition, the synonym for everything that is gloomy, inert, insubstantial (the abode of Rephaim , "shades,"  Job 26:5;,  Proverbs 2:18;  Proverbs 21:16;  Isaiah 14:9;  Isaiah 26:14 ). It is a "land of forgetfulness," where God's "wonders" are unknown ( Psalm 88:10-12 ). There is no remembrance or praise of God ( Psalm 6:5;  Psalm 88:12;  Psalm 115:17 , etc.). In its darkness, stillness, powerlessness, lack of knowledge and inactivity, it is a true abode of death (see Death ); hence, is regarded by the living with shrinking, horror and dismay ( Psalm 39:13;  Isaiah 38:17-19 ), though to the weary and troubled it may present the aspect of a welcome rest or sleep ( Job 3:17-22;  Job 14:12 f). The Greek idea of Hades was not dissimilar.

(1) Not a State of Unconsciousness.

Yet it would be a mistake to infer, because of these strong and sometimes poetically heightened contrasts to the world of the living, that Sheol was conceived of as absolutely a place without consciousness, or some dim remembrance of the world above. This is not the case. Necromancy rested on the idea that there was some communication between the world above and the world below ( Deuteronomy 18:11 ); a Samuel could be summoned from the dead ( 1 Samuel 28:11-15 ); Sheol from beneath was stirred at the descent of the king of Babylon ( Isaiah 14:9 ff). The state is rather that of slumbrous semi-consciousness and enfeebled existence from which in a partial way the spirit might temporarily be aroused. Such conceptions, it need hardly be said, did not rest on revelation, but were rather the natural ideas formed of the future state, in contrast with life in the body, in the absence of revelation.

(2) Not Removed from God's Jurisdiction.

It would be yet more erroneous to speak with Dr. Charles ( Eschatology , 35 ff) of Sheol as a region "quite independent of Yahwe, and outside the sphere of His rule." "Sheol is naked before God," says Job, "and Abaddon hath no covering" (  Job 26:6 ). "If I make my bed in Sheol," says the Psalmist, "behold thou art there" ( Psalm 139:8 ). The wrath of Yahweh burns unto the lowest Sheol ( Deuteronomy 32:22 ). As a rule there is little sense of moral distinctions in the Old Testament representations of Sheol, yet possibly these are not altogether wanting (on the above and others points in theology of Sheol). See Eschatology Of The Old Testament .

(3) Relation to Immortality.

To apprehend fully the Old Testament conception of Sheol one must view it in its relation to the idea of death as something unnatural and abnormal for man; a result of sin. The believer's hope for the future, so far as this had place, was not prolonged existence in Sheol, but deliverance from it and restoration to new life in God's presence ( Job 14:13-15;  Job 19:25-27;  Psalm 16:10 ,  Psalm 16:11;  Psalm 17:15;  Psalm 49:15;  Psalm 73:24-26; see Immortality; Eschatology Of The Old Testament; Resurrection ). Dr. Charles probably goes too far in thinking of Sheol in Psalms 49 and 73 as "the future abode of the wicked only; heaven as that of the righteous" (op. cit., 74); but different destinies are clearly indicated.

3. Post-Canonical Period:

There is no doubt, at all events, that in the postcanonical Jewish literature (the Apocrypha and apocalyptic writings) a very considerable development is manifest in the idea of Sheol. Distinction between good and bad in Israel is emphasized; Sheol becomes for certain classes an intermediate state between death and resurrection; for the wicked and for Gentiles it is nearly a synonym for Gehenna (hell). For the various views, with relevant literature on the whole subject, see Eschatology Of The New Testament; also Death; Hades; Hell , etc.

The Nuttall Encyclopedia [10]

The dark underworld or Hades of the Hebrews, inhabited by the shades of the dead.