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Sheol

by Micha F. Lindemans
The Semitic equivalent of the classical concept of Hades. The word has been derived from a number of roots. The two main probable origins seem to be those from the Assyrian root sha'al ("to consult an oracle") and shilu ("chamber"). The latter derivation seems somewhat more in accordance with the synonym of pit. 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.

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 in these 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 unclear. Nor is it all clear that the fourfold division was commonly held. The twofold division into the abode of the blessed and the abode of those suffering punishment seems to be 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 arise from Sheol, and, after receiving new bodies, ascend to heaven.


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