Gehenna was actually the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom to the south of Jerusalem. In that valley the fallen away Israelites would burn their children alive to the god Molech. This was one of the reasons given for the nation of Judah going into exile. The prophet Jeremiah prophesied that Jerusalem would become like Gehenna. Sure enough it was burnt to the ground as the people were taken off to exile.
After the return from the exile, the people used the area as a dump because of the shame of that place. People would haul their dead animals, plant waste, and other debris out the southern Trash Gate of Jerusalem to go to Gehenna.
As a result, there were always fires going on in the dump from the heat of decomposition. It reeked of death and the decomposing animals were covered with worms and vermin. I am sure there were vultures constantly over the place. To even touch a dead animal would render a person “unclean” according to Jewish law. This place was the “mother lode” of all things unclean.
Jesus used the word Gehenna as a name for hell “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”. He was using a very real awful place associated with terrible sin and uncleaness to describe an unseen worse place for His hearers. The impact on His hearers must have been immediate, rather than on those of us today who wonder what those phrases mean. Now, you know!
Referenced scripture Mark 9:48.
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