Re: Sheol - Hades

From: Jonathan Robie (
Date: Fri Sep 26 1997 - 19:44:00 EDT

At 05:06 PM 9/26/97 -0600, Williams, Wes wrote:
>I suppose the unavoidable question is, in the mind of first century
>Christians, did the semantic signal generated by the word HADES trigger
>the SHEOL concept of "grave"/ "realm of the dead" (note: not "undead")?
>Or rather a place with a fiery river Styx that needed to be crossed in a
>boat with an oarsman?
>Since Peter used the word as a translation for SHEOL, that is a strong
>argument for the former. This understanding is consistent with Rev 20:13
>where one day HADES will give up the "_dead_" in it.

I wonder whether Greek Christians would have associated Hades with the land
of the dead as depicted in the 11th book of Homer's Odyssey - a joyless
place where the dead flit around without light, so that Teiresias says to
Homer, "Why hast thou left the light of the sun and come hither to behold
the dead and a region where is no joy?" When Odysseus tries to embrace his
mother, she flits out of his grasp, and explains that "this is the appointed
way with mortals when one dies. For the sinews no longer hold the flesh and
the bones together, but the strong might of blazing fire destroys these, as
soon as the life leaves the white bones, and the spirit, like a dream, flits
away, and hovers to and fro."

In the Odyssey, this is not a nice place. Odysseus honors Achilles, saying
"whereas than thou, Achilles, no man aforetime was more blessed nor shall
ever be hereafter. For of old, when thou wast alive, we Argives honored thee
even as the gods, and now that thou art here, thou rulest mightily among the
dead. Wherefore grieve not at all that thou art dead, Achilles." But
Achilles makes it clear that Hades is not a fun place to hang out: "Nay,
seek not to speak soothingly to me of death, glorious Odysseus. I should
choose, so I might live on earth, to serve as the hireling of another, of
some portionless man whose livelihood was but small, rather than to be lord
over all the dead that have perished."

When I read this, it really made me wonder about the extent to which Greeks
would have had this picture of Hades, and to what extent this would be the
picture that Greek Christians would have of Hades.

Does anybody know?


Jonathan Robie
POET Software, 3207 Gibson Road, Durham, N.C., 27703

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