Reading Time: 2 minutes / Chris Whiteside
Reading Time: 2 minutes

This is a point that I have made many times before, and it was good to read it in Robert Price’s excellent little pocket battleship of a book, Blaming Jesus for Jehovah. Here he is on p. 69-70:

What difference does any of this make? There are two very important points. First, if hell was always real, and a real destination for the damned, why are we so late in hearing anything about it? If the stakes are that high, don’t you think it would have been sporting of God to let everybody know of the danger they faced? Yet he was utterly silent on the topic until Jesus came along.

This is spot on. Hell, and indeed heaven, are such central tenets to the theology of Christianity that it beggars belief that they did not exist in the Old Testament. Such ideas only developed in the inter-testamental period, predominantly as a result of the Jews (God’s chosen people, no less) under the Hellenised Jews of the Seleucid Empire being persecuted. They asked the important theological question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?” Under their present theology, there was no easy easy to explain away this problem. This problem of evil had no decent theodicy. And so heaven and hell were stolen, as ideas, off the Greeks, and, hey presto, these important theological linchpins were invented. Necessity is the mother of all invention, they say. Price continues:

In Old Testament Israel, about the worst a sinner had to fear was leaving a bad reputation behind. And if you really wanted to do some mischief, well, that might not be much of a deterrent Sure, let ’em badmouth you – who cares? You wouldn’t be there to hear it!

But if you knew you faced the prospect of never-ending torment, well, you might think twice. After all, that’s they way it’s been preached for at least a couple thousand years now.

Hell is incoherent on many levels. This anthropological evolution of the idea throws even more skepticism on an already nonsensical mechanism.

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Jonathan MS Pearce

A TIPPLING PHILOSOPHER Jonathan MS Pearce is a philosopher, author, columnist, and public speaker with an interest in writing about almost anything, from skepticism to science, politics, and morality,...