SHEOL (shē'ōl, Heb. she’ôl). In the OT the place to which all the dead go, immediately upon death. Sometimes KJV translates it “grave,” sometimes “hell,” depending on whether or not the individuals in the particular passage were viewed as righteous, but this procedure involves importing distinctions into the OT that were not clarified until Jesus’ ministry. NIV prefers to translate she’ôl as “grave” (in all but eight passages) and place the name itself in a footnote, a procedure that is neither helpful nor justifiable. It seems best—as in ASV, NASB, and (except for
Bibliography: J. A. Motyer, After Death, 1965.
SHEOL she’ ōl (שְׁאוֹל, H8619; LXX ἅδης, αίδε̂ς), the Heb. word most frequently used for the place where the dead were believed to dwell. The KJV ambiguously tr. Sheol as “the grave” thirty-one times, as “hell” thirty-one times, and as “the pit” three times. The ASV and the RSV use the transliteration “Sheol.” The term is used more frequently in the Wisdom lit. than elsewhere in the OT. The etymology is in doubt. Some scholars believe it is derived from the verb “to ask,” the idea being either that the dead were frequently consulted (a practice strongly condemned in the OT), or that the experience of death is fig. described as Sheol constantly asking for more inhabitants. Others derive Sheol from the verb “to be hollow”; that is, it is conceived of as a hollow place under the earth.
Sheol is a place of continued existence rather than annihilation, and it does not lie beyond the reach of God. “If I ascend to heaven, thou art there! If I make my bed in Sheol, thou art there!” (
Some ambiguity exists relative to the location of Sheol. In a large number of instances, Sheol is spoken of as a place “down to” which one goes. It is a question as to how closely the Heb. identified Sheol with the grave itself. In three instances it is used in parallel with Abaddon, which the KJV trs. “destruction,” but which the RSV uses as a place name (
An important question regarding Sheol is this: At death, did the OT believers go to such a place of gloom or did they go to be with the Lord immediately? The former view was prevalent in the Early Church, which also held that Christ at His death descended into Sheol (Hades) to bring the OT believers to heaven with Him. The latter view is held by those who believe that the Sheol concept was held by the Israelites in common with their pagan neighbors until God gradually revealed more and more information about the life after death, climaxing His revelation in Christ who brought life and immortality to light. Both views contain considerable difficulties.
S. Zandstra, “Sheol and Pit in the,” PTR 5 (1907), 631-641; J. D. Davis, “The in Hebrew Thought During the Pre-Persian Period,” PTR 6 (1908), 246-268; C. F. Burney, Israel’s Hope of Immortality (1909); E. F. Sutcliffe, The Old Testament and the Future Life (1947).
International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)
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:
2. The Abode of the Dead:
(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 (
(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" (
(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 (
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.