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Marty, this is a good point, but the question remains: what lay behind Jesus’ statements about Gehenna? Bell rightly, in my view, argues that Jesus was speaking about the coming judgment on Israel in the form of war and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, but he bases the interpretation on the belief that there was a rubbish fire burning in the valley outside the city. Chan claims there is no contemporary evidence for this burning rubbish dump, so he concludes that Bell’s historical interpretation is wrong.

Archaeology might be able to tell us whether rubbish was burned in the valley of the Sons of Hinnom or not. But my argument in this post is that this is beside the point. The primary source of Jesus’ imagery is Jeremiah’s prophetic description of the siege of Jerusalem. Perhaps the element of fire comes from the fact that rubbish was burned in the valley, but it may also derive from Isaiah’s similar vision of the bodies of those who rebelled against YHWH lying unburied outside the city: “their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh” (Is. 66:24; cf. Mk. 9:48). In other words, literary sources known to Jesus account for his language, whatever archaeology may teach us.

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