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Dante's Hell

 


Botticelli: Virgil and Dante in Hell, 1506.

 

Introduction

Dante Alighieri (1265-1321), usually referred to simply as "Dante," was a Medieval Roman Catholic Italian author who wrote a three-part extensive poem describing his alleged "trip" (during a three-day vision in 1300) to Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven (or Paradise). The English translation of the title of this famous work is the Divine Comedy, and the sections are titled, in Italian, Inferno (Hell), Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

The term "Comedy" for the work did not indicate "humor" as it would in modern times.

http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/inferno/context.html

...the word “comedy” refers to one of the two classical styles, the other being tragedy. Tragedy was the high style, the style of epics, with plots that flowed from a promising beginning to a destructive end. Comedy was the low style, the style of grotesque caricatures, with plots that flowed from an unhappy beginning to a happy end.

 

The most famous section of this work is the one on Dante's visit to Hell, and it has often been printed as a separate book, usually titled in English Dante's Inferno.

In spite of the fact that the material is obviously an elaborate work of poetic fiction, includes many elements borrowed directly from pagan Greek and Roman mythology and Jewish superstitions, draws on much of the politics of Dante's time, and has almost no references to actual biblical passages about Hell, it has had an incredible influence, from Dante's time to the present, on the "popular" conception of what Hell is like. This is certainly testimony to Dante's ability to create vivid, memorable scenes with his poetry. But it is surely unfortunate that most of those people who have been affected by Dante's vivid imagination and writing skills have no idea just how little of what he wrote has anything to do with the actual content of the Bible on the topic of Hell! Literary scholars, even those in religious circles, have no doubt long considered the work one of allegory, not a documentary account of a true supernatural "vision."

The cosmology, angelology and theology of the work are based firmly on the system of St. Thomas Aquinas, but Dante considered the Church of his time a 'harlot' no longer serving God--he meets seven popes in the Inferno, for instance--and was therefore frequently considered a heretic. The characters whom Dante meets on his journey are drawn largely from ancient Roman history and from recent and contemporary Italian history, including Dante's personal friends and enemies; their vivid portraiture and the constant allusions to human affairs make the work, although in structure a description of the Beyond, actually a realistic picture and intensely involved analysis of every aspect of earthly human life. (Benét's Reader's Encyclopedia (3rd edition), quoted from http://www.thelastcato.com/dantes.html )

But this understanding has not been passed along to perhaps hundreds of millions who have read it, heard of it, or seen illustrations from it with the concept that it was to be taken just as literally as the book of Exodus or the Gospel of Matthew. 

Much of the influence of The Inferno has not come from people actually reading the Divine Comedy, even in an English translation, for themselves, but from artists and other writers through the centuries since Dante's time adapting his concepts to their own popular works. There is a complete article on Wikipedia.com on just the topic of Dante and His Divine Comedy in Popular Culture. It includes a long list of references to Dante's work in paintings, books, movies, music, and more. Some of the references it describes are to be expected, such as artwork depicting specific scenes from the poem. But a number are quite unexpected, such as:

Author L. Frank Baum utilized its structure as an inspiration for Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz (1908).

Betty Ford's Healing and Hope, which uses Dante's structure as an analogy for the stages of alcoholism.

Karl Marx uses a paraphrase of Purgatory 5:13 as a motto for Das Kapital: Segui il tuo corso, e lascia dir le genti ("follow your own road, and let the people talk").

The fictional life of Lemony Snicket, author of A Series of Unfortunate Events, appears to draw heavily from Dante's life.

The Gates of Hell sculptural group by Auguste Rodin. Dante is the figure sitting at the top of the gate contemplating the horrors of hell. This figure was later isolated and became Rodin's "Thinker."

Many of the entries in the list linked above were not using the poem in the context of theology. But if it has had that much effect on people who have used it in "secular" ways, think of how powerful its influence has been within religious circles!

This shows up particularly in art works directly made as illustrations to accompany editions of the book. Below is one of Italian artist Botticelli's many illustrations from the late 1400s. Just as in the painting at the beginning of this webpage, the figure dressed in red represents Dante himself, the figure in blue is the ancient poet Virgil who is Dante's guide through his journey in Hell. The multiple repetitions of the two characters is much like an ancient version of a modern comic book, representing movement of the characters along a path. Below them as they pass by are the scenes of torture and torment of the "lost souls" who inhabit the Hell that Dante described.

Here is another book illustration, by French artist Gustave Doré, from the late 1800s, showing the scene from the Inferno where Dante and Virgil arrive at the deepest reaches of Hell and see the Devil frozen in ice. (Dante and Virgil are the tiny figures on the ledge above the huge black right wing.)

 

 

The purpose of this article is to give a brief overview of the contents of Dante's Inferno, clarify the sources of much of the imagery in it, emphasize how far it strays from any biblical foundation, and evaluate some of its influence on the popular conception of Hell for the past 600+ years right up to the present. 

 


Background

Dante composed the Divine Comedy over a period of several years, from about 1312 up almost to the time of his death in 1321. The book portrays the events described as occurring in the year 1300, during the three day period from the evening of the Roman Catholic memorial of the Last Supper on "Maundy Thursday" through the end of the day of Easter.

At the beginning of the story, Dante is in a state of depression. He is lost in a dark forest, and meets the "ghost" of the first century BC Roman poet Virgil. Virgil explains that he has been sent to guide Dante through Hell and Purgatory. It is quite likely that Dante chose Virgil as the character for this role in his book because he admired Virgil as a great poet, and Virgil had portrayed a similar visit to Hell in one of his own works.

At the end of Dante's visit to Purgatory, Beatrice, a young woman whom Dante had adored from afar before her death, would meet him and guide him through his visit to Heaven.


Geography of Dante's Hell

Many artists over the centuries have depicted separate scenes described in Dante's work. But his elaborate description of his travels with Virgil were so vivid and detailed that numerous artists have also turned them into maps, charts, diagrams, and three-dimensional representations of the landscape.

Gustave Doré 1800s

Bartolomeo, c. 1420

Botticelli, 1490

As seen in the simplified Botticelli diagram above, Dante described traveling through Hell as descending down a spiraling path which passed through numerous separate circular layers, each the permanent place of torture for a certain type of sinner. There were nine of these circles. The very brief summary of the residents of these circles below is adapted from the Wikipedia.com article on Dante's Inferno.  Any indented paragraphs, and sentences or sentence fragments within quotation marks, not otherwise credited, are from that article.

After entering the Gate of Hell, upon which were written the Italian version of the ominous words "Abandon all hope, you who enter here," there was an area called the Vestibule. Here were a group called "The Opportunists" or "The Uncommitted":

...souls of people who in life did nothing, neither for good nor evil (among these Dante recognizes either Pope Celestine V, or Pontius Pilate; the text is ambiguous). Mixed with them are the outcasts, who took no side in the Rebellion of Angels. These souls are neither in Hell nor out of it, but reside on the shores of the [River] Acheron, their punishment to eternally pursue a banner, and be pursued by wasps and hornets that continually sting them while maggots and other such insects drink their blood and tears.

After this Virgil and Dante travel across the Acheron on a ferry boat piloted by a being named Charon. If it wasn't clear earlier, readers familiar with ancient literature should certainly realize at this point that Dante was not basing his description on anything in the Bible, but on characters and details straight out of Greek mythology. In that mythology, Charon was the ferryman who took the souls of newly dead people on their trip to the underworld of Hades, across the river Acheron.

Circle One

After crossing the river, they arrive at the first of the circles of Hell, Limbo:

Here reside the unbaptized and the virtuous pagans, who, though not sinful, did not accept Christ. Here also reside those who, if they lived before the coming of Christ, did not pay fitting homage to their respective deity. They are not punished in an active sense, but rather grieve only their separation from God, without hope of reconciliation.


Gustave Doré, late 1800s
Minos from The Inferno

Next they encounter a being named Minos, another mythological Greek character. Dante has added his own peculiar touches, though. The original Minos was supposed to have been an ancient king of Crete, to whom, after his death, was given the role by the Greek gods of being the chief judge in Hades, deciding the fate of those who arrived there after death. Dante's Minos has the same role.

But he is described as a human-animal monster hybrid, with a gigantic tail that he wraps around himself a certain number of times, indicating the number of the circle of Hell to which the newly-arrived dead will be assigned.

 

Circle Two

After passing Minos, they enter the second circle of Hell. Here the souls of those who had uncontrolled lust in their life "are blown about to and fro by a violent storm, without hope of rest."

 

 

 

William Blake, early 1800s
scene of the lustful fromThe Inferno

Circle Three

In the third circle, gluttons are "forced to lie in the mud under continual cold rain and hail whilst being forced to consume their own excrement." They are guarded by another mythical Greek creature, the three-headed monstrous dog Cerberus (Greek: Kerberos). 


      William Blake, 1827
    Cerberus from Dante's Inferno
               

Circle Four

In the fourth circle are both those who in life were greedy for possessions and those who wasted them. They are guarded by Pluto, a version of the Greek god of wealth and money, and "each group pushes a great weight against the heavy weight of the other group. After the weights crash together the process starts over again."


Scene with Pluto,  from L'Inferno by Dante', Italian silent film 1911

Circle Five


 Delacroix, 1822
          The River Styx from The Inferno

In the fifth circle Virgil and Dante come to the river Styx, another geographical feature of the Hades of mythology. And another character familiar to students of Greek mythology, Phlegyas, transports them across the river, just as he did individuals in the Greek myths. As for those suffering in this circle: "In the swamp-like water of the river Styx, the wrathful fight each other on the surface, and the sullen or slothful lie gurgling beneath the water."

On the other side of the Styx is the city of Dis, another feature of Virgil's own writings.

The lower parts of hell are contained within the walls of the city of Dis, which is itself surrounded by the Stygian marsh. Punished within Dis are active (rather than passive) sins. The walls of Dis are guarded by fallen angels. Virgil is unable to convince them to let Dante and him enter, and the Furies threaten Dante.

Here again is another mythological element, the Furies, female personifications of vengeance in Greek mythology.

Circle Six

Inside the walls of Dis, Virgil and Dante enter the sixth circle, where heretics are trapped within flaming tombs.


 Gustave Doré, late 1800s
Heretic in flaming tomb from The Inferno

Circle Seven

The seventh circle, where the "violent" are held, is divided into three separate rings, guarded at the entrance by the Minotaur of Greek myth (a monster with head and tail of a bull, body of a man). The outer ring is for those who had committed violent crimes against people and property. They are immersed in a river of boiling blood.


 Gustave Doré, late 1800s
Forest of the Suicides from The Inferno

In the middle ring are those who had committed suicide. They have been transformed into "gnarled thorny bushes and trees" and are "torn at by the Harpies of Greek myth," winged female figures who were "agents of punishment who abducted people and tortured them on their way to Tartarus. They were vicious, cruel and violent." (Wikipedia: Harpy) Also in the center ring were "the profligates, who destroyed their lives by destroying the means by which life is sustained (i.e. money and property). They are perpetually chased by ferocious dogs through the thorny undergrowth."

And last was the inner ring, where blasphemers, sodomites, and userers "all reside in a desert of flaming sand with fiery flakes raining from the sky. The blasphemers lie on the sand, the usurers sit, and the sodomites wander about in groups."

The final two circles of Hell are sub-divided in a much more elaborate scheme.

Circle Eight

The eighth circle is for the "fraudulent--those guilty of deliberate, knowing evil." This circle is divided into ten ditches, with bridges reaching across them all:

1. Panderers and seducers walk in separate lines in opposite directions, whipped by demons.

2. Flatterers are steeped in human excrement.


Gustave Doré, late 1800s
The Simoniacs from The Inferno

3. Those who committed simony [sellers of religious favors] are placed head-first in holes in the rock, with flames burning on the soles of their feet.

4. Sorcerers and false prophets have their heads twisted around on their bodies backward, so they can only see what is behind them.

5. Corrupt politicians ... are immersed in a lake of boiling pitch, guarded by devils ...

6. Hypocrites [are] listlessly walking along wearing gold-gilded lead cloaks.

7. Thieves ... are pursued and bitten by snakes. The snake bites make them undergo various transformations, with some resurrected after being turned to ashes, some mutating into new creatures, and still others exchanging natures with the snakes becoming snakes themselves that chase the other thieves in turn.

8. Fraudulent advisors are encased individual flames.

9. A sword wielding devil hacks at the sowers of discord. As they make their rounds the wounds heal, only to have the devil tear apart their bodies again. [Muhammed is found here.]

10. Groups of various sorts of falsifiers (alchemists, counterfeiters, perjurers, and impersonators) are afflicted with different types of diseases.

Circle Nine

The final, deepest circle of Hell is reserved for traitors whose evil acts involved betraying someone with whom they had a special relationship. They all "are frozen in a lake of ice known as Cocytus [another name from Greek mythology]. Each group of traitors is encased in ice to a different depth, ranging from only the waist down to complete immersion." The circle is divided into four zones each going deeper:

Zone Caina (named after the Cain of Genesis): for those who had been traitors to their family.

Zone 2: For traitors to "political" entities such as a city, state, or country

Zone 3: For traitors to their own guests

Zone 4: For traitors to their "lords and benefactors." All of the sinners punished within are completely encapsulated in ice, distorted to all conceivable positions.

At the center is Satan, who has three faces, one red, one black, and one a pale yellow, each having a mouth that chews on a prominent traitor. Satan himself is represented as a giant, terrifying beast, weeping tears from his six eyes, which mix with the traitors' blood sickeningly. He is waist deep in ice, and beats his six wings as if trying to escape, but the icy wind that emanates only further ensures his imprisonment (as well as that of the others in the ring). The sinners in the mouths of Satan are Brutus and Cassius in the left and right mouths, respectively, who were involved in the assassination of Julius Caesar (an act which, to Dante, represented the destruction of a unified Italy), and Judas Iscariot (the namesake of this zone) in the central, most vicious mouth, who betrayed Jesus. Judas is being administered the most horrifying torture of the three traitors, his head in the mouth of Lucifer, and his back being forever skinned by the claws of Lucifer. [Illustration above from a 14th century illustration for a manuscript of The Inferno.]

At this point in Dante's journey, he and Virgil move on from Hell to Purgatory. It is not the intent of this article to include that material, so we here leave them to their travels.

 


Dante Through the Ages

Many of the scenes and details from Dante's Inferno have been portrayed or adapted over and over by artists, writers, poets, musicians, and movie makers for the past 700 years. In many cases they have not at all been portrayed as the obvious allegory and metaphor that they are, the product of an extremely fertile--and in many cases grotesquely sadistic--imagination. They have been offered to the popular masses as being "the way it IS" in Hell. To millions over the centuries, Dante wasn't first and foremost a poet--he was, essentially, the medieval version of an investigative reporter. In fact, to many in the world of popular religious thought, that is still his role. The Internet has numerous sites which describe Hell in much the same way as Dante did in his poem. They seem to portray his writings not as "great poetry," but as the allegedly factual foundation of their own ominous theology.

And yet, anyone who has ever read through the Bible will immediately realize that virtually none of the scenes described above are even hinted at anywhere in the Old or New Testament. So where did the "inspiration" for Dante's vivid cast of characters and these vivid scenes come from?

As noted in the descriptions above, many details were borrowed directly from pagan Greek and Roman mythology. These included many names of characters, and many of the "geographical features" of the "underworld."  In addition, one of the features of the deepest section of the Greek version of the underworld, Tartarus, was the familiar "punishment fits the crime" theme found in Dante.

Wikipedia.com Tartarus article

Originally, Tartarus was used only to confine dangers to the gods of Olympus. In later mythologies, Tartarus became the place where the punishment fits the crime. For example Sisyphus, who was both a thief and murderer, was condemned for eternity to push a boulder up a hill only to have it roll down at the top. Also found there was Ixion, the first human to spill the blood of a relative. He caused his father in-law to fall into a pit of burning coals to avoid paying the bride-price. The fitting punishment was to spend eternity on a flaming wheel. Tantalus, who enjoyed the confidence of the gods by conversing and dining with them, shared the food and the secrets of the gods with his friends. The fitting punishment was to be immersed up to his neck in cool water, which disappeared whenever he attempted to quench his thirst, and luscious grapes above him that leapt up when he tried to take a hold.
 

For a brief overview of some of the elements of pagan mythology that have found their way into Christian mythology about the Afterlife, including Dante's writings, see Pagan Hell.

Actually, in addition to the pagan mythology connection, much of what Dante wrote was merely embellishments of current Roman Catholic thinking on the topic, which itself had been influenced by certain extra-biblical literature from the earliest centuries AD. (For an overview of this type of literature, see the article Where Angels Fear to Tread on the companion website to this one, Answers About Angels.)  Here is one example, an excerpt from a second-century document commonly called the Apocalypse of Peter, implying that it was written by the Apostle Peter. Although almost no modern scholars would accept that this was a legitimate claim, it was accepted by many in earlier centuries.

Apocalypse of Peter

http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/1003.htm

20. And over against that place I saw another, squalid, and it was the place of punishment; and those who were punished there and the punishing angels had their raiment dark like the air of the place.

21. And there were certain there hanging by the tongue: and these were the blasphemers of the way of righteousness; and under them lay fire, burning and punishing them.

22. And there was a great lake, full of flaming mire, in which were certain men that pervert righteousness, and tormenting angels afflicted them.

23. And there were also others, women, hanged by their hair over that mire that bubbled up: and these were they who adorned themselves for adultery; and the men who mingled with them in the defilement of adultery, were hanging by the feet and their heads in that mire. And I said: I did not believe that I should come into this place.

24. And I saw the murderers and those who conspired with them, cast into a certain strait place, full of evil snakes, and smitten by those beasts, and thus turning to and fro in that punishment; and worms, as it were clouds of darkness, afflicted them. And the souls of the murdered stood and looked upon the punishment of those murderers and said: O God, your judgment is just.

25. And near that place I saw another strait place into which the gore and the filth of those who were being punished ran down and became there as it were a lake: and there sat women having the gore up to their necks, and over against them sat many children who were born to them out of due time, crying; and there came forth from them sparks of fire and smote the women in the eyes: and these were the accursed who conceived and caused abortion.

26. And other men and women were burning up to the middle and were cast into a dark place and were beaten by evil spirits, and their inwards were eaten by restless worms: and these were they who persecuted the righteous and delivered them up.

27. And near those there were again women and men gnawing their own lips, and being punished and receiving a red-hot iron in their eyes: and these were they who blasphemed and slandered the way of righteousness.

28. And over against these again other men and women gnawing their tongues and having flaming fire in their mouths: and these were the false witnesses.

29. And in a certain other place there were pebbles sharper than swords or any spit, red-hot, and women and men in tattered and filthy raiment rolled about on them in punishment: and these were the rich who trusted in their riches and had no pity for orphans and widows, and despised the commandment of God.

30. And in another great lake, full of pitch and blood and mire bubbling up, there stood men and women up to their knees: and these were the usurers and those who take interest on interest.

31. And other men and women were being hurled down from a great cliff and reached the bottom, and again were driven by those who were set over them to climb up upon the cliff, and thence were hurled down again, and had no rest from this punishment: and these were they who defiled their bodies acting as women; and the women who were with them were those who lay with one another as a man with a woman.

32. And alongside of that cliff there was a place full of much fire, and there stood men who with their own hands had made for themselves carven images instead of God. And alongside of these were other men and women, having rods and striking each other and never ceasing from such punishment.

33. And others again near them, women and men, burning and turning themselves and roasting: and these were they that leaving the way of God

For a more extensive excerpt of this document, from a different English translation, see the article Jewish Fables.

 


Vision Literature

Another source of common conceptions of Hell at the time Dante wrote were what was referred to as "Vision Literature." These were traditional stories handed down by word of mouth and then committed to writing, from throughout Europe. They described visions of people who allegedly had literally been taken to Hell, just as Dante claimed for his own work. It is highly likely that Dante was influenced in his own writing by some of these traditional tales.

Below are brief excerpts from a description of perhaps the most widely-known example of this type of literature, the "Vision of Tundale." Tundale (an English version of his name) was said to have been an Irish knight who had been in a coma for three days, experienced this vision, and then returned to warn all who would listen that they should repent of their evil ways so that they could escape the fate that awaited them in Hell. The tale was written down in about 1149 (over 150 years before Dante wrote The Inferno) in Latin by an Irish  Benedictine monk. It was extremely popular, with a reported 172 manuscripts still extant from medieval times. Note that the details given in this story also have absolutely no connection to anything written in the Bible. And although the details of the tortures of Hell vary from Dante's later scenarios, the concept of specific tortures for specific sins is already firmly established, and there are side references to pagan elements such as the name Acheron. It is not clear from history whether Dante himself ever read a version of this exact story, but there were so many similar stories circulating throughout Europe in the centuries before The Inferno was written that it is highly likely that he had been exposed to a number of them.
 

http://www.lib.rochester.edu/camelot/teams/vtint.htm

Tundale's guardian angel emerges from a star and accuses Tundale of ignoring him during life. Tundale readily and fearfully admits his guilt and the journey begins. In the Advocates' Manuscript version, printed here, Tundale's experiences are divided into ten Passus (literally "paces," but a common division of parts in medieval narrative); seven Gaudia, "joys"; and a Reversio Anime, a section in which Tundale's soul returns to his body, he reports his experiences, and promises to reform. ...

The Passus, however, are a rather neatly arranged catalogue of sins:


I: In this prologue Tundale is threatened and abused by fiends and comforted by the angel.

II: The murderers are melted and re-formed in the fires of a stinking pit. As the poem proceeds, The Vision of Tundale is distinctive in the way it associates specific places with specific sins.

III: The thieves and deceivers are swept back and forth between fire and ice.

IV: The proud are in a pit of fire and brimstone over which is suspended a narrow bridge that can be traversed only by someone as humble as the pilgrim priest who makes his way across. So far, the angel has been explicit about the sin, but the punishments have not been noticeably suitable to one sin rather than another. Here the punishment fits the crime.

V: The covetous must enter the gaping maw of Acheron to be tormented with fire and ice. There is some appropriateness in the greedy mouth of Acheron, but this section is more striking in that it is the first place where Tundale must actually undergo punishment rather than simply be a terrified observer. Perhaps appropriately to the sin, he is bitten by lions, adders, and snakes within the belly of Acheron.

VI: Robbers, and more particularly the sacrilegious, who have defiled holy ground are in a fiery lake full of beasts. The punishment is not especially appropriate, but the angel makes clear that there are gradations of suffering, a point not always noted in visions. Across the lake is a bridge - long, narrow, and sharp - which Tundale, again suffering in his own person, must cross. That he must lead a wild cow across the bridge is a part of his particular transgression: he had stolen his neighbor's cow and, though he had returned it, his intention had been sinful. It is hard to avoid the comedy in this scene, perhaps a remnant of Irish legend, even within the gruesome circumstances.

VII: Those guilty of sexual sins are tormented within an oven-like house. The souls, again not without some grim comedy, are hacked into bits by fiends, with devices ranging from weapons to farm implements, and then re-formed and hacked up again. Once more Tundale must suffer the punishment, but, as after each such torment, he is restored by his guardian angel. Here we see specific attention to genitals, appropriate to the sin; among the sinners are men of religion and, for the first time in the poem, Tundale recognizes some of the sufferers.

VIII: Lustful clergy and religious who have broken their vows are swallowed by a great bird and infested with vermin that creep in and out of their bodies. The torment seems to fit the carnality and again Tundale must suffer.

IX: In this Passus, what has earned the sinners their places in Vulcan's forges does not appear to be any particular type of sin, but rather the sheer number of sins they have committed. In the smithy of Vulcan they are tossed back and forth between infernal blacksmiths, who beat them with hammers on fiery forges. Again Tundale must suffer, because he has been a perpetrator of many and various sins.

X: The last Passus is devoted to Hell itself and Satan. Although it has been suggested in IX that the tormented so far are in a purgatorial rather than infernal state, it becomes clear that in II through IX the sinners have not yet been judged and have no idea whether or when they might finish purgation; both Heaven and Hell are still possibilities, and they have no knowledge of the duration of their fate. In Passus X we have those who have already been judged and are certainly and eternally lost. ...
 

Considering this account of Hell, along with Dante's, and knowing that they represent a very common perspective of Hell of their time ... it is not difficult to understand the development of the human, earthly, physical, very real Inquisition and its human, earthly, physical, and very real tortures!  For if one accepts the proposition that anyone dying without the assurance of salvation is headed straight for such a horrendous, never-ending fate, it makes sense that any method necessary to force "repentance" on such a person is doing them a favor.

 


Modern Visions

The reality is, this perspective of Hell did not die out in medieval times, but is alive and well in many Christian circles today. It shows up in various "visions" of Hell still reported by people in books. The following is a short excerpt of a summary of a 1993 book by author Mary Kay Baxter titled A Divine Revelation of Hell. Baxter claimed that Jesus Himself appeared to her in 1976 and took her with Him on 30 visits to Hell.

Near the end of the tunnel, sharp screams can be heard. Jesus prepared Mary to what was to come by saying “We will soon enter the left leg of hell. Ahead you will see great sorrow, pathetic sadness and indescribable horror. Stay close to Me, and I will give you strength and protection as we go through hell. The things you are about to see are a warning. The book you write will save many souls from hell.”  

Jesus later told Mary that hell has a body, just like a human form, lying on her back at the center of the earth. It is shaped like the body of a human, with many chambers of torment.

...Many pits can be seen in the left leg of hell as well as evil spirits and demons. The pits were filled with fire and they were everywhere, as far as one can see. On closer inspection, the pits were shaped like a bowl, three feet deep and four feet across. There were red hot coals of fire on the side of each pit and in the center of the pit was a soul that has gone into hell. Fire would start at the bottom of the pit and rise up, engulfing the lost soul, leaving the soul caged in a burnt skeleton. These souls could feel the flames, as wails of regret and excruciating pain came from them. The fire would then die down, and then would rise up again, sweeping the tormented soul. This happed day and night.

A soul cried out to the Lord, “Jesus, have mercy !”. It was a voice of a woman in skeleton form, with a dirty gray mist inside, which was her soul. Flesh hung by her bones and she was hairless and eyeless. The woman cried out again and said “Lord, Lord, I want out of here !” Jesus’ face showed great sorrow and He said to Mary that she is here to let the world know that sin results in death and that hell is real. Mary looked at the woman again and saw worms crawling out of the bones; the worms were not harmed by the fire. Jesus said that the woman knows and feels those worms.

For a further description of Baxter's alleged visions, see Harmless Hell?

Few in modern times, including Baxter, would likely be willing to go so far as to advocate physical torture in this life to assure someone escapes from eternal torture in the next. But the logic is inescapable--was it really so wrong for the Inquisitors to want to save people from this fate?

If you honestly knew that someone you loved was going to be tortured for all eternity beginning at the moment of their death, wouldn't you be willing to do almost anything to rescue them from such a fate?

But what if these descriptions of the nature of Hell are false?

It is this possibility that is explored in the collection of articles on this website.

 

This site contains a collection of articles, on the topic of Hell and the Afterlife, that may each be used independently for research purposes. But it also is designed as a systematic, sequential overview of the whole topic, which can be read like a book.

For those who would like to take advantage of this perspective of the content, the articles are arranged in the Reading Guide as they would appear as chapters in a book, along with a few reference chapters at the end such as would appear in a book Appendix. 

Use the links below to go to the next article, previous article, or first article
in the Reading Guide sequence.


       
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Unless otherwise noted, all biblical references in this and other articles on the
Is It True What They Say About Hell? website are from the New International Version (NIV).

 

 


All of the articles on this Is it true what they say about Hell? website were written by Pam Dewey, with the support and sponsorship of Common Ground Christian Ministries. For more of Pam's inspirational and educational writings, visit her Oasis website.

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