Sheol (/ˈʃl/ SHEE-ohl, /-əl/; Hebrew: שְׁאוֹלŠəʾōl), in the Hebrew Bible, is the place to which the dead go. In Greek translations of the Old Testament and in the Greek New Testament, the equivalent Greek word used is Hades.[1]

The Hebrew Bible describes Sheol as the place of the dead. Every person, whether righteous or unrighteous, goes to Sheol at death.[2] The term for the section of Sheol which was the place of the souls of the righteous until the resurrection was "Paradise".[3] Regardless, all of the dead in Sheol know nothing and none of their personality, consciousness, or connection to the world continue after their death until their bodily resurrection.[2]

Doctrines of immediately departing to heaven or Hell at death are foreign to both the Old and New Testaments of the Biblical text and appear to have come from Hellenistic thought.[2] In the text, Sheol is the destination of all at death, with final rewards and punishments to be given out at the final resurrection[4] as described in passages such as Daniel 12.[5]

Biblical texts

Old Testament

A number of biblical texts reference Sheol.[6] Specifically, in the Old Testament, there are four verses which expressly comment on the experience of those in Sheol:[7]

Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, 10b:

The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished; never again will they have any share in all that happens under the sun... for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.

Psalms 6:5:

For there is no mention of God in death; In Sheol who will give Him thanks?

Psalms 115:17:

The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.

Psalms 146:4:

His breath goes out, he returns to the earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.

New Testament

The Greek New Testament uses the Greek word Hades for what is referred to in the Hebrew Old Testament as Sheol.[8] No specific descriptions of the experience of the dead in Hades are provided, beyond being referred to as sleeping[7] and the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There is heated debate as to whether this parable was intended to provide a literal description of Hades, and if so, to what degree.[9] The passage bears strong signs of being a purely illustrative parable rather than being meant to describe the state of the dead in any literal sense.[10]


The family tomb is the central concept in understanding biblical views of the afterlife. It is "not mere sentimental respect for the physical remains that is...the motivation for the practice, but rather an assumed connection between proper sepulture and the condition of happiness of the deceased in the afterlife".[11]

The early Israelites apparently believed that the graves of family, or tribe, united into one and that this, unified collectively, is what the Biblical Hebrew term Sheol refers to: the common grave of humans.[12] Although not well defined in the Tanakh, Sheol in this view was a subterranean underworld where the souls of the dead went after the body died.[12] The Babylonians had a similar underworld called Aralu and the Greeks had one known as Hades. Other biblical names for Sheol were: Abaddon (ruin), found in Psalm 88:11, Job 28:22 and Proverbs 15:11; Bor (the pit), found in Isaiah 14:15, 24:22, Ezekiel 26:20; and Shakhat (corruption), found in Isaiah 38:17, Ezekiel 28:8.[13]

See also


  1. ^ Patte, Daniel (ed). The Cambridge Dictionary of Christianity. Cambridge University Press, 2010, 490.
  2. ^ a b c Henning, Meghan. "No Heaven or Hell, Only Sheʾol".
  3. ^ Thayer, Joseph. "Thayer's Greek Lexicon". Definition 3. that part of Hades which was thought by the later Jews to be the abode of the souls of the pious until the resurrectionCS1 maint: location (link)
  4. ^ Wright, N.T. (2009). Surprised By Hope. HarperOne.
  5. ^ Life After Death – My Jewish Learning. Retrieved 10 July 2014.
  6. ^ Levenson, Jon Douglas. Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life. Yale University Press, 2006, 35–43.
  7. ^ a b Holding, James. "Soul Sleep and the Bible: An Evaluation". Tekton.
  8. ^ Thayer, Joseph. "Thayer's Greek Lexicon".
  9. ^ Moskala, J. (2015). "The Current Theological Debate Regarding Eternal Punishment in Hell and the Immortality of the Soul". Andrews University Seminary Studies.
  10. ^ Prestidge, Warren (13 July 2009). "The Rich Man and Lazarus and Hell".
  11. ^ Brichto, Herbert Chanan (1973). "Kin, Cult, Land and Afterlife – A Biblical Complex." Hebrew Union College Annual, vol. 44, pp. 1–54.
  12. ^ a b Somov, Alexey (2018). "Afterlife". In Hunter, David G.; van Geest, Paul J. J.; Lietaert Peerbolte, Bert Jan (eds.). Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity Online. Leiden and Boston: Brill Publishers. doi:10.1163/2589-7993_EECO_SIM_00000067. ISSN 2589-7993.
  13. ^ Herbert Chanon Brichto (1973). "Kin, Cult, Land and Afterlife – A Biblical Complex", Hebrew Union College Annual 44, p. 8