“No fires here” – The Garden of Gehenna – Brad Jersak

This photo was taken by a member of one of Brian and Peri Zahnd’s Holy Land tours. It is a sign at Gehenna (in Hebrew, the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom), which many Bibles translate “Hell.” Gehenna is a valley just south of Jerusalem, once a firepit but now a garden. When people ask if I believe in a ‘literal hell,’ the answer is obvious. Yes. I’ve personally been there.
I love that the sign says in Hebrew, “No fires here!”
What most Bible readers miss is that this is exactly what Jeremiah prophesied: That the same valley where the corpses of the siege would be thrown out and burned will be restored and “holy to the Lord.”
38 “The days are coming,” declares theLord, “when this city will be rebuiltfor me from the Tower of Hananelto the Corner Gate. 39 The measuring line will stretch from there straight to the hill of Gareb and then turn to Goah. 40 The whole valley where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate,will be holy to the Lord. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished.”
And indeed, the Psalmist says the Valley of Weeping (same place) will become a “place of springs” (Ps 84:5–7).
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
    whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
    they make it a place of springs;
    the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
    till each appears before God in Zion
Of course, I’m being a little cheeky because we know that Gehenna also came to be used figuratively of more than they geographic locale south of Jerusalem. It became a picture of judgment and alienation, whether in this life or the next. But if we’re to apply the warnings about Gehenna spiritually, we also need to take the promises concerning Gehenna’s redemption seriously.
But of course, it’s at that point that infernalists abandon their biblicism, bailing out just before we get to the New Covenant punchline. Of course they do. I think it’s important to ponder why that is. But it’s even more important to hear and proclaim the good news. Gehenna restored! At last, “No fires here.”
Picture of Brad Jersak

Brad Jersak

Bradley Jersak is an author and teacher based in Abbotsford, BC. He serves as a reader and monastery preacher at All Saints of North America Orthodox Monastery. Read More