Ancient cultures that believed in a less-than-blissful afterlife:
Mesopotamians – 3000 BCE
Ancient Egyptians – Book of the Dead and the Book of Gates
Greek Mythology (Hades)
Islam and Buddhism – yes BUDDHISM – also teach that Hell exists
There is precious little in the OT about Hell
From the article:
Not at all, says Jeffrey Trumbower, a professor of religious studies at St. Michael's College in Burlington, Vermont and author of "Rescue for the Dead: The Posthumous Salvation of Non-Christians in Early Christianity."
"There's hardly any conception of the afterlife in the Hebrew Bible," says Trumbower, referring to the books that largely comprise the Old Testament in Christianity. Compared to the ancient Egyptians, whose 'Book of the Dead' and 'Book of Gates' present robust visions of what awaits us after death, the people of Palestine hardly gave it a thought.
In rare passages, the Hebrew Bible gives glimpses of Sheol, the Hebrew underworld, as a dull shadowy existence, a neutral storage place for all of the dead, both good and evil. In the book of 1 Samuel 28:7-24, for example, a troubled Saul wants to speak to the dead prophet Samuel, so he consults a witch or medium who can summon the dead.
"The woman said, "I see a ghostly figure[a] coming up out of the earth."
"What does he look like?" [Saul] asked.
"An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said.
Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground.
Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?"
For Trumbower, it's striking that Samuel, "a great prophet and certainly a righteous person," was not living in some kind of heavenly paradise, but instead grumpily arose "out of the earth" as if he'd been awoken from a long nap. In the ancient Hebrew imagination, Sheol was a single dumping ground for all the world's dead.
So where do we first get the idea of divine judgment, of God separating the good from the evil and sentencing them to opposing fates? The earliest biblical mention is in the book of Daniel 12:2 written around 165 B.C.E., in which the prophet is given a vision of the Day of Judgment.
"Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt."
If you believe in Hell, you must believe in Satan.
Satan is a descriptor, not a proper name.
Satan is known by many names:
Son of the morning
Morning Star (also a name attributed to Jesus)
All of these names lean toward the same concept: enlightenment
Most people joke about Hell and going to hell.
Hell has far less negative connotations outside of Evangelical religion.
Just like Heaven, the Bible is very non-committal about what Hell actually is.
Where these ideas really come from:
Dante's Inferno (part of The Divine COMEDY)
John Milton's Paradise Lost
Most Catholic doctrine about hell comes from these sources.
Purgatory – not even a thing until the late 11th century and it was nothing more than a money grab
Some mainstream protestant denominations view hell as an absence of place, basically death but you're still aware of your existence and the absence of God, other people, and any semblance of comfort.
Just like heaven, Hell has as many descriptions as it has people to describe it. The details often seem made up as the narrative goes along and usually reflects the often sadistic tendencies of the teller.
Jonathan Edwards – Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God
What the Bible says:
For starters, it repeats itself a lot and descriptions are also fraught with ambiguity. Words like torment, damnation, and unquenchable fire are the three main descriptors and Jesus repeatedly referred to “a place of outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
You can THINK you're a Christian and STILL go there. So much for the concept of the “free gift” of salvation, or the concept of salvation by grace. Mt. 7:21-23
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ 23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
The parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25 obliterates the concept of salvation by grace and there are other caveats throughout the New Testament that make it clear that HOW you live is every bit as important as what you believe.
1 Jn 2:4 - He that saith, I know him, and keepeth not his commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.
Jas 2:26 – Faith without works is dead (whitewashed tombs)
The one that evangelicals latch onto is the lake of fire referenced in Revelation 20. (Rev. 20:15)
“And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the LAKE OF FIRE.”
What is Hell, really? To me, it's being forced to live a certain way, under constant scrutiny, and with the perpetual uncertainty of whether or not I'll be considered good enough for Yahweh's heaven. It's being stripped of my sense of self and having to conform to a pre-determined list of morals and values. It's being told I have to die to myself, deny myself, and take up my cross daily and still not be guaranteed that it'll mean anything in the end.
It's having fears instilled in me about the existence and nature of Satan even to the point of being afraid of cleaning products and smashing records to get him out of my house. It's the denial of carnal pleasures and having anything that doesn't jibe with “biblical morality” labeled as sin, right down to the books I read, the movies I watch, or what thoughts run through my head when I see an attractive woman walk by. Most of all, it's the hopelessness of accepting the lesser of two evils by being faithful to a god who is going to keep me in a state of subservience that either involves feeling excruciating pain or just feeling nothing depending on the choices I make and what I choose to believe about him.
If you're still in this thing, make no mistake about it: you're living your own personal hell right now. No loving parent would ever consider doing these things to his children, and once you understand that, you also have to admit that your sense of values, your understanding of right and wrong, and the value you place on human life goes way beyond that of this god you think is going to “save you.” If that's the case, who should be worshipping who? Who has the more advanced intellect? Who has more compassion? Who has the greater capacity for nonviolence? Who understands love and forgiveness better? The answer is simple: you do. And if that's true, it's time to stop worrying about going to hell, take the necessary steps to get out of the hell your religion has built for you, and start getting unbound.