"FROM LODGING TO LODGING"
By Schmuel Agnon
"For the sons of Judah have done evil in my sight, declares the LORD. They have set their detestable things in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Gehenna), to burn their sons and daughters in the fire, which I did not command." - Jeremiah 7:30-33
On Thursday, May 19, we stepped off the bus to an overwhelming stench. The putrid smell may have been a result of what has been historically noted as the burning of children and trash in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom. The vast valley is covered with dry weeds, dirt and specks of greenery. Standing in front of the site itself, an eerie sense overcame us as we imagined the sites and actions that occurred there. The images set forth portray the idol King Molech, to whom the worshippers would sacrifice their children. It is odd to find such a large space that is uninhabitated in this bustling city. At first, one may think that this is a large park full of families, but as they approach the fence, they will find the area empty, occupied today only by the whispered screams of those whose lives were tormented in this evil valley.
Historical Overview of Gehenna
Gehenna has been viewed as a place of darkness for thousands of years. The first historical reference to this place occurs in Joshua of the Hebrew Bible, when the tribal boundaries are described. Its presence is not recognized again until one of the darkest moments in ancient Israel's history. According to 2 Chronicles, King Ahaz of Judah sacrificed his sons here in the 8th century BC.
"Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even made metal images for the Baals, and he made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel." - 2 Chronicles 28:3
As a result, Judah fell to the hand of the King of Syria, forcing Ahaz to humble himself and seek help from his neighbors. Since this time, Gehenna has been viewed as a hell on earth for the Jews, Christians, and Muslims.
Geographical Significance of Gehenna
As with many things in Israel, the true essence of Gehenna and its relationship to Judaism and Christianity cannot be fully felt until one physically stands by it. Many commentators look at the binding of Isaac by Abram (Abraham) as a message from God that He disapproves of child sacrifice. It is on that location that the Temple was built, which sits on the hill overarching the valley of Gehenna. This further emphasizes the difference between the evil in child sacrifice down in the lowest pits of the area and the good in loving one's children and caring for them, as Abraham was allowed to at the highest point of the overarching hill.