Presentation: Fiery “Sheol” in the Dead Sea Scrolls

When I throw this question at my boyfriend, who is a law student and thus a “non-specilaist” of the Bible: “How does the underworld look?” The first word comes out of his mouth is “fire”! When I am in the Vatican, looking at the fresco of the Last Judgment by Michelangelo, at the right hand corner, at the bottom, I see that the boatman Charon shove the damned souls into the fiery hole. When I read John Milton’s Paradise Lost, I imagine Satan falling into the “bottomless perdition” filled with “penal fire”. When I go to church on Sunday, I listen to the Lukan story of the rich man and Lazarus, where the former thirsts for water in the eternal flame.  Here comes one interesting fact: If we try to find a reference to fire in the “Sheol” (a uniquely Hebraic term to designate the abode of the dead) of the Hebrew Bible, we would be disappointed. Instead of with fire, the Hebrew Bible often associates “Sheol” with water (e.g. Job 26:5-6; Ezekiel 31:15; Psalm 69:2, 14). Where are all these images of fiery underworld coming from? I do not know the answer.

But tomorrow in one of the sessions of the SBL international meeting at St. Andrews, I would like to share with you how several Qumran texts (e.g. 1QM XIV, 16-18; 4Q 491 8-10i 13b-15; 1QHa IV 25-26a; 4Q184 1 6-10) attest to a fiery underworld, expressed through the term “Sheol”! First, I would like to draw your attention to how this fiery “Sheol” stands in contrast to the more watery “Sheol” in the Hebrew Bible. Second, I relate this fiery “Sheol” in the Qumran texts with the other fiery underworld in the Second Temple literature, esp. that of 1 Enoch. Rather than probing the origin of this fiery imagery, the focus will be on the literary function of this fiery imagery within the Qumran texts. At the end, I conclude that this fiery aspect of “Sheol” within the Qumran texts contributes to an annihilating concept of punishment after death in the Second Temple period. (Note: In case you are wondering how I get into this “deadly” business, it is because we also get the prevalent motif of death and Sheol in Ezekiel’s oracles against Egypt, which form the focus of chapter 3 of my dissertation)

So I send you my greetings from St. Andrews and look forward to seeing you and discussing with you here! 🙂

Here are the details of the session:


Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls
7/08/2013
9:00 AM to 12:00 PM
Room: Meeting Room 301 – Physics (15)Sidnie Crawford, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, Presiding
Helen R. Jacobus, University College London
Calendars from Jewish Documents in the Cave of Letters and Elsewhere in the Judean Desert (25 min)
Discussion (10 min)
David Willgren, Lund University
Psalm Use in the Dead Sea Scrolls (25 min)
Discussion (10 min)

Break (35 min)
Lydia Lee, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
“Sheol” in the Dead Sea Scrolls (25 min)
Discussion (10 min)

IMG_0524
Scottish pipe music in the university of St. Andrews to mark the end of the conference 🙂


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