ENDLESS PUNISHMENT OF HEATHEN ORIGIN.
In the previous chapters we have followed our subject through the Patriarchal and Law periods, down to the close of the Old Testament; and the inquiry has satisfactorily shown, we trust, that the doctrine of Endless Punishment is nowhere to be found in the sacred Scriptures of the Jews.
But we know that the heathen world, during a large portion of this period, was in possession of the doctrine, and fully believed it. It is pertinent to our subject, therefore, to inquire into their belief, and endeavor to ascertain from what source they obtained it. It may be, too, that the examination will discover to us the source of some of our modern doctrines on the subject. At any rate, it will show that the superstitions of the past and the present, of Pagans and Christians, are not very wide apart.
DESCRIPTION OF THE HEATHEN HELL.
Among the ancient pagans, the belief in a hell of some sort was very general, if not universal. It was known by various names, as Orcus, Erebus, Tartarus, and Infernus or Inferna, whence our expression "infernal regions," &c. The views current respecting it were different at different periods, and among different nations, according to the degree of civilization, and the genius of the people. What I shall offer on this point will have respect mostly to the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians.
1. Its Location. It was supposed to be as far below the earth (or as deep down in it), as the heavens are above it. Hesiod, the Greek poet, who lived 850 B.C., is very precise in his statement, and says a mass of iron would be nine days falling from heaven to earth, and nine more in falling from earth to hell. So say Apollodorus, Virgil, and others. 1
2. The Inhabitants. Some idea of the natives of the country, may be gathered from the following description, taken from the Aeneid of Virgil, B. vi:
"At Hell's dread mouth a thousand
monsters wait; -
The gate of Hell was guarded by the dog Cerberus, of three heads (Hesiod says fifty), who prevented all egress from the infernal regions. Once in, there was no escape. To make it still more sure, the horrid prison of hell was surrounded by a river of fire, called Phlegethon; within which was another security in the shape of a triple wall. Hence Virgil says:
rolls the roaring, flaming tide of hell,
3. Of the Punishments. Virgil gives us a brief account of these in the book already quoted from:
"And now wild shouts, and wailings
Here sits in bloody robes the Fury
A few examples of individual torments will better illustrate the subject, and reveal at the same time how inherent in them is the idea of perpetual duration.
Ixion, for a certain monstrous sin, is bound to a wheel of fire, which is ever in continual motion, in swift revolution of torment. Tantalus, for having attempted to deceive some of the gods who visited him, by placing roasted human flesh before them, was tortured with endless hunger and thirst. He was placed in a lake up to his chin in the water, and over his head bent the branches of a tree loaded with the most delicious and inviting fruit. Agonizing with hunger and thirst, he stretched out his hand to seize the fruit, when it was instantly withdrawn just above his reach; he stooped to drink of the cooling waters, and immediately they sank away, and no drop touched his lips; but they rose again to his chin, when he rose. [From this comes our word "tantalize."]
The fifty Daughters of Danaus, or rather forty-nine, for murdering their husbands on the night of marriage, were condemned to fill a leaky tub with water drawn from a deep well with a sieve. Of course there was no end to such a task. Sisyphus was condemned to roll a huge stone to the summit of a high hill in hell, but always, just before he reached the top, his strength failed, and it rushed down again to the bottom of the steep, and compelled him to begin his labors again, always to end in the same way. Another miserable wretch had a mighty rock suspended over his head, threatening every instant to fall and crush him. Tityrus, for his crimes, was chained to a rock, while a vulture fed upon his heart and entrails, which were ever renewed as fast as devoured. 6
These examples are sufficient to illustrate the doctrines and teachings of the heathen respecting future punishments; and they show, more graphically than any words could do it, how essential to their completeness is the element of perpetuity, of endlessness. There can be no doubt in respect to their belief in the torments of the wicked after death, or of their opinion respecting the duration of them.
The fact, then, being established, that the dogma is thoroughly heathen in its character and developments, this question presents itself: Where did the heathen get it? Whence came their fables respecting the infernal regions? The next section will answer this inquiry.
THE HEATHEN INVENTED THE DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT - SHOWN BY THEIR OWN CONFESSIONS.
Any one at all familiar with the writings of the ancient Greeks or Romans, cannot fail to note how often it is admitted by them that the national religions were the inventions of the legislator and the priest, for the purpose of governing and restraining the common people. Hence, all the early lawgivers claim to have had communications with the gods, who aided them in the preparation of their codes. Zoroaster claimed to have received his laws from a divine source; Lycurgus obtained his from Apollo, Minos of Crete from Jupiter, Numa of Rome from Egeria, Zaleucus from Minerva, &c. The object of this sacred fraud was to impress the minds of the multitude with religious awe, and command a more ready obedience on their part. Hence Augustine says, in his "City of God," "This seems to have been done on no other account, but as it was the business of princes, out of their wisdom and civil prudence, to deceive the people in their religion; princes, under the name of religion, persuaded the people to believe those things true, which they themselves knew to be idle fables; by this means, for their own ease in government, tying them the more closely to civil society." B. iV 32.
Of course, in order to secure obedience, they were obliged to invent divine punishments for the disobedience of what they asserted to be divine laws. "Hence," says Bishop Warburton, "they enforced the belief of a future state of rewards and punishments by every sort of contrivance." And speaking of the addition of metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls, he says: "This was an ingenious solution, invented by the Egyptian lawgivers, to remove all doubts concerning the moral attributes of God."
Egypt has been called the "Mother of Superstitions," and her whole religious history shows the propriety of the appellation. Greeks and Romans, Lawgivers and Philosophers, acknowledge their indebtedness to her in this respect, and freely credit her with the original invention of the fables and terrors of the invisible world; though it must be allowed that they have improved somewhat upon the hints given, and shown a wonderful inventive faculty of their own.
Dr. Good has a curious passage on the subject in hand, in his Book of Nature, which I must be permitted to introduce here. "It was believed in most countries," he says, "that this hell, hades, or invisible world, is divided into two very distinct and opposite regions, by a broad and impassable gulf; that the one is a seat of happiness, a paradise, or elysium, and the other a seat of misery, a gehenna, or tartarus; and that there is a supreme magistrate and an impartial tribunal belonging to the infernal shades, before which the ghosts must appear, and by which they are sentenced to the one or the other, according to the deeds done in the body. Egypt is said to have been the inventress of this important and valuable part of the tradition; and undoubtedly it is to be found in the earliest records of Egyptian history. But, from the wonderful conformity of its outlines to the parallel doctrines of the Scriptures, it is probable that it has a still higher origin, and that it constituted a part of the patriarchal creed, retained in a few channels, though forgotten or obliterated in others, and consequently that it was a divine communication in a very early age." 7
This last assertion is certainly a singular statement for a man of Dr. Good's learning and judgment. For, first, it does not conform at all to the doctrine of the Scriptures in regard to rewards and punishments, as our inquiry has fully shown. And, second, the patriarchal creed makes no mention of it, as far as we know; and if it made part of an early revelation, afterwards lost, it is reasonable to suppose that it would have been renewed again in the revelation to the Law of Moses.
Beside, if the Egyptians obtained it from any of the patriarchs, it must have been from Jacob or his descendants, after they went down into Egypt. It must have been a current doctrine, therefore, among the Israelites, and regarded by them as of divine authority; but this conclusion is shut off by the fact that Moses, though divinely commissioned as their teacher, rejects it from his law, and shows his unbelief and contempt for it by a studied and unbroken silence! Curious, indeed, if Dr. Good's supposition is correct. We find the doctrine in full bloom with the Egyptians, but not a trace of it among the early Hebrews. But, singularly enough, when, in after ages, the Jews had become corrupted, and had departed from the Law of Moses, we find the doctrine among them. And, what is very noteworthy, as the next chapter will show, its first appearance is in apocryphal books written by Egyptian Jews. So that the facts happen to be the very opposite of Dr. Good's theory; - instead of the Egyptians borrowing it from the Jews, the Jews borrowed it from the Egyptians.
In attempting to set out the Egyptian notions on the subject, it is difficult to choose between the conflicting accounts of the Greek writers, Herodotus, Diodorus Siculus, Plutarch, &c., as well as of the modern interpreters of the monumental hieroglyphics. Still, with regard to the main question, they are tolerably well agreed, though there is great diversity of opinion in respect to the details. It is plain enough, from their united testimony, that the whole matter of judgment after death, the rewards of a good life, and the punishments of a bad life, with all the formal solemnities of trial and condemnation, originated and was perfected among the Egyptians, according to the peculiar character of their mythology. From them it was borrowed by the Greeks, who made such changes and additions as fitted the system to the genius and circumstances of that people.
It would seem that each district of Egypt had what was called its "sacred lake," beyond which were the tombs and burial-places of the dead. Acherusia, the lake near Memphis, was the model probably for the rest, and appears to have furnished a general name for them.
When any one died, it was the duty of his relations, according to Diodorus, to notify the forty-two judges or assessors, whose office it was to decide upon the character of the deceased, and then to appoint the day for the funeral ceremonies and burial. When the day came, the body of the dead was carried in procession to the shore of the lake, from which it could not be removed till after the judgment. The forty-two judges, having been summoned, were in waiting at the place of embarkation, to receive the body, and enter on the trial. It was then lawful, for any person who thought proper, to bring charges against the deceased; and if it was proved that he had led an evil life, the judges condemned him for his wickedness, and refused him the privilege of burial, which was regarded as one of the greatest possible calamities. But if those accusing the dead failed to establish their accusations, they were subjected to the heaviest penalties.
If there was no accuser, or the charges were disproved, then his relations were allowed to pronounce the accustomed eulogy, praising his piety and goodness, celebrating his virtues, and declaring the excellent life which he had lived. This was followed by a prayer supplicating the gods of the under-world to receive him into the society of the blessed. Then came the acclamations of the multitude assembled on the occasion, who united in extolling the character of the dead, and in rejoicing that he was now going to join the virtuous in the regions of Amenti or Hades.
This over, the body was placed in the funeral boat, under the direction of Horus, the ferryman of the dead, and borne across the lake to its place of sepulture. This done, the ceremonies of the occasion closed.
The bodies of those who had been refused burial were carried back by the family, and the coffins set up against the wall of the house. The spirit could not be at rest until the body was buried. "The duration of this punishment was limited," says Wilkinson, "according to the extent of crimes of which the accused had been guilty. When the devotion of friends, aided by liberal donations in the service of religion, and the influential prayers of the priests, had sufficiently softened the otherwise inexorable nature of the gods, the period of this state of purgatory was doubtless shortened." 8
Beside this judgment on earth, it appears there was another after the dead entered the regions of Amenti or Hades. For what reason, we cannot say, except the judges of the invisible world were a kind of superior court, who examined the case anew, with the view of correcting any errors of the previous trial.
Sir J.G. Wilkinson informs us that "the judgment scenes found in the tombs and on the papyri, sometimes represent the deceased conducted by Horus to the region of AmentI Cerberus is present as the guardian of the gates, near which the scales of justice were erected. Anubis, 'the director of the weight,' having placed a vase representing the good actions, or the heart of the deceased, in one scale, and the figure or emblem of truth in the other, proceeds to ascertain his claims for admission. If, on being 'weighed,' he is 'found wanting,' he is rejected; and Osiris, the judge of the dead, inclining the scepter in token of condemnation, pronounces judgment upon him, and condemns his soul to return to earth under the form of a pig, or some other unclean animal. Placed in a boat, it is removed, under the charge of two monkeys, from the precincts of Amenti, all communication with which is figuratively cut off by a man who hews away the earth with an ax after its passage; and the commencement of a new term of life is indicated by the monkeys, the emblems of Thoth, as Time. But if, when the sum of his deeds have been recorded, his virtues so far predominate as to entitle him to admission to the mansions of the blessed, Horus introduces him to Osiris." 9
It is with this judgment, at the point where the condemned soul is sent back again to the earth in the form of an animal, that the doctrine of transmigration seems to connect itself.
According to Herodotus, the Egyptians believed the soul would pass from one body to another, till it had performed the circuit of all animals, terrestrial, marine, and birds of the air; when it again takes up its abode in the human body. This transmigration it was supposed would fill up a period of three thousand years.
There is great diversity of opinion in regard to the particulars of this curious arrangement, but the leading idea appears to have been the punishment of the wicked; for the wicked only, according to some authorities, were subject to it, the good and pious being received immediately, on the burial of the body, into rest, or returning to the Good Being whence they emanated. And it would seem, according to Wilkinson, that it was only the ordinarily wicked, not the very worst, who were condemned to this purgatory. He thinks that the monuments show "that the souls which underwent transmigration were those of men whose sins were of a sufficiently moderate kind to admit of that purification; the unpardonable sinner being condemned to eternal fire," by which he means endless fire.
These records of the ancient Greeks, confirmed by the monuments as illustrated by modern scholars, open to us the origin of the doctrines of a judgment after death, and of future endless rewards and punishments, for the good or evil deeds of this life. From the Egyptians it passed, with suitable modifications, to the Greeks and Romans. Diodorus himself clearly shows that the fables of the Acherusian lake, of Hecate, Cerberus, Charon, and the Styx, have their original in these Egyptian ceremonies and doctrines.
And Professor Stuart, in a note to Greppo's Essay on Hieroglyphics, accepts the statement of Spineto, that the Amenti of the Egyptians originated the classic fables of Hades and Tartarus, Charon, Pluto, the judges of hell, the dog Cerberus, the Chimeras, Harpies, Gorgons, Furies, "and other such unnatural and horrible things with which the Greeks and Romans peopled their fantastic hell."
It is curious to note the exactness of the copy in many particulars. The Egyptian Acherusia gives us the Greek Acheron, and perhaps Styx. The Egyptian Tartar, significant of the lamentations of relatives over the dead refused burial on account of their wicked lives, furnishes the Greek Tartarus, where the wicked are punished. The funeral boat across the lake, the ferryman, and the gold piece in the mouth of the dead, give rise to Charon, his boat, and fee, and the passage across the Styx into Hades. The cemetery beyond the lake, surrounded by trees, called by the Egyptians Elisout or Elisaeus, is the original of the Greek Elysian Fields, the abode of the blessed. The three infernal judges, Minos, Aeacus, Rhadamanthus, are borrowed from the Egyptian judges of the dead; and the heads of animals symbolizing these judges, mistaken by the Greeks, are changed into monster Gorgons, Harpies, Furies, &c.
But, as I have remarked, though the Greeks borrowed, they altered and improved. And, true to that individualism which was so marked a characteristic of that people, they are not satisfied with the Egyptian method of generalizing respecting the punishments of the wicked, but begin specifying particular sinners, and particular kinds of punishment adapted to particular offenses. Hence the fables of Ixion, Tantalus, Tityrus, &c., whose torments in the infernal regions are mentioned in the beginning of this chapter. Everything must be sharp, pointed, and dramatic, to suit the lively genius of the Greek; and the terrors of the invisible world must be presented in a way to strike the imagination in the most powerful manner, and produce some direct result on the individual and on society.
The whole thing is designed for effect, to influence the multitude, to restrain their passions, and to aid the magistrate and ruler in keeping them subject to authority. It is the invention of priests and law-makers, who take this as the easiest method of governing the people. They claim the "right divine" to govern; claim that their laws originate with the gods, as we have shown above; and that, therefore, the gods will visit on all offenders the terrors and tortures of the damned. Hence, through the joint cunning of priest and legislator, of church and state, mutually supporting each the other, we have all the stupendous frauds and falsehoods respecting the invisible world.
But, without further remarks of my own, I will introduce the testimony of the heathen themselves on this point, and those the best informed among them, who will tell their own story in their own way. One preliminary observation, however, partly made already, I wish to repeat; and I desire the reader to have it always in mind: The rulers and magistrates, or priests, invent these terrors to keep the people, the masses, in subjection; the people religiously believe in them; while the inventors, of course, and the educated classes, the priests and the philosophers, though they teach them to the multitude, have themselves no manner of faith in them.
1. Polybius, the historian, says: "Since the multitude is ever fickle, full of lawless desires, irrational passions and violence, there is no other way to keep them in order but by the fear and terror of the invisible world; on which account our ancestors seem to me to have acted judiciously, when they contrived to bring into the popular belief these notions of the gods, and of the infernal regions." B. vi 56.
2. Dionysius Halicarnassus treats the whole matter as useful, but not as true. Antiq. Rom., B. ii
3. Livy, the celebrated historian, speaks of it in the same spirit; and he praises the wisdom of Numa, because he invented the fear of the gods, as "a most efficacious means of governing an ignorant and barbarous populace." Hist., I 19.
4. Strabo, the geographer, says: "The multitude are restrained from vice by the punishments the gods are said to inflict upon offenders, and by those terrors and threatenings which certain dreadful words and monstrous forms imprint upon their minds...For it is impossible to govern the crowd of women, and all the common rabble, by philosophical reasoning, and lead them to piety, holiness and virtue - but this must be done by superstition, or the fear of the gods, by means of fables and wonders; for the thunder, the aegis, the trident, the torches (of the Furies), the dragons, &c., are all fables, as is also all the ancient theology. These things the legislators used as scarecrows to terrify the childish multitude." Geog., B. I
5. Timaeus Locrus, the Pythagorean, after stating that the doctrine of rewards and punishments after death is necessary to society, proceeds as follows: "For as we sometimes cure the body with unwholesome remedies, when such as are most wholesome produce no effect, so we restrain those minds with false relations, which will not be persuaded by the truth. There is a necessity, therefore, of instilling the dread of those foreign torments: 10as that the soul changes its habitation; that the coward is ignominiously thrust into the body of a woman; the murderer imprisoned within the form of a savage beast; the vain and inconstant changed into birds, and the slothful and ignorant into fishes."
6. Plato, in his commentary on Timaeus, fully endorses what he says respecting the fabulous invention of these foreign torments. And Strabo says that "Plato and the Brahmins of India invented fables concerning the future judgments of hell" (Hades). And Chrysippus blames Plato for attempting to deter men from wrong by frightful stories of future punishments.
Plato himself is exceedingly inconsistent, sometimes adopting, even in his serious discourses, the fables of the poets, and at other times rejecting them as utterly false, and giving too frightful views of the invisible world. Sometimes, he argues, on social grounds, that they are necessary to restrain bad men from wickedness and crime, and then again he protests against them on political grounds, as intimidating the citizens, and making cowards of the soldiers, who, believing these things, are afraid of death, and do not therefore fight well. But all this shows in what light he regarded them; not as truths, certainly, but as fictions, convenient in some cases, but difficult to manage in others.
7. Plutarch treats the subject in the same way; sometimes arguing for them with great solemnity and earnestness, and on other occasions calling them "fabulous stories, the tales of mothers and nurses."
8. Seneca says: "Those things which make the infernal regions terrible, the darkness, the prison, the river of flaming fire, the judgment seat, &c., are all a fable, with which the poets amuse themselves, and by them agitate us with vain terrors." Sextus Empiricus calls them "poetic fables of hell;" and Cicero speaks of them as "silly absurdities and fables" (ineptiis ac fabulis).
9. Aristotle. "It has been handed down in mythical form from earliest times to posterity, that there are gods, and that the divine (Deity) compasses all nature. All beside this has been added, after the mythical style, for the purpose of persuading the multitude, and for the interests of the laws, and the advantage of the state." Neander's Church Hist., I, p. 7. 11
The question with which this section began, "Whence came the doctrine of future endless punishments?" is now, I trust, answered by a sufficient number of witnesses to settle the matter beyond dispute. The heathens themselves confess to the invention of the dogma, and of all the fabulous stories of the infernal regions; the legislators and sages very frankly state that the whole thing was devised for its supposed utility in governing the gross and ignorant multitude of men and women, who cannot be restrained by the precepts of philosophy. 12
They have not the slightest faith in these things themselves; they do not think them at all necessary to regulate their own lives, or keep them in order; but it is for the common people, the coarse rabble, who can only in this way be terrified into good behavior. One cannot help noting the resemblance between these wise men and some of our own day, who seem so anxious to maintain the doctrine in the ground that it is necessary to restrain men from sin. But, unfortunately for this theory, the revelations of history, both Pagan and Christian, are all in opposition to it.
A Catholic Catechism, reviewed by the London Athenaeum, has the following
questions and answers: "Q. Where is hell? A. It is in the middle of the earth.
Q. Is hell very large? A. Not very; for the damned lay packed in it one upon
another, like the bricks in a brick oven." Our Protestant brethren are not quite
so precise in locating the place. "Hell is in any place where God chooses to
have it; or where sinners choose to have it; or where devils make it. Or it may
be in some planet, or between the planets; or it may be in no particular place.
It may be everywhere but in heaven. Hell is infinite misery. Wherever
infinite misery is endured is hell. If, to produce this, it is necessary to put
all wicked men into one pit, they will be put there; if not, they may have more
room." - New York Observer.
"Pale phantoms, hideous specters,
shapes which scare
"Fires spout in cataracts, or in
rivers flow -
"The clank of chains,
"How black are the Fiends! How furious are their Tormentors! 'Tis their only music to hear their miserable patients roar, to hear their bones crack. 'Tis their meat and drink to see how their flesh rieth, and their fat droppeth; to drench them with burning metal, and to rip open their bodies, and to pour in fierce burning brass into their bowels and the recesses and ventricles of their hearts. What thinkest thou of those chains of darkness, those instruments of cruelty? Canst thou be content to burn? Seest thou how the worm gnaweth, how the oven gloweth, how the fire rageth? What sayest thou to that river of brimstone, that gulf of perdition? Wilt thou take up thy habitation there? O, lay thine ear to the door of hell! Hearest thou the curses and blasphemies, the weepings and wailings, how they lament their follies, and curse their day; how they do roar and yell, and gnash their teeth; how deep are their groans; how feeling are their moans; how inconceivable are their miseries? If the shrieks of Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, were so terrible (when the earth clave asunder and opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and all that appertained to them) that all Israel fled at the cry to them; O, how fearful would the cry be, if God should take off the covering of the mouth of hell, and let the cry of the damned ascend in all its terror among the children of men, and of all their moans and miseries this the piercing killing emphasis and burden, forever! forever!"
"O you, whom horrors of cold death
THE JEWS BORROWED THE DOCTRINE FROM THE HEATHEN.