The Poisonous Tomato
by Immanuel A. Michael
Not so very long ago, most Englishmen and Americans "knew" something unknown
to almost anyone else in the world: that tomatoes were "poisonous." While Italians happily
concocted new tomato-based dishes that would soon take the world by storm, and
add luscious nuance to the words delizioso and mamma-mia,
world-conquering Britons were cowering in fear, convinced the innocuous "love
apple" was lethal.
It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century that Brits and Americans finally
summoned the courage to take a first few tentative nibbles of the "love apple." When
they did, it was "love at first bite." The rest, as they say, is history.
How is it possible that the rest of the world knew the tomato was safe to
eat, and yet Brits and Americans considered it the Forbidden Fruit? Wasn’t the
tomato’s English nickname "the love apple" an ironic reference to the Garden of
Eden, and the scrumptious-looking "apple" that lured Adam and Eve to their
doom? Brits and Americans sometimes grew tomatoes in their
gardens: their flower gardens. They could look but not touch, and
certainly never eat, the Forbidden Fruit.
Perhaps God is trying to tell us something important, about human folly. Perhaps there is another "love
apple" which we human beings have denied ourselves, irrationally. I believe this
to be the case, and if you will bear with me for a few minutes, I will present
my evidence and state my case. If you have children, or plan to have children, I
think this may be very important for them, and for you. But first a very brief history lesson seems to
be in order, to help us put things in proper perspective . . .
In 1597 an English barber-surgeon/herbalist named John Gerard published an
influential book in which he opined that tomatoes were dangerous to eat. He made
this statement even though he acknowledged that tomatoes were being consumed in
Europe at the time. Of course we all know how wonderfully wise barber-surgeons were, back in
the Middle Ages. Patients sometimes died from recurring migraine headaches
because their "surgeons" bled them to death, being convinced that all illnesses
were caused by evil spirits ("bad humors") in the blood. Jesus had cast out such
evil spirits, so they certainly existed. Barber-surgeons who lacked Christ’s
abilities as exorcists got rid of them the ye-olde-fashioned way, with leeches
and leather-stropped medieval "scalpels."
But what are human beings to do? How can we determine the best cures for
headaches, and which foods are safe to eat? After all, we depend almost entirely
on what trusted experts tell us. What happens when the "experts" are morons,
or dream things up, or flat-out lie?
Rather than keep you in suspense, I will now explain the nature of the "love
apple" human beings have been denying themselves, due to irrational fears that
go back to horribly bad advice we received from ancient, highly
dubious, yet implicitly trusted "experts."
The "love apple" is sex and the irrational fear is an "eternal hell."
As with the poisonous tomato, we have been hornswaggled, and I intend to
prove it. I will do so by proving that according to the Bible there is no such
thing as an "eternal hell," and never was. When the Bible discusses sin and its
consequences, those consequences are always temporal (of this life), not eternal. This can
easily be demonstrated.
Yes, sex can be dangerous. If a man has sex with another man’s wife, or has
unprotected sex, he may be taking his life into his own hands. But there is no
reason to believe anyone will suffer for all eternity because he dipped his wick
in the wrong socket, so to speak (and mix metaphors).
And I think it’s important to point out that the Christian rush
to condemn non-heterosexuals to an "eternal hell" flies out the window, if God
himself never mentioned an eternal hell. It strikes me as the height of blasphemy
for Christians to condemn people to an "eternal hell" in the name of God, when
God and his prophets never mentioned such a place.
What the hell are Catholics and evangelical Protestants up to, anyway?
Are they worshiping God, or the Other Guy?
What happens to people who blaspheme the name of God, and dominate and
terrorize other people in his name? I don’t pretend to know, and I don’t intend
to find out myself. I’m trying to do what I can to address and correct the
problem. Obviously, no one is in danger of an eternal "hell," if there is no
eternal hell. But that doesn’t mean God will be happy with
the hellions who used his good name to further their evil plans for world
domination. So I hope everyone who doesn’t want to dominate and terrorize other
people will re-think the "eternal hell" thing. Here’s why. I will recap my main
points, then give a brief synopsis of each one. I will use OT for Old Testament,
and NT for New Testament, for the sake of brevity.
(1) There is no "hell" in the entire OT or the earliest NT texts.
(2) So "hell" clearly did not pre-exist, but neither were its creation or
purpose ever announced.
(3) When "hell" appears in the NT, it just "pops up" without
a word of preamble
(4) Although no Jews believed in "hell" except the Pharisees, there was no
debate about "hell."
(5) This "hell" did not come from the Bible, but from pagan Greek poetry and
(6) Therefore, "hell" is not the revelation of God, but the creation of
(7) The Hebrew word Sheol obviously means, "the grave," not "hell."
(8) The Greek word Hades obviously means, "the grave," not "hell."
(9) The Hebrew word Gehenna identifies a location in Israel. Today it’s a
(10) The Greek word that actually means "hell" is Tartarus, but no human being was
ever condemned there.
Now I will provide a brief synopsis of each main point:
(1) There is clearly no "eternal hell" in the OT or the
earliest-written books of the NT. The ancient Hebrews did not believe
in "hell" (as we will clearly see), and other than the Pharisees (the sworn
enemies of Jesus) most Jews to this day have never believed in an "eternal hell."
If there was an "eternal hell," it would obviously have been incumbent on God and
the Hebrew prophets to warn people about its existence, and explain how
to avoid it. But God and the prophets never mentioned even the remotest possibility
of "hell" to Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Noah, Abraham, Lot, Isaac, Jacob/Israel,
Joseph, Moses, et al. "Hell" was not mentioned to Adam
and Eve in the garden of Eden, nor to Cain (the first murder), nor to Noah at the time
of the wickedness that led to the Great Flood, nor to Abraham
and Lot at the time of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. Nor was "hell"
mentioned to Moses at the time of the giving of the Law and its punishments, which were all temporal punishments. So obviously
"hell" did not pre-exist,
because it wasn’t mentioned even to the worst of people at the worst of times,
or to the greatest of all the Hebrew prophets: Moses, the Lawgiver, who is said
to have written the first five books of the Bible.
(2) But neither is there any verse in the entire Bible—OT or
NT—where the creation of an eternal hell or its purpose is ever announced.
The Bible was profoundly silent on the matter of "hell" for many thousands of
years, until a few curious verses (sans any preamble or introduction) popped up at a very late date in the creation and assemblage of
the NT. But the earliest Christian texts—the epistles of Saint Paul—and the book of Acts (the self-recorded history of the early Christian church)
also completely fail to mention a place called "hell," much less anyone going there
Therefore it seems obvious that God knew nothing about a place called "hell," if
God had anything to do with the creation of the Bible from the first chapter of
Genesis to the last chapter of Acts (the beginning and end of the
of the Bible). If God created "hell", we would expect to hear one of the prophets,
or Jesus, or one of the apostles explain exactly when, why and how "hell" popped
into existence. But the Bible contains no such announcement. According to the
Bible, "hell" did not pre-exist, and was never created. So obviously human beings
did the dirty deed. How could an all-wise God have been so remarkably inept?
When we see errors of this magnitude there can be only one culprit: man. If
"hell" was created at some point
in finite time, how could God have failed to mention this—not only to the
Israelites—but to every human being on the planet? If a Native American who had never heard of the Bible died,
then woke up in an "eternal hell" he knew nothing about, how could God be
considered loving, wise or just? This leaves Christians with one of two logical conclusions: either God
was involved in the creation of the Bible, and there is no "hell", or man created
the Bible entirely on his own. In either case, there is no reason to fear an
entirely imaginary "hell" and terrorize innocent children with it.
(3) How is it possible that "hell" completely failed to exist on the pages of
the Bible for many thousands of years, and then people suddenly started talking
about it, as if it was a foregone conclusion? The answer is simple: there was a
gap in time (and a change of location) between the time the epistles of Paul were written
(sans "hell") and the time the "hell" verses were finally
cobbled into the later revisions of the NT. By the time the few verses that discuss "hell" had been
clumsily stitched into the NT, people had already come to accept the idea of
some sort of punishment after death, so there was no debate on the topic. This
could not have happened in Israel, as we will see.
(4) The fact that no debate over "hell" is recorded in the
Bible is extremely important. The NT records several disagreements between
Jesus and the Jews who were not his disciples. Jesus debated
the Pharisees and Sadducees on various topics. But there is no recorded
debate in which Jesus said people would go to "hell", and they responded by
saying, "How can you condemn us to a ‘hell’ that was never mentioned in Hebrew
scripture: by God, or any prophet. Who are you to condemn us to a ‘hell’ God and
the prophets knew nothing about?" Jesus did ridicule the Pharisees’ concept of
"hell" in his parable of Lazarus and the rich man. But
Jesus was obviously mocking the idea that some people (Pharisees) would
inherit heaven simply by being "sons of Abraham" while other people (Gentiles)
ended up in a fiery pit. This is an important point, which will be discussed in
more detail shortly. But for now please keep in mind that if Jesus and his
apostles had been condemning people to "hell," the ones who were familiar with
Hebrew scripture would have been livid with rage. I feel the same rage today,
when I hear Christians condemning people of other faiths to a "hell"
the God of the Bible and his prophets never mentioned. It fills me with anger to
think of children being told they are in danger of an eternal "hell," at some
unknown "age of accountability" that God, the prophets, Jesus and the apostles
never so much as discussed. Such an infernal dogma should have provoked angry
arguments. But there are no heated debates about "hell" recorded in the
Bible. This makes no sense, unless "hell" was added to the Bible in Greece or
Rome, after the time of Jesus and Paul.
(5) Who could have added "hell" to the Bible, so clumsily, and gotten away
with it? The answer is simple. Until AD 70 the seat of the Christian
church was in Jerusalem. The Jews who were not Pharisees did not believe in
"hell." Jesus and his apostles were all Jewish. The book of Acts records the history of the Jerusalem
church, and it never mentions anyone being condemned to a place called "hell." But
after Jerusalem was destroyed in AD 70, the seat of the church moved to Greece
and Rome, and people in Greece and Rome already believed in "hell" (not the wise
men, but the ignorant, unwashed masses). They would have accepted the idea of a
place called "hell" without debate because they were unfamiliar with Hebrew
scripture, and they already had heard about "hell." But it is important to note
that this hell was Tartarus, not Hades. More on this in a few minutes. Perhaps
the most incredible, ironic fact is that, according to the Jewish
historian Josephus, it was the Pharisees who had incorporated the dogma of
eternal punishment into their version of Judaism. Where did hell originate?
First with pagan Greek poets like Homer (whom Socrates and Plato accused of
lying, and teaching other poets to lie), and then with the sworn enemies of Jesus,
(6) Let’s quickly recap things at this point. Looking at the Bible
chronologically from the beginning of Genesis to the end of the book of Acts—the
entire millennia-long history of Judaism and the early Christian church—and
including the earliest Christian texts (the epistles of Paul), there is not a
single mention of a place called "hell," nor any discussion of when, why or how
"hell" suddenly popped into existence. According to the Bible, hell did not pre-exist and
was never created. If God spoke to the Hebrew prophets and to the apostles of
the early Christian church, how could he have failed to mention
that a place called "hell" had been created? This is quite startling! Did God
make sure that hell could not be attributed to him? Perhaps that’s where he drew
the line. But then why do Christian theologians and
ministers claim they will be saved "by grace" while the
saints of other religions—good men like Gandhi and the Dalai Lama—have been
condemned to an "eternal hell"? Do they believe in the grace of God, really, or
are they just trying to profit from a human-devised religion built on the
shifting sands of human opinion?
(7) "Now wait just a minute, buster," you may be saying to yourself, "I know
the King James Bible" contains the word "hell" in certain verses. Where do you
get off saying those translations are wrong?" Good question. But it’s not just
me. Today even conservative Bible scholars freely admit that the Hebrew
word Sheol clearly means "the grave," not "hell." If Sheol means
"hell" then Job asked to be hidden from suffering in "hell," King David said God
would be with him when he made his bed in "hell," and the sons of Korah said God
would redeem their souls from "hell." These statements flatly contradict the
Christian dogma of a "hell" which is a place of eternal
suffering, where God is absent, and from which no soul can ever be redeemed. It
is more than obvious that Sheol means "the grave," not "hell." But this means
there is no mention of a place called "hell" in the entire OT. The
Hebrew language doesn’t even have a word that means "hell." That’s a startling
omission, if God transmitted the Hebrew Bible to Moses and the prophets, don’t
(8) But the same is true for the Greek word Hades as well. Hades clearly
means "the grave," not "hell." In fact, there is only one word in the entire
Bible which can be correctly translated as "hell," as we will see.
(9) Don't believe me? As Casey Stengel said, "You could look it up." The famously conservative
and literal Southern Baptist Convention recently helped
produce a new Bible, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, or HCSB. It correctly
translates Sheol and Hades as "the grave," leaving a mere ten verses in
the entire Bible which mention a place called "hell." But these ten
verses are mistranslations of "Gehenna," which was not "hell" but a physical
location in Israel, just outside the walls of Jerusalem. In NT times,
Gehenna was a fiery, smoking landfill where garbage was burned continually, so
that its flames were seemingly continual. But those flames were
far from "eternal" because they were extinguished long ago. Today Gehenna is a lovely
park. You can find pictures of it on the Internet. So Gehenna is clearly not
(10) Only one verse in the entire Bible (2 Peter 2:4) contains a word,
Tartarus, which designates a place that might properly be termed "hell." But
this is a verse about fallen angels awaiting judgment, so its "hell" is not
eternal and it is not for human beings.
Are there a smattering of verses that seem to describe a place of suffering
after death? Yes, there are a few. But they make no sense, if God, the prophets,
Jesus and the early Christians never announced the existence of a place called
hell. How can there be a hell unless God said there is a hell? If he created it,
it would be incumbent on him to tell people when it was created, and how to
avoid it. But clearly the God of the Bible never said that he had created a
place called "hell."
Why then do Christians accuse God of damning billions of human souls to an
"eternal hell"? Is the Cult of Hell the Great Apostasy the early
Christians feared and wrote about? After all, the dogma of an "eternal hell"
turns Jesus into a being so unjust, petty, vindictive and cruel that he would
send Gandhi to "hell" for not "believing" in him. How can anyone so petty and
cruel be worthy of belief?