Descent into Hell

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Descent into Hell

Harrowing of Hell

As the early Christians pondered the meaning of the Gospel accounts of the Crucifixion and Resurrection, some began to wonder about the time that elapsed between these two events (for more on crucifixion, see Cross). What had happened to Jesus during the time that he was dead? (See also Holy Saturday.) Christian scripture gives no definite answers, but hints that he "descended into the lower parts of the earth" (Ephesians 4:9). It also asks, "'who will descend into the abyss?' (to bring Christ up from the dead)" (Romans 10:7). Some commentators interpreted these texts to mean that during the time that he was dead, Christ descended to the abode of dead souls, deep under the earth. Belief in such a place was already widespread in the ancient world. The Jews called it Sheol, the Greeks called it Hades, and English speakers eventually came to call it Hell. By the second or third century a document known as the Gospel according to Nicodemus circulated among Christians, offering a detailed account of Jesus' deeds among the departed. According to this document Jesus descended to the netherworld, where the dead were kept captive by Satan and a figure personifying death. As Jesus approached, the dead perceived a great light coming towards them. Biblical prophets like Isaiah and John the Baptist rejoiced and announced the coming of the Savior. Christ entered the underworld, defeated Satan, and lifted the dead up to paradise. This story not only provided an answer to the question of what Jesus did during the time that he was dead, but also answered the question of what became of the souls who had died before Christ entered the world with his offer of salvation.

This story, called the Harrowing of Hell, gained in popularity throughout the Middle Ages, reaching the height of its appeal in the last several centuries of that era. "Harrow" is an old-fashioned word meaning to agitate, to harass, or to plunder. It is associated with an old farm instrument known as a harrow, a kind of sturdy rake used to break up the ground. This sequence of events is also known as the Descent into Hell. The idea that Jesus descended into Hell before his resurrection became a firmly established teaching of the Church in the eighth century, when it was formally incorporated into the Apostles' Creed, a brief outline of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. The Harrowing of Hell was depicted in many paintings and sculptures and dramatized in medieval mystery and morality plays, folk plays centered on religious themes. The image of Christ liberating the dead fills an especially important role in Orthodox Christianity, where it serves as the foremost representation of the Resurrection.

Further Reading

Every, George. Christian Legends. New York: Peter Bedrick Books, 1987. MacCulloch, J. A. The Harrowing of Hell. Edinburgh, Scotland: T. and T. Clark, 1930. Metford, J. C. J. "Descent of Christ into Hell." In his Dictionary of Christian Lore and Legend. London, England: Thames and Hudson, 1983. Monti, James. The Week of Salvation. Huntington, IN: Our Sunday Visitor Publications, 1993. Quinn, J. D., J. H. Rohling, and P. Verdier. "Descent of Christ into Hell." In New Catholic Encyclopedia. Volume 4. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967. Scott, Miriam Van. Encyclopedia of Hell. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1998. Turner, Alice K. The History of Hell. New York: Harcourt Brace and Company, 1993.
Encyclopedia of Easter, Carnival, and Lent, 1st ed. © Omnigraphics, Inc. 2002
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Meditations and reflections are focused on the passion and death of Christ, and His descent into hell before His glorious resurrection on Easter Sunday.
They are essential in terms of import and export of animals and products of animal origin," Dr Khaled El Hicheri who described the situation of veterinarian services in Tunisia as "a descent into hell", in an article published on
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Among their topics are Augustine's certainty in speaking about Hell and his reserve in explaining Christ's descent into Hell, the descent of Christ into the underworld in early Christian liturgy, Thomas Aquinas on Christ's descent into Hell, the motif of the Harrowing of Hell in the video game "Child of Light," and the scope of redemption on finding meaning in Christ's descent into Hell.
What ensues promises 'a violent descent into hell', said Hollywood Reporter.
26) as "an electronic, baroque, burlesque descent into hell. "This seemed like an ambitious reach at first, but by the end of Act I, it was evident the company's stylistic choices accurately reflected these hybrid themes.
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It could circle the Earth 120 times DESCENT INTO HELL hits on German ships by British shells at the Battle of Jutland 123 The Germans scored 122 hits in return THE HOME FRONT HOLDING THE FORT Women did vital jobs 80% of shells fired by the British Army were made by women TOTAL WAR 3,000 daily British casualties at the Battle of the Somme END GAME 534 Allied tanks in the final stages of the war.
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than perhaps any other biblical text outside the gospels and Revelation." Describing Christ's descent into hell after his resurrection, the Gospel of Nicodemus explains how the Jewish prophets and patriarchs gained retroactive salvation at a time when many Christians believed the possibility of salvation was closed off to anyone who died before Christ.
Most of all we have witnessed snippets of the descent into hell that is today's Syria where oppression rules in a horrifying round of beheadings and destruction.