The Biblical Tour of Hell

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The Biblical Tour of HellIt is difficult to underestimate the significance of the story of the Rich Man and
Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31 within the biblical tradition. Although hell occupies a
prominent position in popular Christian rhetoric today, it plays a relatively
minor role in the Christian canon. The most important biblical texts that
explicitly describe the fate of the dead, particularly the wicked dead, are in the
Synoptic Gospels: Mark 9:43-48, Matthew 25:31-46, and Luke 16:19-31. Mark and
Matthew both identify this place of punishment as Gehenna, but Luke employs
the classical postmortem destination known throughout the Greek-speaking
world – hades. And among these three passages, only the Lukan tradition is
intent on explicitly describing the abode of the dead; it is the only biblical tour of

The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is also unique among the so-called
“parables.” It is the only “parable” that includes proper names and it is the only
“parable” that is set within a supernatural context. The parables characteristically
feature concrete realities of first-century Mediterranean life, but the majority of
Luke 16:19-31 is narrated from the perspective of the tormented dead. This
project demonstrates the distinctive features of the story of the Rich Man and
Lazarus, which have perplexed biblical interpreters for centuries, are the result of
a strategic imitation, creative transformation, and Christian transvaluation of the
descent of Odysseus into the house of hades in Odyssey Book 11, the literary
model par excellence of postmortem revelation in antiquity.

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