For years the exact location of the Valley of Hinnom was debated by scholars. It was thought to be either east of Jerusalem’s Old City (now identified as Valley of Josaphat), within the Old City (now identified as Tyropoeon Valley), or stretching east to west along the outer walls of the Old City, as described by Joshua. This last location is now identified with the biblical Valley of Hinnom.
The Valley of Hinnom hugs the historical center of Jerusalem, surrounding the Old City and bordered by Mount Zion to the north, Jerusalem Cinematheque to the west, and the villages of Silwan and Abu-Tur. Near the southeastern corner of the Old City, the Valley of Hinnom merges with Kidron Valley. On the valley slopes stands the Greek Orthodox Onuphrius Convent. Today the valley is an open recreational green area.
Excavations in the valley revealed many burial tombs from different periods. The earliest grave dates back to the 7th-8th-century BC. Archaeologists uncovered elaborate family tombs from the 1st-century AD. These would have been owned by wealthy Jews who could afford the high price of a family tomb so close to the Holy Temple.
Excavations also revealed burial sites from the Roman, and Byzantine eras, as well as remnants of cremation burials. Several other burial sites exist from the Crusader and Ottoman eras, as well as two cemeteries. Another discovery was a 7th-century BC silver scroll inscribed with a section of the Jewish Priestly Blessing.
The origin of the name is unknown but it may have been the name of the original owner. Valley of Hinnom is the modern name for this topographical area, but the biblical Hebrew name is Valley of the Son of Hinnom or the Valley of the Children of Hinnom. In Arabic, it is Wadi er-Rababi and in Aramaic, the valley is called Gehenna.
The terms Valley of Hinnom, Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and Valley of the Children of Hinnom appear 13 times in the Old Testament. The earliest reference is in Joshua 15:8, 18:16. Then in 2 Chronicles 28:3, King Ahaz of Judah sacrificed his (illegitimate) sons in the valley. The actual phrase used to describe the sacrifice in the Bible is “cause his children to pass through the fire”.
So it may have been a sacrificial ceremony or the children may have simply been led safely through two lanes of fire as a religious ritual. According to Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2-6, some kings of Judah sacrificed their children by fire in the valley, and so it became cursed. In the Book of Isaiah the “burning place” is mentioned, and presumed to be the Valley of Hinnom. In 2 Kings 23:10 we read how Josiah tore down the shrine of Molech to prevent further child sacrifices.
The biblical references associating the Valley of Hinnom with child sacrifice, fire, and punishment have evolved into it being synonymous with hell. In religious Jewish texts, the valley is associated with evil, and the name ge-Hinnom became associated with hell and the fate of the wicked.
In modern spoken Hebrew, ge-Hinnom is the word for hell. The word Gehenna is used 11 times in the New Testament referring to a place where body and soul are destroyed, and as a place of punishment. Even in Islamic beliefs, the name given to hell is Jahannam, which is derived from Gehenna.
If you wish to visit the Valley of Hinnom, feel free to book one of our Jerusalem Private Tours.