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Golden Gate

Prophet Mica had a profound effect on King Hezekiah's decision to introduce the religious reforms in Kingdom of Judah: Micah predicted the destruction of the Holy Temple and the devastation awaiting city of Jerusalem: “Hear this, you heads of the house of Jacob and rulers of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity, who build Zion with blood and Jerusalem with wrong. Its heads give judgment for a bribe, its priests teach for hire, its prophets divine for money; yet they lean upon the LORD and say, ‘Is not the LORD in the midst of us? No evil shall come upon us.’ Therefore because of you Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become a heap of ruins, and the mountain of the house a wooded height” (Micah 3:9 -12).



Hinnom Valley

And they have built the shrines of Topheth in the valley of Ben-Hinnom to burn their sons and daughters in fire-which I never commanded. JEREMIAH (7:31)

Hinnom Valley is a deep, narrow ravine separating Mount Zion from the so-called Hill of Evil Counsel. It forms the southern border of ancient Jerusalem and is mentioned several times in the Bible. It's original Hebrew name is Gei ben-Hinnom which means Valley of Son of Hinnom. Nobody really knows who Hinnom or his son were but the name stuck through the ages.

The earliest mention of the valley of Hinnom is in the Book of Joshua 15:8, where the boundary line between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin is described as passing along the bed of the ravine. "Then the border went up the valley of Ben-hinnom to the slope of the Jebusite on the south (that is, Jerusalem); and the border went up to the top of the mountain which is before the valley of Hinnom to the west, which is at the end of the valley of Rephaim toward the north."

Today Hennom Valley is a picturesque place full of greenery and surrounded by some of the most revered religious sites in the world. But there is a dark side to this garden that a person walking through it would never suspect. In fact, from the time of antiquity bad reputation followed the infamous valley as the place where evil thrived.

During the First Temple period as King Solomon aged he imported some of his wives from the foreign lands where idolatry was a common practice. As noted in the 1 Kings 11:4 "As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the LORD his God, as the heart of David his father had been."

Solomon has even went as far as building a house of worship for them: In 1 Kings 11:7, Bible describes this event in great detail: " Then Solomon built a high place for Chemosh the detestable idol of Moab, on the mountain which is east of Jerusalem, and for Molech the detestable idol of the sons of Ammon."

The horrid pagan rituals were practiced from time to time in the same vicinity of the Hinnom Valley by the later idolatrous kings. One of those rituals involved a human sacrifice where small children were put to death in order to appease the pagan deities Moloch and Baal. Tophet, tramslated as fire-stove, was a particular part of the valley where during the pagan ritual a pit of fire would be set under a gigantic metal statue of Moloch.

As the statue would get all red from the extreme heat, a sacrificial child would be placed on the outstretched arms of the metal idol while the priests would beat the drums so that the parents could not hear the cries of the dying child.

This practice went on despite a very specific orders from God: “‘Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord." Leviticus 18:21.

 Unfortunately the apostate King Ahaz of Judah and his grandson, King Manasseh did not follow to God's command and made their children "pass through the fire" in this valley, ( 2 Kings 16:3 ).

The fact that Manasseh's father, King Hezekiah, was one of the great reformers in the history of Biblical rulers did not influence the decisions made by his son. During his reign, Hezekiah quietly repaired and purified the Holy Temple. He instructed the priests to get rid of the of the idolatrous altars so that the warship of God could be reintroduced in the land of Judah. He performed all these reforms despite the great pressure from the pagan Assyrians who were the dominant power in the region.

 Manasseh, who has become a vassal of the Assyrian King Sennacherib, went as far as introducing pagan idols to the Holy Temple and also encouraged the population of Judah to sucrifize their children at the Tophet.

Valley of Hinnom

                                                               Hinnom Valley, Jerusalem

It all changed during the rein Manasseh's grandson, King Josiah, who came to power at the tender age of 8 years old. The changes began to take place when during the minor Temple repairs, high priest Hilkiah found a book with ancient writings about the covenant between the God and Israelites as well as prophecies about the impending doom that awaited those who did not follow the God's will.

As fear of God overwhelmed the young king, he ordered the drastic reforms. All pagan statues and images were destroyed and the heretic priests were put to death. As Bible notes on 2 Kings 23:10-13-14 the reformist King "put an end to these abominations and the place was polluted by Josiah, who renders it ceremonially unclean by spreading over it human bones and other corruptions.

He desecrated Tophet, which was in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, so no one could use it to sacrifice their son or daughter in the fire to Molek." King Josiah also ordered the people of Judah to gather in Jerusalem where they read the Holy books and celebrated the Passover on the grand scale.

After the death of King Josiah, his successors fell back into the practice of worshipping the pagan gods again. His son Zedechiah was practicing idolatry despite the prophet Jeremiah's warnings. Jeremiah prophesied about the Babylonian threat in and warned the Jews of the terrible devastation they would incur if they did not stop worshipping idols and mistreating each other.

In Jeremiah 19, God instructs the prophet: " and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the gate Harsith, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee... Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, which whosoever heareth, his ears shall tingle... Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that this place shall no more be called Topheth, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter."

Zedechiah was the last king of Judah as in 586BCE, the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem, killed untold numbers of inhabitants and exiled thousands to Babylon. Jeremiah's prophecy was fulfilled as Kindom of Judah ceased to exist.

After the Exile the Hinnom Valley was used as garbage dump where non stop fires kept burning to consume the refuse and keep down the unbearable stench. It was also the location where the bodies of executed criminals, denied a proper burial, and animals would be dumped. The worms and maggots were all over the place crawling amongst the corpses. Eventually people started referring to valley as Gehenom or gates to hell. Greeks called it Gehenna as it became known in the New Testament and is often used today as a synonym for hell.

Jesus offers a warning about Gehenna as "the valley of judgement and oblivion beside the divine Throne" in Luke 12:4. In the Gospel of Matthew (27:6-8).

Judas repents after selling Jesus out for 30 pieces of silver, brings the coins back to the temple and then goes to the Valley of Hinnom where he kills himself.

"And he (Judas) cast down the pieces of silver in the temple, and departed, and went and hanged himself. And the chief priests took the silver pieces, and said, It is not lawful for to put them into the treasury, because it is the price of blood. And they took counsel, and bought with them the potter's field, to bury strangers in. Wherefore that field was called, The field of blood, unto this day."

The place where Judas is believed took his own life is called Akeldama in Aramaic or Field of Blood when translated to English. The Greek Monastery of St. Onuphrious, build in 1874, currently stands over that infamous spot. The monastery occupies a narrow terrace on the southern slope of the valley, facing Mount Zion and the Old City walls.

It was named after a monk who lived as a hermit in the Egyptian desert during the 4th century CE. He was famous for devoting his life to prayer while living in the harsh environment for many years with little or no food or water. He was also known to have a very long beard, which he used to cover his body with during the cold desert nights.

Inside the monastery are the remains of several ancient caves from the 2nd temple period that were used by Jews as the burial sites. The legend has it that some of the caves were also used by the apostles as the hiding places after Jesus was arrested postles as the hiding places after Jesus was arrested by Roman authorities.

After the War of Liberation was over in 1948, as a result of an armistice agreement, the Hinnom Valley served as a demarcation line between Israel and Jordan. Only in 1967, during the Six Day War, was Israel able to reclaim the Old City with its Holy sites.

21st century Hinnom Valley is a beautiful garden that offers peace and a tranquility, just a stone throw away from the bustling city. Children play ball, adults work on their sun tan and occasionally there is even a free concert for anyone wishing to attend.

But some people believe that the spirits of the dead are still wandering the area and their cries can be heard during the night. Old legends die hard and even if you are not a superstitious person a reminder of what this place once was can make you feel uneasy knowing how close you are to what once was perceived as the gates to hell.