The Valley of Hinnom had a very horrendous history in ancient times. It was used as a place where the pagan worshipers in Judah did all sorts of vile and wicked things - including burning their own children alive as sacrifices to the idols Moloch and Baal.
One section of the Hinnom Valley was called Topheth (also spelled Tophet or Topeth), where the children were slaughtered (2 Kings 23:10). The name Topheth is derived from either, or both, the Hebrew word toph, meaning a drum, because the cries of children being sacrificed by the priests of Moloch were masked by the sound of the beating on drums, or from taph or toph, meaning to burn. If anyone wonders why God's wrath was upon paganism, apart from turning their backs on the True God, one need only look at the barbaric evil that was committed in that valley as an example.
After their return from the Babylonian exile (see Why Babylon?), the people of Judah turned the Hinnom Valley into the city dump where garbage and anything deemed unclean (including the bodies of executed criminals) was incinerated. For that purpose, a fire was kept constantly burning there. Even though it was no longer used for evil worship, with all the filth and thick smoke it remained a very dark and dreary place.
The Hebrew name Hinnom when translated into Greek is gehenna, from which the word and popular concept of hell originated. By the time of Jesus Christ, the deep, constantly-burning Valley of Hinnom was also known as the Valley of Gehenna, or Hell, and was thought of as the place "down there" (i.e. in the valley) where the wicked would eventually be cast into the flames for destruction.
Fact Finder: What did God say about what the people of Judah were doing in Topheth?
This Week's Bible Quiz
Which prophet of The Bible does this describe?
1. He was taken away in a "chariot of fire."
2. He made an iron ax head float.
3. His name is the only book of the Bible that begins with the letter "I"
4. He is the author of the book of Lamentations.
5. He lived by the Kebar (or Chebar) River after being taken to Babylon as one of the exiles.
6. He interpreted Nebuchadnezzar's "great statue" dream.
7. He was one of the shepherds of Tekoa.
8. He spent 3 days and 3 nights inside a great fish.
9. His name is the only book of the Bible that begins with the letter "O"
10. Jesus Christ said that this man was "the Elijah to come"
For the answers to this July 31 2001 quiz, see the Bible Quiz Answers Page