You’ve probably asked yourself what hell is, who goes there, and what happens there.
Is it full of fire and lost souls that burn in agony and pain for eternity? Is it more of a philosophical hell where we confront our guilt and regret? Or is it just full of crazy metalheads enjoying the tunes of heavy metal music?
Well, some of it might actually be true; wanna guess what? 😛
If there is hell on earth, most monotheistic religions agree that its location is in the heart of Jerusalem, just outside the Old City walls, surrounding Mount Zion. Today, the Valley of Hinnom is a pleasant park. It stretches east from the Cinemateque to the village of Silwan. It continues to Kidron Valley, one of the city’s most beautiful ancient cemeteries.
While Jerusalem might feel like hell on hot summer days, the truth is far more dreadful than one might think.
Our story begins in the pastoral Valley of Hinnom and its grim historical association with death, fire, and child sacrifice. I will dedicate a series of posts to tell the dark tales of this morbid place, each time telling one of its macabre histories. But first, let us start at the beginning and find out why this place got such a bad reputation.
Enter Gehenna – the Valley of hell
If you google the word Gehenna, you will find that this is the term used to describe hell. The dictionary defines it as a place or state of misery. In Hebrew, Gehinnom literally means hell. The name comes from the name of the Valley – Gey, which belonged to Hinnom’s son – ben, some 3000 years ago. According to the Hebrew Bible, it was the border between two tribes, Judah and Benjamin.
While the son of Hinnom might be innocent, his property witnessed many of humankind’s vilest rituals. Some involve the sacrifice of babies to the evil god Molech.
Child Sacrifice to Molech in hell Valley
Modern historians and archaeologists debate the meaning of the name Molech. Was it an actual deity or a type of ritual involving child sacrifice dedicated to various deities, including the Judean god Yahweh? In any case, the Hebrew bible notoriously opposed the practice. Among its practitioners were even the Judean kings, sacrificing their own children to the fiendish deity. Judaism, as a monotheistic religion is a fairly late phenomenon that only occurs after the Jews’ return to Judeah (modern-day Jerusalem and the surrounding areas) from Babylon less than 2500 years ago. Until then, the Judeans and Israelites worshipped diverse deities, as we read in the Old Testament. There is abundant evidence in the archaeological record attesting to this. These were local Canaanite tribes transitioning from polytheistic views to belief in one god.
// content warning //
This part contains a description of ancient infant sacrifice rituals.
The Gruesome version of the Sacrifice
Some Jewish lore and medieval literature described Molech and his ritual as follows:
Molech was an evil deity represented by a huge hollow bronze statue. It had the torso of a man and a bull’s head, similar to the minotaur. The fire was burning from within the figure. The Idols held his hands forward, and his favorite offering was the firstborn male child. The innocent infant would be placed on the fiery hands of the statue to be burned alive. Around it, priests would pound on drums and dance to disguise the agonizing screams of the babies. Some say the name Hinnom valley also comes from the moaning of the infants, which in Hebrew is “Nohem.”
The Bible mentions that the priests designated fiery altars called “Tophet” for the ritual in the valley. The children were passed over or sacrificed on them. The term “Tophet” was also used to describe the area and is usually attested to fire, horrendous events, or divine punishment involving fire, even in modern Hebrew.
The Lenient Version of the Sacrifice
But other ancient writers claim the ritual was harmless and didn’t involve burning but just passing the children over or next to the fire as a rite of passage. To this very day, some cultures consider fire to have purifying effects. We find examples of this in many religions. One such example is the Zoroastrian religion, which developed in Persia (Iran) in the second half of the first millennia B.C.E. It influenced many other religions, including Judaism. The Zoroastrians believe that Ahura Mazda created the world from fire. They have temples they call fire temples, where they keep an eternal flame to symbolize the creative and cleansing power of fire. In Jewish tradition, priests kept an eternal pyre on the large altar in the Holy Temple of Jerusalem.
Was the rite to Molech innocent, only demonized by the Bible to show the pagan worshippers as sinful and evil? Or is there a grain of truth in their telling? After all, we see horrendous deeds, a hell on earth, done by men in various parts of the world to this very day.
The “Tophet” cemeteries
As always, let us dig up some bones to find out if there is some truth behind these horrendous acts carried out by our ancestors.
The Valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem is an area filled with an abundance of burial caves. Despite this, archaeologists and historians found no indication of child sacrifice. Nor anywhere else in Judeah or Israel. However, on the other side of the Mediterranean, over a hundred child cemeteries called “Tophet”, are known. We find them in ancient Tunisia, in the famous ancient city of Carthage, other Western Phoenician settlements in North Africa, and islands of the Western Mediterranean.
The Phoenicians were a Semitic people, sailing the Mediterranean seas from about 3000 years ago, originating in the coastal cities of northern Israel and Lebanon. They sailed west and inhabited many territories in the Western Mediterranean. Researchers have found large cemetery sites with cremated child burials called “Tophet,” traditionally believed to house child sacrifice victims, as described by the Classical and Biblical sources.
Greek and Roman sources criticizing these vile acts carried out by the Carthaginians provide us with macabre detail of these rites, similar to those mentioned in the Bible in the Valley of Hinnom. The most famous of the “Tophet” fields was found at the beginning of the previous century in the ancient city of Carthage in Tunisia. This cemetery contained many urns of cremated infants and animals. Sometimes jewelry and amulets were placed inside the urns as well. The urns were then buried in a pit, and stone monuments were erected above them, bearing decorations and inscriptions dedicating an offering to the Punic (that’s how the western Phoenicians are called) deities Tanit and Baal Hammon.
However, there is an ongoing debate among scholars about the extent of these rituals, saying not all of them were the result of sacrifice and it might just be pre-born or shortly dead infants who then were brought to sacrifice.
The truth is probably somewhere in the middle since we can assume that such vile acts took place, otherwise no one would write and go against them. Even the Forefather Abraham, when asked by the God “Almighty” to bring his firstborn child Isaac to be sacrificed didn’t hesitate, hinting that the practice of sacrificing children was carried out to some extent back in the day.
Cursed for eternity
Did these acts take place in the Valley of Hinnom? It’s hard to tell since we don’t have any archaeological evidence to support it, but it sure contributed to the macabre nature of this area to be remembered for eternity. The Hebrew bible tells of the prophet Jeremiah, living about 2600 years ago who cursed this place for eternity for its’ vileness, calling it the Valley of slaughter.
For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the LORD: they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place. And the carcases of this people shall be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth; and none shall fray them away.Book of Jeremiah 7: 30-33
Add to it the fact that Hinnom valley also served as the city’s dumpster, full of stench where bonfires were lit to dispose of the garbage and here you have the perfect image of hell.
And don’t forget, that the macabre nature of the area didn’t stop with the Bible, it carried on throughout history, as a vast necropolis with its’ horrendous tales and legends which I’ll tell in future posts, so make sure to subscribe.
Festivals in the Valley of hell
Today, the Valley of Hell looks like a peaceful place, a nice park where you can have a quiet picnic in a beautiful and serene Mediterranean valley surrounded by ancient Olive trees, visited by local families and tourists. During the summer, in the months of July and August some mainstream events like the “Food Truck Festival” and “Hutzot Hayotzer arts and crafts fair” take over the Valley, occasionally including a concert or two by some mainstream Israeli rock bands. Unfortunately, there are no proper heavy or alternative music genres present. Hence I decided, I need to take care of this.
To start, I’ve decided that would be the perfect time to tell you about some of the local Metal bands Jerusalem has to offer. After all, the place just asks for it!
In my series of posts about Gehenna I’ll introduce you to other bands, but let us start with Jerusalems’ darkest group, Arallu, one of the senior Black Metal bands from Jerusalem.
Arallu – Black Metal Band From Jerusalem
The story of Arallu began in 1997 as a side solo project of Daniel aka Butchered.
Daniel was born and raised in Jerusalem, growing up in the days of the first Intifada in the late ’80s and early ’90s. Their first two albums were out by 2002, in the midst of one of Jerusalems’ bloodiest times in modern history, during the second intifada, when radical Islamist suicide bombers carried out terror attacks, blowing up buses and restaurants in the city, staining the streets of Jerusalem with the blood of the innocents, a true living hell. These events are called in Hebrew “Tophet incidents”, a name befitting the horrendous death and violence they spread.
Butchered listened to Metal music from the early 90s’ starting with the classics such as Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Black Sabbath, through to some heavier genres and bands such as Venom, Slayer, Bathory, Sepultura, and Deicide. By the late ’90s, he had discovered the second wave of Black Metal, coming from Norway and Sweden. This music highly influenced what Arallu would become.
Nowadays he is a happily married man (sorry girls :P). He lives with his three kids near Jerusalem and spends his spare time learning about the occult, ancient Near Eastern civilizations, the Ottoman Empire, and the magic surrounding every corner of the city of Jerusalem. Among his favorite places are the Old City and the Mamluk medieval cemetery of Mamilla.
Death Covenant – New Album by Arallu
Today, twenty years later the band members include Ofek Noy as lead guitar, Richard Z – as the drummer, Eylon Bart – and Butchered as Bass and lead vocals. This year, in November 2022, they will release their eighth album “Death Covenant” via the Dutch label “Hammerheart rec.” One single from the album “Desert shadow will rise” was already released in June, and two more are about to come. So go and give it a listen, and if you are in Jerusalem, you know the perfect place to do so! ?
“Our next album going to have a different atmosphere, compared to our previous material, however, I believe our fans will really like it,” Butchered says. “We’ve invited two important guests to work with us adding their unique voices to two of our songs. The first one is Stephan Necroabyssious from the Greek black metal band Varathron. Stephan was a good friend from the early days of Arallu and he has a deep and unique voice. The second one is Lord Kaiaphas, who in the ’90s was the vocalist of the Norwegian black metal band Ancient. His voice is so thin and evil that it will freeze your blood” Butchered promised.
Arallu tours Europe
As of 2011 Arallu expanded its gig reach beyond the borders of Israel. Ever since, except for the two years of covid, they’ve been touring Europe. Just this month they performed in Norway, one at the “Garasje Festival” in Reinsvoll and the second one in Oslo. “It was an amazing experience” Butchered explained, “way beyond what we had expected. The crowd at our shows and the people who hosted us were amazing, we met so many great new people during our visit. Norway was so beautiful, it was really hard to find an evil place there ;)”, Butchered told me.
“We also visited the grave of Euronymous, the founder of the second wave of Norwegian black metal, and went to town to visit the basement of his metal record shop “Helvete”,” Butchered says. “This basement was the place where all the black metal bands of the second wave used to hang out and have their photoshoots back in the days. Even 30 years later, this place still has a unique vibe to it”, he added.
Butchered concluded, “We love having concerts outside of Israel. Every time we travel, even to places we’ve been before we get to experience new scenery, discover new places, and meet new people, and different cultures. It’s amazing to see how a new audience reacts to the sounds of the Middle East, that are so present in the music of Arallu”.
As you can see, there are no tortured souls nor burning fire in the Valley of hell. It does have a huge cemetery with various burial caves filled with gruesome stories and tales and an occasional metalhead.
I would definitely be happy to see more alternative and metal-style events here, but until that happens, I’ll just enjoy the occasional picnic here with some good music in the background.