The undying worm

To the light bed-time reader, the Gospel of Mark, apparently, provides us with a little more information about Gehenna which is not mentioned elsewhere, although beneath the surface, rather than support the view of a literal Hell, it actually undermines it:

'...And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off. It is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast onto hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched. Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out. It is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire. Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. For everyone shall be salted with fire, and every sacrifice shall be salted with salt. Salt is good. But if the salt have lost its saltiness, wherewith shall ye season it. Have salt in yourselves and have peace one with another...' (Mark 9:43-50)

Aside of the contingent hypothesis, the term "enter into life," in these verses, surprisingly, has nothing to do with entering into the after-life, or heaven. The word "enter" is rendered from the Greek word eisercomai eiserchomai, which means to come in, or go out, but can also be used metaphorically to denote entrance into a condition, or state. These words, therefore, refer to vitality, and entering into fullness of life whilst in this world, rather than the next. To be maimed, of course, is to be wounded, injured, or hurt, be that physically, or psychologically, and the result of removing a stumbling block from some individuals would have exactly that effect - giving up sin hurts, in other words.

The term "…Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched…" is repeated three times in this verse, thus, among other things, drawing the attention of the reader to its importance. The "worm" in this verse is rendered from the Greek word skwlhx skolex, the name given to a specific type of worm, which feeds on decaying matter - a detritivore in fact. The equivalent Hebrew word is hmr rimmah, a worm, or maggot, also associated with decay. Now the writer of Mark's Gospel would have us believe that Jesus is quoting from the Old Testament book of Isaiah, but the problem with this, is that the worm referred to in Isaiah is not associated with decay at all - quite the opposite, in fact:

For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before me, saith the LORD, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD. And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh (Isaiah 66:22-24).

The Hebrew word used here is elwt towla, meaning specifically coccus ilicis, the female worm, or grub, from which, the much sort after, scarlet dye was extracted. In the Old Testament the word is nearly always translated as "scarlet," the colour predominantly associated with wealth and importance, etc., and, not surprisingly, a colour which was a prominent feature of the Tabernacle. Perhaps the most important occurrence of this word, though, is in the book of Job, where it is used in reference to, none other than, "the son of man" himself:

How much less man, that is a worm? [rimmah] and the son of man, which is a worm? [towla]. (Job 25:6)

Job makes it clear that there is a distinction to be made between these two worms, as one is associated with death and decay [rimmah], the other with royalty, the "son of man" [towla]. The life-cycle of the towla was, then, evidently, symbolic of the shedding of Jesus' blood on the cross - or on a tree, as Acts would have it - and, subsequently, the resurrection and the eternal life which was to follow. That this is the sense in which towla is used in Isaiah 66 is evident from other words used in verse 24; the word "abhorring," for example, comes from the Hebrew word Nward dera'own, which can also be translated as aversion or contempt, and to hold someone in contempt is, of course, to despise them. That Jesus was "a reproach of men, and despised of the people" is attested to in Psalm 22:6, where again, we find the word towla translated as worm. The word "unto" is rendered from the Hebrew word la 'el which can also mean by, and the word "flesh" is rendered from the Hebrew word rsb basar which can also mean mankind.

It should also be remembered that the latter portion of the book of Isaiah was, for the most part, written to reassure those in Jerusalem, that God was going to fulfil his promises to the faithful. The fate of the rebellious, however, is also described, especially in chapter 65:1-16, for example, and it is this fate which is aptly summed up in chapter 66:24, in the term "…the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me." This is evident from the fact that the word transgressed is rendered from the Hebrew word evp pasha, which also means to rebel.

What is more important, though, is that the "worm" and the "fire" mentioned here, does not refer to those who have "transgressed" or rebelled against the Lord. The worm here is towla, which was not a symbol of death or decay, but rather, a symbol of wealth, status, and eternal life through the son of man. So it is the faithful who shall "go forth" and it is "their seed" and "their name," that will remain, just as the "new heavens and the new earth," but it is they, also, who will be "despised by all mankind," just as Jesus was. It is their fire which shall not be quenched, not the fire of the carcasses of the rebellious.

It would appear then, that the writer of Mark, either did not know the real significance and symbolism of the undying worm when he constructed his gospel, or he simply could not find a Greek equivalent for it. In the latter case, it remains a mystery why he did not, then, transliterate the Hebrew towla, instead of using the Greek word skolex. That the writer of the Gospel of Mark completely misses the importance of the Old Testament symbology has proved to be totally misleading, for it presents the unwary reader with what appears to be just another allusion to Hell, when in fact, it is not.