Today is Black Saturday (or Holy Saturday) in the Christian tradition. It's the day between Palm Sunday, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday. It's the day that many Christians believe that Jesus descended into hell.
I grew up in the Southern Baptist denomination (not anymore). And, we heard quite a bit about heaven, and even more about hell. But, how did these beliefs (or traditions) come about. John Shore (of the NALT Christians project) tweeted a link to an article this morning which helps explain it. It is written by Don M. Burrows, and it's quite interesting. Therefore, I'll reproduce some of it below.
Mr. Burrows is completing his Ph.D in classical studies, with a graduate minor in religious studies focusing on early Christian literature. He is a United Church of Christ member.
Oft forgotten amid the Holy Week observances of Palm Sunday, Maundy-Thursday, Good Friday and then Easter is Holy Saturday, or Black Saturday, the day Jesus supposedly lay in the tomb after his crucifixion on Friday and prior to his resurrection on Sunday.As is always the case, it is good to go back to the original language (Koine Greek) to try and get a better understanding. He goes on to give us some interesting information from the Gospel of Nicodemus.
But this day worked on the imagination of early Christians in fantastic ways. In the Apostles’ Creed is the statement that Jesus “descended into Hell” as it is often translated into English. But in the Greek it is κατελθόντα εἰς τὰ κατώτατα, or “going down into the lowermost parts,” and in Latin something almost identical, descendit ad inferos, or “he descended to the lower ones/places.” This is not necessarily Hell, because such a concept was not fully worked out yet. It was rather the netherworld or underworld of Greco-Roman mythology, the conception of which would eventually provide us with the imagery most commonly associated with Hell.
The Gospel of Nicodemus serves as yet another reminder that Christianity arose in the Greco-Roman world, absorbing much of its aesthetic along the way, and passing it to us in a wonderfully blended concoction. It also problematizes present-day visions of the fiery eternal punishment that we are everywhere served up, from the Left Behind series to the disturbing Hell Houses that each Halloween crop up in fundamentalist circles. The truth is that our ideas about Hell are the product of a long process — not a neatly transmitted one — that blended Hebrew, Greek, Roman, and other mythologies. Christians are reinventing them today as much as they did two millennia ago.You can read the column in its entirety here.