Jesus in Hell

A long-standing Christian tradition holds that Jesus spent the three days between the crucifixion and the resurrection rescuing Old Testament prophets and holy men who had been accidentally damned to Hell, the idea being that since pre-Christians monotheists like Noah and Abraham had been deprived of Jesus’ saving grace in life, they required an extra trip in death.

Jesus’ redemptive journey into the dark world of the dead recalls the tales of psychopompic warriors found in most ancient Meditteranean mystery religions; long before Christianity even existed, Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and Romans all told similar stories of heroic god-men who descended to the underworld on supernatural rescue missions.

This paradigm can also be found in the shamanic beliefs and practices of indigenous tribal cultures the world over, even today.


In a contrary revision of this same, basic story, the gnostic teacher Marcion presents a Jesus who releases the rebels and outcasts of the Old Testament from Hell while abandoning the righteous to eternal damnation:

“Cain and his kin, the sodomites, the Egyptians, and those like them, and in general all heathens who have walked in every aspect of evil, were saved by the Lord when He descended into Hades, and hastened to Him, and were taken into His kingdom.

But Abel, Enoch, Noah, and the rest of the righteous, along with all the prophets and those who pleased God, did not participate in salvation… for since they knew that their God was always testing and tempting them… they suspected that He was also testing them at that time, and did not hasten to Jesus nor believe His proclomation; and therefore their souls remained in Hades…” [1]


In the book Sacred Drift, his study of Islamic heresy, researcher Peter Lamborn Wilson uncovers a very similar story about Satan (or “Iblis,” as the arch-fiend is known in the Muslim world).

According to a legend recounted by Ibin Arabi, Iblis fell from the heavens when God commanded the angels to bow to Adam.

Iblis – convinced that his loyalty was being tested – refused.

In Arabi’s view, the Devil is thus revealed as a model for the perfect lover of God – a being so devoted that he would rather suffer the torments of Hell than acknowledge another.


1. St. Irenaeus of Lyon, Against Heresies: Marcion, from Willis Barnstone’s The Other Bible, 645, 1984

2. Peter Lamborn Wilson, Sacred Drift, pp.94-98, City Lights, 1993

Scroll to Top