Updated: Jul 24, 2022
Have you ever wondered where the gates of hades were actually located or if there really was such a place? Well, here is a little history lesson and then I will examine this scripture about the gates of hell (hades):
"And I say also unto you, that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell (hades) shall not prevail against it". Matthew 16:18
The ancient city of Hierapolis was located in the Lycus Valley in Western Turkey, about one hundred miles east from the ancient city of Ephesus, and about six miles north of the ancient city of Laodicea. Also in the valley was another important ancient city, Colossae.
Hierapolis sat upon an active fault line. The hot springs and other geothermal activity was similar to Yellowstone National Park in the United States.There were many hot springs and steam vents. People came from all over the Roman world for its healing treatment.
The temple of Apollo straddled an active fault line that opened into a cave called the Plutonium. Smoke and toxic gas (carbon dioxide) rose out of the earth from the open door of the cave. A shrine to Hades, or Pluto, the god of the underworld, stood at the cave entrance.
According to ancient writers like Strabo and Cassius Dio the cave was just large enough for one person to access the entrance through a gate, then stairs descended down deeper into the cave. The entrance was said, of course, to lead to the underworld controlled by Hades. Anyone who tried entering the "Gates of Hades" whether human or animal would die from the poison gas.
At that time in history they did not know that it was high levels of carbon dioxide that was killing those who tried to enter. Strabo states that "only the Galli (priests of Cybele) who are eunuchs, can enter the enclosure unharmed. They approach even the opening or mouth, bend down over it, and descend into it to a certain depth, but we could tell by their faces that they were holding their breath the entire time." (Strabo, Geography 13.4.14)
In other words the priests of the false gods knew better than to breathe in the fumes but they didn't share that information with others, even though Strabo seems to have noticed this fact. He seemed to have realized that these priests didn't have superhuman power or protection after all, they had just learned to hold their breath.
When Christianity became the religion of the Roman World, early Christians closed up the mouth of the cave and stopped the worship there and the flow of the noxious gas from coming to the surface.
In 2013 an Italian archeological team, headed by Prof. Francesco D'Andria, unearthed Plutonium and in September 2018 visitors were allowed to visit the area.
Tradition says there was another “gate of hades” in the area of Caesarea Philippi in the Northern part of Israel and this was where Yeshua was at when He spoke these words to Peter. There was probably more than one location in the ancient world where they celebrated the god hades and his underworld.
Was Yeshua speaking about this "gate of Hades" in the referenced scripture?Perhaps NO and YES!
I do not believe that Yeshua actually made the statement "gates of Hades". I don't believe that He would have added any credibility to the name of a false god. I believe that Yeshua stated that "Sheol" would not prevail against it, or even perhaps "the gates of Sheol" would not prevail against it. The word "sheol" means grave in Hebrew. Sheol is also called a pit. Some Bible scholars believe that He may have stated, "the gates of Gehenna". Gehenna was a valley outside the city gates of Jerusalem known as a place of death and destruction from ancient times.
Death and the grave are our enemy. The wages of our sin is death. However, death and the grave will no longer defeat the followers of Yeshua because He overcame death and the grave when He arose from the dead, and He took back the keys to death and the grave (He has the authority over them). So, death and the grave are now defeated enemies. It was to this death and grave that He was alluding.
Although Yeshua probably did not call out this place by the false god's name no doubt His listeners were aware that He had made an allusion to it. Yeshua made an allusion to another Greek Mythology metaphor when He told the parable about the rich man and Lazarus. This was Tartarus and the Elysian Fields. In Greek Literature, a Ferryman carried people across the great gulf that separated the two.
Yeshua knew these places and gods did not actually exist but Roman and Greek culture had permeated their culture, especially among the Hellenized Jews. Many Jews of the first century had adopted pagan beliefs about the afterlife. He simply taught a lesson that His hearers would have understood. I want to make it plain that He was not endorsing such places. Even today I can teach lessons based upon the culture of my day, even if I do not agree with my culture.
Translators probably changed the original words of Yeshua into "gates of hades" so that Greek readers could understand a conceptual thought.