What exactly is the HELL referred to by Jesus during his Sermon on the Mount? How does his message relate to the Hinnom Valley, which is located just south of the city of Jerusalem? Jesus, in his message, warned ". . . whosoever shall say (to his brother), Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:22, KJV). The HBFV Bible translates the last part of the verse as "the fire of Gehenna."
The Greek word from which we get the (mistranslated) English word "hell" in the KJV version of Matthew 5:22 is Gehenna (Strong's Concordance #G1067). This word means "valley of Hinnom" according to Strong's and Thayer's Greek Definitions. There are also other New Testament locations where the King James erroneously uses the word Hell instead of a direct reference to the valley (Matthew 5:29, 30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33, Mark 9:43, 45, 47, Luke 12:5).
The first two places where "hell" (the Hinnom Valley) occurs in Scripture are as the boundary between the land inherited by the tribes of Benjamin and Judah (Joshua 15:8, 18:16).
Anciently, the Hinnom valley was one of the places where the idolatrous Israelites worshipped the pagan gods Moloch (Molech) and Baal using, among other things, fire (the fire of "hell" or gehenna). Many of the kings of Judah and Israel personally endorsed such worship. In fact, Judah's King Ahaz (whose rule began in 735 B.C.) not only made idols, he sacrificed his own sons in the valley by having them BURNED and offered as a pagan burnt offering (2Chronicles 28:1 - 3)!
One of the national reforms of King Josiah was to destroy all the places used to worship false gods. He stopped this practice near Jerusalem, when he "defiled Topheth, in the valley of the children of Hinnom, so that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech" (2Kings 23:10, HBFV).
According to Adam Clarke's Commentary, the word "Topheth" means "drum." It is a reference to the drums used to drown out the screams of children as they were placed, alive, on red-hot arms as a pagan sacrifice!
Although pagan sacrifices were not being made at Hinnom during the time of Jesus, many fires still burned in the valley. According to Albert Barnes' Notes, the location was commonly used as a city dump, a place where the trash of the city and dead carcasses were thrown, and where even public executions took place. Fires were constantly burning in the area (Gehenna or "hell" fire) in order to consume the continuous stream of garbage and other unwanted materials thrown into it.
Jesus used the continually burning fires of Himmon (and not the flames of an imaginary place of torment, like hell, accessible only in the afterlife) as an analogy of the eternal punishment (not punishing) of those who refuse to repent of hatred and anger toward others.