The idea that at death man passed to the under-world was common in the ancient world. In the Egyptian view, at death man traveled in a boat through the underworld. On the journey they had to overcome evil spirits, pools of fire and other obstacles. Amulets and spells were means by which to overcome the dangers of the underworld. Finally, the heart of the deceased was weighed against the feather, symbol of Maat, the goddess of truth and justice. If the heart was impure, the soul would be destroyed by a demon called "the devourer". If one's soul was pure, he or she would be admitted into kingdom of Osiris and the Egyptian heaven (Field or Reeds) which was imagined like the good life in Egypt. 49

Meaning of Sheol

In the story of the Rich man and Lazarus, Jesus tells us that both died and went to Sheol or the place of the dead which was imagined as a subterranean region of the world. Lazarus wound up in the "bosom of Abraham" while the rich man found himself in a place of torment. The rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus to him with some water for "I am suffering the torments of these flames". Abraham declined for two reasons:

1) The rich man deserved his torments, and
2) a great chasm separated them preventing anyone from crossing over.

In Sheol both were deprived of the vision of God but the state of the just was much better than the souls of the damned.

The Jewish concept of hell (Gehenna) was derived from the Valley of Hinnon, a narrow gorge south of Jerusalem where dead bodies of animals and criminals were burned. "According to Jewish tradition, the cult idol of Molech was made of brass, hollow, and with hands so positioned that something laid therein would fall to the fire below. The practice of laying a child across the hands, and thus committing them to the fire, was termed ‘pass through the fire to Molech.’" Jeremiah comments, "In the Valley of Ben-hinnom they have built the high place of Topheth to immolate in fire their sons and their daughters, such a thing as I never commanded or had in mind. (Jr 7:31)

The expression, "Bosom of Abraham", on the other hand, was an expression derived from the Jewish custom of reclining on couches at table. This arrangement brought the head of one person close to the chest of one who was behind. Within this context, "Bosom of Abraham" meant that the righteous shared in the repose and fidelity of Abraham, the father in the faith.

Christ Descent to Sheol