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Short description: Biblical mythologic bottomless pit

In the Bible, the abyss is an unfathomably deep or boundless place. The term comes from the Greek word abyssos (Ancient Greek:), meaning "bottomless, unfathomable, boundless".[1] It is used as both an adjective and a noun.[2] It appears in the Septuagint, which is the earliest Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, and in the New Testament.

It translates the Hebrew words tehóm (Hebrew: תְּהוֹם‎, lit. 'deep, void'), ṣulā (צוּלָה "sea-deep, deep flood") and the name of the sea monster raḥaḇ (רחב "spacious place; rage, fierceness, insolence, pride.")[2]

In the original sense of the Hebrew tehóm, the abyss was the primordial waters or chaos out of which the ordered world was created (Genesis 1:2). The term could also refer literally to the depths of the sea, the deep source of a spring or the interior of the Earth.[3]

In a later extended sense in intertestamental Jewish literature, the abyss was the underworld, either the abode of the dead (Sheol) or eventually the realm of the rebellious spirits (Hell). In the latter sense, specifically, the abyss was often seen as a prison for demons. This usage was picked up in the New Testament.[3][4] According to the Gospel of Luke, Jesus sent the Gadarene swine into the abyss (Luke 8:31). Paul of Tarsus uses the term in Romans 10:7 when quoting Deuteronomy 30:12-14, referring to the abode of the dead (cf. also Psalm 71:20).[5] The abyss is also referred to several times in the Book of Revelation: it is the place out of which the locusts and beast from the sea come out of (Revelation 9:1–11; Revelation 13:1;Revelation 11:7) and serves as a prison for the Seven-Headed Dragon during the Millennium (Revelation 20:3).

In Psalm 42:7, "deep calls to deep" (referring to the waters), or in Latin abyssus abyssum invocat, developing the theme of the longing of the soul for God. Cassiodorus relates this passage to the mutual witness of the two Testaments, the Old Testament foretelling the New, and the New Testament fulfilling the Old.[6]

In Revelation 9:11, Abaddon is called "the angel of the abyss".

On the Origin of the World, a text used in Gnosticism, states that during the end of the world, the archons will be cast into the abyss by Sophia for their injustice. There they will fight each other until only the chief archon remains and turns against himself.[7]

See also


  1. abyss (3rd ed.), Oxford University Press, September 2005,  (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2. 2.0 2.1 A. J. Maas (1913). "Abyss". in Herbermann, Charles. Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  3. 3.0 3.1 Stoops, Robert (1993), "Abyss" (in en), The Oxford Companion to the Bible (Oxford University Press), doi:10.1093/acref/9780195046458.001.0001, ISBN 978-0-19-504645-8,, retrieved 2023-11-05 
  4. Kaufmann Kohler (1901–1906). "Abyss". in Singer, Isidore. The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. 
  5. Browning, W. R. F. (2009), "abyss" (in en), A Dictionary of the Bible (Oxford University Press), doi:10.1093/acref/9780199543984.001.0001, ISBN 978-0-19-954398-4,, retrieved 2023-11-05 
  6. P. G. Walsh (trans. and ed.), Cassiodorus: Explanation of the Psalms, Vol. I, Psalms 1–50 (Psalms 1–51 (50)), Ancient Christian writers no. 51 (Paulist Press, New York City/Mahwah, New Jersey 1990), p. 420 (Google).
  7. Marvin Meyer; Willis Barnstone (2009). "On the Origin of the World". The Gnostic Bible. Shambhala. Retrieved 2021-10-25.