Rob Bell makes frequent appeals to “1st Century Judaism” as the proper background for understanding the New Testament. In Bell’s hands, this is all well in good in principle, but not so good in practice. At numerous points, his appeals to 1st century Judaism are highly suspect. This is especially the case when it comes to understanding the New Testament doctrine of hell. Since Bell does not have footnotes, his portrait of Judaism is impossible to verify in the primary sources. He argues by assertion, not by evidence.
Preston Sprinkle has done us all a great service in surveying some non-canonical texts that are contemporary with the New Testament. He shows that Jews in Jesus’ day believed in Hell as a place of eternal conscious torment. Here are some of the texts Sprinkle brings forth:
Just a few passages will suffice. A book called 1 Enoch (about 100 B.C.), a book that Jude quotes, speaks extensively about this place of torment for the damned (25:4-5; 27:3-4; 54:6; 90:24-27). Those who reject God will go to “the place of condemnationâ€¦into an abyss, full of fire and flame” (90:24).
Another book called Pseudo-Philo, written in Palestine right around the time of Jesus and Paul, speaks explicitly about a hell (16:3; 23:6; 31:7; 38:4). It’s a place where the “fiery worm will go up into the tongue” of the unbeliever and “rot him away” in the “dwelling placeâ€¦in the inextinguishable fire forever” (63:4).
Two other books, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch, written near the end of the first-century (right around the time of Revelation) also describe an eternal place of torment for the damned (2 Bar 30:4-5; 44:15; 51:6; 54:14, 21-22; 4 Ezra 7:35-36, 45-51). And for 4 Ezra, most of humanity will be here! “I see that the world to come will bring delight to few, but torments to many” (7:47).
You can read the rest here.