Most telling on all of this is directly in Scripture itself, in the Gospels.
Jesus uses a particular word, a word which has been rendered "Gehenna". Gehenna (Hebrew "Gehinnom") has, and had, a very specific meaning to Jews.
It's important to realize what Jews mean by Gehenna, because Jesus was a Jew, talking to Jews, so everybody in the conversation knew what the words and concepts were. At another point in the Gospels, Jesus refers to "korban" (goods ceded to the Temple with a life estate in the original owner). He doesn't define korban, just uses it, because every single listener knew what he meant: korban, like Gehenna, has a specific meaning.
Gehenna is Jewish Hell, but Jewish Hell is not Christian Hell. Jewish Hell is a place where souls that have done wicked things go to be purified. Some are purified of their sins there (tradition says they spend 12 months there) and are then sent to Gan Eden: Jewish paradise. The most wicked never leave Gehinnom. Only those who have spent a lifetime doing good, with few bad deeds (and not very bad ones) go straight to Gan Eden. Thus is the Jewish concept of the afterlife and Gehenna. Historically, there certainly were OTHER Jewish concepts of the afterlife. Sheol, for instance, was a Sumerian concept of the land of the shades. Sadduccees, for their part, denied there was an afterlife at all. By Jesus' day (and earlier, as reflected in the prayers of atonement for the dead in 2 Maccabbees), the predominant Jewish belief (held by Pharisees and Essenes, and still held by most Jews today) was in Gan Eden and Gehenna.
What is important to realize is that Jewish Gehenna is both Hell AND Purgatory. Purgatory is IN Hell. That's what Jews think. And thought. And their word for this place was Gehenna. Gehenna, or Gehinnom in Hebrew (Gehenna is actually Yiddish) is also a nasty valley near Jerusalem where bad rites were historically performed, so the name for the Jewish concept of Hell was probably pulled from that valley name, or vice versa.
Jesus didn't say "Hell", "Hades", "Tartarus", "Purgatory" or "Sheol" when he was referring to the place that those who do wicked things go. He referred to Gehenna.
Now, whenever Jesus called up a Jewish concept that he wanted to CHANG, such as the Levitical and Deuteronomic law of divorce in the Torah, he was always explicit..."Scripture says..., but I say..." or "Your tradition says..., but I say...". But Jesus didn't do that when he used the term Gehenna. He just said Gehenna, and incorporated it into his sentences and warnings. He used Gehenna in its normal sense, and indeed in the only sense that any Jew listening to it then or now ever COULD understand it.
Which means that if you just read the Gospels and read what Jesus is saying, and understand it as a Jew does, Jesus is talking about Hell AND Purgatory. In Judaism they are the same place: Gehenna. Gehenna is Hell. Hell acts as purgatory to those who have their sins purified there. The truly wicked remain "where the fire is never quenched and the worm never ceases".
Once one realizes what Jesus said with clear understanding of the Jewish word he used and Jewish beliefs of the Jewish audience he was addressing, the argument about Hell versus Purgatory sort of falls away. Jesus answered it. Both. Gehenna.
On another thread there are lots of folks screaming about this. I hope that by posting it here, in a caucus thread, we can avoid that.
And I hope that some of you found this discussion interesting and illuminating.
I certainly appreciate your input and will post some reflections on it later. Thank you!
You are right. This was the valley of Hinnom where in the darkest days of Jerusalem's history their children were sacrificed to pagan gods, and where the people of Jerusalem dumped their trash. Smoke from the valley of Hinnom was said the have ascended into heaven day and night. The burning never ceased.
Furthermore, things that were cast into this valley of Gehenna never returned from it. It was the end of the road, not a transitional point. Thus Jews who might have thought that Gehenna was merely purgatory or a transitional station on their way to heaven had to be in complete denial of the reality of what the valley of Hinnom represented. Once something entered the trash dump of the valley of Hinnom, it was never seen or heard from again. If it was purgatory, it was a perpetual purgatory from which there was no exit.