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These wildly-inventive imaginings moved away from the basic conception of hell as a place or condition to be saved from, to a titillating scenario that developed pornographically in all major religions, but especially in Western Christianity.
Something which the big cults had in common, beyond the sudden blossoming of graphic detail amongst their depictions of hell, was the common theme of the story of a journey going down into the Underworld.
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Even in the pulpit the word was generally avoided, except by 'low church' sects and preachers.The Christian idea of a flaming Hell came from Iranian Zoroastrianism, and not from the Old Testament.The single appearance of Satan in the Old Testament is in the book of Job, where he is not the Evil One but a prosecuting angel.The Dis of the Greeks - the realm of the great god Hades - was truly dismal, damp and dark, with souls flitting about like grey shadows, while the Inferno of the High Middle Ages was a multi-level hetero-universe of fires, devils and great noise: a Satanic mill more horrendous even than those brought into being by the English "Industrial Revolution" 600 years later, more appalling even than the concentration-camps of Nazi Germany. Then, around the 4th century, world-wide and amongst many of the main non-polytheistic religions - Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism and Taoism - there was suddenly an astonishing growth in graphic depictions of hell - some with a reigning devil (Shaitan, Satan, etc.), some without.
, there was an upsurge in Judæo-Christian belief of an actual, perhaps immanent, place - Gehenna: the burning rubbish-dumps outside Jerusalem, in a place where children were once sacrificed. These depictions were very detailed, with specific tortures allocated and adapted to specific crimes: if you had ever looked lustfully at a woman you would have your eyes pecked out in hell; if you had been a glutton your liver would be picked out as the vulture devoured Prometheus' liver every night; if you had done false dealings your hands would be cut off and the stumps then dipped in molten lead, again and again eternally.Those who fell (or jumped) off the ladder tumbled into hell.