Now, the Hebrews (you know, the guys with the Old Testament) didn't go in for the idea of hell much. In Daniel 12:2, you get something vaguely similar to the traditional Christian idea, but not quite.
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.So, not a lot of torment, but there's guilt (an emotion some might call the foundation of Judaism).
If the ancient Jews talked about it at all, they usually referred to Sheol, which is the place where all the dead, good and bad, hung out.
However, they did give us one other word: Gehenna, which is derived from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom, or "the Valley of Hinnom." It was a garbage dump outside Jerusalem. There was always a fire there, because you burned your garbage, and it was also referred to a few times (2 Chron. 28:3, for instance) as a place where some various pagan types sacrificed children.
If you go to the original Greek, the New Testament describes Hell with three words:
- Hades (taken from the Greek god of the same name), which was pretty much like the Jewish idea of Sheol
- Gehenna, in Jerusalem, was sometimes used as a place to toss the bodies who "died in sin" for a quick cremation. So the term Gehenna in the New Testament became a metaphor for the final place of punishment for the wicked after they died (or, more technically, after the Resurrection of Jesus, which they've been promising for 2 millenia now).
- Tartarus is used once, in II Peter 2:4 - Pete stole the idea from the Greeks, where it was the place where their gods put the titans after they rebelled. So Pete grabbed that idea and ran with it.
For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment
Unfortunately for the pope's attempt to make Christianity all warm and fuzzy, the New Testament is littered with descriptions of the dead being toasted: the potentially drug-induced Revelations, for example, gives us this.
...and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books... And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelations 20:12-15)John the Revelator also gave us the most boring version of an afterlife ever - following Jesus around to sing about how great he is. Apparently, Jesus is too lazy to stick his own affirmations everywhere on Post-it notes like normal people.
(And incidentally, that description of heaven, found in Revelations 14:1-5, is where the Jehovah's Witnesses get the idea that only 144,000 people are going to Heaven. In case you were wondering.)
Christianity needs Hell, despite how counterintuitive the idea is with a religion that claims to have a loving god. Because, when you can't actually torture and kill people who don't believe in your personal flavor of religion (although god knows they've tried that, too), you need to have some kind of punishment to hold over their heads. And the fear of a place where no witnesses have ever returned is an easy fix for them.
(OK, admittedly there are some people who claim to have been to have been there, but they never seem to visit the gift shop and bring back souvenirs.)