Finding evidence in ancient texts for a future place of punishment for the unrighteous is much easier and more straightforward in pagan literature than in the Bible. In fact, references to anyplace resembling Evangelical or medieval Catholic concepts of Hell are almost non-existent in the Bible. What little we think we find there is almost nil compared to what we find in Plato.
Plato thinks nothing of including in his chief dialogue a lengthy remark by the father of Polemarchus regarding the man’s own beliefs in “the tales of a world below and the punishment which is exacted there” (Republic 330d-331b). Cephalus is grateful that his wealth has afforded him
“no occasion to deceive or to defraud others, either intentionally or unintentionally; and he is not in any apprehension about offerings due to the gods or debts which he owes to men when he departs to the world below.”
He implies that an old man without wealth must be unhappy because:
“suspicions and alarms crowd thickly upon him, and he begins to reflect and consider what wrongs he has done to others. And when he finds that the sum of his transgressions is great he will many a time like a child start up in his sleep for fear, and he is filled with dark forebodings.”
This place in The Republic is not the usual stop for scholars discussing afterlife concepts in Plato (see Republic X., Phaedo, the end of Gorgias, etc.). But evidence right here for widespread folk-beliefs about future punishment among the Greeks seems to me more ‘historical’ in the everyday sense and less rhetorical than elsewhere. At least it is clear that in the fourth century BC the belief was already ancient enough to be a commonplace of casual discourse.
My advice is to avoid trying to squeeze Hell-doctrines out of Scripture. And you evangelicals who admit of Greek influences in the primitive church take note.
Yesterday I found a post by fellow Christian blogger, neglitz, who I think is trying to be honest about the problem of afterlife concepts in Christianity and their meaning for evangelical religion.
I hope I can get something up soon about why a Biblical and textual challenge of Hell-concepts does not necessarily justify that other questionable doctrine of predestination – universalism.