Tartarus in 2 Peter and Jude 6
Let us begin with 2 Peter and Jude. They will be treated together as it is recognized that 2 Peter worked on Jude’s letter and both of them refer to what we can call ‘the myth of the fallen angels’. In the latter, the link with Greek mythology is less vivid than in the former. Audiences of both writers differed considerably hence allusions to the myth are built upon different sources as we will see. It is also worth mentioning that Jude and 2 Peter are pastoral letters and both make use of the illustration for paraenetic purposes, not didactic. Having that in mind it is easier for one not to fall into the danger of thinking that 2 Peter incorporates Greek myths. The best way to begin with is 2 Peter 2:4 where the Greek word ταρταρόω (in verb form, perfectum) is found, it is a hapax legomenon in the Scriptures. Peter writes that:
God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting (ταρταρόω) them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment. (2 Peter 2:4)
The parallel to this text is found in Jude 1:6-8, where its author explains why they were punished:
And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. (Jude 1:6)
It is noteworthy to point out that it was angels who were cast down into Tartarus. Neither Peter nor Jude assume people or souls of the wicked are going to the same place. Only angels are taken into account and their place of punishment seems to be designed specifically for them. Tartarus thus should not be confused with the place Christians call ‘hell’. In Greece however that was not the case as Plato writes:
Now in the time of Cronos there was a law concerning mankind, and it holds to this day amongst the gods, that every man who has passed a just and holy life departs after his decease to the Isle of the Blest… but whoever has lived unjustly and impiously goes to the dungeon of requital and penance which, you know, they call Tartarus. (Gorgias, 523B)
Philo of Alexandria, also when describing to his Greco-Roman audience the fate of good and evil doers writes:
And the proselyte who . . . has come over to God of his own accord . . . has received as a most appropriate reward a firm and sure habitation in heaven . . . But the man of noble descent, who has adulterated the coinage of his noble birth, will be dragged down to the lowest depths, being hurled down to Tartarus and profound darkness . . . (Rewards, 151).
We can deduce that Tartarus was later extended so that unjust people were also destined to this place. But in Christian circles it remained a place for fallen angels only. In this place I want to highlight the imprisonment undertone that reverberates here.