This is a mistranslation of the Latin, infernos, and the Greek katotatos, meaning the depths (of the earth). There is certainly no reference to a place of posthumous punishment. From the 3rd century interpreters invented the mighty drama of the Harrowing of Hell in which Jesus liberates the saints of the pre-Christian era from the power of Satan. That is a fine piece of theology, but it may have nothing to do with the Creed as such. Of course if one translates accurately one is left with the question, what was he doing in the depths of the earth? It must mean something more than just being dead.

Can it refer to Hades, the classical place of the dead, described by Homer as “the after-images of used-up men”? The Hebrew word Sheol also refers to a realm of shades. This would envisage Jesus sharing the uselessness of the dead, their lack of agency.

1st Letter of Peter 3 mentions “Christ announcing the gospel to the spirits in prison.” Nobody knows for certain what this means, but it may have contributed to the development of notions of his ministry after death. In any case more general statements by Paul make it clear that no dimension of the cosmos, and therefore no person, is left untouched by the death and resurrection of Jesus.

Me? I like the notion of the “harrowing of hell” which is truly evangelical, meaning that even in hell the good news is announced by Jesus, and that souls can respond. This is probably not very orthodox, as hell is excluded from Hope, but I like to think that may be a mistake.

As early as St Paul,Christian writing about Jesus’ death had become a theological exercise using texts from the Hebrew Bible, especially Isaiah 53, and much ingenious argument to show that this crime was within the prophesied will of God, and efficacious for the eternal salvation of believers.

I accept that Jesus of Nazareth was tortured and murdered by the Roman administration of Judaea as a messianic jihadist. Before anyone finds in this event any signs of God or salvation, one should note the all-too-common imperialist brutality, justified by the usual specious justification of public peace. The management of such an event would have been well-known to the Spanish, French, or British imperial staffs.

It is however the story of an atrocity and should be taught as such by the church. Mel Gibson’s muddled The Passion of the Christ at least has the merit of depicting gratuitous violence towards a failed religious radical. Crucifixion was a form of Roman punishment reserved for those who never had any civil rights or had been deprived of them designed to cause maximum pain and loss of dignity. Only in Mark and Matthew is the stark horror of the event preserved to some extent, along with a record of Jesus’ anguished questioning.

The statement that Jesus died and was buried is doubtless intended to rebut any teaching that explained his resurrection by denying his death. The ending of Jesus’ physical life is important to Paul who sees it as the full expression of the “emptying” of one “who always had the form of God.” It is the end of one sort of body. I guess he would not have been over-disturbed by the discovery of Jesus’ bones.