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WhoIsSatan?

ThemanyformsofthedevilintheBible
JohnGregoryDrummond11/10/2016(11/10/2016T09:33)
Fromthemostcomicalofcartoonstothemostgrotesque
ofgargoyles,themajorityofthepopulationtodaycan
immediatelyrecognizeanimageofthedevil.Butdoesour
modernconceptionofSatanhaveanyresemblancetothe
devilintheBible?JustwhoisSatan?Isthishorned,red
skinnedmonsterwithapitchforkrulinghelltrulythegreat
enemyofGodenvisionedbythewritersoftheBiblical
texts?
Theshortanswer:no,notreally.
IntheHebrewBible,YHWHsgreatestenemiesarenot
fallenangelscommandingarmiesofdemons,noreventhe
WoodengravingbyGustaveDordepictingDantes
Inferno,CantoXXXIV,inwhichDanteandVirgil
godsofothernations,but,rather,humanbeings.Itisnt
encounterSatanintheNinthCircleofHell.
thedevilthatspreadsevilacrossthefaceofcreationitis
mankind.Otherthanhumanbeings,YHWHhasno
nemesis,noraretheremalevolentspiritualforcesnotunderhisauthority.YHWHisultimatelyagodof
justice.Heisbehindthegoodandthebad,behindtheblessingsandthecurses.Itiswithinthisdivinecourt
ofjusticeandretributionthatSatanhashisorigins.
TheHebrewwordn,meaningaccuseroradversary,occursseveraltimesthroughouttheHebrew
Bibleandreferstoenemiesbothhumanandcelestialalike.Whenreferringtothecelestialadversary,the
wordistypicallyaccompaniedbythedefinitearticle.HeishasatantheAccuseranditisajob
descriptionratherthanapropername.FromtheAccusersappearancesintheBooksofJoband
Zechariah,itseemsthatthejobentailscallingattentiontotheunworthinessofmankind.TheAccuseris
essentiallytheprosecutingattorneyofthedivinecourtofYHWH,andpartofhisjobincludescollecting
evidencetoprovehiscases.Withthisbitofknowledgeinmind,itisntdifficulttoenvisionthevarious
outcriesagainstsin,suchasthatagainstSodomandGomorrah(Genesis18:2021),asthevoiceofthe
Accuser.

InthefreeeBookExploringGenesis:TheBiblesAncientTraditionsinContext,discoverthe
culturalcontextsformanyofIsraelsearliesttraditions.ExploreMesopotamiancreationmyths,Josephs
relationshipwithEgyptiantemplepracticesandthreedifferenttakesonthelocationofUrofthe
Chaldees,thebirthplaceofAbraham.

ItisdifficulttodetermineatwhichpointinIsraelshistorytheAccuserbegantotakeonamuchmore
sinisterroleintheIsraelite/Jewishbeliefstructure,orhowheavensgreatprosecutorbecametheprinceof
darkness(Ephesians6:12).ItiscertainlyeasytomaketheconnectionbetweenIsraelstimeinexileandthe
1

likelyinfluenceofthecosmicdualismofPersianreligion.1However,evenwithinbookswrittenwellafterthe
returnfromforeignlands,theAccuserisstillaselfrighteouslawyer.Thoughif1Chronicles21:1isany
indication,2theybegantobelievetheAccuserwasntabovegettinghishandsdirty.
Itisperfectlyclear,however,thatbythefirstcenturyC.E.,Judaismdevelopedabeliefinthedivineforces
ofdarknessdoingbattleagainsttheforcesoflight.ThiscanbeseenwithintheNewTestamentandother
extraBiblicalwritingssuchasthosefoundamongtheDeadSeaScrolls.Therearelikelyseveralfactorsthat
inspiredthesedevelopments,includingtheinfluenceofPersian,aswellasHellenistic,religions.
Iftherewasanarmyofevilspiritualforcesmakingwarontherighteous,theyhadtohaveacommander.It
isatthistimethattheimpersonalandloftyAccuserbegantoacquirethevariousnamesandtitlesthathave
filledthewritingsofwesterncivilizationfor2,000years.TheGreekworddiabolos(fromwhichdevilis
derived),meaningslanderer,comesfromaverbthatmeanstohurl(i.e.,accusations).Diaboloswas
typicallyusedastheGreekequivalentfortheHebrewn(intheSeptuagintversionofJob,forexample),
thoughitwasnotuncommontosimplytransliteratethewordintotheGreeksatanas(1Kings11:14).Other
namesusedfortheleaderoftheforcesofevilatthistimeincludeMamh,whichmeanshatred(1QM
13:4,11Jubilees10:8),andBelial,apopularnameamongthewritersoftheDeadSeaScrolls,which
meansworthlessorcorrupt.ChildrenofBelial(Hebrew:benebelial)wasatypicalphraseusedto
describeevilpeopleintheHebrewBible(e.g.,Deuteronomy13:131Samuel1:162Chronicles13:7,etc.).If
someoneweresearchingforanamethatpersonifiedevilintheHebrewBible,itwouldbeBelial,notSatan.
Interestingenough,thenameonlyoccursonceintheNewTestament(2Corinthians6:15),asPaulsstark
contrasttoChrist.
Itisalsointhisperiodthatwebegintoseethedevelopmentofthetraditionofequatingthetalkingserpent
intheGardenofEdenwithSatan(LifeofAdamandEvexixvii).
SatansroleintheNewTestament,thoughhighlyexpanded,has
muchmoreincommonwiththeAccuseroftheHebrewBiblethan
thecommanderofthearmiesofdarknessthatistypicallyportrayed
intheDeadSeaScrolls.Eventhoughheisgivensuchloftytitlesas
therulerofthisworld(John12:31),fatheroflies(John8:44),
godofthisworld(2Corinthians4:4),rulerofthepoweroftheair
(Ephesians2:2),andBeelzebul,rulerofthedemons(Matthew
10:25Mark3:22Luke11:15),Satanisessentiallytreatedasnothing
morethanaglorifiedprisonwardenwhohasbeencorruptedbyhis
ownpower.ThroughouttheGospels,Satanskingdomisnever
consideredtobeaburningunderworldfullofthetormenteddead,
but,rather,isequatedwiththebondageofsinandthecursesbrought
uponhumanityforactsofunrighteousness.AccordingtoJesus
(Matthew12:29Mark3:27Luke11:2122),astrongman(Satan)
mustbeboundinordertoplunderhishousefortreasures(humans),
anditisclearheviewedhisministryandthatofhisdiscipleswithin
thiscontext.AllotherreferencestoSatanintheNewTestament,
includingthoseinRevelation,reflectthisstruggleforspiritual
freedom.

EtruscanfrescoofTyphonfromthe
TombadelTifoneinTarquinia,Italy,c.
thirdcenturyB.C.E.AccordingtoGreek
mythology,themontrousTitanTyphon
battledthemightyZeus,whoboundhis
foeinthedarkdepthsofTartarusto
bringaboutaneweraofpeace.

Overthecourseofseveralcenturiesofinfluencefrommanydifferentcultures,thedefeatedAccuserofthe
Christianswouldgoontoappropriateaspectsofvariousdivineenemies(Typhon,Hades,Ahriman,Hela,
tonamebutafew)tobecomethecomplexmythologicalmonsterthatwasthrownoutofheavenatthe
beginningoftimetorulethefieryunderworldandtormentthesoulsofthedamned.Suchacharacter
makesforgreatmoviesandHalloweencostumes,butwouldhavebeenvirtuallyunknowntoanyonein
Biblicaltimes.

JohnGregoryDrummondisawriter,artistandbloggeraswellasaresearcherat
IndianaUniversityEast.HisacademicinterestsincludetheBronzeAgerelationsbetween
EgyptandtheLevant,comparativemythologyanditsinfluenceontheBiblicaltexts,and
mysterycultsintheRomanWorld.

Notes:
1.AdherentstoZoroastrianismbelievedintheongoingbattlebetweenAhuraMazdaandAngraMainyu
(knowninlaterperiodsasOrmazdandAhriman),thegoodcreatorgodoflightandorderandtheevilgod
ofchaosanddarkness.
2.Comparetheearlierversionofthestoryin2Samuel24inwhichYHWHhimselfistheonewhoincites
Davidtosin.

RelatedreadinginBibleHistoryDaily:
HowtheSerpentBecameSatanbyShawnaDolansky
UnderstandingRevelationsintheBible
AncientPergamon:Cityofscienceandsatan?

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