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Planetary Demons in Early Jewish Literature

Article  in  Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha · September 2005

DOI: 10.1177/0951820705053850


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Alexander John Toepel

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[JSP 14.3 (2005) 231-238]
DOI: 10.1177/0951820705053850

Planetary Demons in Early Jewish Literature*

Alexander Toepel
Käsenbachstr. 58, 72076 Tübingen, Germany

Within the process of cultural exchange taking place during the Hellenistic
age Babylonian and Greek astronomy and astrology were received and
transformed by Jewish authors. Among these originally pagan ideas is the
concept of planets as powerful and sometimes malign spiritual beings,
whose rule extends over the course of history and the human body.
Instances of this motif can be found in the Qumran fragments 4Q552–553
and in Testament of Reuben 2.1–3.7. On this basis the question is raised
whether the tutelary angels of nations in Daniel 10.13, 20, 21 are in fact
planetary deities.

It is a well known fact that Hellenistic views on astronomy and astrology

were to a large extent taken over and transformed by Jews during the
Second Temple period, as is evident by the astronomical sections of the
Ethiopic book of Enoch and astronomical–astrological fragments from
Qumran.1 The aim of the present article in this respect is not so much to

* The evidence presented here was first collected in connection with the author’s
Diplomarbeit carried out at Tübingen University under the supervision of Professor Dr
H. Niehr. The author wishes to thank Professors H. Niehr, S. Gerö and G. Winkler for
reading a draft of this article. Thanks are also due to the editors of the Journal for the
Study of the Pseudepigrapha for valuable corrections. Responsibility for any mistakes
of course remains entirely with the author.
1. Cf. M. Albani, ‘Der Zodiakos in 4 Q 318 und die Henoch-Astronomie’,
Mitteilungen und Beiträge, Forschungsstelle Judentum, Theologische Fakultät Leip-
zig (September 1993), pp. 3-42; idem, Astronomie und Schöpfungsglaube (WMANT,
68; Neukirchen–Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1994); O. Böcher, ‘Astrologie III’, in
G. Krause and G. Müller (eds.), Theologische Realenzyklopädie (Berlin: W. de

© SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks CA, and New Delhi)

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232 Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 14.3 (2005)

elucidate the function of planets within the overall framework of early

Jewish astronomy, but rather to draw attention to instances which show
clear borrowings of pagan notions connected with the planets.2 The first of
these instances is to be found in two partly identical fragments from
Qumran (4Q552–553) which form part of a larger body of para-Danielic
writings and bear a close resemblance to the scheme of four succeeding
kingdoms in Daniel 7:3
[I saw an angel] standing on whom light (shone) and four trees [stood by]
him. And the trees rose and moved away from him, And he said to [me: Do
you see] this shape? And I said: Yes. I see it and consider it. And I saw the
tree…placed. And I asked it: What is your name? And it said to me: Babel.
And I said to it: Are you the one who rules over Persia? And I saw another
tree…and asked it: What is your name? [And it said to me:…] And I said to
it: Are you the one w[ho rules over a]ll the powers of the sea and over the
ports [and over]…? [And I saw] the third tree [and] I said to [it: What is
your name and why] is your appearance…

Gruyter, 1979), IV, pp. 299-308; J.C. Greenfield and M. Sokoloff, ‘An Astronomical
Text from Qumran (4 Q 318) and Reflections on Some Zodiacal Names’, RevQ 16
(1995), pp. 507-25.
2. To the author’s knowledge there is not a single pseudepigraphical text from the
Second Temple period which mentions the planets by name. That planetary angels
appear in the Ethiopic book of Enoch can be inferred from passages as 8.12-16; 21.6;
72.3; 80.2-3, where a group of seven stellar angels is mentioned, angels who are said to
have left their regular coursesʊwhich is a characteristic of planets in comparison with
fixed stars (cf. D. Dörfel, Engel in der apokalyptischen Literatur und ihre theologische
Relevanz [Aachen: Shaker Verlag, 1998], p. 210; M. Mach, Entwicklungsstadien des
jüdischen Engelglaubens in vorrabbinischer Zeit [TstAJ, 54; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr
1992], p. 175-76; Albani, Astronomie, pp. 115-16, 131, 231-32)ʊbut in none of these
passages their names are mentioned nor is there any indication that they are indeed
connected with the planets. This reluctance may be due to the fact that the planets bore
the names of Mesopotamian and Greek deities and were venerated as such both in the
Near East and the Mediterranean area; cf., e.g., W. Hübner, ‘Planeten II: Astrologie
und Mythologie’, in H. Cancik and H. Schneider (eds.), Der Neue Pauly. Enzyklopädie
der Antike (Stuttgart: Metzler, 2000), IX, pp. 1073-79; P.W. Haider, ‘Edessa, Carrhae,
Doliche’, in P.W. Haider, M. Hutter and S. Kreuzer (eds.), Religionsgeschichte Syriens
(Stuttgart: W. Kohlhammer, 1996), p. 230; H. Niehr, Religionen in Israels Umwelt
(Würzburg: Echter Verlag, 1998), pp. 35, 161.
3. The translation quoted is that of G. Vermes, The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in
English (London: Penguin Books, 4th edn, 1995), p. 575. The Aramaic text is to be
found in K. Beyer, Die aramäischen Texte vom Toten Meer. Ergänzungsband
(Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 1994), p. 108. Both manuscripts were written
around the beginning of the Christian era; cf. Beyer, Texte, p. 108.

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TOEPEL Planetary Demons in Early Jewish Literature 233

In this text four trees are mentioned which are obviously connected with
four empires, but do not merely serve as symbolical representations of
these. They are able to move away and it is stated that they ‘rule’ (šlÓ) over
their kingdoms and have names, which presupposes them to be endowed
with personality. Since in the literature extant from Qumran and related
pseudepigraphical works trees are normally used for representing human
beings, rather than supernatural powers, a different explanation for the use
of this imagery in 4Q552–553 has to be sought for.4 Outside of Judaism a
connection between trees and spiritual entities is found in the pictorial
displays of Mithraism, where in several instances the planets are symboli-
cally represented as trees.5 Given the oriental origin of Mithraism and the

4. In the Ethiopic book of Enoch chs. 26–27 Israel is depicted as a garden of trees
and the angels cutting down trees in Genesis Apocryphon col. 13 (cf. Vermes, Scrolls,
p. 451-52) most probably signify Israel’s oppressors. In the same text (Genesis
Apocryphon col. 14; cf. Vermes, Scrolls, p. 452) also Noah and the Messiah are
symbolically referred to as trees. J.C. Reeves, Jewish Lore in Manichaean Cosmogony
(Monographs of the Hebrew Union College, 14; Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College
Press, 1992), p. 153 n. 289 relates a tradition ascribed to the Gnostic Justin by
Hippolytus, Refutatio 5.26.5-6, according to whom the angels of paradise allegorically
are called ‘trees’; cf. W. Foerster (ed.), Die Gnosis. I. Zeugnisse der Kirchenväter
(Zürich: Artemis Verlag, 2nd edn, 1979), p. 72. Since the angels are nowhere said to
have originally resided in paradise, this motif is most likely dependent upon older
Jewish sources of the aforementioned kind. The idea that the righteous are to replace
the fallen angels is found only in later sources such as the Syriac Cave of Treasures 7.4
and probably results from a fusion of traditions represented by the Gnostic Justin and
Ethiopic book of Enoch chs. 26–27. The apparent identification of trees with fallen
angels in the Middle Persian fragment M625c of the Book of Giants is presumably of a
secondary nature, since in the original Aramaic version of this episode in 4 Q 530 the
angels which descended to earth in the days of Noah are represented as gardeners; cf.
L.T. Stuckenbruck, The Book of Giants from Qumran (TStAJ, 63; Tübingen: J.C.B.
Mohr, 1997), pp. 113-14, 130 n. 147 and the passage’s reconstruction by E. Puech (ed.
and trans.), Qumrân Grotte 4, XXII. Textes Araméens. Première Partie 4 Q 529–549
(DJD, 31; Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2001), pp. 28-29 (the author is indebted to
Professor L.T. Stuckenbruck for these references).
5. Cf. F. Cumont, Textes et monuments figurés relatifs au mystères de Mithra
(Bruxelles: Lamertin, 1899), I, pp. 115-16. Most important among the depictions of the
planets as trees is the monument from Apulum in the Roman province of Dacia
(present-day Romania), which shows a row of seven trees on top of the well-known
bull-slaying scene; cf. idem, Textes et monuments figurés relatifs au mystères de
Mithra (Bruxelles: Lamertin, 1896), II, p. 311 (mon. 193). The number ‘seven’, of
course, refers to the seven planets of antiquity (Sun, Moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars,
Jupiter, Saturn), not to the planets presently known to modern astronomy. Other

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234 Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 14.3 (2005)

fact that in the Ethiopic book of Enoch there are hints as to identify the
planets as fallen angels, the conclusion might be drawn that the trees
mentioned in 4Q552–553 refer to planetary demons. The fact that in this
text there are mentioned four trees rather than seven, which would fit in
with the traditional number of planets according to ancient astronomy, can
be explained by a tradition known from the second century Alexandrian
astronomer Ptolemy, which goes back to Babylonian astronomy and
connects the four planets Jupiter, Mars, Saturn and Venus with the four
cardinal directions.6 Since the trees in 4Q552–553 represent geographical
areas, it is likely that the appearance of four trees instead of seven is based
upon a notion similar to that of Ptolemy.
Another instance of borrowing of a pagan astrological idea appears to be
present in Testament of Reuben 2.1–3.7.7 Here, Reuben relates how he was

instances of trees representing the planets are found on relics from Italy, Bulgaria,
Hungary and the famous Mithraeum near Heddernheim, Germany; cf. Cumont, Textes,
II, pp. 199 (mon. 13), 251 (mon. 95), 277 (mon. 135), 324 (mon. 218), 362 (mon.
251d). The geographical distribution of these relics shows that the representation of the
planets as trees is not to be accounted for as a regional peculiarity but must have
formed a genuine part of Mithraism, which due to the religion’s military character was
disseminated all over the Roman empire. A literary mention of these trees can be found
in the Syriac Chronicle of Zuqnin, which stems from the eighth century and at a time
was wrongly attributed to Dionysius of Tell Mahre. Here in connection with a cave
situated upon a mountain, whose Iranian background was pointed out by G. Widen-
gren, Iranisch-semitische Kulturbegegnung in parthischer Zeit (Cologne: West-
deutscher Verlag, 1960), pp. 79-80, there is described a well, beside which are planted
seven trees; cf. J.-B. Chabot (ed.), Chronicon Anonymum Pseudo-Dionysianum Vulgo
Dictum (CSCO, 91; Script. Syri, 43; Leuven: Durbecq, 1953), I, p. 61, ll. 1-5, and idem
(trans.), Incerti Auctoris Chronicon Pseudo-Dionysianum Vulgo Dictum (CSCO, 121;
Script. Syri, 66; Leuven: Durbecq, 1949), II, p. 48.
6. Cf. W. Gundel and H.G. Gundel, ‘Planeten VIII’, in K. Ziegler (ed.), Paulys
Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (Stuttgart: Metzler, 1950),
XX.2, col. 2142; F. Boll, C. Bezold and W. Gundel, Sternglaube und Sterndeutung
(Leipzig: Teubner, 3rd edn, 1926), pp. 9-10. According to this scheme Jupiter/Marduk
rules the North, Mars/Nergal the West, Saturn/Šamaš the East and Venus/Ištar the East
and West together, which is probably due to her function as morning and evening star.
7. The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs are generally thought to be of early
Jewish provenance; cf. H.C. Kee, ‘Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. A New
Translation and Introduction’, in OTP, I, pp. 175-77. They are, however, closely inter-
woven with Christian interpolations, which led some scholars to have reservations in
regard of the possibility of restoring an original Jewish writing; cf. M. de Jonge,
Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament as Part of Christian Literature (SVTP, 18;
Leiden: E.J. Brill, 2003), pp. 71-83. The passage dealt with here does not contain

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TOEPEL Planetary Demons in Early Jewish Literature 235

led to the incestuous relationship with Bilhah, one of his father’s wives
(cf. Gen. 35.22):8
And now give heed to me, my children, concerning the things which I
saw during my time of penitence, concerning the seven spirits of deceit.
For seven spirits are established against mankind, and they are the sources
of the deeds of youth. 3And seven other spirits are given to man at creation
so that by them 4every human deed (is done). First is the spirit of life, with
which man is created as a living being. The second is the spirit of seeing,
with which comes desire. 5The third is the spirit of hearing, with which
comes instruction. The fourth is the spirit of smell, with which is given taste
for drawing air and breath. 6The fifth is the spirit of speech, with which
comes knowledge. 7The sixth is the spirit of taste for consuming food and
drink; by it comes strength, because in food is the substance of strength.
The seventh is the spirit of procreation and intercourse, with which come
sins through the fondness for pleasure. 9For this reason it was the last in the
creation and the first in youth, because it is filled with ignorance; it leads
the young person like a blind man into a ditch and like an animal over a
cliff. 3.1In addition to all is an eighth spirit: sleep, with which is created the
ecstasy of nature and the image of death. 2With these are commingled the
spirits of error. 3First, the spirit of promiscuity resides in the nature and the
senses. 4A second spirit of insatiability, in the stomach; a third spirit of
strife, in the liver and the gall; a fourth spirit of flattery and trickery, in
order that through excessive effort one might appear to be at the height of
his powers; 5a fifth spirit of arrogance, that one might be boastful and
haughty; a sixth spirit of lying, which through destructiveness and rivalry,
handles his affairs smoothly and secretively even with his relatives and his
household. 6A seventh spirit of injustice, with which are thefts and crooked
dealings, in order that one might gain his heart’s desire. For injustice works
together with the other spirits through acceptance of bribes. 7With all these
the spirit of sleep forms an alliance, which results in error and fantasy.

For an explanation of the spirits mentioned by Reuben the Stoic doctrine

of an octopartite soul has been brought forward, but this is not entirely
convincing, since in 3.2-4 three of the seven spirits are linked with organs
of the body.9 Furthermore, even though in this passage there are mentioned

anything specifically Christian, though, and, the issue of a Christian authorship of the
entire Testaments still pending, it seems justified meanwhile to regard it as a part of
early Jewish literature.
8. The translation is taken from OTP, I, pp. 782-83; the Greek text is available in
the edition of M. de Jonge (ed.), The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs ( PVTG, 1.2;
Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1978), pp. 3-5.
9. Cf. J. Becker, Untersuchungen zur Entstehungsgeschichte der Testamente der
zwölf Patriarchen (AGJU, 8; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1970), p. 189. However, Becker, who

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236 Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 14.3 (2005)

altogether eight spirits, the eighth ‘spirit of sleep’ stands apart from the
other seven, as is evident by 2.2, 3; 3.1, 7. There is, however, a parallel
to this in astrological handbooks from late antiquity. Ptolemy in his
5FUTB CJCMPK (sometimes also called "QPUFMFTNBUJLB ) 3.12 connects the
planets Moon, Mercury, Venus, Sun and Jupiter with HFVTJK, HMX_TTB,
and EFDJBJ, and connecting the two with Mars and Saturn.10 As a compari-
son with the Greek text of Testament of Reuben 2.4-9 shows, Ptolemy’s
list agrees almost literally, except for the QOFV_NB[XIK, which is replaced
by doubling B LPI into the left and right ear. A correspondence between
the planets and organs of the human body can be found in the late dia-
logue &SNJQQPTIQFSJ=B TUQPMPHJBK, where among others HBTUIS, I\QBS
and YPMI are said to be connected with Mercury, Venus and Mars.11 In

regards the Stoic origin of the spirits in Testament of Reuben as a ‘sichere Erkenntnis
der Forschung’ (idem, Untersuchungen p. 189; cf. also idem (trans.), Die Testamente
der zwölf Patriarchen [JSHRZ, 3; Gütersloh: Gerd Mohn, 1980), p. 33 n. II3a), sees
the connection between spirits and physical organs in 3.2-4 as an indication that this
passage is a later interpolation. There is, however, no need for such an assumption, as
the subsequent discussion will show. Apart from that neither de Jonge nor Kee are
fully convinced of this notion’s stoic origin (cf. de Jonge’s remark in idem, The Testa-
ments of the Twelve Patriarchs [Assen: Van Gorcum, 1953], p. 75: ‘one must notice
that the author of this passage modified this conception considerably’; similarly in
H.W. Hollander and M. de Jonge, The Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs: A
Commentary [SVTP, 8; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1985], p. 93, and in OTP, I, p. 782 n. 2a).
10. Cf. the list in W.H. Roscher, ‘Planeten’, in idem (ed.), Ausführliches Lexikon
der griechischen und römischen Mythologie (Leipzig: Teubner, 1902–1909), III, cols.
2535-36. Although his list of correspondences between planets and faculties of the
human body is perhaps the best known of its kind, it by no means goes back to
Ptolemy’s own invention. Such lists most probably stem from Hellenistic Egypt and
can be traced back as far as the second century BCE; cf. A. Touwaide, ‘Iatromathe-
matik’, in H. Cancik and H. Schneider (eds.), Der Neue Pauly. Enzyklopädie der
Antike (Stuttgart: Metzler Verlag, 1998), V, col. 873.
11. Cf. Roscher, in idem, Lexikon, cols. 2535-36. The (UPLSSR is a Byzantine
work which contains, according to W. Kroll, ‘Hermippos 9’, in idem (ed.), Paulys
Real-Encyclopädie der classischen Altertumswissenschaft (Stuttgart, Metzler, 1913),
VIII, cols. 854, 857, ancient material. A similar tradition is present in the Coptic
Gnostic Apocryphon of John. Here, the ‘seven powers’ of Yaltabaoth in connection
with a host of evil angels each create and rule over an individual part of the human
body; cf. M. Waldstein and F. Wisse (eds. and trans.), The Apocryphon of John
(NHMS, 33; Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996), pp. 88-111 (the author is indebted to Professor
S. Gerö for this reference). In the Apocryphon of John these traditions are said to be
found in a ‘Book of Zoroaster’ (+—SMZZPH 1]ZURDVWURV; cf. Waldstein and Wisse,

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TOEPEL Planetary Demons in Early Jewish Literature 237

view of the spirits’ sevenfold nature in Testament of Reuben and their

connection with parts of the human body it seems well possible that in fact
planetary demons are hinted at here. If this is the case, the expression FQUB@
RSX QPO (2.3) probably refers to the constellation of planets during the time
of birth, the so-called ‘horoscope’ which was believed to determine a
person’s actions and fate in life.
A third appearance of planetary angels can be inferred from the two
aforementioned ones. In Dan. 10.13, 20, 21 there are mentioned tutelary
angels of ‘Persia’ and ‘Greece’, that is, the Achaemenid and Seleucid
empires.12 Given the fact that Daniel’s vision of a ram and goat (Dan.
8.1-12), which likewise symbolise these two empires, can be explained by
an astrological background13 and taking into account that in the above
quoted fragment 4Q552–553 planetary angels are seen as rulers over
similar empires, as well as that the Testament of Naphtali mentions the
QOFV NBUB UI=K QMB OIK in 3.3 and 5.8 lists seven world-conquering empires,
there is a possibility that the tutelary angels of Persia and Greece are in
fact planetary demons.14 Even though this is just a tentative guess, it

Apocryphon, p. 11 left col. ult.) and the Syriac author Theodore bar Konai (fl. eighth
century), who reports similar views of the Audians, ascribes to them a ‘Chaldaean’
origin; cf. Waldstein and Wisse, Apocryphon, p. 194 and the text in A. Scher (ed.),
Theodorus bar KǀnƯ, Liber scholiorum pars posterior (CSCO, 69; Script. Syri 26;
Paris: Poussielgue, 1912), p. 320, ll. 4-13. Both designations indicate most likely an
astrological background, and, in view of the motif’s elaborate character in the Apocry-
phon of John, it seems probable that the Gnostic author expanded a more simple
scheme such as can be found in the Testament of Reuben.
12. These angels have long since puzzled exegetes; cf. the overview in K. Koch,
Das Buch Daniel (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1980), pp. 208-10.
The status quaestionis is summed up by D.E. Stevens, ‘Daniel 10 and the Notion of
Territorial Spirits’, BS 157 (2000), pp. 410-31. Terminus ante quem for the Book of
Daniel in its present form is Antiochus IV’s death on the battlefield in 163; cf. Koch,
Daniel, pp. 8-12.
13. Cf. F. Cumont, ‘La plus ancienne géographie astrologique’, Klio 9 (1909),
pp. 270-73; this is accepted by most commentators. L.F. Hartman and A.A. DiLella,
The Book of Daniel (AB, 23; Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1978), pp. 233-34, reject
Cumont’s interpretation.
14. Outside Judaism planetary angels are well known in the syncretistic religions
of late antiquity; cf., e.g., F. Cumont, ‘Les anges du paganisme’, RHR 72 (1915),
pp. 159-82; J. Bidez and F. Cumont (eds.), Les Mages Hellenisés (Paris: Les Belles
Lettres, repr., 1973 [1938]), II, pp. 271-75, 283-84; H.G. Gundel, Weltbild und
Astrologie in den griechischen Zauberpapyri (München: Beck 1968), pp. 41-43;

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238 Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 14.3 (2005)

would be worthwhile in regard of the planets’ character as a means for

measuring time to investigate whether their appearance in apocalyptical
texts like 4Q552–553 and Dan. 10.13, 20, 21 is not connected with this
type of literature’s overarching concern for determining the duration of
the exile, which was based upon passages like Jer. 25.11-13; 29.10; Lev.
25.1-2; 26.18-20 and 2 Chron. 36.21 and found a clear expression in the
Ethiopic book of Enoch chs. 83–90.15

A.R.R. Sheppard, ‘Pagan Cults of Angels in Roman Asia Minor’, Talanta 12–13
(1980–81), pp. 81-82. In the so-called ‘Mithraic liturgy’ the planets are called WRX
SROHXYRQWDTHRX, 7XYFDL and .RVPRNUDYWRUH (cf. A. Dieterich [ed. and trans.], Eine
Mithrasliturgie [Leipzig: Teubner, 2nd edn, 1910], pp. 34-35, 62), which renders them
fit for their role as tutelary angels of pagan nations in the Book of Daniel.
15. Cf., on this subject, K. Koch, ‘Sabbatstruktur der Geschichte’, in idem,
Gesammelte Aufsätze. III. Vor der Wende der Zeiten (Neukirchen–Vluyn: Neukirch-
ener Verlag, 1996), pp. 45-76 (73).

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