Monday, 5 October 2015

The Evolution of 'Satan' in Judaism, Christianity & Islam

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

Satan, or Shaythan is understood slightly differently in Judaism, Christianity and Islam.  Particularly within Christianity, the notion of Satan has evolved significantly from the early days of the Church.  To understand this concept, we must understand the idea of the Devil.

The idea of a ‘Devil’, is found in many religions, myths and cultures, either as part of the religious doctrine itself, or as a supernatural entity personifying evil and the enemy of God, or the gods, and humankind.  Its role varies greatly, ranging from being a creator god in its own right, as is found in a dualist conception of theology, to a comical exaggeration of an abstract human condition, particularly a major inadequacy such as envy or chaos.  Mainstream Judaism actually contains no overt concept of a devil, and neither did branches of early Christianity, which eventually regarded him as a sort of fallen angel.  Islam considers this entity to be an evil jinni Given a Divine Mandate to tempt Creation.  In these religions, the Devil is sometimes accepted as an allegory of mortal inadequacy in the face of Divine Perfection.

In Modern English, ‘devil’ comes from the Middle English, ‘devel’, and from Old English ‘deofol’.  That in turn is from early Germanic, borrowing from the Latin, ‘diabolus’.  This was borrowed from Ancient Greek, from the Greek ‘diabolos’, meaning accuser’, or ‘slanderer’.  Interestingly, in the New Testament, the Semitic word ‘Satan’ occurs more than 30 times in passages alongside ‘diabolos’, both of them referring to the same entity.  ‘Satan’ is a Hebrew word meaning ‘adversary’.

‘Devil’ is related to the Arabic ‘Shaythan’, meaning; ‘astray’, or ‘distant’.  The original Hebrew term is a noun from a verb meaning ‘to oppose’.  It is not necessarily a Devil-like entity.  ‘Shaythan’ is the older term, we can see from the various books of the Bible how the use of the word and its forms changed with the evolving concept of a ‘Devil’.

Numbers 22:22
22 But now God was Angry at his going.  There rode Balaam on his ass, with two servants attending him, when all at once an angel of the Lord stood in his path to prevent him.

Here, the word of same origin is translated to refer to the angel Sent to oppose Balaam and impede his travel.

1 Samuel 29:4
4 But the chiefs of the Philistines took it amiss; “Let this fellow go home,” they said, “and remain at the post thou hast allotted to him.  He must not march into battle at our side; who knows whether he will turn against us when once we are engaged?  What other peace-offering can such a man bring to his old master but these heads of ours?”

Here, it refers to the Philistine chiefs preventing David (a.s.) from marching with them.

Psalms 109:6
6 An ill master let him have, and an accuser ready at his side.

And here, it refers to an unnamed accuser, or slanderer.

Ha-Satan’ is traditionally translated as ‘the accuser’ or ‘the adversary’.  The definite article ‘ha’ functions like the Arabic ‘la’, or the English ‘the’.  It is used to designate a descriptive title bestowed on a sentient being, and not its name.  This being is ‘the satan’, or ‘the adversary’, ‘the opposer’, ‘the accuser’, ‘the slanderer’, depending on the context.  ‘Ha-Satan’ occurs 13 times in the Masoretic Text, in two books of the Hebrew Bible: the Book of Job, where it occurs 10 times in the first two chapters; and the Book of Zechariah.

Zechariah 3:1-2
1 Another vision the Lord Shewed me; here was an angel of His, and before this angel stood the high priest Josue, with the accuser at his right hand bringing accusation against him.  2 But to the accuser, the Divine Answer Came, “The Lord Rebuke thee, satan; the Lord, that Makes Choice of Jerusalem, Rebuke thee!”  What, is not this a brand saved from the embers?

In these two verses, it appears thrice, twice as the accusing entity, and once s the opposing one.  It should not be taken to refer to the Devil specifically since neither the Hebrew text, nor Jewish theology of the time the texts were written supports this.

Satan’ without the definite article, ‘Ha’ is used in 10 instances.  This means it does not refer to a specific individual, but rather to unnamed groups, individuals or forces personified for literary effect.

1 Chronicles 21:1
1 But now satan disturbed the peace of Israel, by inciting David to make a register of the people.

Psalms 109:6
6 An ill master let him have, and an accuser ready at his side.

Aside from these two, the other eight instances of ‘satan’ without the definite article are traditionally translated into Koine Greek, Latin and English as ‘an adversary’, ‘an opposer’, ‘an accuser’, ‘an enemy’ or equivalents to differentiate the word from the entity, Satan, lest the Christians be confused since most of they do not know the Bible text beyond translations.  They are taken to be humans or angels.

Numbers 22:22
22 But now God was Angry at his going.  There rode Balaam on his ass, with two servants attending him, when all at once an angel of the Lord stood in his path to prevent him.

Numbers 22:32
32 “How comes it, asked the angel, that thou hast thrice beaten thy ass?  I came to intercept thee, because this errand of thine is headstrong and defies my will.”

Here, it is put as ‘intercept’.

1 Samuel 29:4
4 But the chiefs of the Philistines took it amiss; “Let this fellow go home,” they said, “and remain at the post thou hast allotted to him.  He must not march into battle at our side; who knows whether he will turn against us when once we are engaged?  What other peace-offering can such a man bring to his old master but these heads of ours?”

2 Samuel 19:22
22 “What, sons of Sarvia,” David answered, “will you be adversaries against me?  This day, of all others, would you mar my peace?  No Israelite shall lose his life this day, which has taught me for the first time that I am king in Israel.”

1 Kings 5:4
4 “Now, the Lord my God has Given me Security on every side; neither foe nor evil assails me.”

1 Kings 11:14
14 And the Lord Gave Solomon an enemy to contend with, Adad the Idumean, of the royal dynasty of Edom.

1 Kings 11:23
23 God Gave Solomon another enemy to contend with, Razon, son of Eliada, that ran away from his master, Adarezer, king of Soba…

1 Kings 11:25
25 …and all through Solomon’s reign, he was the enemy of Israel.  Such was the cause of Adad’s rebellion and his ill will against Israel, and he set up a kingdom in Syria.

During the Second Temple period, sometimes called Enochic Judaism, the concept of Satan as an opponent of God and leader of demons seems to have taken root in Jewish pseudepigrapha.  This was the period of the Babylonian Exile and Restoration by the Persians.  As such, words of Babylonian origin are found in the text of the Book of Enoch, a work regarded as largely non-canonical except by the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches.  This book contains references to ‘Sataniel’ or ‘Satan’el’.  The ‘el’ is from ‘Elohim’, ‘God’.  So it roughly translates as ‘The Adversary of God’.  Again, it is not an actual name and is largely allegorical.  The Babylonian king is the Adversary of God, and his army are the ‘demons’ that sacked the Temple and carried the Jews into exile.

The Second Book of Enoch is a pseudepigraphic text of an uncertain date and unknown authorship.  It is also called the Slavonic Book of Enoch.  It contains references to a Watcher, Grigori, called ‘Satanael’.  The text describes this ‘Satanael’ as being the prince of the Grigori who was cast out of Heaven.

In the Book of Wisdom, a deuterocanonical work, the devil is represented as the being who brought death into the world.  The Catholic Church interprets this as spiritual death that is redeemed by the Vicarious Sacrifice.  Catholic thinkers did not necessarily believe this was ‘Satan’ itself, although this has crept into general belief.

The Book of Jubilees is considered canonical by the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches.  The Catholic, other Orthodox and Protestant Churches consider it a pseudepigrapha.  In it, Mastema, an angel, induces God to test Abraham (a.s.) through the sacrifice of Isaac (a.s.).  He is identical to Satan in both name and nature except that he is the persecutor of evil, not its head.

In Judaism, ‘satan’ was used since its earliest biblical contexts to refer to a human opponent, or occasionally an angel.  In some instances, the term had been used to suggest evil influence opposing the faithful.  Satan is personified in three different places of the Tanakh.  He is as an accuser in the Book of Zechariah

Zechariah 3:1-2
1 Another vision the Lord Shewed me; here was an angel of His, and before this angel stood the high priest Josue, with the accuser at his right hand bringing accusation against him.  2 But to the accuser, the Divine Answer Came, “The Lord Rebuke thee, satan; the Lord, that Makes Choice of Jerusalem, Rebuke thee!”  What, is not this a brand saved from the embers?

He is a seducer in the 1st Book of Chronicles:

1 Chronicles 21:1
1 But now satan disturbed the peace of Israel, by inciting David to make a register of the people.

He is a heavenly persecutor in the Book of Job:

Job 2:1
1 Once again the heavenly powers came to wait upon the Lord’s Presence; and there, waiting with the rest of them, was the enemy of man.

In every case, Satan is subordinate to the Power of God, never a contender, and having a role in the Divine Plan.  Satan is rarely mentioned in most Tanakh literature, but is found in Babylonian Aggadah, which is not to be confused with the Haggadah.  In medieval Judaism, the rabbis rejected these Enochic literary works and scrubbed them from the Biblical canon.  Jewish theology, beginning from the Golden Age and the massive influence of Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, adhered to strict monotheism.  This rationalist theology was heavily influenced by the Mu’tazilite and Ash’arite schools of the Muslims.  Such a theology has not place for rebel angels or any challenge to Divine Sovereignty.  Evil became an abstract concept defined by the absence of Good, since a Good God does not create evil.  Judaism has the concept of yetzer hara, the nafs al-ammarah, of Islam.

Genesis 6:5
5 And now God Found that earth was full of men’s iniquities, and that the whole frame of their thought was set continually on evil inclinations…

‘Satan’ became a metaphor.  In contrast, in Hasidic Judaism, the Kabbalah presents Satan as an agent of God whose function is to tempt one into sin, then turn around and accuse the sinner.  That is a doctrine of Divine Entrapment which seemingly precludes Divine Justice.  I find it objectionable in that light.

In Christianity, just like in Judaism, ‘satan’, is an attribute of both human and divine entities who challenge the faith of men in the Jewish Bible.  ‘Satan’ later evolved into the name of the personification of evil.  Christian theology changed ‘Satan’ from an accuser appointed by God to God’s fallen opponent.  In some traditions, Satan is thought of as almost an equivalent opposing force which is a form of implicit polytheism.  Traditionally, lay Christianity understands the Devil to be the author of lies and promoter of evil, making him co-creator.  It addresses the problem of evil differently from Judaism.  Catholic and Orthodox Christian theology says otherwise.

From a lay Christian perspective, the Devil’s first appearance in the Old Testament is as the serpent in the Garden of Eden.  The serpent tempted Adam (a.s.) and Eve into eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, which God had Forbidden them to eat.  He was, thus, the agent that caused their expulsion from the Garden and sin to enter the world.

Genesis 3:14-15
14 And the Lord God Said to the serpent, “For this work of thine, thou, alone among all the cattle and all the wild beasts, shalt bear a curse; thou shalt crawl on thy belly and eat dust all thy life.  15 And I will Establish a feud between thee and the woman, between thy offspring and hers; she is to crush thy head, while thou dost lie in ambush at her heels.”

God Rebukes Satan, but it is unclear whether this is an embodiment of desire or it is in actuality the entity ‘Satan’.  It if is the latter, it supposes that the Fall from Heaven had already happened.  Christian theology does not actually name the snake in the Garden as directly Satan since it is a Jewish text, and it is not a Jewish belief.  We must not forget that Christianity began as a Jewish sect before evolving into a religion in its own right.

Christian, and especially Catholic, Scriptures often identify the serpent with the Devil.  For example, the deuterocanonical Book of Wisdom has this:

Wisdom 2:23-25
23 God, to be sure, Framed man for an immortal destiny, the Created image of His Own Endless Being; 24 but, since the devil’s envy brought death into the world, 25 they make him their model that take him for their master.

We should note that the Greek text can also be translated as, ‘they experience it’, meaning ‘death’, instead of make him their model.  The ‘devil’s envy’ can then be understood as the personification of the nafs al-ammarah, the lower self.

In the Pauline-influenced New Testament, Satan is implicitly identified in the Book of Revelation, a book which not accepted as canon until 419 CE, at the Council of Carthage.  The Nestorian and Orthodox Churches reject it.  Martin Luther and John Calvin doubted its canonicity.

Revelation 12:9
9 …the great dragon, serpent of the primal age, was flung down to earth; he whom we call ‘the Devil’, or ‘Satan’, the whole world’s seducer, flung down to earth, and his angels with him.

Christian teaching about ‘Satan’ or ‘the Devil’ regarding the passages in the Old Testament mentioned above vary.  Whilst he is a heavenly persecutor in the Book of Job, there is very little reconciliation of the paradox of Satan in God’s Court when he was supposedly banished from the Divine Realm, if he is an actual entity as some Christians believe:

Job 2:1
1 Once again the heavenly powers came to wait upon the Lord’s Presence; and there, waiting with the rest of them, was the enemy of man.

Or how he is as an accusing angel in the Book of Zechariah, if this is taken literally as many of the Protestants are wont to do.

Zechariah 3:1-2
1 Another vision the Lord Shewed me; here was an angel of His, and before this angel stood the high priest Josue, with the accuser at his right hand bringing accusation against him.  2 But to the accuser, the Divine Answer Came, “The Lord Rebuke thee, satan; the Lord, that Makes Choice of Jerusalem, Rebuke thee!”  What, is not this a brand saved from the embers?

Essentially reading the Old Testament literally from translations when this was originally conceived from a Judaic theological perspective shows how different it is from the New Testament.  And that is why much of Christian theology ignores it where it becomes inconvenient.

Another name for Satan is Azazel.  It is also spelled Azazael.  It follows the same naming convention as Satanel, Raphael and Michael.  In this case, it is ‘the Greatness of God’.  Rabbinical Judaism, as above, does not believe it the name of an entity.  It is associated with the scapegoat rite and literally means ‘for the complete removal’, designating the goat to be cast out into the wilderness as opposed to the goat sacrificed ‘for Yahweh’.  In Islam, it is the name for ‘Satan’ before the Fall.  In Christianity and some traditions of Judaism, it is the name for a fallen angel who may or may not be Satan.  In the Bible, the term is used three times in the Book of Leviticus.

Leviticus 16:8-10
8 …and will cast lots between them; one is to be the Lord’s due, the other is for discharge.  9 The one chosen by lot to be the Lord’s due must be offered for their faults; 10 the one chosen for their discharge must be presented before the Lord alive, to let intercession fall upon it, and then be turned loose in the desert.

According to the Hebrew text, one lot was for the Lord, the other for ‘azazel’.  This word does not occur in the Bible outside this chapter.  The scapegoat was a goat that was designated ‘la-aza’zeyl’, ‘for absolute removal’, for the symbolic removal of the people's sins with the literal removal of the goat which was outcast in the desert as part of the ceremonies of the Yom Kippur, Day of Atonement.  That began during the Exodus with the original Tabernacle and continued through the times of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The Latin Vulgate contains no mention of ‘Azazel’.   Instead, is has ‘capro emissario’, ‘surrogate goat’.  In older English versions of the Bible, such as the King James Version, the words ‘la-aza’zeyl’ are translated as ‘as a scapegoat’.  Most modern English Bible translations leave is as ‘Azazel’.  To date, there is actually no evidence that ‘Azazel’ was a demon or god prior to the earliest Jewish sources among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the Dead Sea Scrolls, the name ‘Azazel’ occurs in the Book of the Giants, part of the Enochic literature found at Qumran.  According to the Book of Enoch, Azazel was one of the leaders of the rebellious Watchers, a group of angels who descended on Mount Hermon, in Lebanon.  In the time preceding the Flood; he taught men the art of warfare and making weapons and armour; and he taught women the art of deception by ornamenting the body, dyeing the hair, and painting the face and the eyebrows.  He also revealed to the people the secrets of witchcraft and corrupted their manners, leading them into wickedness and impurity; until at last he was, at the Lord’s Command, bound hand and foot by the archangel Raphael and chained to the rough and jagged rocks of Duduael, where he is to abide in utter darkness until the Day of Judgment, when he will be Cast into the Fire.  He is almost certainly analogous to Harut and Marut in the Qur’an.

1 Enoch 10:8
8 The whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.

The details of Azazel’s punishment are reminiscent of the scapegoat ritual, since the scapegoat was bound and thrown off the mountain as well.  Rabbi Moses Maimonides, the great reformer of the Jewish Golden Age, wrote in his Guide to the Perplexed, “These ceremonies are of a symbolic character and serve to impress man with a certain idea and to lead him to repent, as if to say, ‘We have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, cast them behind our backs and removed them from us as far as possible’.”  By then, the Jews were no longer throwing goats off mountains.

In Islam, ‘Azazil’ is said to be the original name of Shaythan, Iblis.  In Muslim conception, Iblis was never an angel.  Iblis was one of the jinn, a distinct sentient creation of God.  This is important because in Islam, we understand that angels have no free will, and thus, incapable of rebelling.  ‘Iblis’ itself is not a name.  It is from the Semitic root word ‘balas’ meaning despair.  Iblis, then, is ‘to despair’ or ‘the most despairing’ depending on the translation.

Islam acknowledges the Fall of Satan.  In our narrative, Satan was the imam of the jama’ah of the inhabitants of the Seventh Heaven, at the Bayt al-Ma’mur.  It was said that he prostrated to God in every step, and there was not a place in the world he had not prayed.  When God Created Adam (a.s.) as His vicegerent on Earth, Satan was consumed with jealousy and rebelled.


Behold!  Thy Lord Said to the angels, “I am about to Create man, from sounding clay from mud moulded into shape; when I have Fashioned him (in due proportion) and Breathed into him of My Spirit, fall ye down in obeisance unto him.”  So the angels prostrated themselves, all of them together: Not so Iblis: he refused to be among those who prostrated themselves. (Surah al-Hijr:28-31)

It is made clear that in his rebellion, he was not an angel since angels are made from light, whereas jinn are made from smokeless fire:


(Iblis) said, “I am better than he: Thou Createdst me from fire, and him, Thou Createdst from clay.” (Surah Swad:76)

He was Removed from the Divine Presence for this, but he did ask God for time until the Day of Judgement to lead men stray.


(Allah) Said, “Then get thee out from here; for thou art Rejected, Accursed.  And the Curse shall be on thee until the Day of Judgment.”  (Iblis) said, “O my Lord!  Give me then respite until the Day the (dead) are Raised.”  (Allah) Said, “Respite is Granted thee ― until the Day of the Time Appointed.”  (Iblis) said, “O my Lord!  Because Thou hast Put me in the wrong, I will make (wrong) fair-seeming to them on the earth, and I will put them all in the wrong ― except Thy servants among them, sincere and Purified (by Thy Grace)." (Surah al-Hijr:34-40)

In Islam, Satan is ultimately art of the Divine Plan.  He is not a contender with the Divine for sovereignty over Creation.

Another name that is commonly used to refer to Satan is ‘Lucifer’.  Lucifer is the King James Version of the Bible rendering of the Hebrew word, ‘helel’ found in the Book of Isaiah.

Isaiah 14:12
12 What, fallen from heaven, thou Lucifer, that once didst herald the dawn?  Prostrate on the earth, that didst once bring nations to their knees?

The Hebrew word ‘helel’ occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible.  It is similar to the Arabic ‘hilal’ which is used to refer to the crescent of the moon.  It was translated into the Latin Vulgate as ‘Lucifer’, which is how a Latin word ended up in what was originally a Hebrew text.  ‘Lucifer’ means ‘bringer of light’.  In the Septuagint, it is rendered in the Greek as ‘heosphoros’, meaning ‘bringer of the dawn’.  It was later Christian tradition which claimed the Latin word for ‘morning star’, ‘lucifer’, was a proper name for Satan from before his Fall, ‘The Angel of the Morning Star’.  Like many things in popular western culture of the Judeo-Christian tradition, we get our conception of the Devil from two principal sources: Dante Alighieri’s Inferno and John Milton’s Paradise Lost.

There is no coincidence that Satan came to be represented as a goat-headed demon with bat wings, a tail and the lower body of a goat.  These are extreme corruptions of pagan deities such as Pan, Bacchus and Dionysus.  The trident was thought to either represent the trident of Poseidon.  Later, it was a representation of the Arabic word ‘Allah’.  This was how the Catholic Church demonised its rivals.  The idea of a fiery Hell with all its punishments is from Inferno.  Ironically, Dante Alighieri borrowed all that from the ahadits of the Isra’ wa al-Mi’raj.  The idea that Satan ruled in Hell is courtesy of Milton from the famous line in his book where Satan said, “Better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.”

Coming back to the conundrum of Lucifer, according to both Christian and Jewish exegesis, in the Book of Isaiah, Nebuchadnezzar II, the Neo-Babylonian king and conqueror of Jerusalem, was condemned in a prophetic vision by Isaiah (a.s.).  In the Hebrew text, the term used is ‘Helel ben Shahar’, ‘shining son of the morning’.  We take it to refer to the Morning Star, but the text gives no indication whether ‘Helel’ was a star or planet.  Also, we are not wholly certain it was Nebuchadnezzar II who was referred to.  Incidentally, the translation of ‘helel’ as ‘Lucifer’, as in the King James Version, has been abandoned in modern English translations.  Present-day translations of the text mostly have ‘morning star’.

Concerning the verse in of Isaiah 14:12, it was a reference to ancient Canaanite mythology.  The ‘morning star’ referred to their god, Attar, who attempted to occupy the throne of Ba’al, who is better known as Hubal in the sirah.  Finding he was unable to do so, Attar descended and ruled the underworld.  The original myth is thought to have been about a lesser god, Helel, trying to dethrone the Canaanite high god, El, who lived on a mountain to the north.

John Calvin himself wrote, “The exposition of this passage, which some have given, as if it referred to Satan, has arisen from ignorance: for the context plainly shows these statements must be understood in reference to the king of the Babylonians.”  Additionally, Martin Luther considered it a gross error to refer this verse to the Devil.  This is not a new misconception but one that existed since the time of Origen and Jerome.


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