SATAN . Although the name Satan sometimes has been connected with the Hebrew verb suṭ, which means "to roam" (perhaps suggesting that Satan acts as God's spy), it is more commonly derived from the root saṭan, which means "to oppose, to plot against." The word thus basically connotes an adversary. Its use in the Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) covers three types of beings as opponents: (1) a human being, as in 2 Samuel 19:22, (2) an angelic being, as in Numbers 22:22–35, and (3) a particular adversary, as in Zechariah 3:1–2, where saṭan functions as a common rather than a proper noun and does not refer to "the Satan," but where the idea of a being having a distinct personality is still conveyed. This supernatural being not only acts as an adversary: his name itself means "an obstructor" (Russell, 1977, p. 190). In the New Testament, Satan as the Devil is called the "great dragon" and "ancient serpent" (Rv. 12:9). However, while echoes of a Canaanite myth of God's conflict with the dragon and the sea may be found in the Old Testament, Satan is not associated with these references but is clearly mentioned in three contexts (except for Psalms 109:6, in which he is inferred). The first of these contexts is in the Book of Job, where Satan belongs to the court of God and, with God's permission, tests Job. By contrast, in a second occurrence (Zec. 3), Satan, on his own initiative, opposes Joshua. The third passage in the Old Testament in which Satan figures (1 Chr. 21:1) is, according to George A. Barton (1911),
A further witness to the fact that Satan is now held to be responsible for evil. The chapter gives an account of David's census and of the punishment for it, and is dependent on 2 Samuel 24; but whereas it is said in Samuel that Jahweh said to David, "Go, number Israel" because he was angry with the people, it is said in Chronicles that Satan "moved David to number Israel." Satan is clearly a development out of the group of spirits which were in earlier days thought to be from Jahweh's court, members of which were sent upon errands of disaster to men. (p. 598)
Scholars seems somewhat divided on the question of the extent to which evil may be associated with Satan in the Old Testament. It has been argued that Satan "was not evil but became evil by identification with his functions" in the course of time (Robbins, 1966, p. 130). One might distinguish here between two approaches toward Satan in the Old Testament. According to one approach, represented by Giovanni Papini, Jeffrey Burton Russell, John Noel Schofield, Gustav Davidson, and others, Satan is still not quite God's adversary, only his minion. Other scholars, such as Edward Langton and Ronald S. Wallace, see a more definite movement toward an association of evil with Satan. But the transition from the saṭan of the Old Testament, which pre-figures the Devil in some way, to the Satanas of the New Testament, who is the Devil, is clear enough.
The figure of Satan in noncanonical Hebrew literature intensifies his identification with evil. He not only emerges as an adversary of God, but, as such apocalyptic works as Jubilees, the Testament of Reuben, the Book of the Secrets of Enoch (2 Enoch), and the Qumran documents show, he is also the leader of the fallen angels. It should be noted, however, that although Satan comes to stand for evil, in "Hebrew thought in the Old Testament there is no suggestion of any dualism, whether temporal, spatial or ethical… any philosophy of evil culled from the Bible must find room for evil within the concept of God and within his purpose." This also holds true for much apocalyptic literature; signs of temporal, spatial, and ethical dualism begin to emerge only in later Judaism. At the temporal level, the view is developed that history consists of two ages. The present age is marked by the Devil's power, which will be nullified at the end of the present age when the divine age is ushered in. At the spatial level, the kingdoms of the Lord and Satan are contrasted as being in cosmic opposition; at the ethical level, humans are seen as being affected by sin, which will be overcome in a divine denouement. Persian influence has been traced in this movement toward dualism. But Hebrew and Christian thought stopped short of specifying that the Devil is entirely evil in essence. This tension between explicit monotheism and implicit dualism became characteristic of Judaism and Christianity, as contrasted with Zoroastrianism, Manichaeism, and gnosticism. "The Devil," as Luther said, "is God's Devil."
Christianity synthesized Greek and Jewish concepts of the Devil. The word devil is actually derived from the Greek diabolos, which has the dual sense of "accuser" and "obstructor." If the Old Testament, according to later tradition, implicates Satan in the fall of humankind, the New Testament refers clearly to the fall of Satan himself in 2 Peter 2:4 and in Revelation 12:7–9. Again, in contrast with the Old Testament, the power of the Devil is often mentioned (e.g., Lk. 4:6). He is also identified with other names: Beelzebul ("lord of flies"), Beelzebub ("lord of dung"), and, with somewhat less critical certainty, Lucifer.
In the ministry of Jesus Christ, "there is a constant campaign against Satan from the temptation after Jesus' Baptism until his death on the cross, and, in each act of healing or exorcism, there is anticipated the ultimate defeat of Satan and the manifestation of the power of the new age," as is the case of Mark's gospel, the central part of which calls upon Jesus' disciples "to participate through suffering in his own confrontation with the power of Satan" (Davis, 1984, p. 952). Indeed, Mark and Paul are more inclined to use the name Satan ; other New Testament writers prefer other forms. Nevertheless, the motif of both the original (Rom. 16:20) and the ultimate and eschatological fall of Satan (Rv. 20:2, 7–10) undergirds the New Testament, though the latter is more prominent. The Devil is the lord of both aion and kosmos, words used in the context of sinful human society and probably suggestive of the dichotomy of spirit and matter in Greek thought. Russell summarized the chief characteristics of the Devil in the New Testament as follows (1977, p. 256): (1) he is the personification of evil; (2) he physically attacks or possesses humans; (3) he tempts people to sin in order to destroy them or recruit them in his struggle against God; (4) he accuses and punishes sinners; (5) he leads a host of evil spirits, fallen angels, or demons; (6) he has assimilated many evil qualities of ancient destructive nature spirits or ghosts; (7) he will rule this world until the coming of the kingdom of God, and in the meantime will be engaged in constant warfare against Christ; (8) he will be defeated by Christ at the end of the world. Above all, he is identified with temptation and death, like his counterpart Māra in Buddhism.
In early Christianity it was believed that the death of Jesus redeemed humankind from the Devil, who had been overcome in his own house by Christ's descent into hell (Mt. 12:29). Thus, although the idea of the final conquest of evil or the Devil is not unique to Christianity but is also present in Zoroastrianism and Judaism, "the unique note in the Christian message is the announcement that Satan is already being defeated in Christ" (Ling, 1961, p. 102). Despite this general picture, however, Russell notes that the position of the Devil remains anomalous in the New Testament, and the "elements of cosmic dualism in the synoptic gospels are much stronger in Luke than in Mark and Matthew and stronger in John than in any of the synoptics" (1977, p. 232).
Satan's name appears as Shayṭān in the Qurʾān, although it is not clear whether the name is Arabic or not. Shayṭān shares certain functions of the Judeo-Christian Satan, such as leading people astray (4:83), but there is a significant extension of this view in that Satan is accused of tampering with divine verbal revelation (22.52). However, it is in his role as Iblīs (2:34, etc.) that al-Shayṭān is most striking (Watt, 1970, p. 155). He is deposed for refusing to bow before man as the other angels had done, but is allowed, after his refusal, to tempt mortals. According to an established tradition, "Satan sits in the blood of Adam's children" and thus "could be equated with nafs, the lower principle, the flesh" (Schimmel, 1975, p. 193). In Islam, the figure of Satan achieves a mystical dimension not found in Judaism and Christianity, where the devil is more or less exclusively associated with evil and the underworld. This association may help "account for the Western tradition that Satan is not only Lord of evil and of death but is also associated with fertility and sexuality, a trait evident in the witches' orgy and in the horns the Devil often wears" (Russell, 1977, p. 64).
Satan plays an important role in the folklore of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Already by the end of the apocalyptic period he had been identified with the following mythological themes in Jewish demonology and folklore: darkness, the underworld, and the air, sexual temptation and molestation, the goat, the lion, the frog or toad, and the serpent or dragon. In rabbinic folklore, Satan is not linked with the legend of Lilith, but he appears to Eve as a beautiful angel, and tempts Rabbi ʿAqiva˒ (ʿAqiva˒ ben Yosef, first-second century ce) in the form of a woman. According to the Talmud he was created on the sixth day of creation. His great rival was Michael, the leader of the angels. Satan was deemed capable of assuming any form, and there are accounts in hagiographic literature of his grappling physically with Christian saints.
Both similarities and differences may be noted between Christian and Islamic perceptions regarding Satan. One difference, according to A. J. Wensinck (1971, p. 669) lies in the fact that "Muslim thought remains undecided as to whether he was an angel or a djinn and does not pronounce an opinion on the possibility of his being 'a fallen angel.'" A similarity is found in Satan's characteristic ability of assuming any shape, or none at all. His ability to appear as an angel, the dreaded "midday Devil" of the Psalms, was what made Mary fearful at the Annunciation. As a hātif (one who is heard but not seen), Satan similarly almost beguiled ʿAlī into not washing the body of the Prophet, until ʿAli was corrected by another hātif. Thus the imperative of distinguishing between good and bad spirits due to Satan's operations is common to both Christianity and Islam.
The serpent or snake is perhaps the best-known symbol associated with Satan. Genesis (3:1ff.) mentions the serpent but not Satan; in Romans (16:20), however, Paul suggests that the serpent was Satan, an association already made in apocalyptic literature. This would imply that Satan tempted Adam, but the consensus of early Christina tradition was that Satan fell after Adam (Russell, 1977, p. 232). There may be good reason for believing that not until Origen in the third century ce was it clearly established that Satan's sin was pride, that he fell before Adam's creation, and that he was the serpent in the garden of Eden. Agobard of Lyons (ninth century) saw him as becoming the serpent. In a Jewish text, the Apocalypse of Moses, it is written that the serpent who tempted Eve was merely the tool of Satan, who, as a sinning angel, tempted the serpent to share his envy of Adam and Eve. In later Jewish literature, the identities of Satan and the serpent coalesce, or are closely associated with one another.
Satan is referred to by two different names in the Qurʾānic account of creation: he is called Iblīs when he refuses to bow down before Adam, and al-Shayṭān ("the demon") when he is the tempter (Wensinck, 1971, p. 669). Although there is no allusion to the serpent in the creation account in the Qurʾān, the term shayṭān was probably applied by the Arabs to serpents (Lagton, 1969, p. 9). Once Satan had been identified with nafs, or a human's lower appetites, according to Annemarie Schimmel, the nafs was seen as taking the form of a snake. "This serpent can be turned into a useful rod, just as Moses transformed serpents into rods. More frequent, however, is the idea that the power of the spiritual master can blind the snake; according to folk belief, the snake is blinded by the sight of an emerald (the connection of the pīr's spiritual power with the green color of the emerald is significant). Thus, his influence renders the nafs -snake harmless" (Schimmel, 1975, p. 113). The contrast with the kuṇḍalinī in some forms of yoga is very striking.
Satan is persistently, if not consistently, associated with the serpent. Leaving aside the question of the actual nature of Satan as formulated by the Council of Toledo (447), or the tendency to consider him an imaginative personification of evil, the association with the serpent needs to be accounted for. Several views have been advanced. At a homiletic level, the serpent has been taken to represent cunning. At a psychoanalytic level, the serpent has been associated with emergent sexuality. From a broader, history of religions approach "the serpent is the symbol of the Gods of vegetation; without being the representative of sex as such, he represents the temptations of the divinities that sacralize sex" (Ricoeur, 1967, p. 249). But perhaps in the end one inclines toward the hermeneutic suggested by Ricoeur that the serpent
Represents the aspect of evil that could not be absorbed into the responsible freedom of man, which is perhaps also the aspect that Greek tragedy tried to purify by spectacle, song, and choral invocation. The Jews themselves, although they were well armed against demonology by their intransigent monotheism, were constrained by truth, as Aristotle would say, to concede something, to concede as much as they could without destroying the monotheistic basis of their faith, to the great dualisms which they were to discover after the Exile. The theme of the serpent represents the first landmark along the road of the Satanic theme which, in the Persian epoch, permitted the inclusion of a near-dualism in the faith of Israel. Of course, Satan will never be another god; the Jews will always remember that the serpent is a part of the creation; but at least the symbol of Satan allowed them to balance the movement toward the concentration of evil in man by a second movement which attributed its origin to a prehuman, demonic reality. (Ricoeur, 1967, pp. 258–259)
Although Satan has come to symbolize evil so closely as to become synonymous with it, he has also been associated with some positive concepts. He was worshipped in certain Gnostic circles for enabling knowledge to be brought forth. The Ṣūfī tradition has tended at times to see in him the ultimate monotheist who would bow down before naught but God, even in defiance of God's own command. It is also worth noting that there is no such fixed focus of moral evil as Satan in Hinduism (but see O'Flaherty, 1976), notwithstanding its shared cultural matrix with Buddhism, which did produce the figure of Māra. Despite the nuances of difference in Jewish, Christian, Greek, and Islamic conceptualizations of Satan, they may all share a common heritage.
Interest in Satan has intensified in the past decade, even before President Bush began to speak of the "axis of evil." Elaine Pagels (1995), who phenomenologically brackets the question of the existence of Satan, has carefully delineated the rise of Satan as it were in her works, drawing special attention to how the cosmological split implied by his existence also became a social split in the hands of sectarian groups like the Essenes between "Sons of Light" and "Sons of Darkness," which then runs like a dividing line throughout the history of Christianity in which enemies, both within and without, are identified as "agents of Satan," with Ayotollah's characterisation of U.S.A. as "the Great Satan" representing the inversion of this legacy. Others, such as Whitney S. Bodman (2003) have probed more deeply the sublimely positive role Satan comes to enjoy in Islamic mysticism at times, far beyond Rābiʿah's refusal to denounce him because she was too preoccupied with praising God.
Awn, Peter J. Satan's Tragedy and Redemption: Iblis in Sufi Psychology. Leiden, 1983.
Barton, George A. "Demons and Spirits (Hebrew)." In Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, edited by James Hastings, vol. 4. Edinburgh, 1911.
Bodman, Whitney S. "The Poetics of Iblīs: Narrative Theology in the Qurʾān." Doctoral dissertation. Harvard Divinity School, 2003.
Boyd, James W. Satan and Māra: Christian and Buddhist Symbols of Evil. Leiden, 1975.
Davis, H. Grady, et al. "Biblical Literature." In The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, Macropaedia, vol. 2. Chicago, 1984.
Day, John. God's Conflict with the Dragon and the Sea. Cambridge, 1985.
Langton, Edward. Essentials of Demonology. London, 1949.
Ling, T. O. The Significance of Satan. London, 1961.
O'Flaherty, Wendy Doniger. The Origins of Evil in Hindu Mythology. Berkeley, 1976.
Pagels, Elaine. The Origin of Satan. New York, 1995.
Ricoeur, Paul. The Symbolism of Evil. Translated by Emerson Buchanan. Boston, 1967.
Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York, 1966.
Russell, Jeffrey Burton. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Ithaca, N.Y., 1977.
Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill, N.C., 1975.
Wallace, Ronald S. "Devil." In New International Dictionary of the Christian Church, rev. ed., edited by J. D. Douglas. Grand Rapids, Mich., 1978.
Watt, W. Montgomery. Bell's Introduction to the Qurʾān. Edinburgh, 1970.
Wensinck, A. J. "Iblīs." In The Encyclopaedia of Islam, new ed., vol. 3. Leiden, 1971.
Arvind Sharma (1987 and 2005)
The Hebrew term satan referred to an accuser in the court of law, but most often in the Bible it is used in a metaphorical sense to refer to an adversary of one kind or another. In the Old Testament it appears except in one case (1 Chr 21.1) with a definite article, thus "the satan." The Septuagint translation of the Old Testament term is often diabolus (the basis of the English "devil" and "diabolic"), "accuser" or "slanderer," and in the New Testament the Greek words satanas, satan, and diabolos are used indifferently.
Judeo-Christian concepts about the devil had a long evolution, the stages of which are outlined in the Old Testament, in the writings and tradition of the intertestamental period, in the New Testament, and in Christian tradition and art.
In the Old Testament. The Hebrew verb śāṭan (to oppose, harass someone, especially by accusing him) is the root whence comes the substantive śāṭān, used of the angel who hindered balaam (Nm 22.22) and, in a legal sense, of any accuser or prosecutor [Ps 108 (109).6; Zec3.1–2]. Among the sons of god in Jb 1.6–12, haśśaṭan, the accuser or adversary, apparently had the task of testing and accusing men as a function on behalf of God. His tempting of Job failed, and his prediction of Job's unfaithfulness (Jb 2.4–5) proved incorrect. In 1 Chr 21.1 Satan was much more than the overseer patrolling the earth, charged with reporting man's sins to God; he was the tempter and allurer of man into sin and the adversary of Israel and God. No mention of such a role is found in the more ancient account of this episode in 2 Samuel ch.24. Satan's evil function in 1 Chr 21.1, then, shows that the Chronicler was aware of a personal principle of evil that warred against God and enticed man to rebel against Him. One may safely assume that the lying spirit of 1 Kgs 22.19–23 would have been identified with Satan by a Jew of the Chronicler's period, whereas in the text itself the lying spirit was a personification of the prophetic spirit that Yahweh used to deceive Ahab, or an angel carrying out Yahweh's intentions to punish Ahab. The serpent in Genesis ch. 3 who deceived Eve was eventually identified with the devil through whose envy death entered the world (Wis 2.24). The text of Sir 21.27 (Greek) seems to warn against blaming one's evil tendencies on Satan as if he were the cause of all evil, although the adversary here might have meant simply any enemy of the godless man. It was only very late, then, that Hebrew thought began to identify Satan with an evil force, personal and superhuman, who opposed God by enticing man to sin, although the idea was as ancient as the Yahwistic account of man's primitive rebellion against God (Gn ch. 3).
In the Intertestamental Period. In the traditions handed down by the Jewish rabbis and in the Jewish apocrypha, Satan was described as the arch opponent of Israel and was given such evil-sounding names as Belial (worthlessness) and Sammael (perhaps, God's poison). As the avenger, the tempter, and the troublemaker, he disturbed Israel's covenant relationship with God by tempting man to sin and by trying to frustrate God's benevolent providence. As in Wis 2.24, he was identified with the serpent of Genesis in both the Targums and the midrashic literature. Contact with Persian demonology probably influenced Judaism to solidify its concept of Satan; human life and history with their conflicts became the battleground between good and evil, between God and Satan. A transcendental dualism was thereby introduced into Judaism for the first time.
In the New Testament. The earliest Christian writers almost always transliterated Satan into Greek with the definite article, thereby signifying the adversary of God in a very special sense. The Greek translation of Satan, ὁ διάβολος, whence came the word devil, had the connotation of a slanderous accuser. The devil was called also beelzebul (Mt 5.37) and Beliar, or Belial (2 Cor 6.15). Other characteristic appellations were the evil one (Mt5.37), the accuser (Rv 12.10), the adversary (1 Pt 5.8), and the enemy (Mt 13.39). In Lk 10.18 he is characterized as the leader of the devils who were subject to Christ and His Disciples. He was the tempter of Christ, a murderer, a liar, and the father of murderers and liars (Jn 8.39–44). He was the strong man whom Christ was defeating (Mt 12.29), the prince of the world to be cast out by Jesus' sacrifice (Jn 12.31; 14.30; 16.11), and the instigator of Judas Iscariot (Jn 13.2, 27). He and his evil spirits were doomed to everlasting fire (Mt 25.41). The dragon of Revelation ch. 12, the devil, had two beasts in his service, the symbols of the pagans who persecuted the Church (Revelation ch. 13). His final defeat, already determined in heaven (Rv 12.10–12), would be accomplished by Christ at His return from heaven, His parousia (2 Thes2.1–12). The idea of a personal, superhuman power of evil was, therefore, a constant and integral part of NT thought. Christ's use of the term satan for Peter, who was opposing the divine plan of the Cross, was a return to the more ancient concept of a satan as a hindrance or obstacle (Nm 22.22).
In Christian Tradition and Art. The Fathers echoed the New Testament in calling Satan the adversary, the accuser, and the evil one. The catechumen had to renounce him in the traditional liturgy of Baptism. His power was destroyed by the celebration of the Eucharist, for, in Christian theology, Christ had redeemed men from his power by paying a just ransom.
The devil was first depicted in Christian art in the 6th century, appearing as an angelic figure in miniatures and frescoes. The art of the Middle Ages, however, portrayed him as an ugly and horrifying monster.
In morality plays he was presented as the deceiver of men and adversary of Christ; he could always be recognized, despite his disguise, by the limp (a result of his fall from heaven) that his portrayer affected.
See Also: demon (in the bible).
Bibliography: j. guillet, Themes of the Bible, tr. a. j. lamothe (Notre Dame, IN 1960) 137–170. Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 2134–37. w. foerster and g. von rad, g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935) 2:69–80. h. l. strack and p. billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament, 4v. (Munich 1922–23) 1:136–149. h. vorgrimler, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 9:34l.
[w. f. barnett/eds.]
SATAN (Heb. שָׂטָן). In the Bible, except perhaps for i Chronicles 21:1 (see below), Satan is not a proper name referring to a particular being and a demoniac one who is the antagonist or rival of God. In its original application, in fact, it is a common noun meaning an adversary who opposes and obstructs. It is applied to human adversaries in i Samuel 29:4; ii Samuel 19:23; i Kings 5:18; 11:14, 23, 25, and its related verb is used of prosecution in a law court (Ps. 109:6) and the role of an antagonist in general (Ps. 38:20; 109:4, 20, 29). The angel who was sent to obstruct Balaam (Num. 22:32) was evidently chosen ad hoc, as a satan (le-saṭan), and perhaps the consonants lsṭn are rather to be read as the infinitive lisṭon, "to oppose or obstruct." There is nothing here to indicate that שִׂטְנָה (siṭnah) was the permanent function of a particular angel. "The Satan" as the standing appellation of a particular angel first appears around 520 b.c.e. in Zechariah 3 and then in *Job 1–2. In i Chronicles 21:1, which has already been referred to, the article is disposed with, and "Satan" seems to be a real proper name. In Zechariah 3, the Satan acts as prosecutor in the celestial court; in Job 1–2, he questions Job's integrity in the latter's absence and suggests to the Lord that it be tested. He is clearly subordinate to God, a member of His suite (Heb. bene ha-eʾlohim), who is unable to act without His permission. Nowhere is he in any sense a rival of God. In i Chronicles 21:1, in which Satan is said to have incited David to take a census of Israel which resulted in the death of 70,000 Israelites (21:14), he has obviously been secondarily substituted because of doctrinal consideration for "the Lord," who plays this part.
Satan is not prominent in the Apocrypha and Apocalypses, and, where mentioned, he is barely personalized but merely represents the forces of anti-God and of evil. Thus the Martyrdom of Isaiah (2:2) states that "Manasseh forsook the service of the God of his fathers and he served Satan and his angels and his powers." In the Testament of Gad (4:7) the warning is given that "the spirit of hatred worketh together with Satan through hastiness of spirit." Dan is told to "beware of Satan and his spirits" (6:1; cf. also 3:6 and 5:6; for other references see i En. 54:6; Assumption of Moses 10:1). The legend in the Talmud and Midrash that it was Satan who challenged God to put Abraham to the test of the Akedah (i.e., the sacrifice of Isaac; see below) appears in Jubilees (17:16) where, however, he is called *Mastema.
References in the tannaitic literature are even more sparse, and, with few exceptions, Satan similarly appears merely as the impersonal force of evil. Thus Tosefta Shabbat 17 (18):3 states: "If you see a wicked man setting out on a journey and you wish to go by the same route, anticipate your journey by three days or postpone it for three days, because Satan accompanies the wicked man." The same trend is seen in the injunction "Open not your mouth to Satan" (Ber. 9a; see later), which, though given in the name of an amora, is stated "also to have been taught in the name of R. Yose." R. Johanan's statement of Satan persuading God about the Akedah is also given in the name of a tanna, Yose b. Zimra. The Sifrei (to Deut. 218), making the rebellious son the inevitable consequence of the father succumbing to the beauty of a female captive mentioned in the previous passage, declares: "the father of this one lusted after a beautiful woman (captive) and thus brought Satan into his house." R. Joshua states that the verse "the earth is given into the hands of the wicked" (Job 9:24) refers to Satan (bb 16a). The only personification of Satan found in tannaitic literature is the story of R. Meir spending three days to bring about a reconciliation between two inveterate quarrelers, upon which Satan complained, "He has drawn me out of my home" (Git. 52a). Similarly, R. Akiva was tempted by Satan in the form of a woman, but Satan relented.
In the New Testament Satan emerges as the very personification of the spirit of evil, as an independent personality, the Antichrist. He is the author of all evil (Luke 10:19). In Revelation 12:9 there is the fullest description of him: "that old serpent called the devil and Satan which deceived the whole world. He was cast into the earth and his angels were cast out with him." He is the personal tempter of Jesus (Matt. 4), and it is this New Testament conception of Satan which has entered into popular lore. The Jews who would not accept Jesus are referred to as "the synagogue of Satan" (Rev. 2:9, 3:9).
During the amoraic period, however, Satan became much more prominent in the Talmud and Midrash. An interesting example of the development of the idea of Satan in amoraic times can be seen by a comparison between the Sifrei and the Midrash. The former, in its comment to Numbers 25:1, says "wherever 'dwellings' is mentioned Satan leaps in!" He is frequently referred to as *Samael, but the references which follow refer to the actual name Satan. He appears sometimes in the same impersonal guise as in the Apocrypha and among the tannaim. He is identified with the yeẓer ha-ra (the evil inclination in general) and with the angel of death (bb 16a), but in addition he emerges more and more as a distinct identity. The Satan of Job who challenges God to put Job to the test of suffering is made to play the same role with Abraham. He accuses Abraham that despite the boon of being granted a son in his old age, Abraham did not "have one turtle-dove or pigeon to sacrifice before this," and Abraham is ordered to sacrifice Isaac to prove his obedience to God (Sanh. 89b). In this connection an almost sympathetic view is taken of Satan. His purpose in challenging Job's piety is for a worthy purpose: that God should not forget the greater loyalty of Abraham (bb 16a).
Although he appears as the tempter, he is much more to the fore as the accuser, and the phrase Satan mekatreg ("Satan the accuser"; Gen. R. 38:7; tj, Ber. 1:1, Shab. 2:6) occurs with great frequency. The well-known phrase "open not thy mouth to Satan" is significant in this respect in its context. The Talmud states that when his dead lies before him a mourner should justify the divine judgment by saying: "Sovereign of the Universe, I have sinned before Thee and Thou hast not punished me a thousandth part." To this the objection was raised that he should not say so, since he thereby "gives an opening to Satan" (cf. Rema, yd 376:2).
Satan was responsible for all the sins in the Bible: for the fall of man (pdre 13:1), for the people worshiping the golden calf by telling them that Moses would not return from Mount Sinai (Shab. 89a), and for David's sin with Bath-Sheba (Sanh. 107a). He is associated with the gentile nations in sneering at the Ḥukkim, those laws – such as *sha'atnez and the prohibition of the pig – for which no rational reason can be given, and thus weakening the religious loyalties of the Jews (Yoma 67b; for this tempting of the rabbis, see Kid. 81a–b). The purpose of the sounding of the shofar on Rosh Ha-Shanah is "in order to confuse Satan" (rh 16b), but on the Day of Atonement he is completely powerless. This is hinted at in the fact that the numerical equivalent of Satan is 364, i.e., there is one day in the year on which he is powerless (Yoma 20a).
References to Satan in the liturgy are few and impersonal. The *Hashkivenu prayer of the evening service includes a plea to "remove from us the enemy, pestilence… and Satan" (the adversary), while the morning blessings preceding the Pesukei de-Zimra conclude with R. Judah ha-Nasi's prayer (Ber. 16b) to be spared from "the corrupting Satan." The *reshut of the ḥazzan before Musaf on the High Holy Days includes the sentence "and rebuke the Satan that he accuse me not," and under the influence of the Kabbalah six biblical verses are recited before the sounding of the shofar, the initial letters of which form the acrostic kera Satan ("tear Satan"). During the Middle Ages the Church, basing itself on such passages in the New Testament as "Ye are of your father and the devil" (John 8:44), propounded the doctrine that the Jews were the "spawn of Satan," with many of his characteristics. As such they were less than human beings – sorcerers, magicians, and evildoers – and this theory was a determining factor in the denial of rights to, and persecutions of, the Jews.
N.H. Torczyner (Tur-Sinai), The Book of Job (1957), xvi, 38–45; T.H. Gaster, in: idb, 4 (1962), 224–8 (incl. bibl.). post-biblical: Theologisches Woerterbuch zum Neuen Testament, 2 (1935), 71–80; L. Jung, Fallen Angels in Jewish, Christian, and Muhammedean Literature (1926); Ginzberg, Legends, index s.v.; H.L. Strack and P. Billerbeck, Kommentar zum Neuen Testament aus Talmud und Midrash, 1 (1922), 136–49; J. Trachtenberg, The Devil and the Jews (1943), 18–22, 59–63, 198–200; G. Scholem, Von der mystischen Gestalt der Gottheit (1962), index.
[Louis Isaac Rabinowitz]
Shaitan, Iblis (Islamic), Lucifer, Beelzebub, the Devil
The Old Testament
The Jewish, Christian, and Islamic religions are monotheistic faiths, which means their followers believe in the existence of only one god. That god has a powerful opponent known as Satan, or the Devil. As the three religions developed, Satan's role changed over time. At first, he was a creature under God's control with the task of testing people's faith. In time, however, Satan came to be seen as the prince of darkness, ruler of all evil spirits, enemy of both God and humankind, and source of treachery and wickedness.
Jewish and Christian traditions both offer similar explanations for the Devil's origin. Because God would not create a being of pure evil, Satan was originally an archangel, one of God's most divine or blessed creations. His name is given sometimes as Samael but more often as Lucifer (pronounced LOOS-i-fur), a bright angel called “son of the morning.”
Some accounts say that God cast the archangel out of heaven because he would not honor Adam, the first man created by God. When the jealous archangel refused to acknowledge “a lowly thing made of dirt,” God punished his pride by throwing him down into hell. There, as Satan, the fallen archangel ruled over a kingdom of devils, former angels who had followed him in his fall.
In Islamic tradition, Satan is known as Shaitan or Iblis (pronounced IB-liss). Like the Jewish and Christian Satan, he is a fallen angel who was punished for refusing to bow down before Adam. But Allah permits Iblis to tempt humans to test their faith.
Other versions of the archangel's fall say that he was thrown out of heaven because of his pride—he dared to compete with God's glory. According to a Hebrew myth, on the third day of creation, Lucifer walked in the Garden of Eden covered with brilliant, glittering jewels set in gold. He had become so filled with pride that he planned to rise above the heavens and become God's equal. God cast Satan down, and his glory turned to darkness and ashes.
Christian legends frequently depict Satan as a tempter who tries to lure the faithful into abandoning their faith. Stories such as the legend of Faust show people making bargains with the Devil. They generally give their souls—for which he is always hungry—in exchange for a gift, such as wealth, love, or power. Such bargains always end in terror and despair, unless God steps in to save the poor sinner's soul from Satan.
Satan in Context
The name Satan comes from a Hebrew word meaning “adversary.” It first appears in the Hebrew Bible, or Old Testament. In the book of Job , God allows this adversary—sometimes called Samael (pronounced SAH-mah-el) in Jewish literature—to heap misfortunes on Job (pronounced JOHB) to see whether Job will turn against God. Judaism was influenced by earlier Persian religion, in which good and evil struggle with each other for control of the universe and for power over human hearts and minds. The Jewish Satan took on some characteristics of Ahriman (pronounced AH-ri-muhn), the Persian god of evil and ruler of demons.
After about 300 bce, Satan came to be seen as God's enemy, the source and center of all evil in the world. The serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, was identified with Satan. Since that time, artists and writers have often portrayed Satan as a snake or dragon, or as a monstrous combination of man and dragon. By the time the books of the Bible known as the New Testament were written, Satan's role as the Devil was well established among Christians.
Satan as a mythological character reflects a tendency among many cultures to view the living world as a battleground between the forces of good and the forces of evil. For cultures where belief in a single, all-powerful and loving God prevails, the character of Satan provides an explanation for the existence of death, disease, and misfortune. The idea of Satan has also been used to silence arguments against church doctrine, or accepted teachings. Those who disagree or fail to worship properly were often accused of being agents of Satan, and were punished as heretics (those who believe differendy) for their betrayal of God.
Key Themes and Symbols
As the ruler of Hell, an underworld kingdom of darkness and fire in which sinners are tormented, Satan is sometimes called the “prince of darkness.” The Bible describes him as a “roaring lion” but he is also associated with several other animals, including frogs, dragons , and goats. Popular culture frequently portrays him as looking similar to a mythological satyr, with the lower body of a goat, and the upper body resembling that of a human, except for a pair of horns that come out of his head. The animal with which Satan is most often linked is the snake, an association that stems from the belief that Satan was the snake in the Garden of Eden that first tempted mankind to sin. The snake represents the cunning of Satan, who uses the thoughts of humans to tempt them away from serving God rather than attempt to overtake them by force. The myth of Satan, in its various forms, usually focuses on the idea of temptation as a way to lure people from righteousness. This is illustrated in the myth of the Garden of Eden when Satan, disguised as a snake, tempts Eve to violate the rules God has imposed. It can also be seen in the many myths involving a “deal with the devil,” in which a person is enticed into giving up their soul for something they desire.
Satan in Art, Literature, and Everyday Life
One of the best-known and most influential literary portraits of Satan can be found in Paradise Lost, an epic by the English poet John Milton published in 1667. Satan also appears in Dante's Inferno (1321), frozen in the bottom circle of Hell. Other popular depictions of Satan can be found in Christopher Marlowe's Doctor Faustus (1604), the best-known version of the “make a deal with the devil” story, and the short story “The Devil and Daniel Webster” (1937) by Stephen Vincent Benét.
In modern times, Satan has also appeared as a character in numerous films and television shows. Notable examples include the 1967 comedy Bedazzled, and its 2000 remake in which Satan is played by model-turned-actress Elizabeth Hurley. Other notable supporting appearances by Satan include the 2000 Adam Sandier comedy Little Nicky, in which the demon is portrayed by Harvey Keitel, and the 2007 television series Reaper, in which Ray Wise assumes the role of Satan as he looks to reclaim souls that have escaped from hell.
Read, Write, Think, Discuss
The United States was first referred to as “the Great Satan” in 1979 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the leader of the Islamic government of Iran. Since then, the term has been used by many groups and leaders throughout the Middle East to describe the United States. Why do you think so many people believe the United States deserves this label?
The Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions are monotheistic faiths, which means their followers believe there is only one God. That God has a powerful adversary known as Satan, or the Devil. Satan's role changed over time, as the three religions developed. At first he was a creature under God's control with the task of testing people's faith. In time, however, Satan came to be seen as the prince of darkness, ruler of all evil spirits, enemy of both God and humankind, and source of treachery and wickedness.
adversary enemy; opponent
From Adversary to Devil. The name Satan comes from a Hebrew word meaning "adversary." It first appears in the Hebrew Bible,
* See Names and Places at the end of this volume for further information.
or Old Testament. In the book of Job, God allows this adversary—sometimes called Samael in Jewish literature—to heap misfortunes on Job to see whether Job will turn against God. Judaism was influenced by the dualistic Persian religion in which good and evil struggle with each other for control of the universe and for power over human hearts and minds. The Jewish Satan took on some characteristics of Ahriman, the Persian god of evil and ruler of demons.
After about 300 b.c., Satan came to be seen as God's enemy, the source and center of all evil in the world. The serpent that tempted Adam and Eve in Genesis, the first book of the Bible, was identified with Satan. Since that time, artists and writers have often portrayed Satan as a snake or dragon or as a monstrous combination of man and dragon. By the time the books of the Bible known as the New Testament were written, Satan's role as the Devil was well established among Christians.
The Myth of the Fatten Angel. Jewish and Christian traditions offer similar explanations for the Devil's origin. Because God would not create a being of pure evil, Satan was originally an archangel, one of God's most divine or blessed creations. His name is given sometimes as Samael but more often as Lucifer, a bright angel called son of the morning.
Some accounts say that God cast the archangel out of heaven because he would not honor Adam, the first man created by God. When the jealous archangel refused to acknowledge "a lowly thing made of dirt," God punished his pride by throwing him down into hell. There, as Satan, the fallen archangel ruled over a kingdom of devils, former angels who had followed him in his fall.
dualistic consisting of two equal and opposing forces
In Islamic tradition, Satan is known as Shaytan or Iblis. Like the Jewish and Christian Satan, he is a fallen angel who was punished for refusing to bow down before Adam. But Allah permits Iblis to tempt humans to test their faith.
Other versions of the archangel's fall say that he was thrown out of heaven because of his pride—he dared to compete with God in glory. According to a Hebrew myth, on the third day of creation, Lucifer walked in the Garden of Eden covered with brilliant, glittering jewels set in gold. He had become so filled with pride that he planned to rise above the heavens and become God's equal. God cast Satan down, and his glory turned to darkness and ashes. The Old Testament book of Isaiah describes the archangel's fall:
How art thou fallen from heaven,
O Lucifer son of the morning!
How art thou cast down to the ground,
Which thou who didst weaken the nations!
Christian legends frequently depict Satan as a tempter who tries to lure the faithful into abandoning their faith. Stories such as the legend of Faust show people making bargains with the Devil. They generally give their souls—for which he is always hungry—in exchange for a gift such as wealth, love, or power. Such bargains always end in terror and despair, unless God steps in to save the poor sinner's soul from Satan.
epic long poem about legendary or historical Heroes, written in a grand style
See also Adam and Eve; Ahriman; Angels; Devils and Demons; Faust; Heaven; Hell; Job; Persian Mythology; Semitic Mythology; Serpents and Snakes.
Bible, the word sātān is a common noun (e.g. 1 Samuel 29. 4), and is a human adversary (1 Kings 11. 14, 23, 25). Apart from the figure of the serpent in Genesis 3, there is no figure to correspond to the later tradition. This begins to emerge after the Exile, perhaps under Zoroastrian influence. In Job, ‘the Satan’ is a heavenly figure who tests Job, but always with God's permission (e.g. chs. 1 and 2). In the amoraic period, he becomes a significant individual. He is said to have been responsible for all the sins in the Bible (PdRE 13. 1), and the reason for blowing the shofar on Rosh ha-Shanah is ‘to confuse Satan’ (BRH 16b). In later Judaism (especially kabbalah) he becomes known by other names, e.g. Samael.
New Testament (see also BEELZEBUB). Here the Jewish picture is elaborated.
The identity of Satan as a fallen angel is asserted by Revelation 12. 7–9. The devil, ‘Lucifer’, fell through pride, because he would not submit to God. Satan's defeat by Christ on the cross led to ‘Christus Victor’ theories of atonement, revived and made important in the 20th cent., by G. Aulén: the conquest of personified evil reinforced many Christians in their resistance to totalitarian dictators.
Qurʾān, the adversary. The term describes Iblīs (Gk., diabolos, ‘devil’) and his descendants as they cease to be simply rebellious jinn, and become subverters or tempters of humans (eighty-eight times in thirty-six chapters).
In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word usually denotes a human enemy, but in some of the later books is found as the designation of an angelic being hostile to humankind.
get thee behind me, Satan a rejection of temptation; originally, with biblical allusion to the words of Jesus in Matthew 16:23 in which he rebuked Peter for denying the prophecy that Jesus would be put to death in Jerusalem.
Satan rebuking sin a proverbial expression; recorded from the early 17th century in the form, ‘when vice rebuketh sin’; the meaning is that when this happens, the worst possible stage has been reached. In later use, the emphasis is an ironic comment on the nature of the person delivering the rebuke.