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A name derived from the Greek diabolos, meaning "slanderer." The name is used for the supreme spirit of evil, the enemy of God and man, also known as Satan (or "adversary") in Mat. 4:8-11 and Rev. 12:9.

The idea of Satan was most fully developed in postapostolic Christianity, but as the personification of evil, Satan has many precursors and analogous representations in other religions. Possibly the clearest precursor was Set (or Seth), the antagonist of the Egyptian god of light, Horus. Set was the deity of the desert; Horus, of the life-giving Nile. Set's color was red, and redhaired and ruddy-complected people were on occasion sacrificed because they were identified with him.

In early polygamous religious systems, the gods were pictured in quite human terms, possessing both admirable and detestable attributes at the same time. Very few of them were seen as evil like the devils in Christianity or Islam. In Egypt and Babylon, figures like Apepi and Tiawath, although clearly in the line of evolution toward a satanic personality, were by no means rulers of the infernal regions. Again, the Hades of the Greeks is merely a ruler of the ghosts of the dead, not an enemy of Olympus or of mankind.

It is strange that in Mexico, Mictlantecutli, lord of hell, is a much more directly satanic figure than any European or Asiatic ruler of the realms of the dead. But in some mythologies, there are frequent allusions to monsters that may quite easily have colored the modern concept of Satan. Such is the Hindu serpent Ahi, the Hebrew Leviathan, and the principle of Chaos. Teutonic mythology has the menacing Loki, originally a god of fire, but afterward the personification of evil.

The concept of Satan, too, appears to have some deeply rooted connection with ancient serpent worship, which seems to have penetrated most Oriental countries. Thus we find the Tempter in the Old Testament (Gen. 3) in the guise of a serpent. The serpent or dragon is generally regarded as the personification of night, who swallows the sun and envelops the world in darkness.

It is generally thought that the Hebrew concept of Satan really developed in the postexilic period, though Satan is a major character in the Book of Job, one of the earliest Hebrew writings, and exhibits traces of Babylonian or Assyrian influence. It is unlikely that before the captivity any specific doctrine respecting evil spirits was held by the Hebrews. Writing on this subject, F. T. Hall in his book The Pedigree of the Devil (1883) states:

"The term 'Satan' and 'Satans' which occur in the Old Testament, are certainly not applicable to the modern conception of Satan as a spirit of evil; although it is not difficult to detect in the Old Hebrew mind a fruitful soil, in which the idea, afterwards evolved, would readily take root. The original idea of a 'Satan' is that of an 'adversary,' or agent of 'opposition.' The angel which is said to have withstood Balaam is in the same breath spoken of as 'The angel of the Lord,' and a 'Satan.' When the Philistines under Achish their king were about to commence hostilities against the Israelites under Saul and David and his men were about to march with the Philistines; the latter objected, lest, in the day of battle, David should become a 'Satan' to them, by deserting to the enemy. When David, in later life, was returning to Jerusalem, after Absalom's rebellion and death; and his lately disaffected subjects were, in turn, making their submission; amongst them came the truculent Shimei; Abishai, David's nephew, one of the fierce sons of Zeruiah, advised that Shimei should be put to death: this grated upon David's feelings, at a time when he was filled with exuberant joy at his own restoration; and he rebuked Abishai as a 'Satan.' Again Satan is said to have provoked David to number Israel, and at the same time, that 'the Lord moved David to number Israel;' a course strenuously opposed by Joab, another of the sons of Zeruiah. Solomon in his message to Hiram, king of Tyre, congratulated himself on having no 'Satans' and that this peaceful immunity from discord enabled him to build the Temple, which had been forbidden to his warlike father, David. This immunity was not, however, lasting; for Hadad, the Edomite, and Regon, of Zobah, became 'Satans' to Solomon, after his profuse luxury had opened the way for corruption and disaffection. In all these cases, the idea is simply identical with the plain meaning of the word: a Satan is an opponent, an adversary. In the elaborate curse embodied in the 109th Psalm, the writer speaks of his enemies as his 'Satans' and prays that the object of his anathema may have 'Satan' standing at his right hand. The Psalmist himself, in the sequel, fairly assumes the office of his enemy's 'Satan,' by enumerating his crimes and failings, and exposing them in their worst light. In the 71st Psalm, enemies (v. 10) are identified with 'Satans' or adversaries (v. 13).

"The only other places in the Old Testament where the word occurs, are in the Book of Job, and the prophecy of Zechariah. In the Book of Job, Satan appears with a distinct personality, and is associated with the sons of God, and in attendance with them before the throne of Jehovah. He is the cynical critic of Job's actions, and in that character he accuses him of insincerity and instability; and receives permission from Jehovah to test the justice of this accusation, by afflicting Job in everything he holds dear. We have here the spy, the informer, the public prosecutor, the executioner; all embodied in Satan, the adversary: these attributes are not amiable ones, but the writer does not suggest the absolute antagonism between Jehovah and Satan, which is a fundamental dogma of modern Christianity."

In later Judaism the concept of Satan is strongly colored by Persian dualism, and it has been supposed that Asmodeus of the Book of Tobit is the same as Aeshara Daewa of the ancient Persians. Both "Satan" and "Satans" are mentioned in the Book of Enoch; in Ecclesiasticus, Satan is identified with the serpent of Genesis; and in the Book of the Secrets of Enoch his revolt against God and expulsion from heaven are described. In the Jewish Targinn, Samael, highest of the angels, merges with Satan into a single personality.

Satan in the Christian New Testament clearly builds on these later Jewish forms. In Matthew he is alluded to as the "Prince of Demons," and in Ephesians he is spoken of as ruling over a world of evil beings who dwell in the lower heavens. Thus he is prince of the powers of the air. In Revelation the war in heaven between God and Satan is described, and Satan's imprisonment is foreshadowed after the overthrow of the Beast and the kings of the earth; he will be chained in the bottomless pit for 1,000 years (Rev. 20). After another period of freedom he will be cast into the lake of brimstone forever.

The orthodox doctrine of Satan developed over a number of centuries. Satan as an independent topic of theological inquiry was not prominent. Christ was seen as gaining the victory over Satan and his kingdom, and only in the early Middle Ages did theologians turn their attention to a consideration of Satan's continuing influence in the world. Over the centuries a complete picture of Satan and his cohorts would grow, and with his emergence would come a new appreciation of the devil's continued active opposition to the church.

A major step in the definition of Satan occurred in the late fifteenth century with the new definition of witchcraft previously understood as a surviving remnant of paganismas Satanism, (i.e., devil worship ). During the three centuries of the great witch-hunts, the devil was assigned a new and significant role as the supernatural cause of evil in the mundane world. That belief was not disturbed by the Reformation of the sixteenth century, and the Protestants shared Roman Catholic ideas about the devil and his demonic assistants. These beliefs were assailed in seventeenth-and eighteenth-century critiques of the anti-witchcraft crusades and in the post-Enlightenment theologies of the nineteenth century. Supernatural explanations of evil gave way to more natural interpretations.

Modern Belief in Satan

Of course, belief in the existence and power of Satan never disappeared, and in the 1960s various forces converged to produce a revival of belief in the devil. In the 1960s conservative Protestantism, which had been pushed out of the power centers of the major denominations in the 1930s, experienced a resurgence. At the same time, Western culture was undergoing a quantum leap in religious pluralism. New religions appeared in significant numbers, among them a new nature-oriented religion that took the name witchcraft.

In 1966 Anton LaVey announced the formation of the Church of Satan. Though he preached a very sanitized and secularized form of Satanism, and he never had more than a few thousand followers, the very existence of public Satanists provided a prominent symbol used by conservative Christians to argue for the existence of supernatural evil.

The 1970s became a decade of popular attention to issues of supernatural evil and the work of the devil. Several movies, including Rosemary's Baby (1968), The Exorcist (1973), and The Omen (1976) helped define an era in which public discourse on Satan and Satanism reached a new peak, and numerous books on Satan, demonic possession, exorcism, and devil worship were published. The fashionable interest in Satan faded, only to breed a pop-culture interest in demonic creatures such as vampire s, werewolves, witches, poltergeist s, and gremlins. Interest in supernatural forces and beings lasted throughout the remainder of the twentieth century, but during the 1990s angels and positive light forces were vogue in western culture. The devil continues to hold the modern imagination, however, and belief in the existence of Satan continues in the general public. In reality, exorcism is still practiced in both conservative Roman Catholic circles and Pentecostal Protestant churches.


Ashton, John. The Devil in Britain and America. London, 1896. Reprint, Detroit: Gale Research, 1974.

Baskin, Wade. Dictionary of Satanism. New York: Philosophical Library, 1972.

Carus, Paul. History of the Devil and the Idea of Evil. LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing, 1974. Reprint, Bell Publishing, 1974.

Kelly, Henry Ansgar. The Devil, Demonology, and Witchcraft: The Development of Christian Beliefs in Evil Spirits. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1968.

Lyons, Arthur. Satan Wants You: The Cult of Devil Worship. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1970. London: Hart-Davis, 1971.

Michelet, Jules. The Sorceress. London, 1905. Reprinted as Satanism and Witchcraft: A Study in Medieval Superstition. New York: Dell, 1971. Reprint, New York: Citadel Press, 1973.

Morgan, Genevieve and Tom Morgan. The Devil. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 1996.

Nauman, St. Elmo, Jr., ed. Exorcism Through the Ages. New York: Philosophical Library, 1974.

Olson, Alan M., ed. Disguises of the Demonic: Contemporary Perspectives on the Power of Evil. New York: Association Press, 1975.

Philpott, Kent. Manual of Demonology and the Occult. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1973.

Remy, Nicolas. Demonolatry. 1595. Reprint, New Hyde Park, N.Y.: University Books, 1974.

Rhodes, H. T. F. The Satanic Mass. New York: Citadel, 1955. Reprint, London, 1973.

Robbins, Rossell Hope. The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft and Demonology. New York: Crown Publishers, 1959.

Rudwin, Maximilian J. The Devil in Legend and Literature. LaSalle, Ill.: Open Court Publishing, 1973.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1977.

. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1984.

. Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Thompson, Richard Lowe. The History of the Devil. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929.

Wall, J. Charles. Devils. London, 1904. Reprint, Detroit: Singing Tree Press, 1968.

Woods, William H. History of the Devil. London, 1973, New York: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1974.


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dev·il / ˈdevəl/ • n. 1. (usu. the Devil) (in Christian and Jewish belief) the chief evil spirit; Satan. ∎  an evil spirit; a demon. ∎  a very wicked or cruel person: they prefer voting for devils than for decent men. ∎  a mischievously clever or self-willed person: the cunning old devil is up to something. ∎  inf. a person with specified characteristics: the poor devil | a lucky devil. ∎  (the devil) fighting spirit; wildness: he was dangerous when the devil was in him. ∎  (the devil) a thing that is very difficult or awkward to do or deal with: it's going to be the very devil to disentangle.2. (the devil) expressing surprise or annoyance in various questions or exclamations: “Where the devil is he?”3. an instrument or machine, esp. one fitted with sharp teeth or spikes, used for tearing or other destructive work.4. inf., dated a junior assistant of a lawyer or other professional. See also printer's devil. • v. (dev·iled, dev·il·ing; Brit. dev·illed, dev·il·ling) 1. [intr.] inf., dated act as a junior assistant for a lawyer or other professional.2. [tr.] harass or worry (someone): he was deviled by a new-found fear.PHRASES: between the devil and the deep (blue) sea caught in a dilemma.devil a —— archaic not even one or any: the devil a man of you stirred himself over it.devil-may-care cheerful and reckless: lighthearted, devil-may-care young pilots.a devil of a —— inf. used to emphasize great size or degree: we are in a devil of a mess here.the devil is in the details the details of a matter are its most problematic aspect.the devil to pay serious trouble to be dealt with: there was the devil to pay when we got home.the devil's own —— inf. used to emphasize the difficulty or seriousness of something: he was in the devil's own hurry.go to the devil1. said in angry rejection or condemnation of someone.2. fall into moral depravity: he must go to the devil in his own the devil with great speed or energy: he drove like the the devil with have a damaging or disruptive effect on: this brandy plays the devil with one's emotions!speak (or talk) of the devil said when a person appears just after being mentioned.ORIGIN: Old English dēofol (related to Dutch duivel and German Teufel), via late Latin from Greek diabolos ‘accuser, slanderer’ (used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew śạ̄tān ‘Satan’), from diaballein ‘to slander,’ from dia ‘across’ + ballein ‘to throw.’


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The supreme evil spirit. The term devil is derived from the Greek word διάβολος, which etymologically means an accuser, a slanderer. In classical Greek the word διάβολος was applied, as a noun or an adjective ("slanderous"), only to men, and in this way it is used also in 1 Tm 3.11; 2 Tm 3.3; Ti 2.3. The Septuagint, however, used the term διάβολος to translate the Hebrew term haśśāān (the accuser, the adversary), and so also in the New Testament διάβολος (the devil) is a common synonym for the somewhat less frequently used term σατάν or σαταν[symbol omitted]ς (Satan). Other New Testament synonyms for the devil are beelzebul, Belial, the Evil One ( πονηρός: Mt 13.19, 38; Jn 17.15; Eph 6.16; etc., and most likely Mt 5.37; 6.13), the Accuser ( κατήγωρ: Rv 12.10), the Tempter (Mt 4.3), the Great Dragon and the Ancient Serpent (Rv 12.9), the Prince of This World (Jn 12.31; 14.30; 16.11), and the God of This World (2 Cor4.4). The only New Testament occurrence of the term "a devil" (without the definite article in Greek) is in Jn 6.70, where Jesus speaks of Judas Iscariot as a devil, no doubt because Judas was already in the power of the devil (Jn 13.2, 27). Although strictly speaking there is only one devil, just as there is only one Satan, the term is often used broadly in the plural (devils) as a synonym for demons (though never thus in the Bible). see demon (in the bible). For the teaching of the Bible on the devil and for the treatment of the devil in Christian art, see satan.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, translated and adapted by l. hartman (New York, 1963) 564565. f. horst, Die Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart, 7 v. (3d ed. Tübingen 195765) 6:705707. e. krebs, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. m. buchberger, 10 v. (Freiburg 193038) 10:1017.

[l. f. hartman]


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devil in Christian and Jewish belief, the supreme spirit of evil, Satan. The Devil is traditionally represented with horns, cloven hooves, and a forked tail, all signs of his demonic origin. The name is recorded from Old English (in form dēofol) and comes ultimately via late Latin from Greek diabolos ‘accuser, slanderer’ (used in the Septuagint to translate Hebrew śāṭān ‘Satan’), from diaballein ‘to slander’.
the Devil can quote scripture for his own ends it is possible for someone engaged in wrongdoing to quote selectively from the Bible in apparent support of their position. The saying, recorded from the late 16th century, alludes to the temptation of Christ by the Devil (Matthew ch. 4), and to the Devil's citation of Psalm 91:11, ‘he shall give his angels charge over thee,’ in his challenge to Jesus to throw himself from a pinnacle of the Temple to show that God would not allow him to be hurt.
the Devil finds work for idle hands to do someone who has no work to do will get into mischief. The saying is recorded from the early 18th century, but idleness and mischief are linked in a letter of St Jerome (c. ad 342–420), ‘fac et aliquid operis, ut semper te diabolus inveniat occupatum [do something, so that the devil may always find you busy].’
the Devil is in the details the most difficult part of planning and achieving something is the detailed specification rather than the overall concept. The saying is recorded from the late 20th century; the comment ‘God is in the details’ is attributed to the German-born architect and designer Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969).
the Devil is not so black as he is painted someone may not be as bad as their reputation. The saying is recorded from the mid 16th century, but a 15th-century French saying runs, ‘a man is not always as devilish as he is black.’
the Devil looks after his own often used to comment on the good fortune of someone undeserving. Recorded from the early 18th century, but an early 17th-century source, Day's Isle of Gulls (1607), has ‘You were worse than the devil else, for they say he helps his servants.’
the Devil makes his Christmas pies of lawyers' tongues and clerks' fingers proverbial saying, late 16th century, in which the lawyers' tongues and clerks' fingers stand for the words and actions of the legal profession as welcomed by the Devil.
devil's advocate a person appointed by the Roman Catholic Church to challenge a proposed beatification or canonization, or the verification of a miracle.
devil's bones dice, a name recorded from the mid 17th century.
the Devil's children have the Devil's luck proverbial saying, late 17th century, comparable to the Devil looks after his own.
devil's dozen thirteen.
Devil's Island a rocky island off the coast of French Guiana, used from 1852 as a penal settlement, especially for political prisoners. The last prisoner was released in 1953.
devil's picture books playing cards; a name recorded from the late 18th century.
Devil take the hindmost a shortened version of every man for himself, and the Devil take the hindmost, recorded from the early 17th century.
the Devil was sick, the Devil a saint would be; the Devil was well, the devil a saint was he! promises made in adversity may not be kept in prosperity. The saying is recorded in English from the early 17th century, but is the variant of a medieval Latin proverb.
what is got over the Devil's back is spent under his belly what is gained improperly will be spent on folly and debauchery. The saying is recorded from the late 16th century.
why should the Devil have all the best tunes attributed to the English evangelist Rowland Hill (1744–1833), and referring to the fact that many hymns were sung to popular secular tunes. The saying is recorded from the mid 19th century.


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176. Devil (See also Demon.)

  1. Adramalech leader of fallen angels. [Br. Lit.: Paradise Lost ]
  2. adversary traditional appellation of Satan [O.T.: Job 1:6; N.T.: I Peter 5:8]
  3. Amaimon king of eastern portion of hell. [Medieval Legend: Brewer Dictionary, 28]
  4. Apollyon Biblical name for Satan. [N.T.: Revelation 9:11]
  5. Applegate, Mr. devil to whom aging Joe Boyd sells his soul to become a youthful champion outfielder. [Am. Lit.: Wallop The Year the Yankees Lost the Pennant; Damn Yankees ]
  6. Auld Ane literally, old one; nickname for demon. [Scot. Folklore: Walsh Modern, 35]
  7. Auld Hornie Scottish appellation for the devil. [Scot. Folklore: Leach, 353]
  8. Azazel Satans standard bearer. [Br. Lit.: Paradise Lost ]
  9. Beelzebub prince of demons. [N.T.: Matthew 12:24]
  10. Belial chief of fiends. [O.T.: I Samuel 2:12]
  11. Cathleen sells her soul to the devil in exchange for the souls of starving Irish peasants. [Irish Drama: Yeats Countess Cathleen in Benét, 228]
  12. Clootie Scottish appellation for the devil. [Scot. Folklore: Leach, 353]
  13. Darkness, Prince of The Prince of Darkness, alias the Devil. [Br. Lit.: Alls Well That Ends Well ]
  14. the Deuce New England appellation for the devil. [Am. Folklore: Leach, 353]
  15. Devils, Prince of the biblical equivalent for Satan. [N.T.: Matthew 9:34]
  16. divis devils shown as cat-headed men with horns and hooves. [Pers. Myth.: Barber & Riches]
  17. Eblis devil and father of devils, called Azazel before his fall. [Islam: Brewer Dictionary 319]
  18. Faust (Dr. Faustus ) sells his soul to the devil in order to comprehend all experience. [Ger. Lit.: Goethe Faust ; Br. Drama: Marlowe Doctor Faustus ]
  19. Iblis (Eblis ) Moslem prince of darkness; chief evil spirit. [Islam: Leach, 513]
  20. Lucifer a Biblical name for Satan. [O.T.: Isaiah 14:12]
  21. Master Leonard grand-master of sabbats and orgies. [Medieval Demonology: Brewer Handbook, 684]
  22. Mephistopheles fiend to whom Faust sells his soul. [Ger. Lit.: Faust ]
  23. Mysterious Stranger, The devil appears as a pleasant stranger, convinces a boy of the falseness of morals and the nonexistence of God. [Am. Lit.: Twain The Mysterious Stranger in Benét, 697]
  24. Nickie-Ben a Scottish name for Satan. [Scot. Folklore: Wheeler, 258]
  25. Old Nick Satan himself. [Western Folklore: Brewer Dictionary, 755]
  26. Old Scratch Satan. [Eng. Usage: Brewer Dictionary, 973; Am. Lit.: The Devil and Daniel Webster]
  27. Peter, Meister German euphemism alluding to the devil. [Ger. Folklore: Leach, 353]
  28. Satan the devil himself, source of all evil. [O.T.: Job 12]

Devotion (See FAITHFULNESS .)


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Devil. In Jewish scripture, the figure of Satan is that of an adversary (1 Kings 11. 14), allowed by God to engage in his probing work (Job 1–2, Zecheriah 3. 1 f., 1 Chronicles 21.1; cf. 2 Samuel 24. 1). In later Judaism, although Jewish folklore includes stories about Ashmedai, the king of demons and Lilith his queen, the figure of the devil is not significant.

In both Christianity and Islam, the devil and Satan are at times identified, and yet also appear as separate figures.

The devil is named in the Qurʾān Iblīs, perhaps from Gk., diabolos, though Muslims derive the name from Arab., balasa, ‘he despaired’ (sc. of the mercy of God). But he is also al-Shaitān, Satan, and ‘the enemy of God’.

Although Iblīs and (al-)Shaitān are identified, Shaitan also has a distinct existence, perhaps as the leader of the jinn.

See also DEMON for near-equivalent figures in other religions.


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117. Devil

See also 114. DEMONS ; 146. EVIL ; 183. GOD and GODS ; 203. HELL ; 349. RELIGION ; 367. SIN ; 392. THEOLOGY .

a person who denies the existence of the devil.
1. belief in or worship of the devil.
2. Theology. an action aided or prompted by the devil; sorcery; witchcraft. diabolist , n.
diabology, diabolology
1. the study of the devil.
2. devil lore.
the beliefs of the Izedis, a Mesopotamian sect said to worship the devil. Also Yezdism, Yezidism . Izedi, Yezdi, Yezidi, n.
belief in the existence of only one devil. Cf. polydiabolism .
a Gnostic doctrine that the material world expresses the personality of Satan.
the belief that many devils exist. Cf. monodiabolism .
1. the worship of Satan or evil powers.
2. a parody of Christian ceremonies in which the devil is worshiped. Satanist , n.
the appearance of Satan on earth.
Yezdism, Yezidism


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devil the supreme spirit of evil; malignant being OE.; printer's apprentice XVII; (highly seasoned) fried or boiled dish XVIII. OE. dēofol = OS. diubul, -al (Du. duivel), OHG. tiufal (G. teufel), ON. djǫfull, Goth. diab(a)ulus. The Goth. forms were directly — Gr. diábolos prop. accuser, slanderer, f. diabállein slander, traduce, f. diá across + bállein throw. The other Gmc. forms were — ChrL. diabolus (whence also (O)F. diable, etc.).
Hence devil vb. †play the devil XVI; grill, broil (with hot condiments) XVIII; act as devil to a lawyer or writer XIX. devilish XV; see -ISH 1. devilry XIV; after (O)F. diablerie.


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devil Evil spirit considered in many religions to be the arch-enemy of the Supreme being. In Christianity, the Devil is the chief of the fallen angels cast out of heaven for their sins. The devil was named as Satan, Beelzebub or the Prince of Darkness. The biblical account of Christ's temptation in the desert leads to the perception of the Devil as the tempter of souls. In Islam, Iblis is the name of the devil figure, the supreme tempter.