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Demon (in the Bible)


As used in the Bible, the word demon designates an evil spirit. Originally, however, the Greek word δαίμων, from which the English word demon is ultimately derived, meant a divine being, normally regarded as good; thus, the term ο δαίμονες is used in Homer in the meaning of "the gods." Later this word and, more commonly, its neuter adjective δαιμόνιον, like the Latin word genius, were frequently used of lesser spirits, demigods, especially men's guardian spirits or spirits that influenced men's characters. Still later, the word δαιμόνιον (borrowed into Latin as daemonium ) was applied to evil spirits, spirits that tormented men or caused them harm.

In the Old Testament and Judaism. Although belief in demons as evil spirits was widespread in the ancient Near East, demonology played an insignificant role in the older books of the Old Testament. For the Israelite, evil as well as good was sent by Yahweh or by His (good) messengers (malākîm, angels) who were commissioned by Him to punish men (e.g., 2 Sm 24.1617; cf. Ex 12.23). Even satan was originally thought of as Yahweh's obedient servant sent to test men (Jb 1.612;

2.17) or to accuse them of wrongdoing before His tribunal (Zec 3.12). Popular Israelite religion, however, laid more stress on the power of evil spirits (šēdîm ), whom orthodox Yahwism identified with pagan gods [Dt 32.17; Ps 105 (106).3637]. The ghosts of the dead (called 'ĕlōhîm, gods, in 1 Sm 28.13) were apparently regarded as quasi demons, with whom converse was strictly forbidden (1 Sm 28.9; Lv 20.27; Dt 18.11; see necroman cy). The word śā'îr (hairy?), which probably designated originally a species of desert owl (Is 13.21; 34.14), as did the word lîlît (Is 34.14), was used in postexilic times as a name for certain demons, traditionally translated as satyrs (Lv 17.7; 2 Chr 11.15). Perhaps also postexilic was the concept of Azazel as a desert-dwelling demon to whom the scapegoat was sent on the Day of Atonement (Lv 16.8, 10, 26).

However, in the late books of the Old Testament, the Old Testament apocrypha, and the rabbinical writings of the time of Christ, demons became much more important and were known by various names, especially unclean spirits. They were regarded not only as causing men physical harm, but also as seducing them to moral evil, and they were therefore considered God's enemies (e.g., Enoch, Ethiopic 9.8; 10.8; 64.2; Jubilees 7.27; 10.1;11.4). According to Jewish speculation, the demons were fallen angels whose fall consisted either (as in Enoch, Ethiopic ch. 15; Jubilees 5.1; 10.5) in having sexual intercourse with women (the "sons of God" and the "daughters of men" of Gn 6.4) or (as in Enoch, Slavic ch. 7; Vita Adam ch. 15) in rebelling, under the leadership of Satan, against God. These concepts had probably been influenced by Iranian dualism, with which the Jews in the Babylonian Diaspora came in contact. Such influence can scarcely be doubted in the case of Asmodaeus, the evil demon of the Book of Tobit (Tb 3.8; 8.3), who even had an Iranian name.

In the New Testament. The term ο δαίμονες (the demons) occurs only in Mt 8.31, but the terms (τ) δαιμόνιον and τά δαιμόνια are of frequent occurrence in the New Testament. Naturally the New Testament reflects largely the ideas about the demons that were current among the Jews of the time; this is especially true in the vivid imagery of the Apocalypse (Rv 16.1314; 18.2). St. Paul alludes to the Old Testament idea that the demons are the pagan gods (1 Cor 10.2021), but the concept of the demons and unclean spirits as causing men physical harm is not stressed in the New Testament (2 Cor 12.7), apart from the many references to demoniacs. [see dia bolical possession (in the bible).] The New Testament is concerned primarily with the moral aspect of demons as hostile to man's spiritual good (Eph 6.12; 1 Jn 4.13), and Christ's power to overcome the physical harm that the demons can do is really symbolic of His conquest of spiritual evil and His establishment of the kingdom of God (Mt 12.28; Mk 3.2226; Lk 11.20). The New Testament words on the demons should not be discarded as empty mythology. While it may be granted that they are colored by the folklore of the time (e.g., in Mk5.1213; Lk 11.2426), they contain theological truths of great value.

Iconography. Representations of demons in the art of the Christian West did not begin until the 12th century, but from then on they are very common. In the Middle Ages demons were portrayed in the most horrible and frightening forms the artists could imagine, especially as tormenting the damned in hell. From the 14th to the 16th century a common theme was St. anthony of egypt being tempted by demons; well known are such paintings in the museums of Lisbon and the Prado by Hieronymus Bosch. Also, the fall of the rebellious angels from heaven was a favorite theme of the artists, e.g., the painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder in the Royal Museum of Brussels. In folk art, demons were commonly portrayed with bat wings, horns, a pointed tail, and birdlike claws.

Bibliography: Encyclopedic Dictionary of the Bible, tr. and adap. by l. hartman (New York 1963) 545548. r. schnackenburg, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner (Freiburg 195765) 3:141142. m. gruenthaner, "The Demonology of the O.T.," The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 6 (1944) 627. d. sabbatucci et al., Encyclopedia of World Art (New York 1959) 4:306335.

[l. f. hartman]

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