The Satan Myth
The Modern Concept of Evil
Today, when you speak of Satan, the thought comes to mind of the embodiment of evil. Of a narcissistic angel who rebelled against God, an angel who waged a heavenly war to take God’s throne and who was eventually cast out taking a third of the angelic host with him.
Where did these ideas come from? Was there really a war in heaven, and was God’s sovereignty really in jeopardy? In this article, I will discuss these concepts in three parts. First, I will uncover the evidence of Satan in the Hebrew scriptures, called the Old Testament by Christians. Second, I will examine the New Testament record of Satan. Finally, I will uncover the true origin of the Satan myth.
The Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament)
- The Devil
Looking at the Hebrew scripture, you would expect to find the devil everywhere. You would almost swear Satan was there from the very beginning, spreading lies and mischief. This is not the case though. The word devil only appears 4 times in a few English translations. These are Leviticus 17:7; Deuteronomy 32:17; 2 Chronicles 11:15; and finally Psalm 106:37.
In Lev. 17:7 and 2 Chr. 11:15, the Hebrew word translated as devils is saiyr, which is just a hairy goat. When you examine these two verses, you will realize that what the KJV translators considered devils were in fact idols of goats. Looking at the entire context of Lev. 17, you will notice that the Hebrews were still sacrificing their animals to these idols. God then commands Moses to instruct the Hebrews:
And the LORD spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto Aaron, and unto his sons, and unto all the children of Israel, and say unto them; This is the thing which the LORD hath commanded, saying, What man soever there be of the house of Israel, that killeth an ox, or lamb, or goat, in the camp, or that killeth it out of the camp, And bringeth it not unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, to offer an offering unto the LORD before the tabernacle of the LORD; blood shall be imputed unto that man; he hath shed blood; and that man shall be cut off from among his people: To the end that the children of Israel may bring their sacrifices, which they offer in the open field, even that they may bring them unto the LORD, unto the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, unto the priest, and offer them for peace offerings unto the LORD. And the priest shall sprinkle the blood upon the altar of the LORD at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation, and burn the fat for a sweet savor unto the LORD. And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations. Leviticus 17:1-7 KJV [emphasis mine]
The Hebrews were commanded by God to bring their sacrifices to His altar;
And the LORD said unto Moses, Thus thou shalt say unto the children of Israel, Ye have seen that I have talked with you from heaven. Ye shall not make with me gods of silver, neither shall ye make unto you gods of gold. An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name, I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee. And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it. Neither shalt thou go up by steps unto mine altar, that thy nakedness is not discovered thereon. Exodus 20:22-26 KJV [emphasis mine]
When you read these together with 2 Chr. 11:15, you will see that these verses are speaking of idols, and not devils in the sense of an individual or collective entity. Let’s look at 2 Chronicles 11:15:
And he ordained him priests for the high places, and for the devils, and for the calves which he had made. 2 Chr. 11:15 KJV [emphasis mine]
Here you can see that devils really are just goat idols “which he had made” and not devils in the modern concept.
In Deuteronomy 32:17 and Psalm 106:37 the Hebrew word translated as devils is sheidim the plural of sheid. This is a noun derived from the verb shud meaning to waste or to destroy. In the entire Hebrew scripture this verb is used only once in Psalm 91:6:
Nor for the pestilence that walketh in darkness; nor for the destruction that wasteth (yashud) at noonday. Ps. 91:6 KJV [transliteration mine]
Yashud is the imperfect simple verb conjugation of shud. Taking this as our qualifier, we can see that the noun derivatives simply mean a waste. Now let’s look at these two verses again and place a more correct translation of the word sheidim.
יִזְבְּחוּ לַשֵּׁדִים לֹא אֱלֹהַ אֱלֹהִים לֹא יְדָעוּם | חֲדָשִׁים מִקָּרֹב בָּאוּ לֹא שְׂעָרוּם אֲבֹתֵיכֶם׃
They sacrificed to wastes, a non-divinity, gods they did not know, new ones that come lately whom their fathers did not fear. (My translation)
Verse 21, I believe, supports this translation:
They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities (KJV)
קִנְאוּנִי בְלֹא אֵל כִּעֲסוּנִי בְּהַבְלֵיהֶם
They made me jealous by a non-divinity, they angered me with their vanities. (My translation)
Psalm 106:37 shows this to be accurate, as they sacrificed even their children to these idols which are not a living deity; let’s look at the whole context, which will make this as clear as the nose on your face:
They did not destroy the nations, concerning whom the LORD commanded them: But were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works. And they served their idols: which were a snare unto them. Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils, And shed innocent blood, even the blood of their sons and of their daughters, whom they sacrificed unto the idols of Canaan: and the land was polluted with blood. Thus were they defiled with their own works and went a whoring with their own inventions. Psalm 106:34-39 (KJV) [emphasis mine]
I dare not say that the Hebrews were capable of giving life to these devils. I would rather hold them to be just what the scripture says, namely: idols of their works and their inventions. In every case where the English translation is devils we now know that this does not mean an independent living entity. Rather it simply means an idol, or specifically a hairy goat idol.
Again, using the Hebrew scripture as our guide, we would expect to find Satan from the very beginning. However, in the English translations, the first appearance of Satan is in 1 Chronicles 21.
And Satan stood up against Israel and provoked David to number Israel. 1 Chr. 21:1 (KJV)
This is the first time, according to the English translations, the word satan appears. Here he provokes David to number Israel. This is in violation of God’s command given to Moses; Ex. 30:11-16. Israel was to be numbered not by counting the individual, but by counting the half shekel given as the atonement money. This incurred God’s wrath:
And God was displeased with this thing; therefore he smote Israel. 1 Chr. 21:7 (KJV)
What the funny thing is, there is a similar passage in 2 Samuel 24:1, however, there is one major difference:
And again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them to say, Go, number Israel and Judah. 2 Sam. 24:1 (KJV) [emphasis mine]
Did you catch it? According to 2 Samuel, it was God Himself who provoked David to number Israel. Notice how the KJV translators misdirect in the translation of the word provoke here. The Hebrew of both verses are identical:
וַיַּעֲמֹד שָׂטָן עַל יִשְׂרָאֵל | וַיָּסֶת אֶת דָּוִיד לִמְנוֹת אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל: 1 Chr. 21:1
וַיֹּסֶף אַף יְהוָה לַחֲרוֹת בְּיִשְׂרָאֵל | וַיָּסֶת אֶת דָּוִד בָּהֶם לֵאמֹר לֵךְ מְנֵה אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל וְאֶת יְהוּדָה: 2 Sam. 24:1
The phrase of both verses is wayaset et david. Here yaset is the imperfect causative of sut meaning to provoke or incite. According to the former, it was Satan who caused the provocation, and in the later, it was God who caused the provocation. Which one is correct?
The answer is in the way the Hebrew scripture portrays God and Satan. It may be a surprise to you, but Satan is not the cause of evil, nor of temptation to evil. Who is? I am glad you asked.
According to the Hebrew scripture, God is the Creator, and there is none besides Him. He created everything, even evil. Let’s look at the proof.
I am the LORD, and there is none else, there is no God beside me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none beside me. I am the LORD, and there is none else. I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. Isaiah 45:5-7 (KJV) [emphasis mine]
It is God who sets evil before us:
See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil Deuteronomy 30:15 (KJV)
It is God who causes evil in a city:
Shall a trumpet be blown in the city, and the people not be afraid? shall there be evil in a city, and the LORD hath not done it? Amos 3:6 (KJV)
Contrary to Christian theology, God is the creator of evil. He uses evil, and temps His servants with evil to see if they will follow Him with all their hearts:
If there arise among you a prophet, or a dreamer of dreams, and giveth thee a sign or a wonder, And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, which thou hast not known, and let us serve them; Thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams: for the LORD your God proveth you, to know whether ye love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. Ye shall walk after the LORD your God, and fear him, and keep his commandments, and obey his voice, and ye shall serve him, and cleave unto him. Deuteronomy 13:1-4 (KJV) [emphasis mine]
The Hebrew for the word proveth is m’naseh, an intensive active participle of nasah meaning to tempt. This same word is translated tempt in Genisis 22:1:
And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am. Gn 22:1 (KJV) [emphasis mine]
Here is the Hebrew:
וַיְהִי אַחַר הַדְּבָרִים הָאֵלֶּה וְהָאֱלֹהִים נִסָּה אֶת אַבְרָהָם | וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו אַבְרָהָם וַיֹּאמֶר הִנֵּנִי: Gn 22:1
לֹא תִשְׁמַע אֶל דִּבְרֵי הַנָּבִיא הַהוּא אוֹ אֶל חוֹלֵם הַחֲלוֹם הַהוּא | כִּי מְנַסֶּה יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם אֶתְכֶם לָדַעַת הֲיִשְׁכֶם אֹהֲבִים אֶת יְהוָה אֱלֹהֵיכֶם בְּכָל לְבַבְכֶם וּבְכָל נַפְשְׁכֶם: De. 13:3
The difference is in the conjugation. Both are of the piel verb. Gn 22:1 has the perfect form nisah and De. has the participle m’naseh.
God even sends false prophets for His own purpose:
And he said, Hear thou, therefore, the word of the LORD: I saw the LORD sitting on his throne, and all the host of heaven standing by him on his right hand and on his left. And the LORD said, Who shall persuade Ahab, that he may go up and fall at Ramothgilead? And one said on this manner, and another said on that manner. And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth and do so. Now, therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee. 1 Kings 22:19-23; 2 Chr. 18:18-22 (KJV) [emphasis mine]
God even lies to His own prophets at times, testing their obedience:
And the man of God said unto the king, If thou wilt give me half thine house, I will not go in with thee, neither will I eat bread nor drink water in this place: For so was it charged me by the word of the LORD, saying, Eat no bread, nor drink water, nor turn again by the same way that thou camest. So he went another way and returned not by the way that he came to Bethel. Now there dwelt an old prophet in Bethel; and his sons came and told him all the works that the man of God had done that day in Bethel: the words which he had spoken unto the king, them they told also to their father. And their father said unto them, What way went he? For his sons had seen what way the man of God went, which came from Judah. And he said unto his sons, Saddle me the ass. So they saddled him the ass: and he rode thereon, And went after the man of God, and found him sitting under an oak: and he said unto him, Art thou the man of God that camest from Judah? And he said I am. Then he said unto him, Come home with me, and eat bread. And he said, I may not return with thee, nor go in with thee: neither will I eat bread nor drink water with thee in this place: For it was said to me by the word of the LORD, Thou shalt eat no bread nor drink water there, nor turn again to go by the way that thou camest. He said unto him, I am a prophet also as thou art; and an angel spake unto me by the word of the LORD, saying, Bring him back with thee into thine house, that he may eat bread and drink water. But he lied unto him. So he went back with him, and did eat bread in his house, and drank water. And it came to pass, as they sat at the table, that the word of the LORD came unto the prophet that brought him back: And he cried unto the man of God that came from Judah, saying, Thus saith the LORD, Forasmuch as thou hast disobeyed the mouth of the LORD, and hast not kept the commandment which the LORD thy God commanded thee, But camest back, and hast eaten bread and drunk water in the place, of the which the LORD did say to thee, Eat no bread, and drink no water; thy carcass shall not come unto the sepulcher of thy fathers. And it came to pass after he had eaten bread, and after he had drunk, that he saddled for him the ass, to wit, for the prophet whom he had brought back. And when he was gone, a lion met him by the way, and slew him: and his carcass was cast in the way, and the ass stood by it, the lion also stood by the carcass. 1 Kings 13:8-24 (KJV) [emphasis mine]
Throughout the Hebrew scripture, you will find that it is God Himself who created evil, and uses the evil as a means of testing and tempting His servants. He sends His angels out as lying spirits, and He sends lying prophets, even to His own prophets. There is no place that hints of an evil angel acting against His authority. On the contrary, the scripture is clear that His angel, and all angels are His, obey His word:
Bless the LORD, ye his angels, that excel in strength, that do his commandments, hearkening unto the voice of his word. Ps. 103:20 (KJV)
A better translation of the Hebrew would be:
בָּרֲכוּ יְהוָה מַלְאָכָיו | גִּבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְּבָרוֹ:
Bless the Lord His angels, excelling in strength, doing His word, listening to the voice of His words. Ps. 103:20 (my translation)
This leaves no room for angels who could be disobedient.
In the Hebrew text, the first time the word satan is used is in Numbers 22:22, 32. However, the KJV translators hide this point, so the reader would not make the logical connection:
And God’s anger was kindled because he went: and the angel of the LORD stood in the way for an adversary against him. Now he was riding upon his ass, and his two servants were with him. Num. 22:22 KJV
וַיִּחַר אַף אֱלֹהִים כִּי הוֹלֵךְ הוּא וַיִּתְיַצֵּב מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה בַּדֶּרֶךְ לְשָׂטָן לוֹ
וְהוּא רֹכֵב עַל אֲתֹנוֹ וּשְׁנֵי נְעָרָיו עִמּוֹ: Num 22:22
And God’s anger was kindled because he went, and the angel of the Lord set himself in the way as a satan for him. And he was riding on his donkey and two young men were with him. Num. 22:22 (my translation)
And the angel of the LORD said unto him, Wherefore hast thou smitten thine ass these three times? behold, I went out to withstand thee because thy way is perverse before me: Num. 22:32 (KJV)
וַיֹּאמֶר אֵלָיו מַלְאַךְ יְהוָה עַל מָה הִכִּיתָ אֶת אֲתֹנְךָ זֶה שָׁלוֹשׁ רְגָלִים | הִנֵּה אָנֹכִי יָצָאתִי לְשָׂטָן כִּי יָרַט הַדֶּרֶךְ לְנֶגְדִּי: Num 22:32
And the angel of the Lord said to him, Why did you strike your donkey these three times? Look, I set myself as a satan because the way is reckless before me. Num 22:32 (my translation)
The translators did not want you to draw the conclusion that even the angel of the Lord is called a satan.
Some point to the book of Job an example of a wicked satan. However, upon closer examination, you will see that satan is an agent of God, and is completely obedient to His word. You will also find that it was God Himself who told satan to do those things to Job, and he obeys his Lord. You can find this in the first two chapters of Job.
There is no place in all the Hebrew scriptures which supports the idea that satan acted independently of God’s authority. Nor will you find anything which would lend support to the idea that satan is some rebellious angel, who waged war in heaven, trying to supplant God. The concept of an independent evil spirit is foreign to the Hebrew scripture and the theology of Israel.
The Greek Scriptures (New Testament)
Even a cursory reading of the Greek scriptures would be enough for the serious student to see how different the theology is concerning satan. We have seen that in the Hebrew scriptures, God is ultimately in control. He wields all authority in the heavenly realms and there is no trace of independent rebellious angels. We have seen that God sends lying spirits, and lying prophets as a test of our obedience.
However, in the Greek scriptures, you will find that satan acts independently of God’s authority. He is the origin of lies and is known as the tempter. You will also find that he wages a heavenly war against God and even causes the fall of a third of the heavenly host. Lets look at the texts.
The first encounter we have with satan, who is also identified as the devil, is in Matthew 4. This is the account of Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
According to the Greek scripture, satan or the devil has an independent will:
And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will. 2 Tim. 2:26 (KJV)
Was the father of lies and murder, and speaks lies by his own will:
Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar and the father of it. John 8:44 (KJV)
Is considered the enemy of God:
The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels. Matt. 13:39 (KJV)
Waged war in heaven and was cast out with a third of the heavenly host:
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon fought and his angels, And prevailed not; neither was their place found any more in heaven. And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him. Revelation 12:7-9 (KJV)
Has power over death:
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil Hebrews 2:14 (KJV)
Hell was prepared for him by God:
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: Matt. 25:41 (KJV)
Will, in the end, be cast into a lake of fire:
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10 (KJV)
The teachings of the Greek scripture is completely contrary to the theology of the Hebrew scripture. There are no references in the Hebrew text to support any of the claims of the New Testament. There are no angelic beings with independent will, nor who are disobedient to God. There is no mention of demons of any kind. There is no mention of a war in heaven between Michael and Satan where Satan is cast out with a third of the host. There is no mention of Satan having power over life or death. According to the Hebrew scripture, satan is an angel who is a servant of God and is completely obedient to His will.
The question now is, if the New Testament writers did not get their ideas about demons, satan and the devil from the Old Testament, where did they get them? That is a very good question and I am glad you asked.
Satan In Egypt and Persia
In the Egyptian myths, there were many gods. The Egyptians worshiped numerous gods, and or combinations of them. One of these is Seth. Seth was the god of chaos. He was the god who brought death into the world.
Seth. The god of confusion, the spirit of disorder and personification of violence. and bad faith was nevertheless venerated as a god with whom one had to come to terms. Seth was also known as the god who brought death into the world. (Oxford Essential Guide to Egyptian Mythology)
It was the union of Seth and Horus, through a homosexual act, that produced Thoth. Thoth is the god of writing. He is a part of a triunity of Ptah and Horus. Ptah being the divine father, Horus the divine spirit, and Thoth the divine word. (The Bestiary of Christ, Louis Charbonneau-Lassay)
It was because of the rebellion of Seth and the abominable acts perpetrated by him, that Thoth, the word of Ptah, came into being. This, in turn, created the first “holy trinity” of a divine Father, Word, and Spirit more than a thousand years before Jesus.
After the fall of the Egyptian dynasties, first to the Greeks, and then to the Romans, the ancient religion of Persia was flourishing. A prophet named Zoroaster taught his people about the Creator. Here is what he taught them, see if you can notice any similarities with the New Testament theology.
There is one universal and transcendental God, Ahura Mazda, the one Uncreated Creator to whom all worship is ultimately directed.
Ahura Mazda’s creation—evident as asha, truth and order—is the antithesis of chaos, evident as druj, falsehood and disorder. The resulting conflict involves the entire universe, including humanity, which has an active role to play in the conflict.
Active participation in life through good thoughts, good words and good deeds is necessary to ensure happiness and to keep the chaos at bay. This active participation is a central element in Zoroaster’s concept of free will, and Zoroastrianism rejects all forms of monasticism.
Ahura Mazda will ultimately prevail over evil Angra Mainyu / Ahriman , at which point the universe will undergo a cosmic renovation and time will end (cf: Zoroastrian eschatology). In the final renovation, all of creation—even the souls of the dead that were initially banished to “darkness”—will be reunited in Ahura Mazda returning to life in the undead form. At the end of time a savior-figure [a Saoshyant] will bring about a final renovation of the world, and in which the dead will be revived.
There will then be a final purgation of evil from the Earth (through a tidal wave of molten metal) and a purgation of evil from the heavens (through a cosmic battle of spiritual forces). In the end, good will triumph and each person will find himself or herself transformed into a spiritualized body and soul. Those who died as adults will be transformed into healthy adults of forty years of age, and those who died young will find themselves permanently youthful, about age fifteen. In these new spiritual bodies, humans will live without food, without hunger or thirst, and without weapons (or the possibility of bodily injury). The material substance of the bodies will be so light as to cast no shadow. All humanity will speak a single language and belong to a single nation without borders. All will experience immortality (Ameretat) and will share a single purpose and goal, joining with the divine for a perpetual exaltation of God’s glory.
In Zoroastrian tradition, the malevolent is represented by Angra Mainyu (also referred to as “Ahriman”), the “Destructive Principle”, while the benevolent is represented through Ahura Mazda’s Spenta Mainyu, the instrument or “Bounteous Principle” of the act of creation. It is through Spenta Mainyu that transcendental Ahura Mazda is immanent in humankind, and through which the Creator interacts with the world. According to Zoroastrian cosmology, in articulating the Ahuna Vairya formula Ahura Mazda made His ultimate triumph evident to Angra Mainyu.
As expressions and aspects of Creation, Ahura Mazda emanated the Amesha Spentas (“Bounteous Immortals”), that are each the hypostasis and representative of one aspect of that Creation. These Amesha Spenta are in turn assisted by a league of lesser principles, the Yazatas, each “Worthy of Worship” and each again a hypostasis of a moral or physical aspect of creation (Wikipedia)
All of these principal beliefs can be found in the theological teaching of the New Testament. This is the origin of the twin spirits battling for supremacy. These teachings were incorporated into the New Testament, and are the basis for the modern teachings of satan.