The devil seems to be in the news a lot lately. Apparently he’s all wrapped up in the issue of gay marriage (equal marriage) and he was going to destroy the world if same sex marriage passed in America (though he seems to have completely ignored England when they passed same sex marriage a while back and Ireland when they voted it in 2 to 1 to pass it). Apparently, if we do something some religion doesn’t like, the devil will karmically destroy us, even though our Western concept of “karma” is not even close to the Eastern sense (which is from where we get it).
I’m hearing in the news and on Facebook and Twitter all sorts of things about Satan and demons and the destruction of our country (or the entire planet) by the devil.
I had to write this because I am somewhat of a biblical scholar. I have read the Old Testament in Hebrew (with a Rabbi, because ancient Hebrew is a bit different from modern), the Gospels in Greek (along with a Greek Orthodox priest), and the Quran in Arabic with a progressive Imam/Mullah.
I am an agnostic. I do not believe that the Bible in any way is actual history and I do not believe that “God” wrote the Bible. This is just a warning, because if you are a believer, I’m probably going to write a lot of stuff that pisses you off. So if you don’t want to get pissed off, stop reading here.
However, if you want to learn what is actually in the Bible, and you can do it with an open mind, then read on.
Most people do not read the Bible. If they do, they do not read it critically. I loved reading it as a kid. I come from a Catholic/Jewish background, so I thrive on guilt. And there is so much to feel guilty about in the Bible.
Most people don’t actually read the Bible; they get their knowledge of the Bible from their parents, their friends, their teachers, and their pastor or priest. Notice I did not say Rabbi. This is because Jews actually do read the Bible, or the Tanakh, as they call it.
Most peoples’ beliefs about the Bible have been taught to them; they did not pick up their beliefs by reading. And once taught something, when they do read the Bible, they read what they were taught rather than what the words before them are actually saying.
Instead of “I’ll believe it when I see it,” when it comes to religions, it’s more “I’ll see it when I believe it.” Belief comes first. For as children we were spoon-fed our beliefs before we could even cross a street alone.
So let us discuss what is actually in the Bible, rather than what everyone wants us to believe is in it.
I’m often told that the serpent in Genesis, the one that gets Eve to eat the “fruit” was/is the devil.
You can read that story over and over and over, but nowhere in the story does it every actually say the serpent is the devil. Your pastor might have told you it was the devil, but even he didn’t get that from the Bible.
The Hebrew word “Satan” means “adversary.” He tempts, he lies, he misrepresents himself. But nowhere in the story of Adam and Eve is the word “Satan” found. In fact, the word Satan isn’t even in the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. It makes its first appearance in Samuel 1, the ninth book in the Bible.
We’ve been told that the serpent lied to Eve, but if you actually read the words (what’s written right there before your eyes), that is not true at all.
The serpent did not lie to Eve. The serpent (a talking one, at that) told the truth.
From the King James, we get: “Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” (I like the King James Version best because it’s poetic and, let’s face it, the Old Testament is literature.)
The Hebrew word for subtil (subtle) is “aroom.” Nobody really knows how to translate this word because when Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed, they too were “aroom.”
16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat:
17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
Along comes the serpent:
4 And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
5 For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
Eve eats and gives the fruit to Adam to eat and they do not die. The serpent did not lie.
It is here that “believers” counter with: But Adam and Eve would have lived forever; everyone would have lived forever if only they’d not eaten the fruit. So, yes, now they won’t live forever and they will “surely die.”
Again, this is taught, but nowhere in Genesis does it say that Adam and Eve were designed to live forever. In fact:
22 And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever:
The serpent told the truth. They became as gods and since they had not yet eaten of the “tree of life,” they had to be kicked out of paradise before they ate of the tree of life and then lived forever.
The serpent was not the devil, nor was it even Satan in the Hebrew sense of “adversary.” The serpent in Genesis was closer to Prometheus of Greek mythology who brought fire and medicine to mankind and for that, he was eternally punished by Zeus.
A little historical note is needed here: Judaism is in many ways a response to paganism. Many of the rules in Judaism are inspired by pagan rituals, only they make people do the exact opposite. For example, there was a pagan ritual in which a calf, was “boiled in the milk of its mother.” In response, Jews cannot eat meat and milk in the same meal; this is one of the rules of Kashrut. Additionally, the story of Adam and Eve had been told by pagans long before the Jews created their story. In the pagan story, Eve and Adam eat the apple and to into Paradise.
I find that the best and most literary example of Satan is found in the Book of Job. In fact, that’s when we really meet up with this character.
Literary scholars have long been of the mind that the Book of Job is a Greek Play, or at least an attempt at such a play. Yes, not every bit of the story fits into the Aristotelian definition, but it comes darn close. Here is a piece I found online entitled: The Book Of Job As A Greek Tragedy With An Essay. Sadly many pages are missing.
The Book of Job, even if it weren’t part of the Bible, would be a great literary classic from that particular period. Some have speculated that it was written by Greek convert to Judaism. [No end of the world today]. The book sets out to answer the question, “Why, in a universe governed by a loving God, do good people suffer while evil people escape suffering, and are often bathed in wealth, or at least security?”
The prologue tells us of a little wager between God and Satan. Satan claims that no one serves God except for selfish reasons while God believes that Job is a righteous man who fears god and shuns evil. To prove this, God allows Satan to do his worst.
Now, is Satan the devil? No, Jews do not believe in a “devil” character. Satan is only a character in this play, an adversary, without whom, there would be no play. Satan is a literary device.
The wagering of the Gods is nothing new in Greek literature. Poseidon bet Zeus that Theseus would grow up to defeat Minos and take his crown. [Monsters of Greek Mythology: Volume Two] (An interesting aside here is that Poseidon, a Greek god, carries a trident, something very much akin to our modern day devil’s pitchfork.)
Satan is a literary device. Without Satan, there is no story; and without Satan taking from Job everything, there is no philosophical discussion about God and sin and injustice.
The influence of Greek culture/religion on modern Christianity is powerful, ubiquitous, and undeniable, though few among the masses realize this today. Greeks had many gods. They had Titans, Olympians, and lesser gods and giants. It is in this story of Job that we have two Gods in the heavens wagering over human frailty. Satan in this story has become as a god (as did Adam and Eve by eating the apple). In the Book of Job we see the first apotheosis of Satan. Three thousand years later, Christians will follow suit by creating “the devil;” an omnipotent, omnipresent evil force equal to God, and like a god cannot be defeated by God.
But that devil was never written about in the Bible. He came along much later.
In the New Testament, Jesus is tempted by Satan in the desert. Some translations call him the devil:
8 Again, the devil taketh him up into an exceeding high mountain, and sheweth him all the kingdoms of the world, and the glory of them;
9 And saith unto him, All these things will I give thee, if thou wilt fall down and worship me.
10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Get thee hence, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve.
11 Then the devil leaveth him, and, behold, angels came and ministered unto him.
Again we see Satan as a literary device, though the story is much less literature than it is a lesson in dogma. Even today this literary device is used in stories. We’ve all been watching them at the movies, on TV, and reading about them for as long as the written word has been around.
Here’s the story plot: You have a good person. This good person gets in with the “wrong crowd.” This person is tempted. In most cases, the person gives in, and goes astray (has a hell of a good time). Then comes the redemption, and all’s well that ends well.
How many times have you seen this plot? That “wrong crowd” is Satan, the adversary.
But we have a problem here. My thesis is that there is no devil in the Bible, and yet we’ve just seen the word “devil” in the King James Version of Mathew above.
Here is where knowing the original text of the Bible in the original language, and knowing the original meanings of the words used in those texts come in to play.
In Hebrew, Satan meant “adversary” but today people tell me it means “a fallen angel” who is the source of all evil in the world.
The only problem here being the fallen angel story is not in the Bible. It’s in the apocrypha. The story of Lucifer is even in Pre-Islamic mythology, but Lucifer is not an angel, he’s a jinn; a supernatural creature, or lesser deity.
From Bill Moyers’ interview with Joseph Campbell, we get the original story of the “fallen angel” which is not from the Bible, but from Pre-Islamic mythology:
. . . and that’s a basic Muslim idea, about Iblis, that’s the Muslim name for Satan, being God’s greatest lover. Why was Satan thrown into hell? Well, the standard Story is that when God created the angels, he told them to bow to none but himself. Then he created man, whom he regarded as a higher form than the angels, and he asked the angels then to serve man. And Satan would not bow to man. Now, this is interpreted in the Christian tradition, as I recall from my boyhood instruction, as being the egotism of Satan, he would not bow to man. But in this view, he could not bow to man, because of his love for God, he could bow only to God. And then God says, “Get out of my sight.” Now, the worst of the pains of hell insofar as hell has been described is the absence of the beloved, which is God. So how does Iblis sustain the situation in hell? By the memory of the echo of God’s voice when God said, “Go to hell.” And I think that’s a great sign of love, do you agree?
The entire concept of Satan to fallen angel, to Lucifer, to Devil took place over a long, very long period of time. The first Bible (see below) came out in the fourth century, and here (from National Geographic) is the oldest artistic representation of this character which dates back to the sixth century:
Many Christians think there are things in the Bible that are not in the Bible, but that is because they’ve been taught that those things are in the Bible.
The simple fact is the word “devil” is in the Bible just once. And I’m going to let you take a look at it.
But first we must reveal how our Bible came to us.
The first, let me say, official “Bible” was called the Vulgate; a Latin version prepared by St Jerome in the fourth century and revised in 1592, just in time for the King James Version written in 1611.
In earlier texts (pre-Vulgate), the word for Satan had been translated to mean adversary, accuser, slanderer, tempter, liar, etc., depending on context. The Greek word for demon (daimon) had also been used, but at the time meant a deity, a lesser god, guiding spirit, and sometimes your “lot in life.”
The Greek word for devil is found only once, in Revelation:
3 And another sign appeared in heaven: behold, a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. 4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born. 5 She bore a male Child who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne. 6 Then the woman fled into the wilderness, where she has a place prepared by God, that they should feed her there one thousand two hundred and sixty days.
7 And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought with the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, 8 but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. 9 So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
7 Καὶ ἐγένετο πόλεμος ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, ὁ Μιχαὴλ καὶ
οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ τοῦπολεμῆσαι μετὰ τοῦ δράκοντος.
καὶ ὁ δράκων ἐπολέμησεν 8 καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοιαὐτοῦ,
8 καὶ οὐκ ἴσχυσεν*, οὐδὲ τόπος εὑρέθη αὐτῶν ἔτι ἐν
τῷ οὐρανῷ. 9 καὶ ἐβλήθη ὁ δράκων ὁ μέγας, ὁ ὄφις
ὁ ἀρχαῖος, ὁ καλούμενος Διάβολοςκαὶ Ὁ Σατανᾶς, ὁ
πλανῶν τὴν οἰκουμένην ὅλην, ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν γῆν,
καὶ οἱ ἄγγελοι αὐτοῦ μετ’ αὐτοῦ ἐβλήθησαν.
Devil in Greek is Διάβολος , or diabolus. One of its meanings was “dickens.”
It is derived from the word diaballein, or to slander, attack; literally, “to throw across.” Thus, the only time the term “devil” is in the Bible, it means liar.
Jerome reintroduced the terms Satan and devil (once), but English translators have used them interchangeably.
In the Vulgate, we had both diabolus and daemon, two very distinct things, but over the years, in our Germanic languages (such as English) these two have merged over time to form today’s character, the devil.
Recently, in 2002, an Orthodox Jewish Bible was created. It’s purpose is to translate as closely as possible to the original Hebrew the Old Testament (as Christians call it). It even includes the transliterated words so that young scholars can look up the actual word for the actual meanings.
Here is that same section (above) of Revelation according to the OJB:
7 And there was milchamah (war) in Shomayim, Mikha’el and the malachim of him fought against the Dragon NACHASH; and the Dragon NACHASH and his malachim fought back.
8 But the Dragon NACHASH was not strong enough nor was any place found for them any longer in Shomayim.
9 And the great Dragon, that NACHASH HaKadmoni (Ancient Serpent) was thrown down, the one being called the Malshin (Informer, Accuser) and Hasatan, the one deceiving the whole inhabited world. He was thrown to ha’aretz (the earth) and the malachim of him were thrown down with him [BERESHIS 3:1-7]
What they are trying to do here is bring back the original meaning of the words and not the meanings we’ve given them since.
People who take the Bible literally (or as actual history) drive people like me nuts. But, everyone is allowed to believe what they wish to believe in this world.
I find it disheartening that they cannot comprehend metaphor, at least when it comes to the Bible, because, if you take this line:
4 His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth.
literally, then the earth was pretty much destroyed beyond all recognition.
I don’t know what the dragon was or where it came from, but I’m pretty sure that this story is mythology.
And now we re-arrive back to where we started: The reason the Jews don’t believe in the devil is:
2 I am the Lord thy God, which have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.
3 Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
The devil is a god. He is omnipotent and omnipresent. God cannot destroy the devil.
That pretty much violates the first commandment.
The devil (or demons) as Christians know him today, was created over the centuries since the Vulgate and he has become as a god. He is a Christian construct designed to answer the question, “Why is there evil in the world.”
Sadly, the only evil in the world is us: the human race. We are capable of the lowest acts and the highest good. It is all a matter of free will. You can blame the devil for your decisions, but those decisions were created in your mind and you chose to turn them into action.
Humans were not put on earth to be tested. Humans were not put on earth. We have come a long way from some primordial slime. We have evolved to a place in time where we can know ourselves. Knowing that each of us is capable of any behavior along the continuum of human acts is the first step in conscious evolution. Choosing to do unto others as we would want them to do unto us is the second step in conscious evolution. The third step?
I’m not sure if we are capable of the third step. I’m not sure we’ll actually ever take that third step before extinction rolls around. I’d like to believe we are capable of it. But before we can ever take that step, we must first take absolute responsibility for the evil in the world.
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