Saint Augustine (or Theophilus of Adana?) and the devil (1471-1475). Michael Pacher.
Saint Augustine (or Theophilus of Adana?) and the devil (1471-1475). Michael Pacher.
From the fourteenth century chapbook:

“Faustus, my Lord Lucifer, (so called now, for that he was banished out of the cleare light of Heauen) was at the first an Angell of God, he sate on 1 the Cherubins, and sawe all the wonderfull works of God, yea he was so of God ordained, for shape, pompe, authority, worthines, & dwelling, that he far exceeded all other the creatures of God, yea our gold and precious stones: and so illuminated, that he farre surpassed the brightnes of the Sunne and all other Starres: wherefore God placed him on the Cherubins, where he had a kinglie office, and was alwaies before Gods seate, to the end hee might hee the more perfect in all his beings: but when hee began to be high minded, proude, and so presumptuous that hee would vsurpe the seate of his Maiestie, then was he banished out from amongst the heauenly powers, separated from their abiding into the manner of a fierie stone, that no water is able to quench, but continually burneth vntill the ende of the world.” (Faust Book, Ch. 13)

Satan (שָׂטָן Standard Hebrew Satan, Greek σατᾶν sátan, from the proper name Σατανάς Sátanas, Tiberian Hebrew Śāṭān; Aramaic שִׂטְ� ָא Śaṭanâ; Arabic شيطان Shaitan: both words mean “Adversary; accuser”; derived from the Semitic root šṭn, which carries the semantics of opposing, obstructing, and of being adverse) is a Judeo-Christian term which is, together with the Islamic term Shaitan, traditionally applied to an angel, demon, or minor god in many religions. The idea of this ultimate agent of evil was most likely introduced by the Iranian (Persian) prophet Zoroaster as the Prince of Darkness, whose ideas for the first time introduced Demons and Angels to humanity, and would later influence Judeo-Christian beliefs1. Although Zoroaster’s beliefs concentrated on the duality and struggle between ultimate good and ultimate evil, it was the Judaic adaptation of these beliefs which portrayed Satan as the inferior enemy of God (Zoroaster saw the enemy as also omnipotent). Satan plays various roles in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha and the New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is an angel that God uses to test man for various reasons usually dealing with his level of piety (i.e. the test in the Book of Job). In the Apocrypha and New Testament, Satan is portrayed as an evil, rebellious demon that is the enemy of God and mankind. However, in both Jewish and Christian theology Satan is no longer understood as a true equal to God (as he is perhaps so seen in Zoroastrianism, depending on whether one considers Ahura Mazda or Zurvan to be the proper parallel to the trinity) Since both religions are intentionally monotheistic, Satan is seen, rather, as a creature created by God–originally good, but now fallen of his own choosing. This prevents a true dualism in both religions. Good is the original status of all things made by God. Corruption comes later at the hand of created moral agents (consider Augustine’s notion of privation here). Thus Satan is always under God’s providential control and at times even his unwilling agent.

In Christio-Islamic tradition, Satan is generally viewed as a preternatural that is the central embodiment of evil. Satan is also commonly known as the Devil (Latin Diábolus, Diaboli, from Greek Διάβολος Diábolos, meaning slanderer), the “Prince of Darkness,” Beelzebub (direct translation is “Lord of the Flies”), Belial, Mephistopheles, and Lucifer (“lightbringer”).

In the Talmud and some works of Kabbalah, Satan is sometimes called Samael; however most Jewish literature is of the opinion that Samael is a separate angel. In the fields of angelology and demonology these different names sometimes refer to a number of different angels and demons, and there is significant disagreement as to whether any of these entities are actually evil.

In Islam, Iblīs (Arabic إبليس), is the primary devil. He appears more often in the Qur’an as being the Shaitan: Iblis is mentioned 11 times, and Shaitan “al-Shaitaan” ‏‏(الشيطان) 87 times. He is chief of the spirits of evil, and his personality is similar to that of the devil in Christianity. He suffered from pride and refused to bow down to Adam at Allah’s command. He subsequently rebelled against Allah, and was therefore thrown out of Heaven, and was henceforth known as Shaitan.

In the Hebrew Bible

Satan is to be better understood as an “accuser” or “adversary” or as an embodiment of “evil.” The term is applied both to divine and human beings.

Different uses of the word “Satan” in the Tanakh

The Hebrew word “Satan” is used in the Hebrew Bible with the general connotation of “adversary,” being applied to:

  • The serpent who tempted Adam and Eve. This identification comes from the writings of Saint Paul.2
  • An enemy in war and peace3
  • An accuser before the judgment-seat4
  • An antagonist who puts obstacles in the way, as in Numbers 22:22, where the angel of God is described as opposing Balaam as an adversary.
  • As a prosecuting attorney against mankind (the Book of Job) in the heavenly court of God. Other angels are not mentioned by name.

The Strong’s Concordance number for the Hebrew word “Satan” is 07854. This can be used to research the Biblical usage of this word.

Biblical description of Satan

The following passage is taken by Christians to describe Satan, although in the Hebrew Bible it is said to be addressed to the King of Tyre:

Ezekiel 28:12–19 “…You were the perfection of wisdom and beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone – red carnelian, chrysolite, white moonstone, beryl, onyx, jasper, sapphire, turquoise, and emerald – all beautifully crafted for you and set in the finest gold. They were given to you on the day you were created. I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire. You were blameless in all you did from the day you were created until the day evil was found in you. Your great wealth filled you with violence, and you sinned. So I banished you from the mountain of God. I expelled you, O mighty guardian, from your place among the stones of fire. Your heart was filled with pride because of all your beauty. You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor. So I threw you to the earth and exposed you to the curious gaze of kings. You defiled your sanctuaries with your many sins and your dishonest trade. So I brought fire from within you, and it consumed you. I let it burn you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All who knew you are appalled at your fate. You have come to a terrible end, and you are no more.”

Satan as an accuser

Where Satan does appear in the Bible as a member of God’s court, he plays the role of the Accuser, much like a prosecuting attorney for God.

The following information has been taken directly from the article on ‘Satan’ in the Jewish Encyclopaedia:

“Such a view is found, however, in the prologue to the Book of Job, where Satan appears, together with other celestial beings or “sons of God,” before the Deity, replying to the inquiry of God as to whence he had come, with the words: “From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it”5. Both question and answer, as well as the dialogue which follows, characterize Satan as that member of the divine council who watches over human activity, but with the evil purpose of searching out men’s sins and appearing as their accuser. He is, therefore, the celestial prosecutor, {lawyer} who sees only iniquity; for he persists in his evil opinion of Job even after the man of Uz has passed successfully through his first trial by surrendering to the will of God, whereupon Satan demands another test through physical suffering.6

“Yet it is also evident from the prologue that Satan has no power of independent action, but requires the permission of God, which he may not transgress. He can not be regarded, therefore, as an opponent of the Deity; and the doctrine of monotheism is disturbed by his existence no more than by the presence of other beings before the face of God. This view is also retained in Zech. iii. 1-2, where Satan is described as the adversary of the high priest Joshua, and of the people of God whose representative the hierarch is; and he there opposes the “angel of the Lord,” who bids him be silent in the name of God.

“In both of these passages Satan is a mere accuser who acts only according to the permission of the Deity; but in I Chron. xxi. 1 he appears as one who is able to provoke David to destroy Israel. The Chronicler (third century B.C.) regards Satan as an independent agent, a view which is the more striking since the source whence he drew his account (II Sam. xxiv. 1) speaks of God Himself as the one who moved David against the children of Israel. Since the older conception refers all events, whether good or bad, to God alone, (I Sam. xvi. 14; I Kings xxii. 22; Isa. xlv. 7; etc.) it is possible that the Chronicler, and perhaps even Zechariah, were influenced by Zoroastrianism, even though in the case of the prophet Jewish monism strongly opposed Iranian dualism. (Stave, “Einfluss des Parsismus auf das Judenthum,” pp. 253 et seq.) An immediate influence of the Babylonian concept of the “accuser, persecutor, and oppressor” (Schrader, “K. A. T.” 3d ed., p. 463) is impossible, since traces of such an influence, if it had existed, would have appeared in the earlier portions of the Bible.”

(Jewish Encyclopaedia)

In Rabbinic literature

Early rabbinic Jewish statements in the Mishnah and Talmud show that Satan played little or no role in Jewish theology. In the course of time, however, Judaism absorbed the popular concepts of Satan, most likely inherited from Zoroastrianism. The later a rabbinic work can be dated the more frequent is the mention therein of Satan and his hosts.

An example is found in Genesis: The serpent who had Eve eat the forbidden fruit. The consensus of the Biblical commentators in classical Judaism is that the serpent of the narrative in Genesis was literally a serpent. They differ regarding what it represented: The evil inclination (Yetzer HaRa), Satan, or the Angel of Death. Others have suggested that the serpent was a phallic symbol. According to the Midrash, before this cunning beast was cursed, it stood erect and was endowed with some faculty of communication. It is interesting to note, in this connection, that sperm “communicates” genetic information via DNA. The creative message is also known as the Logos (Gr. meaning Word).

The Jerusalem Talmud, completed about 450 CE, is more reticent in this regard; and this is the more noteworthy since its provenance is the same as that of the New Testament.

The Jewish concept, however, was that Satan cannot be viewed as an independent agent. In the Babylonian Talmud,7 Rabbi Levi asserts that “everything Satan does is for the sake of heaven.” When another rabbi preached a similar idea in his town, it is said that Satan himself came and “kissed his knees.”

The Babylonian Talmud8 also states that the Evil Inclination (Yetzer ha-Ra), the Angel of Death and Satan are identical.

In a midrash,9 Samael, the chief of the satans (a specific order of angel, not a reference to demons), was a mighty prince of angels in heaven. Samael came into the world with woman, that is, with Eve,10 so that he was created and is not eternal. Like all celestial beings, he flies through the air,11 and can assume any form, as of a bird,12 a stag,13 a woman,14 a beggar, or a young man;15 he is said to skip,16 an allusion to his appearance in the form of a goat.

In some works some rabbis hold that Satan is the incarnation of all evil, and his thoughts are devoted to the destruction of man. In this view, Satan, the impulse to evil and the angel of death are one and the same personality. Satan seizes upon even a single word which may be prejudicial to man; so that “one should not open his mouth unto evil,” i.e., “unto Satan.”17 Likewise, in times of danger, he brings his accusations.18 While he has power over all the works of man,19 he can not prevail at the same time against two individuals of different nationality; so that Samuel, a noted astronomer, physician and teacher of the Law (died at Nehardea, 247), would start on a journey only when a Gentile traveled with him.20

Satan’s knowledge is circumscribed; for when the shofar is blown on New-Year’s Day he is “confounded.”21 On the Day of Atonement his power vanishes; for the numerical value of the letters of his name (gematria and Hebrew numerals) is only 364, one day being thus exempt from his influence.22

One rabbi notes that Satan was an active agent in the fall of man,23 and was the father of Cain,24 while he was also instrumental in the offering of Isaac,25 in the release of the animal destined by Esau for his father,26 in the theophany at Sinai, in the death of Moses,27 in David’s sin with Bath-sheba,28 and in the death of Queen Vashti.29 The decree to destroy all the Jews, which Haman obtained, was written on parchment brought by Satan.30 When Alexander the Great reproached the Jewish sages with their rebellion, they made the plea that Satan had been too mighty for them.31

Not all Rabbinic commentators agreed on Satan’s spiritual nature. Rabbi Saadia Gaon, an 11th century philosopher and scholar, wrote in his commentary to the Book of Job that Satan was simply a human being who resented Job’s righteousness and called upon God to test him. This interpretation rests on a literal reading of the Hebrew word שטן or “adversary”, which Saadia claims refers only to the intentions of the individual in question and not to any spiritual or supernatural status.

In the Hebrew Apocrypha

In Wisdom ii. 24 Satan is represented, with reference to Gen. iii., as the father of all lies, who brought death into the world; he is apparently mentioned also in Ecclus. (Sirach) xxi. 27, and the fact that his name does not occur in Daniel is doubtless due merely to chance. Allegedly, Satan was the seducer and the paramour of Eve, and was hurled from heaven together with other angels because of his iniquity.32 Since that time he has been called “Satan,” although previously he had been termed “Satane.l” (ib. xxxi. 3 et seq.))

The doctrine of the fall of Satan, as well as of the fall of the angels, is found also in Babylonia. Satan rules over an entire host of angels.33 Mastema, who induced God to test Abraham through the sacrifice of Isaac, is identical with Satan in both name and nature,34 and the Asmodeus of the Book of Tobit is likewise to be identified with him, especially in view of his licentiousness. As the lord of satans, he frequently bears the special name of Samael.

It is difficult to identify Satan in any other passages of the Apocrypha, since the originals in which his name occurred have been lost, and the translations employ various equivalents. An “argumentum a silentio” can not, therefore, be adduced as proof that concepts of Satan were not wide-spread; but it must rather be assumed that reference to him and his realm is often implied in the mention of evil spirits.

In the New Testament

Satan figures much more prominently in the New Testament and in Christian theology generally. In the New Testament, Satan appears as a tempter for Jesus, for example. In John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost, the theme is further developed—Satan is believed to have been an archangel who turned against God before the creation of man. (Prophecies in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are thought to be referring metaphorically to Satan, rather than to the king of Babylon. Babylon in Revelation is a symbol for an evil world, one of which Satan would be head in the Tribulational period of the end times.) According to this view, Satan waged war against God, his creator, and was banished from Heaven because of this.

The belief that Satan is in Hell has its roots in Christian literature rather than in the Bible. The Bible states that he still roams heaven and earth. Job 1:635 states that Satan appeared with other angels “before the Lord,” presumably in heaven. When God asked Satan where he had been, Satan replied, “From roaming through the earth and going back and forth in it.” Satan has not been and is not in Hell. 1Peter 5:8 declares, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.”

Passages such as these suggest that Satan is not in Hell and probably spends most of his time on earth, seeking to destroy the lives of human beings and to keep them separated from God.

The creation story found in the book of Genesis reports that a serpent tempted Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. In the Jewish tradition, the serpent was always taken to be literally a snake; the story tells us the origin of how the snake lost its legs. Later Christian theologies interpreted this serpent to be Satan, to the point where many Christians are unaware that the actual Hebrew text does not identify the serpent as Satan. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Satan is one of humanity’s three enemies, along with sin and death (in some other forms of Christianity the other two enemies of mankind are “the world,”36 and self (man’s natural tendency to sin).37

According to most Christian eschatology, Satan will wage a final war against Jesus, before being cast into Hell for “aeonios.”38 The Unification Church, a sect that deviates from mainstream Christianity, teaches that Satan will be restored in the last days and become a good angel again.39 A few early Church Fathers are known to have prayed for Satan’s eventual repentance; it was not generally believed that this would happen. On the other hand, Dispensationalists teach that Jesus returns to earth before the Tribulational period to reclaim the righteous, dead and living, to meet Him in the air.40 Many Fundamentalists believe that immediately following this, the Tribulational period will occur as prophesied in the book of Daniel, while others (especially Seventh-day Adventists) believe that immediately following Jesus’ Second Coming, Satan will be bound on this Earth for a thousand years, after which he will be “loosed for a little season”41 — this is when the battle of Armageddon (the final confrontation between good and evil) will be waged — and Satan and his followers will be destroyed once and for all, the Earth will be cleansed of all evil and there will be “a new Heaven and a new Earth” where sin will reign no more.42

In various Gnostic sects, Satan was praised as the giver of knowledge, sometimes with references to Lucifer, “the light-bringer.” Some claimed that the being imagined as God by Christians and Jews was in fact Satan, as a world as imperfect as ours could not be created by a perfect God (Christians may argue that this contention is disproved in the Bible text as it explains that God’s perfect world43 was corrupted and made imperfect by Adam and Eve’s original sin; see Gen 3; Rom 5:12; Rom 8:22-23).

Particularly in the medieval period, Satan was often depicted as having horns and a goat’s hindquarters. He has also been depicted as carrying a trident, and with a forked tail. None of these images seem to be based on Biblical materials. Rather, this image is apparently based on pagan horned gods, such as Pan and Dionysus, common to many mythologies. Neo-pagans allege that this image was chosen specifically to discredit the Horned God of ancient paganism.


There are historical records of people worshipping Satan, though their authenticity is sometimes questioned, especially considering the sources. Today, some people identify themselves as Satanists or Luciferians, depending on their specific beliefs. Of these, some claim that Satan is a real being, some view him as a symbol for the animal desires of humans, and some view him as a symbol for the rebellious or independent aspects of humanity. Many that hold this latter view are members of the Church of Satan established in the 1960s by Anton LaVey.


Skeptics, influenced by thinking stemming from the Enlightenment, do not accept Satan as real. Their criticisms rest on three main themes: theodicy, naturalism, and mythology.

  1. It is unclear how Satan, in the traditional notion, could defy or defeat an omnipotent opponent. Spinoza argued that it is unclear why an all-powerful good God would allow Satan to do evil deeds and go unpunished, but then punish humans who are victimized by Satan to an eternity of hellfire.
  2. The existence of supernatural beings conflicts with naturalism. It is unclear how Satan, who is said to be supernatural, would interact with the human world. It is unnecessary to explain tragic events by appealing to Satan. Furthermore, from a humanist point of view, it is unnecessary to require a supernatural source for human behavior that arises from normal animal urges like lust, adultery, theft and lying.
  3. Satan’s origins can be explained and traced through comparative mythology.
  4. Satan, in another way of thinking, could also represent a ‘anti Christianity’ view, where those who worship Satan see themselves as those who are opposite of Christianity views, for example, as a Christian one would follow Gods word, as a self proclaimed ‘Satanist’, one would follow ones own personal word and view, one would see themselves as a ‘god’ per se, with their own ability to chose right or wrong without the need of an ‘almighty’ to dictate their actions, in the eyes of a church this way of thought could be seen as ‘satanic’ where one should live with the presence of God and follow God’s word. Therefore one could argue Satan does not exist, and was created to represent ‘an external influence’ for those who’s actions are against the church, to allow the church to proceed to condemn or prosecute the individuals or group.

Secular theory of Satan’s origins

Elaine Pagels wrote The Origin of Satan, and suggested that Satan is an amalgram of Zoraster’s belief in good-evil dualism, with traditional beliefs in Satan as an adversary. By the time of Jesus, Satan in some Jewish circles was an angel of evil, which we find in the New Testament.

Satan in fiction

In The Divine Comedy, Satan is described as an enormous three-headed monster. In his first mouth is Judas Iscariot; in the second, Cassius Longinus and in the third, Brutus Albinus. According to the story, each of them will be ripped apart by Satan’s jaws for eternity. The story depicts Satan as trapped waist-deep in the frozen lakes of hell, and the icy-cold wind from the beating of his six great wings only strengthens the ice’s hold on him and everyone else in the ninth circle of hell.

Satan as a Sympathetic Character

Many times in literature the Devil has been presented as a tragic, if not sympathetic character.

In Paradise Lost, Satan is the protagonist of the first half of the story, who styles himself as an ambitious underdog rebelling against Heaven. He becomes less sympathetic in the second half as the snake that tempts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.

Both Faust and The Tragical History of Doctor Faustus feature the demon known as Mephistopheles, who is summoned by Faust to sell his soul for a limited number of years of pleasure. Mephistopheles often shows regret and remorse for rebelling against God. In one famous scene from Faustus, Mephistopheles tells Faust that he cannot leave Hell. When Faust tells him that he seems to be free of Hell at that moment, the devil responds with “Why this is Hell, nor am I out of it./ Think’st thou that I, who saw the face of God,/And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,/ Am not tormented with ten thousand hells/ In being deprived of everlasting bliss?” Rather than glorifying the demon, he is shown as a sad figure.


  • Davidson, Gustav, 1994. A Dictionary of Angels: Including the Fallen Angels. Free Press. ISBN 002907052X
  • Bamberger, Bernard Jacob, (March 15, 2006). Fallen Angels: Soldiers of Satan’s Realm, 300pp. ISBN 0827607970
  • Guiley, Rosemary, 1996. Encyclopedia of angels, 214pp. ISBN 0816029881

Further reading

  • Pagels, Elaine, 1995. The Origin of Satan, 214pp. Vintage; Reprint edition. ISBN 0679722327
  • Forsyth, Neil, 1987. The Old Enemy: Satan & the Combat Myth. Princeton University Press; Reprint edition. ISBN 0691014744
  • Forsyth, Neil, 1987. The Satanic Epic. Princeton University Press; Reprint edition. ISBN 0691113394
  • Gentry, Kenneth L. Jr, 2002. The Beast of Revelation. American Vision. ISBN 0915815419
  • Graves, Kersey, 1995. Biography of Satan: Exposing the Origins of the Devil, 168pp. Book Tree. ISBN 1885395116
  • Rudwin, Maximilian, 1970. The Devil in Legend and Literature. Open Court. ISBN 0875482481
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton, 1977. The Devil: Perceptions of Evil from Antiquity to Primitive Christianity. Cornell University Press; Reprint edition. ISBN 0801494133
  • Russell, Jeffrey Burton, 1992. The Prince of Darkness: Radical Evil and the Power of Good in History. Cornell University Press; Reprint edition. ISBN 0801480566
  • T. J Wray, Gregory Mabley; 2005. The Birth of Satan : Tracing the Devil’s Biblical Roots, 240pp. Palgrave Macmillan. ISBN 1403969337

External links

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.
It uses material from the Wikipedia article “Satan“.
  1. []
  2. Genesis 3 []
  3. 1 Kings 5:4; 11:14, 23, 25 []
  4. Psalm 109:6 []
  5. Job 1. 7 []
  6. ib. ii. 3-5 []
  7. Baba Bathra 16a []
  8. Baba Bathra 16a []
  9. Genesis Rabbah 19 []
  10. Midrash Yalkut, Genesis 1:23 []
  11. Genesis Rabbah 19 []
  12. Talmud, Sanhedrin 107a []
  13. ibid, 95a []
  14. ibid, 81a []
  15. Midrash Tanchuma, Wayera, end []
  16. Talmud Pesachim 112b and Megilla. 11b []
  17. Talmud Berachot 19a []
  18. Jerusalem Talmud, Shabbat 5b []
  19. Talmud Berachot 46b []
  20. Talmud, Shabbat 32a []
  21. Rosh Hashana 16b, Targum Yerushalmi to Numbers 10:10 []
  22. Yoma 20a []
  23. Midrash Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer 13, beginning []
  24. ibid, 21 []
  25. Midrash Tanchuma, Wayera, 22 [ed. Stettin, p. 39a] []
  26. ibid, Toledot, 11 []
  27. Deuteronomy Rabbah 13:9 []
  28. Sanhedrin 95a []
  29. Megilla 11a []
  30. Esther Rabba 3:9 []
  31. Tamid 32a []
  32. Slavonic Book of Enoch, xxix. 4 et seq. []
  33. Martyrdom of Isaiah, ii. 2; Vita Adæ et Evæ, xvi. []
  34. Book of Jubilees, xvii. 18 []
  35. Job 1:6 []
  36. James 4:4 []
  37. Romans 6:6 []
  38. Aeonios, literally translated, means of or pertaining to an age, which is incorrectly translated as “all eternity.” []
  39. see Lucifer, A Criminal Against Humanity []
  40. (known as the Rapture, see 1Thess 4:17 []
  41. a short time, see Rev 20:1-3 []
  42. Rev 21:1-4 []
  43. Gen 1:31 []