History of the Devil
While I'm no expert in ancient Hebrew, it doesn't take a mythologist to
track the evolution of the devil. And by the term, evolution, I mean just
that. In the same way that cultures and religions evolve, so do ideas and
The following thoughts germinated after reading Robert Wright's article,
War on Evil where he dances briefly on a few stepping stones in
history to help explain the current dichotomy Americans have over the
concept of evil. But his stepping stones were recent, and I got to
wondering about the evolution of this concept of evil and the devil in
So let's jump on a couple of linguistic stepping stones.
I took a quick glance at the Bible to realize that the word "devil" doesn't
even appear in the Old Testament; however, the word, "devils", does. At
least in the KJV the 4 occurrences of the word "devils" comes from two
different Hebrew words.
The first occurrence (Lev 17:7 and 2Ch 11:15) is the Hebrew word, saw-eer
and it literally means shaggy (related to a goat). Yup, there is our
origin of the devil as satyr, and taken in context, it is referring to
sacrificing to other gods; specifically, the goat-god Pan from Arcadia.
While most of the ancient cultures of this time viewed gods other than
their own as more or less equals, here is the origin of the Jewish view of
referring to all other gods as inferior devils.
However, the inferiority implied in this word, may be a later projection
and may have simply been a term for "other gods". As the Hebrew word that
we translate as God, el-o-heem (אֳל֗הִים) is plural. We can linguistically see the early development from a
polytheistic group to a culture that began to elevate their own gods to the
monotheistic religions we see today.
The other occurrence (De 32:17 and Ps 106:37) is the Hebrew word, shade
(שֵׁד) which, given its
roots, probably originally meant devastation. But like saw-eer, this word
also refers to other gods. The root of shade, is the same root as
breast, swelling and fertile and may have been chosen as a reference
to the gods of other lands having a sexual nature. But this is pure
speculation on my part.
However, in the earliest Biblical references, there isn't a single devil…
that comes later.
Satan, saw-tan (שָׂטַן), shows up
relatively late in Biblical writings, and isn't really a primary character
until the Book of Job (which many Biblical scholars place time of writing
during the Babylonian exile). The term, saw-tan means an adversary or
opponent, but at this point seems to refer more to Job's opponent than
So between the Books of Moses where he isn't mentioned at all, and Job, we
have the hints as to why he shows his shaggy head.
Keep in mind that it is difficult to improve upon religion. If you are too
radical and make too much of a break with the past, you loose your
validity. This is why each religion builds upon the shoulders of the
previous. Jesus fulfills the law as does Buddha and Mohammed.
So when going from a polytheistic religion to a monotheistic, you don't get
rid of the stories, you re-interpret, re-define, and then re-write.
So the serpent in the Garden of Eden was originally just a talking snake.
The quintessential mythological trickster. Later, we re-interpret that
and swap him out for the devil. Other times we use the same word, but
re-define it, like in taking the plural form for "gods" and just
But why does a devil need to be developed in the first place?
In many mythological traditions, the "good" god has an alter-ego. Odin has
his Loki, but in this Nordic case, both gods had the same surname… essentially being two faces on the same coin. Perhaps the
step from polytheistic to monotheistic merges two aspects of two different gods into one god. This concept would explain why the Hebrew God hardened the heart of Pharaoh
against His own words.
But how can a "good" god do "bad"? This same question is still asked: How
can God, who created the universe, also create evil? The Old Testament
develops an idea of an adversary who not only does bad (his original
function), but begins the work of "tempting" the rest of us into badness.
The view later developed was that while God did create Satan, he was created as an
angel. But this angel choose of his own will, to be bad… just like the
lot of mankind. Of course, if God is omniscient, why would he have created
him in the first place?
As the New Testament opens, we have a fully developed devil who tries to
thwart God's work, tempt mankind, and in part, explains why God's chosen
people keep getting kicked around by the Babylonians, the Greeks, the
Feel free to continue on the path of the devil's evolution from this point
in Robert Wright's article.
Tell others about this article:
My theory is, a time travel accident had gone wrong in the future and sent a
traveler back in time to the Garden of Eden where he crash landed and was
injured. After wandering around the Garden of Eden he succumbed to his injuries
rested up against a tree and died. The radioactive fallout from the wrecked time
machine infected the immediate area, and a single man and woman (the belief
calls them Adam and Eve) were the first to feel the effects and witness death.
The tree that was damaged by the crash was now unique compared to the rest that
were left undamaged. As far as the Devil, he was mistaken for the time traveler
who died. The incident was scientific that became religious, the orgin of the
Devil was a guess or also a coverup directly linked to the Garden of Eden
Devil comes from the Sanscrit word "devas" which means "to
shine"… i.e. "one who shines" as in "diva" and "divine" which have
the same root.
In the Greek New Testament the word "diabolos" is used. Jerome didn't
know what to make of it when translating the Latin Vulgate and changed
it to church Latin "diabolus"… a meaningless bit of mumbo jumbo.
But it is from the ancient Greek root words "dia" … coming out of/as
a result of" and "bolos" …"the hit/the hurt".
So a good translation would be "victim" or "survivor".
Have a nice day. Butch in Vancouver.