The Devil is a title given to the supernatural entity, who, in Christianity, Islam, and other religions, is a powerful, evil entity and the tempter of humankind. In conservative Christianity, God and the Devil are usually portrayed as fighting over the souls of humans, with the Devil seeking to lure people away from God and into hell. The Devil commands a force of lesser evil spirits, commonly known as demons. The Devil is destined to be destroyed at the end of this age, but not before he has led many humans, some say the vast majority, to perdition. The Devil is commonly associated with heretics, infidels, and other unbelievers. The Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament) does not assign this level of personification to a devil, but rather identifies all good and evil as originating in the will of God. In humour, concept of something as evil as Satan is often mocked.



The Devil popular image


The Devil popular image



Satan, from the Hebrew word for "adversary" (Standard Hebrew: שָׂטָן, Satan; Tiberian Hebrew Śāān; Koine Greek: Σατανάς, Persian: اهریمن, Satanás; Aramaic: סטנא, Saänä; Arabic: شيطان, Šayān, Ge'ez:  Sāyān, Turkish: Şeytan), is a term that originates from the Abrahamic faiths, being traditionally applied to an angel. Ha-Satan is the accuser, a member of the divine council, who challenged the religious faith of humans, especially in the books of Job and Zechariah. Religious belief systems other than Judaism relate this term to a demon, a rebellious fallen angel, devil, minor god and idolatry, or as an allegory for evil.




Etymology and other names


The word Satan (meaning "adversary" or "accuser"), and the Arabic شيطان (shaitan), derive from a Northwest Semitic root śn, meaning "to be hostile", "to accuse".


In the New Testament, Satan is a name thought to refer to a supernatural entity who appears in several passages and possesses demonic god-like qualities. The name is found in passages alongside Diabolos (Greek for the devil) more than thirty times, referring to the same person or thing as Satan.


The most common English synonym for Satan, "the Devil", is descended from Middle English devel, from Old English dēofol, which represents an early Germanic borrowing of Latin diabolus (also the source of diabolical). This in turn was borrowed from Greek diabolos 'slanderer', from diaballein, 'to slander': dia- 'across, through' + ballein, 'to hurl'. In Greek, the term diabolos (Διάβολος, 'slanderer'), carries more negative connotations than the Hebrew ha-satan (שָׂטָן, 'accuser', 'obstructer', 'adversary') which possesses no demonic qualities in the Torah writings and is believed by many to be a great and glorious Angel who was created on the sixth day of creation.


Ha-satan is called Baal Davar by Chasidic Jews of the eighteenth century, so this could also be taken as a name for Satan. Lucifer is sometimes used in Christian theology to refer to Satan, from a reference to Isaiah 14:12-14. Though other Christians suggest that in context it referred to none other than the King of Babylon himself, having figuratively fallen from heaven and ate grass like an ox.


In Jewish theology, this figure (Helel in Hebrew) has nothing to do with Satan. It is generally agreed among Rabbinical sources that Isaiah was in fact referring to King Nebuchadnezzar. Beelzebub (meaning "Lord of Flies") is actually the name of a Philistine god, but is also used in the New Testament as a synonym for Satan. A corrupted version, "Belzeboub," is used in the The Divine Comedy.


"The dragon" and "the old serpent" in the Book of Revelation 12:9, 20:2 have also been identified with Satan, as have "the prince of this world" in the Book of John 12:31, 14:30; "the prince of the power of the air" also called Meririm, and "the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience" in the Book of Ephesians 2:2; and "the god of this world" in 2 Corinthians 4:4.


Satan and the Angel of death and destruction, "Abaddon," are sometimes claimed to be identical. This is observed in John Bunyan's, Pilgrim's Progress. He is also equated with "Ahriman," the Persian "Prince of Evil". The angel "Leviathan" is described as "that crooked serpent," which is also used to describe Satan in Revelation 12:9. "Sar ha Olam," a possible name for Metatron, is described by Michael, Jehoel and St. Paul, as Satan.



In the Hebrew Bible


Satan is to be better understood as an "accuser" or "adversary". The term is applied both to supernatural entities and human beings. The term Satan in Hebrew is derived from the root meaning "to oppose", "to be an adversary" or "to act as an adversary".



Different uses of the word "Satan" in the Tanakh


The Hebrew "Satan" is used in the Hebrew Bible with the general connotation "adversary", or those who act as adversaries, as with:


  • An enemy in war and peace

  • An accuser before the judgment-seat

  • 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.



In the Book of Job, ha-satan("the adversary") is a prosecuting attorney against mankind in the heavenly court of God. Other angels are not mentioned by name. He is known as the accuser and is the angel which questions mankind's loyalty to God. He argues that man is only loyal because God gives them prosperity. He is the one who actually delivers all the ills upon Job to test his faith on Gods command.


In 1 Chronicles 21:1, Satan incites David to commit the sin of taking a census of Israel. Five hundred years earlier, this same story portrayed Yahweh as the one who incited David to take the census (2 Samuel 24:1). The later story was written after the Hebrews had been in exile in Babylon and had been exposed to Zoroastrianism.


The Strong's Concordance number for the Hebrew word "Satan" is 07853 and 07854.


"7853 satan saw-tan' a primitive root; to attack, (figuratively) accuse:-- (be an) adversary, resist."


"7854 satan saw-tawn' from 7853; an opponent; especially (with the article prefixed) Satan, the arch-enemy of good:--adversary, Satan, withstand."


This can be used to research the Biblical usage of this word.



The Devil is cast from heaven Gustave Doré's depiction of Satan  from John Milton's Paradise Lost


The Devil is cast from heaven Gustave Doré's depiction of Satan 

from John Milton's Paradise Lost



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." 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.

"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 cannot 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. 3:1-2, 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. 21:1 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 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, 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. An immediate influence of the Babylonian concept of the "accuser, persecutor, and oppressor" is impossible, since traces of such an influence, if it had existed, would have appeared in the earlier portions of the Bible."


With regard to the 1 Chronicles 21:1 passage, it is known that, at times, Yahweh gives Satan the authority to carry out wicked deeds, as in the book of Job. It has similarly been argued that Satan entered Judas so that the Son of Man could be delivered over to the officials. (Luke 22:3)



In the Hebrew Apocrypha


A large part of this "secret" literature was the apocalypses. Based on unfulfilled prophecies, these books were not considered scripture, but rather part of a literary form that flourished from 200 BC to AD 100. These works usually bore the names of ancient Hebrew worthies in order to establish their validity among the true writers' contemporaries. To reconcile the late appearance of the texts with their claims to primitive antiquity, alleged authors are represented as "shutting up and sealing" (Dan. XII. 4:9) the works until the time of their fulfillment had arrived; as the texts were not meant for their own generations but for far-distant ages (also cited in Assumption of Moses I. 16:17).


In the Book of Wisdom Satan is represented, with reference to Gen. 3, as the being who brought death into the world. He is also mentioned in Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 21:27, "Flee from sins as from the face of a serpent", and "Who will pity an enchanter struck by a serpent, or any that come near wild beasts? So is it with him that keepeth company with a wicked man, and is involved in his sins.".


The 2nd Book of Enoch also called the Slavonic Book of Enoch contains references to a Watcher Grigori called Satanail. The text describes Satanail as being the prince of the Grigori and "rejected the Lord of light". It contains a number of references to him including 29:4 which reads "4. And I threw him out from the height with his angels, and he was flying in the air continuously above the bottomless". It also describes the Devil in 31:4 saying "4. The devil is the evil spirit of the lower places, as a fugitive he made Sotona (9) from the heavens as his name was Satanail (10), thus he became different from the angels, but his nature did not change his intelligence as far as his understanding of righteous and sinful things." The book of 2 Enoch is not accepted by the mainstream of studying Christians. As it is likely that it was written in the first century. The same story is played out in the book of 1 Enoch however in that book the leader of the Grigori is called Semjâzâ.


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. Mastema, who induced God to test Abraham through the sacrifice of Isaac, is identical with Satan in both name and nature, Azazel of the Apocalypse of Abraham 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 if Satan is true it must rather be that reference to him and his realm is often implied in the mention of evil spirits. On the other hand there is little substantiation to prove that concepts of Satan were widespread and that the books were written at the times claimed and not rather written between 200BC and 100AD



Satan in Mainstream Christianity


In mainstream Christianity's understanding of the holy Hebrew scriptures, the Torah, Satan is a synonym for the Devil. He is believed to be an angel who rebelled against God — and also the one who spoke through the serpent and seduced Eve into disobeying God's command. His ultimate goal is to lead people away from the love of God — to lead them to fallacies which God opposes. Satan is also identified as the accuser of Job, the tempter in the Gospels, the secret power of lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians 2:7, and the dragon in the Book of Revelation. Before his insurrection, Satan was the highest of all angels and the "brightest in the sky." His pride is considered a reason why he would not bow to God as all other angels did, but sought to rule heaven himself. In Christianity he is called "the ruler of the demons" (Matt. 12:24); "the ruler of the world" and even "the god of this world." (2Cor. 4:4). The Book of Revelation describes how Satan will be cast out of Heaven, down to the earth, having "great anger" and waging war against "those who obey God's commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus". Ultimately, Satan is thrown forever into the "lake of fire" (Revelation 20:10), not as ruler, but as one among many, being treated no different than all the others who have been cast there as well.



Satan in Islam


Shaitan (شيطان) is the equivalent of Satan in Islam.


While Shaitan(شيطان, from the root šṭn شطن) is an adjective (meaning "astray" or "distant") that can be applied to both man ("al-ins", الإنس) and Genie, Iblis (pronounced /'ib.liːs/) is the personal name of the Shaitan who is mentioned in the Qur'anic account of Genesis, and whose origin is unclear but it is more likely to be made of fire. However, the name Iblis is likely a contraction taken from the Greek "Diabolos".


Whenever the Qur'an refers to the creature who refused to prostrate before Adam at the time of the latter's creation, it refers to him as Iblis. The Islamic view of Iblis (English:Lucifer) has both commonalities and differences with Christian and Jewish views.



Satan, Adam, and Eve


As per the Qur'an, before the creation of Man, Allah created the Angels out of light— and which had no free will — and the Genie, made of smokeless fire, with semi-free will. Later Allah created Adam, and ordered all the angels to bow to him. All the angels did, except a Genie called Iblis, who was elevated to be one of the leaders of the Angels. Iblis was proud and considered himself superior. Iblis argued that he is superior to Adam, who is made of modified clay, while he himself is made of smokeless fire. For this Allah damned him to Hell for eternity, but gave him respite till the Doomsday at his request. Then and there Iblis swore that he would use his time to lead all men astray to burn in hell. Allah replied that there would always be followers of Allah, and that the paradise of heaven was available for them, and those who followed Iblis would go with him to Hell.


After their creation, Adam and Hawwa' (حواء, Adam and Eve) dwelt in Paradise (الجنة, AlJannah), where Allah forbade them to go near the cursed tree. "The Satan" (or al-Shaitan in Arabic), tricked Adam and Hawwa' into eating from the tree. Allah then expelled both of them from Heaven and onto Earth, to wander about not as a punishment. In Islam, Allah created humans to send them on to Earth, which he created for them. He was just to see how long the humans, Adam and Hawwa could stay in heaven or paradise. Then Adam sought to repent to Allah, and Allah taught him the words by which to do so. Allah forgave Adam and Hawwa' and told them "Get ye down all from here; and if, as is sure, there comes to you Guidance from me, whosoever follows My guidance, on them shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve." Iblis will try to influence as many of their descendants as he possibly could into sin, so as to be his companions in his final destiny into Hell.


Adam remained weeping for 40 days, until he repented.


Bahá'í interpretation of Satan


The Bahá'í Faith teaches that Satan is a metaphor for the "insistent self" which is a self-serving inclination within each individual. The insistent self is often referred to in the Bahá'í Writings as "the Evil One". Bahá'u'lláh, founder of the Bahá'í Faith wrote:


"Watch over yourselves, for the Evil One is lying in wait, ready to entrap you. Gird yourselves against his wicked devices, and, led by the light of the name of the All-Seeing God, make your escape from the darkness that surroundeth you."[1]

Satan is not seen as being an independent evil power, but as our own lower nature. 'Abdu'l-Baha, Bahá'u'lláh's successor, wrote:


"This lower nature in man is symbolized as Satan -- the evil ego within us, not an evil personality outside."[2]

The Bahá'í Faith teaches that evil is non-existent. Evil is simply the absence of goodness, and consequently, there can be no evil powers.

"...there is no evil in existence; all that God created He created good. This evil is nothingness; so death is the absence of life. When man no longer receives life, he dies. Darkness is the absence of light: when there is no light, there is darkness. Light is an existing thing, but darkness is nonexistent. Wealth is an existing thing, but poverty is nonexisting. Then it is evident that all evils return to nonexistence. Good exists; evil is nonexistent."[3]


St Augustine and the Devil, by Michael Pacher


St Augustine and the Devil, by Michael Pacher





Much "Satanic" lore does not originate from actual Satanists, but from Christians. Best-known would be the medieval folklore and theology surrounding demons and witches. A more recent example is the so-called Satanic ritual abuse scare of the 1980s; beginning with the memoir Michelle Remembers - which depicts Satanism as a vast conspiracy of elites with a predilection for child-molesting and human sacrifice. This genre regularly describes Satan as actually appearing in person in order to receive worship. Claims of Satanic child-molesting or murder rings are largely unsubstantiated.


People claiming to be Satanists—or outsiders claiming to describe Satanism—ascribe a wide variety of beliefs to this movement. These range from the literal worship of a malevolent spiritual being (Theistic Satanism); to a kind of subversive ritual performance stressing the mockery of Christian symbols (most notably the Black Mass); to the claimed rediscovery of an ancient but misunderstood religion (e.g. Setianism, which conflates Satan with the Egyptian god Set); to an excuse for hedonistic recreation, and the celebration of selfishness and pleasure.



LaVeyan satanism


The most prominent and widely known Satanist in recent years is, and was Anton Szandor LaVey, who founded the Church of Satan in 1966. LaVey wrote The Satanic Bible (1969) and other works which remain highly influential (though controversial) among avowed Satanists. LaVey rejects the Black Mass, cruelty to animals, or a literal belief in (or worship of) Satan, instead considering Satan as the human instinct within ourselves, which is what LaVeyan Satanism celebrates. Instead he supports a view of human beings as animals and rejects many social structures that he believes inhibit human instincts.



Similar figures


Not all faiths define a central evil entity such as Satan set in opposition to God. However, some of these faiths, such as Zoroastrianism, recognize evil figures or entities which are sometimes likened to Satan.



Satan in fiction and popular culture


The Satan in fiction and popular culture is mostly influenced by Christianity and their concepts of devil, evil forces and original sin. Satan is of minor importance in the Hebrew Bible, the Jewish faith and Judaism. 


















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