A History of Satan (Satan 1)

Citation with stable link: Philip A. Harland, 'A History of Satan (Satan 1),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified February 11, 2023, https://philipharland.com/Blog/?p=117.

Welcome to ongoing discussions regarding the origins, development, and significance of personified evil — Satan and his demons — in early Judaism and in the history of Christianity. We will be tracing the history of Satan (a.k.a. the Devil, Beelzebul, Beliar, Mastema, Lucifer, Mephisto) and his minions from ancient Mesopotamian chaos-monsters to early Jewish and Christian fallen angels to modern portrayals in music, television, and film. Dragon-like mythical figure, Ishtar gateTo get a sense of what topics and sources may be covered in the next few months, you can look at my outline for the undergraduate course: “A History of Satan”. There are already a number of entries here on this blog that deal with topics relating to Satan and hell. Ideas associated with this personified evil figure are thoroughly embedded within western culture, and these discussions will be an attempt to partially unravel the layers in his story.

Come again, and I’ll look forward to any historically-minded comments or questions you may have.

UPDATE (Jan. 2): Check out the comments section, where significant (as well as not-so-significant) discussions have already begun.

Photo: Dragon-like mythical figure, associated with the god Marduk, on the Babylonian Ishtar Gate (c. 575 BCE; now in the Istanbul Archeological Museum; photo by Phil). Images like this one may have inspired the story of Daniel slaying the dragon in the Apocrypha, which draws on a long tradition of slaying the chaos-monster.

2 thoughts on “A History of Satan (Satan 1)

  1. Tyler Williams

    Hey Phil… this series looks quite interesting. Maybe I missed it, but I was surprised your class outline doesn’t deal with Job, even though it is not Satan, but the adversary who shows up there.

    Do you cover 1 Chronicles 21? While this has traditionally been considered one of the first explicit places where Satan shows us, a number of commentaries have recently sugested that it, like Job, is also referring to a celestial or human adversay, and not Satan per se.

    Your connection with ANE chaos myths also looks interesting. I have always wondered about the contribution of the LXX to the development of the idea of Satan since it flattens a number of terms related to Leviathan and other chaos monsters by rendering them all as dragon. Thus you seem to have Ugaritic Lotan –> Hebrew Leviathan –> LXX Dragon –> NT Dragon. What do ya think?

  2. Phil Harland Post author

    Thanks, Tyler.

    Yes, I do deal with Job and related “adversary” angelic figures in the Hebrew Bible in class itself, but I chose to focus the student’s readings on some other passages. This is partially to avoid them misunderstanding the Job material–as though it were full-blown Satan–before we have a footing in other materials that perhaps more directly develop into Satan, such as Leviathan, also in Job (but I get them to read chaos-monster passages in Psalms).

    I do tend to agree with those who see the figure in 1 Chron 21 as an angelic “adversary” working on God’s behalf. Looking it up now, I also see that the parallel passage in 2 Samuel 24:1 has “the anger of Yahweh” (rather than an “adversarial” middle-“man”–he’s an angel) inciting David’s action. JAN. 3 UPDATE: As I am re-reading material I am now seeing that among the references to “adversary” (satan) in the Hebrew Bible, the passage in 1 Chron 21 is the one that has what we could call the most independent role for the angel adversary (he acts on his own in this incident, relative to other passages where the “adversary” or the “messenger” act in conjunction with God’s will). So my “working on God’s behalf” (above) is problematic in reference to the Chronicler’s intentions. The Chronicler seems to be trying to remove what that author sees as negative behaviour away from God and attribute it to the angelic adversary figure (this is only evident because we have the 2 Samuel parallel, which still has God doing what the Chronicler evidently saw as something underhanded or evil). Nonetheless, this is by no means a full blown, completely independent Satan yet (Tyler was not suggesting that either, though). END OF UPDATE

    I think you make a very good point (which I hadn’t thought of) about the fact that the LXX/Septuagint’s (Greek translation of the Bible’s) translation of various chaos monsters as “dragon” accelerates the melding and, if you don’t mind, I will refer to your point in the course. I’ll look forward to any further comments you have on future posts, especially since Hebrew Bible/LXX is your thing.

    Thanks for getting me thinking further already, as I should.


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