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Satan

For other uses, see Satan (disambiguation).
Gustave Dore's depiction of Satan from John Milton's Paradise Lost

Satan (שָׂטָן Standard Hebrew Satan, Tiberian Hebrew Śāṭān; Aramaic שִׂטְנָא Śiṭnâ: both words mean "Adversary; accuser") is an angel, demon, or minor god in many religions. Satan plays various roles in the Qur'an, 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 of Adam and Eve in Genesis, and the Book of Job). In the Apocrypha and New Testament, Satan is portrayed as an evil rebellious demon who is the enemy of God and mankind.

In modern Abrahamic religions, Satan is generally viewed as a supernatural entity who is the central embodiment of evil. Satan is also commonly known as the Devil, the "Prince of Darkness," Beelzebub, Belial, Mephistopheles, or Lucifer. 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 is actually evil.

In Islam, Satan is known as Iblis إبليس or "Shaitan شيطان", who was the chief of the Jinn until he disobeyed Allah by refusing to prostrate himself before Adam because he refused to accept Man as his superior. Islam describes Satan as a Jinn, an entity made of fire, and not of the angels made from light.

Table of contents

Images of Satan

a typical modern depiction of Satan in likeness of a goat with horns and goatee

In art and literature, Satan has been depicted in numerous ways throughout history. According to one interpretation of the book of Genesis, Satan is identified as the serpent who convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit; thus, Satan has often been depicted as a serpent. This interpretation goes back at least as far as the time of the writing of the book of Revelation, which specifically identifies Satan as being the serpent (Rev. 20:2). In truth, Genesis makes no direct reference to the serpent having another identity, Satan or any other. It has been postulated by many Biblical scholars that Eden's snake is just a snake, able to speak, reason, and tempt Eve because it serves the explanatory purpose.

A popular image of Satan, adopted from the Greek God Pan, is as a horned, hoofed goat-like monster holding a trident. In modern times, the goat-like image of Satan has been adapted into a more human-looking form of a dark, foreboding man wearing a goatee. Satan has also been depicted as a charming and attractive man, as symbolic of the popular mythology that Satan acquires human souls by appealing to their vanity and presenting them with appealing and attractive temptations. Rarely, Satan has also been depicted as a conniving woman, such as in the movie Bedazzled (2000). There are also a few images depicting Satan as a beautiful angel, such as in Go Nagai's Devilman.

In the Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible Satan is better understood as a "troublemaker" than as an embodiment of "evil." The term is applied both to divine and human beings.

Different uses of the word "Satan" in the Bible

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

  • An enemy in war (1 Kings 5:4; 11:14, 23, 25)
  • An accuser before the judgment-seat (Ps. 109:6)
  • An antagonist who puts obstacles in the way, as in Num. 22:22, where the angel of God is described as opposing Balaam as an adversary.
  • As an angel who works to find fault with God, and acts as a prosecuting attorney against mankind (the Book of Job).

The Strong's concordance number for the Hebrew word "Satan" is 07854. This can be used to research the Biblical usage of this word. For instance, this page on the 'Blue Letter Bible' website specifies the Hebrew verses it appears in: Blue Letter Bible Lexicon Results for "Satan"

Satan as an accuser

Where Satan does appear as an angel, he is clearly a member of God's court and plays the role of the Accuser, much like a prosecuting attorney for God. Such a view is found in the prologue to the Book of Job, where Satan appears, together with other celestial beings, before God, replying to the inquiry of God as to whence he had come, with the words: "From going to and fro on the earth and from walking in it" (Job 1:7). 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 with the purpose of searching out men's sins and appearing as their accuser. He is, therefore, the celestial prosecutor (a type of lawyer), who sees only iniquity. For example, in Job 2:3–5, after Job passes Satan's first test, Satan requests that Job be tested even further.

It is evident from the prologue in Job that Satan has no power of independent action, but requires the permission of God, which he may not transgress. Satan is not an opponent 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.

In 1 Chron. 21:1 Satan 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 (2 Sam. 24:1) 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 (1 Sam. 16:14; 1 Kings 22:22; Isa. 45:7; 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.

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, which doubtless forced their way gradually from the lower classes to the most cultured. 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 inclinaction (Yetzer HaRa), Satan, or the Angel of Death. According to the Midrash, before this cunning beast was cursed, it stood erect and was endowed with some faculty of communication.

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

The Babylonian Talmud (Bava Bathra 16a) states that the Evil Inclincation (Yetzer ha-Ra), the Angel of Death and Satan are identical.

In a midrash (Genesis Rabbah 19) Samael, the lord of the satans, was a mighty prince of angels in heaven. Satan came into the world with woman, that is, with Eve (Midrash Yalkut, Genesis 1:23), so that he was created and is not eternal. Like all celestial beings, he flies through the air (Genesis Rabbah 19), and can assume any form, as of a bird (Talmud, Sanhedrin 107a), a stag (ibid, 95a), a woman (ibid, 81a), a beggar, or a young man (Midrash Tanchuma, Wayera, end); he is said to skip (Talmud Pesachim 112b and Megilla. 11b), in 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" (Talmud Berachot 19a). In times of danger likewise he brings his accusations (Palestinian Talmud, Shabbat 5b). While he has power over all the works of man (Talmud Berachot 46b), 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 (Talmud, Shabbat 32a).

Satan's knowledge is circumscribed; for when the shofar is blown on New-Year's Day he is "confounded" (Rosh Hashana 16b, Targum Yerushalmi to Numbers 10:10). 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 (Yoma 20a).

If Satan does not attain his purpose, as was the case in his temptation of Job, he feels great sorrow (Bava Bathra 16a); and it was a terrible blow to him, as the representative of moral evil, that the Torah, the incarnation of moral good, should be given to Israel. He endeavored to overthrow it, and finally led the people to make the golden calf (Shabbat 89a, Targum Yerushalmi to Exodus 32:1), while the two tables of the Law were bestowed on Moses of necessity without Satan's knowledge (Sanhedrin 26b).

One rabbi notes that Satan was an active agent in the fall of man (Midrash Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer 13, beginning), and was the father of Cain (ibid, 21), while he was also instrumental in the offering of Isaac (Midrash Tanchuma, Wayera, 22 [ed. Stettin, p. 39a]), in the release of the animal destined by Esau for his father (ibid, Toledot, 11), in the theophany at Sinai, in the death of Moses (Deuteronomy Rabbah 13:9), in David's sin with Bath-sheba (Sanhedrin 95a), and in the death of Queen Vashti (Megilla 11a). The decree to destroy all the Jews, which Haman obtained, was written on parchment brought by Satan (Esther Rabba 3:9). When Alexander the Great reproached the Jewish sages with their rebellion, they made the plea that Satan had been too mighty for them (Tamid 32a).

In the 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. Satan was the seducer and the paramour of Eve, and was hurled from heaven together with other angels because of his iniquity (Slavonic Book of Enoch, xxix. 4 et seq.). Since that time he has been called "Satan," although previously he had been termed "Satanel" (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 (Martyrdom of Isaiah, ii. 2; Vita Adæ et Evæ, xvi.). Mastema, who induced God to test Abraham through the sacrifice of Isaac, is identical with Satan in both name and nature (Book of Jubilees, xvii. 18), 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 not infrequently bears the special name 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 (see Matt. 4: 3–9). In John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, the theme is further developed—Satan is believed to have been an archangel named Lucifer who turned against God before the creation of man. (Prophesies 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 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.

According to most Christian eschatology, Satan will wage a final war against Jesus, before being cast into Hell for "aeonios." (Aeonios, literally translated, means of or pertaining to an age, which is incorrectly translated as "all eternity." It is impossible to apply the meaning of a span of time to eternity since eternity, itself, is not bounded by time.) The Unification Church teaches that Satan will be restored in the last days and become a good angel again (see Lucifer, A Criminal Against Humanity). 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, Fundamentalists teach that Jesus returns to earth before the Tribulational period to reclaim the righteous dead Old and living to meet Him in the air (known as the Rapture, see 1 Thess 4:17). Most 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” (a short time, see Rev 20:1–3)—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 (see Rev 21:1–4).

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.


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 pitchfork, 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.

Christadelphians believe that there is no supernatural being of evil, and that references to Satan or the Devil in the Bible are usually to be understood as either personifications of evil, or as particular individuals.

Devil's Dictionary definition

SATAN, n. One of the Creator's lamentable mistakes, repented in sashcloth and axes. Being instated as an archangel, Satan made himself multifariously objectionable and was finally expelled from Heaven. Halfway in his descent he paused, bent his head in thought a moment and at last went back. "There is one favor that I should like to ask," said he.
"Name it."
"Man, I understand, is about to be created. He will need laws."
"What, wretch! you his appointed adversary, charged from the dawn of eternity with hatred of his soul — you ask for the right to make his laws?"
"Pardon; what I have to ask is that he be permitted to make them himself."
It was so ordered.

Jehovah's Witnesses

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Satan is a real person. Satan was created a perfect spirit creature, but that he became "Satan the Devil" when he acted on his desire to turn Adam and Eve away from worship of Jehovah to himself. The name he carried previously is not mentioned in the Bible.

By use of the serpent in the Garden of Eden Satan seduced Eve by implying that God's rulership was selfish and unjust. "Is it really so that God said YOU must not eat from every tree of the garden?" Eve's reply was that only one tree had been prohibited from their use on penalty of death. Satan challenged this: "YOU positively will not die. For God knows that in the very day of YOUR eating from it YOUR eyes are bound to be opened and YOU are bound to be like God, Knowing good and bad." So, Satan's approach was a dual deception: First, that God was witholding good from them and second that he was lying in the process.

Eve, having succumbed to this deception, along with Adam, who allowed himself to become complicit in the matter, rejected their Creator and chose Satan as their 'god'. The Bible shows that the majority of their offspring followed them in this course. (e.g. The Flood)

Jehovah's Witnesses believe that Satan is still the god of this world, citing references at 2 Cor.4:4; 1 John 5:19; Mt 4:8–11.

Satanists

There are historical records of people worshiping Satan, though their authenticity is sometimes questioned. Today, some people identify themselves as Satanists. 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. Some Christians believe that most or all other religions are Satanic, that is, influenced by and supported by the power of Satan.

Among polytheists

Syncreto-Paganism

In Pagan/polytheistic religions that have assimilated aspects of Abrahamic mythology into their own pantheons, Satan, Lucifer, and Beelzabub are often seen as distinct and separate beings who perform necessary cosmic functions.

In Stregheria, the Lucifer/Satan connection is upheld just as in Christian mythology. The Streghe see Lucifer (the name "Satan" is never used in Stregheria) as a kind and philanthropic deity who chose to disobey the tyrant-god of the Christians by appearing in the form of the serpent to offer knowledge of good and evil to humans (presumably via the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, as this is an allusion to the Genesis myth) in order to expose the Abrahamic God for the evil being he truly was. Stregheria's classical influence is apparent here, as in Greek mythology the serpent was seen as a symbol of wisdom.

Neopaganism

Christian tradition has frequently identified pagan religions and witchcraft with the influence of Satan. In the Middle Ages, the Church accused "witches" of consorting and conspiring with Satan. Correspondingly, several conservative Christian writers, such as Jack Chick and James Dobson, have depicted today's neopagan and witchcraft religions as Satanic. However, most neopagan traditions, such as Wicca and Neo-Druidism, do not include a Satan figure in their beliefs.

New-Age Movement

Some individuals identifying themselves with the New Age thought process believe that Satan, or Lucifer, was the leader of extraterrestrials who came to Earth and waged a galactic war with another extraterrestrial group led by one now referred to as "God". This is not necessarily the belief of those standing behind that system of thought.

Another polytheistic new religious movement, the Process Church, claims that Satan is one of "Three Great Gods" along with Jehovah and Lucifer.

Satan's existence in skeptical thought

Skeptics, influenced by science and rational thinking stemming from the Enlightenment have come to question whether Satan exists. 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 allows Satan to do evil deeds and go unpunished, and then turns around and punishes humans who are victims of Satan's evil deeds to an eternity of hellfire.
  2. The existence of supernatural beings conflicts with naturalism. It is unclear how Satan, which is supernatural, interacts with the human world. It is unnecessary to explain bad events such as the Black Plague or more modernly, AIDS or 9/11 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 fully explained and traced through comparative mythology.

Satan in secular humanist thought

Secular humanists have observed that historically, Christianity has vilified its enemies as being aligned with Satan, and proceeds to persecute their enemies using the most dreadful torture. As a result, many secular humanists not only do not believe that Satan exists, they also hold the view that a belief in Satan is a serious obstacle to human progress, peace, and a just world, and that the belief itself should be eradicated through education and scientific thinking.

Others understand the Satan figure to be a metaphor for evil—the personification of a tendency of mankind to do evil, in contradiction to its moral values, which tend to require a sophisticated process of positive social indoctrination. An educated secular humanist view often sees and appreciates the symbolism of Satan and other religious personifications, but holds some skeptical reservations about the dangers of literal belief, and of the literal believer —whom to secularists tend to appear as under the spell of a dogma, rather than being inspired with the meaning of the symbolism. The view, like the religious view of the secularist, is a perceptual one —not necessarily based in substance.

Satan in entertainment media

Generally when Satan is depicted in movies and TV, he is represented as a red-skinned man with horns on his head, hoofs, tail, and pitchfork, while often times he is represented as a plain human being, and, in rare instances, only his voice is heard. Popular portrayals of Satan include Warner Bros. cartoons (such as Satan's Waitin' (1954)), William Friedkin's The Exorcist (1973), Richard Donner's The Omen (1976), Ridley Scott's Legend (1985), End of Days (1999) and Comedy Central's South Park. Al Pacino starred as Satan in the movie Devil's Advocate. In Constantine, Satan is portrayed by Peter Stormare as a human. In BBC Radio 4's comedy Old Harry's Game Satan is played by Andy Hamilton.

In Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby, the main character (played by Mia Farrow) becomes pregnant by Satan and has his child. In The Ninth Gate, the main character (played by Johnny Depp) is involved in finding a missing book with details for summoning Satan.

Including Satan as a personification of evil holds many narrative opportunities. South Park, for example, makes a political point by portraying Satan in an abusive sexual relationship with (the apparently more evil) Saddam Hussein. Others have portrayed a human character's struggles with Satan to mark human foibles and failings in the attempt to live a good life — for example, Bedazzled (1967, remade 2000) and Oh, God! You Devil (1984). And in the horror/suspense genre, including Satan provides for a gripping, nearly all powerful foe, as seen in The Omen trilogy.

One intriguing use of Satan in recent horror fiction and film is the evangelical aim of William Peter Blatty in his book and the subsequent film, The Exorcist. He has explained that his goal was to portray the ultimate evil as a way of reminding the world of the need to believe in the ultimate good, God.

On the 2004 Insane Clown Posse concept album about Hell, The Wraith: Hell's Pit, Satan is referred to as "The Witch".

Satan has also been immortalized in music. Many rock stars, such as the Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden and AC/DC, and even crossover artists such as Terri Gibbs, have recorded songs about Satan. Many of Osbourne's albums (both solo and with his former group, Black Sabbath), for example, have glorified or at other times, criticized devil worship. The Rolling Stones recorded a song called "Sympathy for the Devil," which was later covered by Guns N' Roses for the movie Interview with the Vampire which was based on a novel by Anne Rice. Terri Gibbs' crossover song "Somebody's Knockin'" features these lyrics: "... Lord it's the devil. Would you look at him ... he'd have blue eyes and blue jeans". Some listeners have claimed to find satanic messages concealed in other popular music by playing records backwards.

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