Demons are often seen as agents of the Devil set out to test the faith of people. However, given that demons themselves are proof of the Devil's existence and therefore the existence of Hell, one has to question the effect any "test of faith" caused by demons appearing. The fact that demons also seem to appear almost exclusively before people who already believe in their existence would seem to reduce their efficiency in this regard even further.
Origins of Biblical Belief in Demons
There are multiple sources contributing to the appearance of evil spirits in the Bible. For instance, in ancient Israel during Old Testament times demons were non-defined creatures inhabiting deserted places; these locations included ruins, deserts and even beaches. In addition, Lilith was a demon appearing during the silence of the night, and is in this capacity identified as the original source for the slayings of Yahweh during passover in Exodus 12 . Spirits connected to a specific time are also found in Job 3,5 , where the final line of the verse can be interpreted as "demons of the eclipse" seizing the day. This logic springs forth from the Israelite belief that divine power is able to destroy "demonized" units of time.
However, in this belief system demons weren't confined to their respective places. In fact the Israelites already knew the concept of a haunted house. In this respect the putting of blood on the doorframes in Exodus 12:7 is borrowed from a Mesopotamian ritual, preventing demons to enter a premise.
Moreover, demons are also used as labels to promote Judaism in Old Testament books. Aiming to declare Yahweh as supreme god, heathen deities like Resep - originally a god tied to illnesses - were stripped of their power and depersonalized. In their new form, their names now merely stood for their attributes (like descriping an ailment) or for being an ill-defined demon - like in the Qumran version of Psalm 91 .
In both Old and New Testament demons are also used for clearing Yahweh of wrongdoing. Satan, as chief demon in Christian thought, serves as prime example for this argument. In Job this supernatural entity appears mainly as a symbolical figure, identifying the dilemma of a believer confronted with immeasurable sufferings. In 1.Chronicles 21 however, Satan acts in a personal way by creating tension between King David and his nephew Joab. In this context he is the deceiver, to which every percieved evil can be connected to in theological terms.
The role of Satan, and his demons, expanded after the reported events of the New Testament. To Christian soldiers in the Roman army, the deities of the ancient world-power were seen as evil spirits and agents of the devil. Their belief was strenghened by occasional failures of an Emperor to divine the future in specific rituals, in which Christian soldiers were forced to participate. The believers in Jesus attributed this outcome to the power of Christ working through them, dispelling the hell creatures from the pagan temple in the process.
Demons are supposedly able to enter and take control of a human or animal in a process called possession. The Catholic Church uses the ritual of exorcism to expel demons from the victims they possess. Many Protestant denominations also have rituals or rites to cast out demons, though most of these are considerably less formal or complicated than the Catholic version of the same procedure.
The reason god would create angels with the ability to invade human bodies and control them is not explained in the Bible.
Belief in evil in contemporary America
In 2008 a study, using data from the 2005 Baylor Religion Survey, revealed that 47.7% of Americans believed in demons in absolute terms; 57.8% of the population said the same of Satan and 55.6% of Hell. In comparison only 11.5% decidedly denied the existence of demons. The number of absolute disbelief is even lower for Satan (9.5%) as well as for Hell (9.2%).
- Baker, Joseph, Who Believes in Religious Evil? An Investigation of Sociological Patterns of Belief in Satan, Hell, and Demons, in: Review of Religious Research, Vol. 50, No. 2, 2008
- Borgeaud, Philippe, "Silent Entrails": The Devil, His Demons, and Christian Theories Regarding Ancient Religions, in: History of Religions, Vol. 50, No. 1, 2010
- Frey-Anthes, Henrike, Concepts of "Demons" in Ancient Israel, in: Die Welt des Orients, Bd. 38, 2008
- Noegel, Scott B., Job III 5 in the Light of Mesopotamian Demons of Time, in: Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 57, Fasc. 4, 2007