Satan (a.k.a. The Devil) is the modern personification of evil. Modern Christian mythology casts Satan as an angel who defied the will of God. He was cast out of heaven with his followers and was condemned to rule over hell. He is seen as “the father of lies”, the tempter of Adam and Eve, the tormenter of mankind on earth, and the torturer of mankind in hell.
But this has not always been Satan’s lot. Before modern Christianity condemned him to hell, Satan had a very different mythology associated with him.
Earliest recorded history calls the northern highlands area between the coastal plain and the valley of the Jordan River “Canaan.” Between 1800 and 1500 BCE, Semitic tribes of Hebrews left Mesopotamia and settled in Canaan, which eventually became a collection of city-states that was ruled by Egypt. The Tel-El Amarna tablets imply the presence of the hapiru (Hebrews) in Canaan during the Egyptian rule.
The Egyptian empire began to deteriorate circa 1500 BCE. As their hold in the area weakened, new invaders arrived: additional Hebrews from Mesopotamia, and the Philistines (an Aegean people of Indo-European stock). Hebrew tradition tells of the Exodus, that Moses led twelve tribes from Egypt and entered (then conquered) Canaan. A kingdom (Israel) was established under Saul, who was proceeded by David. There are no records in Egypt of such an event. The closest is the expulsion of a substantial minority group, the Hyksos, a Semitic-Asiatic people who had gained some level of control within Egypt and ruled during the Fifteenth Dynasty (1670 BCE). They were cast out by the Egyptians in 1570 BCE, who pushed them all the way to the Syrian frontier. Unfortunately, the dates don't match up well (the Exodus occurring circa 1200 BCE), but it is possible that the earlier expulsion of the Hyksos was changed by oral story-telling tradition over the years into the tale that casts a more favorable light on the ancestors of those who put the stories into writing.
To continue the Hebrew tradition, the Israelites (at this time, an allied mix of Hebrew tribes) finally defeated the Canaanites about 1125 BCE. The Philistines had established an independent state on the southern coast of Palestine (more or less, today's Gaza Strip). However, the Israelites (under King David) finally defeated them shortly after 1000 BCE.
David conquered Jerusalem (in Judah) circa 1004 BCE, making it the center of his government. He also per Hebrew tradition brought the Ark of the Covenant to the city and Jerusalem became the political and spiritual center of the Jewish people. David was succeeded by his son Solomon, who built the First Temple in Jerusalem circa 970-931 BCE. After Solomon died (circa 970-928 BCE), Israel split into the southern Kingdom of Judah and the northern Kingdom of Israel, with Jerusalem remaining the capital of the southern Kingdom.
Much of the history given in the Hebrew Scriptures, however, does not match with archeological evidence and extant secular history records of adjacent countries, as pointed out regarding the Exodus. The 40 year wandering is not supported by archeology and the fact that with all the Egyptian military outposts, it is unlikely that they could have remained undetected (and unmolested) by the Egyptian forces. The settlement of Canaan was probably not a military conquest, but a slow process of immigration.
The Hebrew Scriptures
Writing among the Hebrew had developed in the tenth century BCE based on the 22-letter Phoenician alphabet of 1100 BCE, and by the end of the eighth century BCE, literacy had rapidly spread, at least among the upper-class Hebrews. Eventually, the myths of both Kingdoms were written down and comparisons were inevitable. The northern Kingdom's concept of god was known as El (also Elohim). He first appears to Abraham as "El Shaddai" (El of the Mountain). He also appears as El Elyon, or El of Bethel in other, non-canonized writings. He is portrayed as a subtle god, one who directs the affairs of men by revelation of the voice, remaining hidden from view. In the harsher southern Kingdom, the Canaanite god YHWH was transformed by the people of the land of Judah from his pagan Canaanite origins, first appearing as a cruel and vindictive entity. That harsh character later softens.
In 722 BCE the Assyrians invaded Israel, leading to the exiling of the ten “lost tribes.” Northern refugees entered Judea, bringing their concepts of El with them to Jerusalem. And the two god concepts come into open conflict with each other. The arriving Israelites with their god El, and the Judeans with their god YHWH, were abruptly required to reconcile their conceptual differences regarding “the god of Abraham.” It was at this time that the earliest mythos of the Hebrew Scriptures become set in the form that they, for the most part, have been handed down. And for the first time, with the Assyrian destruction of Israel, the Biblical record begins to match with the archaeological record.
Hezekiah, king of Jerusalem in the southern Kingdom, resisted the Assyrians with his prophet Isaiah at his side. The first attempt to create a pure monotheism, one God without an image, was conceived by Isaiah, who was extremely advanced in his views about monotheism. His concept could not tolerate other gods next to his idea of one universal God. To ensure that the populace did not return to worshipping other gods, Isaiah prompted Hezekiah to remove the bronze image of the serpent, Nechushtan, out of the Temple, and melt it down. They also removed all the lion-shaped idols, gods of the tribe of Judas, and shattered them to pieces. The Temple lost all the images and remained empty of anything but the invisible presence of YHWH. Isaiah even claimed that although YHWH preferred his Chosen People, the Israelites, he must be also the God of all other nations, because other gods simply could not exist as he saw it. The common people, however, perceived a feminine aspect of the divine, the Shekhina. The Talmud has many references to this entity, which eventually developed into a separate entity whose main function was to intercede on the behalf of her earthly children. The Hebrew Scriptures only reference this in Exodus 40 as “God's Glory.”
Two other prophets continued to develop the monotheistic concept. Habakkuk claimed that YHWH was a righteous, loving God (not the fierce volcano God of fire and war), and the God of all men on earth. There could be no war between YHWH and other gods, because no other gods could exist in this mind-set. Jeremiah went one step further with that philosophy, by focusing on the covenant and denouncing war and strife. He saw God as a loving entity, concerned about justice and peace among men. Jeremiah went as far as to beg the Israelites/Judeans not to fight the invading Babylonians, whom he also saw YHWH's children.
His attempts at peace failed dismally. Judea was conquered by the Babylonians in 597 BCE. King Nebuchadnezzar set up Zedekiah as his puppet-king over Judah and deported around 10K Hebrews to his capital. All the deportees were drawn from professionals, the wealthy, the craftsmen and (very significantly) the priests. Ordinary rural people were allowed to stay in Judah. Zedekiah rebelled, however, and Nebuchadnezzar sent another force in 588, conquering Jerusalem in 586 BCE and destroying the Temple. Nebuchadnezzar caught Zedekiah, forced him to watch the murder of his sons, then blinded him and deported him to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar also again deported the prominent citizens, but the number was far smaller than in 597 BCE: somewhere between 832 and 1577 people were deported. Ironically, Jeremiah's prophecy was also a bit of a failure: he predicted a 70 year exile that really only lasted 48 years.
As a sidenote, the Lucifer of Isaiah 14 is speaking of Nebuchadnezzar. The text speaks of a human ruler it calls “Helel son of Shachar” which translates as “son of the morning star” and further states that this ruler will die in disrepute and his body would be buried, not in a king's sarcophagus, but in pits reserved for the downtrodden masses, and worms would eat his body, and hedgehogs would trample his grave. Hardly applicable to Satan. It was Jerome's Latin Vulgate translation that first used the term Lucifer. There is no way a Latin word would occur in an Aramaic text originally.
Fortunately for the Hebrews, Cyrus the Great of Persia conquered Babylonia in 539 BCE. He allowed the exiled Jews to return to Judea, where they rebuilt Jerusalem and constructed the Second Temple. Since those who had left had been upper-class, the rural people who had remained in Judah looked with suspicion on these “foreigners.” After all, these returning Hebrews, whose concept of god into a universal deity had been completely successful in Babylon, viewed YHWH far differently than the rural class who has been left behind in Judea. But the returning priest class enforced that new version of YHWH in the synagogues and the rebuilt Temple. They also while in Babylon had redacted the Torah from the earlier writings, taken from both the Northern and Southern Kingdoms, and the Torah (first five books) began to gain recognition as scriptural circa 450 BCE.
The second division of the Hebrew Scriptures Nevi'im (Prophets) is comprised of Joshua, Judges, I Samuel, II Samuel, I Kings, II Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habukkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. These writings were compiled circa 200 BCE.
The third division of the Hebrew Scriptures Ketuvim (Writings) is comprised of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel (although not all that is included in the Christian Canon), Ezra and Nehemiah, I Chronicles, and II Chronicles. It should be clarified that the separation of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles is a later Christian change to the Hebrew Scriptures. Additionally, many Christian Bibles have expanded versions of several of these books (Esther, Ezra, Daniel, Jeremiah and Chronicles) including extra material that is not accepted as canonical in Judaism. This extra material was part of the ancient Greek translation of the Hebrew Scriptures, but was never a part of the official Hebrew Tanakh. Jews regard the additional material as apocryphal. Among Christians, there is a difference of opinion: Catholics regard this material as canonical, while many Protestant sects regard this material as apocrypha as well. The Writings were compiled, oddly enough, quite late in the game, circa 200 CE.
Satan and the Hebrew Scriptures
But where in these writings do we find references to satan? Among those books of the Hebrew Scriptures written before 300 BCE, the term satan (root word s'tn") appears often. The word is derived from the original Hebrew verb satan which means "to oppose." The Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek was widely used in the early Christian church and they translated satan as diabolic, from which we derive our English terms "devil" and "diabolic."
There are several different uses when the term is used. One is a person acting as an accuser or enemy. In 1 Samual 29:4, the Philistines were distrustful of David, fearing that he would be a satan. (translated "adversary" or "someone who will turn against us"). In 2 Samuel 19:22 Shime-i apologizes to King David. The King rejects the apology, saying that they should not be a satan to each other (translated "adversary" or "opponent"). In 1 Kings 5:4, King Solomon is talking to Hiram, the King of Tyre. He says that now that there is neither satan nor bad luck to stop him, he can build the Temple. (translated as "adversary", "enemy", or "one who opposes"). And in 1 Kings 11:14, God raised up Hadad the Edomite as a satan against Solomon. (translated as "adversary," or "opponent").
Another use of the Hebrew term translates as a divine messenger sent by God as an adversary. The one I have sited before in the story of Balaam in Number 22 is quite clear: God appears in a dream, and tells Balaam to go with the princes of Moab to meet Balak. But when Balaam sets out the next morning on his donkey, God is angry with him for his attempt to evade God's wishes, and he sends an angel/messenger to kill Balaam. The donkey sees the angel and takes evasive actions, but the angel is invisible to Balaam, who beats the animal. The donkey asks Balaam why he had beat her three times and Balaam (who doesn't seem to realize that a talking donkey is particularly odd) replies that the donkey has mocked him. The angel then appears and explains that he has come as a satan to kill him. (translated as "one who opposes, "withstand," "adversary")
Another use of the Hebrew term translates as a member of God's council, sort of a chief prosecutor. In 1 Chronicles 21:1, Satan, "a supernatural evil emissary," acting on God's behalf, influences David to hold a census. The census is taken, but God becomes angry for reasons not given in the writings. God then offers David his choice of one of three punishments: a three year famine, three months of fleeing before his enemies' armies, or a plague throughout Israel. David selects the plague (Door Number Three!) and God kills 70K men (no mention of the number of women or children, or even if the 70K includes women and children). Interestingly, in 2 Samuel 24, the identical event is described. However, this time, the text states that God influences David to hold the census, yet still becomes angry that it was done and punishes the Israelites with a plague. Some scholars consider the writings in 2 Samuel to be the original account. It is believed that when Samuel was finally edited (circa 560 BCE), the editors thought that all supernatural actions (good and bad) came from God. When Chronicles was written over a century later (circa 400 BCE), the author viewed God as operating indirectly through his helpers.
In Job 1 and 2, Satan is clearly described as one of the members of the court of heaven. I think we are all familiar with this storyline. Here, Satan is portrayed as a servant of God whose task it is to dutifully carry out evil deeds at God's instruction. And in Zechariah 3:1-7, Satan is again portrayed as a member of God's council, where he objects to the selection of Joshua as the high priest.
There are no passages within the older parts of the Hebrew Scriptures where Satan is portrayed as an evil entity, the arch-enemy of God and of humanity, cast out of “Heaven” and presiding over “Hell” with his fallen minions. At worst, he is portrayed as a henchman who dutifully carries out God's instructions. There is no dualism in these early writings between an all-good God and an all-evil Satan. Clearly, God is portrayed as performing, directly and indirectly, both kind and evil deeds. Whether plagues are sent, a flood is used to wipe all almost all of humanity, the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, or Lot's wife does the pillar of salt thing, all these actions are attributed to God directly. Isaiah 45:6-7 states that “…I am the LORD, and there is no other. I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the LORD, do all these things.” Job 9:22-23 states “It is all the same; that is why I say, 'He destroys both the blameless and the wicked.' When a scourge brings sudden death, he mocks the despair of the innocent.” And Lamentations 3:37-38 states “Who can speak and have it happen if the Lord has not decreed it? Is it not from the mouth of the Most High that both calamities and good things come?”
Prior to the Exile, the Hebrews had no concept of Hell. There was a concept of Sheol, which is translated variously in the Hebrew Scriptures as “hell,” “grave,” and “pit.” It is clear from each context that it is not a place of eternal torment. Jacob would hardly say "No,…in mourning will I go down to [an endless hell] to my son.” Nor is it probable that Job would pray to God to “hide him in a place of endless torment,” in order to be delivered from his troubles. The only clear thing about Sheol is that this was a well-known concept amongst the ancient Israelites. It was not until the Pharisees (c. 100 BCE) that the notion of a spiritual life after death developed in any meaningful way in Jewish thought. The Pharisees, who were the forerunners of the rabbis, taught that when the Torah spoke of reward for following God's ways, the reward would be forthcoming in an afterlife, Olam Ha-Ba (world to come), as they called it.
So what happened between 300 BCE and 100 BCE to alter the previous theological ideas? The Protestant Christian Bible closes the Hebrew Scriptures with the book of Malachi, written circa 397 BCE. (The Catholic Bible contains seven additional books: Tobias, Judith, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Baruch, and I, II Machabees as well as those expanded texts mentioned earlier that are also not contained in the Hebrew Scriptures.) These texts are called the Apocrypha. The Christian Scriptures (whether Catholic or Protestant) open with Matthew's gospel, written per Christian tradition in 37 CE. This gap of over four centuries has traditionally been called the "intertestamental period." But modern Bible scholarship has found that reality is not quite that neat. The Book of Daniel seems to have been written circa 165 BCE in the middle of the “intertestamental” period, recounting events four centuries earlier and written as if Daniel was the author. The Book of Esther was apparently written in the 1st or 2nd century BCE. And the Gospel of Mark was the first gospel, which most biblical scholars date it to about 70 CE. Matthew came along later, circa 80 CE.
Many Jewish writings have been preserved from that time. Some were collected and form the aforementioned Apocrypha (Greek word meaning "hidden."). These books appear in the Septuagint and in the Vulgate (early Latin translation of the Bible by Jerome). Conservative Protestants do not accept the Apocrypha as inerrant or inspired by God but as mentioned, the writings appear in Catholic bibles.
But during the last three centuries before Christ's birth, the portrayal of Satan in Judaism changes. From the middle of the 5th century BCE until 53 BC and even later, the Jews picked up a number of concepts from the official religion of Babylon called Zoroastorism: specifically, the concept of angels, of Satan (Angra Manyu aka Ahriman, the God of Evil) and of the immortality of the soul. Of the three main divisions of Judaism (Essenes, Pharisees, Sadducees) in the 1st century BCE, the Essenes seems to have focused the most on Satan. The Zoroastrian/Persian dualism concept appears in Jewish writing: God, formerly the source of good and evil, becomes wholly good; and Satan as profoundly evil. History is suddenly viewed as a battle between them. No longer was Satan simply God's prosecuting attorney, helper, or lackey. Satan, and his demons, suddenly become humanity's greatest enemies.
As for the Apocryphal texts, the Book of Tobias mentions the demon Asmodeus and the angel Raphael, betraying the Persian influence. In the Book of Enoch, the word “Satan” occurs in both singular and plural forms and, in Ecclesiasticus, he is identified with the subtle serpent of Genesis. Finally, the Book of Secrets of Enoch describes his rebellion against God and consequent expulsion from heaven. Note all these texts are not part of the officially recognized Hebrew Scriptures and are very late additions to Hebrew theology, with dates of writing ranging from 200 BCE to about 100 CE. Ironically, one of the reasons that the Protestants use for their rejection of these texts within the bible is that neither Jesus nor his followers quotes directly from them, yet the entire context of an all-evil opponent of God who falls from service and resides over Hell is taken from these late period stories. Clearly, Jesus and his followers were familiar with these texts. Enoch Chapter 52 is very similar to the “Beatitudes” of Matthew 5, casting the originality of that speech into serious doubt.