By DeeDee Baldwin

Submitted to the Honors Committee of William Carey College, May 2001
Supervised by Bennie R. Crockett, Jr.

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Hebrew font: HebrewTH

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Introduction and Methodology

The Bible provides different characterizations of Satan. In the Hebrew Bible, Satan appears as a messenger of God and serves in the heavenly courtroom as the “accuser.” In the New Testament, however, Satan has become God’s adversary and the tempter who tries to lead Christians astray. Faced with these differing and vague characterizations presented in the Bible, theologians and writers throughout church history have held varying understandings of the role of Satan. With so many literary presentations, “the only way the Devil can be defined is through his tradition.”[1] These literary traditions, both biblical and extra-biblical, present four basic characterizations of Satan, which have been supported by various theologians, writers, and myths: the Accuser, the Adversary, the Other God, and the Hero/Antihero. Many scholars have studied the development of Satan from a chronological standpoint, though such an approach simplifies the character of Satan and implies that certain interpretations belong to specific time periods. No one of these four characterizations can be assigned solely to a specific period, nor is any one sufficient to define Satan’s function in the Bible and in other sources; together they form a composite understanding of Satan’s role in religion and literature.

An understanding of the Hebrew and Greek terminology for Satan (or the devil) is necessary to proceed in any study of his function in the Bible. Every appearance of Satan in the Hebrew Bible and in selected passages in the New Testament has been interpreted through traditional exegesis, as well as literary analysis. These passages will not be discussed in chronological order, but in association with the characterizations they seem best to support. Numerous extrabiblical works have been consulted as well; Satan’s role as the “Other God” is not biblical, and some would argue that the “Hero/Antihero” characterization results from a misinterpretation of the biblical text. Also significant are the views of Satan presented by the early church fathers, whose writings contain the first attempts at “diabology”—the study of the devil. For a developmental description, the interpretation of Satan in the Koran is very helpful, as are some works of rabbinical and medieval literature.

Background Considerations

In the Old Testament, the noun NFW (satan), put most simply, means “accuser,” and appears twenty-six times[2] in the Hebrew Bible.  Hamilton separates the usage into two categories: “terrestrial satans” and “celestial satans.”[3]  The first human called a NFW in the Old Testament is David (1 Sam 29:4), when Philistine rulers worried that David was their “adversary.”  The other appearances are in reference to David accusing Abishai (2 Sam 19:23), Solomon’s military enemies (1 Kgs 5:18; 11:14; 11:23, 25), and in Psalm 109.  These seven passages clearly do not set forth the idea of a supernatural adversary of God. Hamilton lists four passages suggesting a “celestial” NFW: Num 22:22, 32; Job 1-2; Zech 3:1-2; and 1 Chr 21:1.  All of these instances describe a NFW in opposition to the “hero”—but not necessarily in opposition to God. Hamilton concludes, “Clearly in the OT NFW (and other demons) is not connected with some primordial realm, but with sin.”[4] By the time the books of the Apocrypha were written (theories for dating set a wide range: 200 B.C. - 100 A.D.), some elements of Judaism had begun to reflect the dualism found in the New Testament, and Yahweh had an adversary.  What brought about such a radical shift in theology? 

After Persia conquered Babylon, the religiously tolerant King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home in 538 B.C.; many, however, chose to remain.  During this time, they encountered Zoroastrianism.  This ancient Iranian religion was based on two main gods: Angra Mainyu, who brought death to the world and controlled evil spirits,[5] and Ahura Mazda, who was the “good god.”[6]  This cosmic dualism strongly affected the exiled Jews, and their “world was now viewed as a battleground fought over by both benevolent and malevolent deities.”[7] An important difference to note here is that while Judaism became more dualistic with the development of an adversary of God, Satan was always considered subordinate to God; this was not so in Zoroastrianism.[8]   Arvind Sharma calls this idea of a subordinate adversary “explicit monotheism and implicit dualism.”[9] Zoroastrianism so influenced Jewish thinking that the book of Tobit (2nd century B.C.) involves the character Asmodeus, named after a demon in Iranian mythology. 

Moving from the Hebrew Bible into the New Testament, one encounters two new terms which are essentially equivalent. Dia/boloj, which means “slanderer,” is translated “devil”; Sata/n or Satana/j (“Satan”) is a Greek transliteration of the Hebrew NFW. The Satana/j of the New Testament is much different from the NFW of the Old Testament. Under Zoroastrian and hellenistic influences, “the Accuser” has become Satan, a personification of evil who leads a vast army of demons.  Typical is Rev 12:9: “The great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the Devil (Dia/boloj) and Satan (Satana~j), the deceiver of the whole world—he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast with him.”[10] Jn 13:2 implies that Satan can force people to commit certain acts: “The devil (diabo/lou) had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray [Jesus].” Elaine Pagels writes,

Characterizations of Satan

From reading the Bible and other extra-biblical religious literature, one can identify four main characterizations of Satan: the Accuser, the Adversary, the Other God, and the Hero/Antihero.[12] Old Testament passages depict Satan—or, preferably, the satan—as “the Accuser,” a quasi-prosecutor in the heavenly “courtroom.” The next two characterizations stem from the Jews’ exposure to Zoroastrianism and hellenism; Satan is understood as a being who acts apart from God. The idea of Satan acting as “the Other God” is the result of extreme dualism, in which Satan is equal to, or sometimes even part of, God himself. The characterization given in the New Testament—and the one supported by many people today—is that of the Adversary, a deceiver who desires to lead people astray, and whose active fight against God is predestined to fail. Finally, another tradition arose in the writings of the early church fathers, who identified the lucifer in their Latin translations[13] of Isa 14:12 as Satan. They interpreted the passage to mean that Satan had rebelled against God and had been cast out of heaven. Most traditions support the idea that Satan brought about his own downfall, though they disagree as to whether that downfall was precipitated by Satan’s goodness or wickedness; these stories and traditions about Satan’s fall present him as the Hero or Antihero.

The Accuser

While the New Testament presents Satan as an enemy of God, the Hebrew Bible seems to depict Satan as an agent of God. The satan may enter the heavenly courtroom, which consists of the “sons of God”—Myhlxh ynb (Job 1:6; 2:1)—and lay a charge against a man, or God might send him to test someone “on His behalf, at His command.”[14] Peggy Day calls the satan a “legal opponent.”[15]

The satan makes his first appearance[16] in Numbers 22, in which God dispatches a messenger to oppose (NFWl, vv. 22, 32) Balaam. The writer clearly does not portray the satan as an enemy of God—rather the reverse. God sends an angel (jxlm) to act as an adversary (NFWl) against Balaam; NFWl is clearly not Satan, but an emissary of God.

Satan appears next in the prologue of the book of Job,[17] where his presence at the assembly of the sons of God (see also 1 Kgs 22:19; Isa 6; and Zech 3-4) demonstrates that “the ancient Near Eastern concept of a divine council . . . is very much alive in the biblical texts.”[18] Perhaps the satan was seen as a “roving secret agent”; the verb used to describe his roaming over the earth, Fvwm (1:7)—besides having a lexical connection with his name (NFW/Fvw)—comes from the same root as the verb used in Zech 4:10 to describe God’s eyes “ranging” over the earth.[19] In Job 1:9, the satan begins to question Job’s prosperity; Day suggests that in this speech, he is not accusing Job, but God himself. He challenges the “validity of a system which rewards the righteous with material prosperity,” perhaps accusing God of “divine patronage.”[20] The satan may also represent “God’s own internal conflict” or function as a hypostasis of some attribute(s) of God: “He is only merciful, while His other attribute, that of justice, is personified in Satan.”[21] Some Jews believed that there is an internal conflict in human beings; they called this inner struggle between good and evil the yetser.[22] In the third century AD, Rabbi Simon ben Lakish identified this yetser with Satan: “Satan and the yetser and angel of death are one.”[23]

Like any good “prosecutor,” Satan is a master speaker. Robert Alter analyzes the initial dialogue between God and the satan, pointing out that while God begins with a simple question—“Where are you coming from?”—Satan responds with

For example, Satan employs parallelism (“roaming over the earth and walking around in it,” 1:7), proverbs (“All a man has he will give for his life,” 2:4), and emphatic repetition (“a hedge about him and about his household and about all he has,” 1:10).[25] The writer also creates irony in two of Satan’s charges. In 1:10, Satan accuses God of building a hedge around Job to protect him, yet in 3:23, Job complains that because he is hedged in, he cannot see his way.[26] Satan then challenges God, “Stretch out your hand now . . . and he will curse [jkrby—literally, “bless”] you to your face” (1:11). God allows Satan to test Job, and Job passes the test by saying, “Blessed (jrbm) be the name of Yahweh” (1:21).

NFWh next appears in Zech 3:1, in which Joshua the high priest stands before Yahweh, with “the satan (NFWh) standing at his right hand to accuse him (vNFWl).” Yahweh defends Joshua and rebukes the satan, then Joshua’s filthy garments are replaced with clean ones. The high priest Joshua is probably a symbol for the nation of Israel, and “his change of clothes represents the change in the community’s status from impure to pure (or sinful to forgiven) in the eyes of Yahweh.”[27] In this passage, one again sees the satan desiring justice, while God intends to be merciful. Because Joshua/Israel appears before God and the satan, Day suggests that “the heavenly council has convened.”[28]

Satan makes his final Old Testament appearance in Chronicles. In 2 Sam 24:1, God’s anger is kindled against Israel, and he incites David to take a census. The parallel passage 1 Chr 21:1 replaces God’s anger with Satan as the instigator of David’s census. This is the only Old Testament passage in which NFW appears without the definite article, implying that it could function as a proper name.[29] The apparent contradiction between 2 Sam 24:1 and 1 Chr 21:1 is particularly troublesome to interpreters who do not acknowledge that the Old Testament “Satan” was an agent of God. Why would the Chronicler change the Samuel account to have Satan replace God’s wrath?[30] He may have wanted to “distance Yahweh from the subsequent act of instigating David to take a census,”[31] or he may have understood God’s wrath and Satan as essentially the same concept. Satan may appear elsewhere in this story (even in the 2 Samuel passage), though NFW is not directly named. Further in the passages, God sends an angel/messenger (jxlm) to destroy Jerusalem (2 Sam 24:16; 1 Chr 21:15), but changes his mind. David tells the jxlm to judge him and his household instead (2 Sam 24:17; 1 Chr 21:17). It seems probable that the jxlm may be identified with NFW. Day finds a parallel between these passages and Numbers 22:

If one does not include Chronicles, Satan first appears as a proper name in the pseudepigraphical work Jubilees, dated during the reign of Antiochus IV (ca. 170 B.C.):[33]

Satan does not appear in the Old Testament Apocrypha; the two references to an adversary (dia/bolon in 1 Macc 1:36, referring to a citadel and satana~n in Ecclesiasticus 21:27, referring to an enemy) clearly indicate a “terrestrial” enemy. NFW occurs three times in the Dead Sea Scrolls (1QH 4:6, 45:3; 1QSb 1:8), but is never clearly a proper name.[35] This passage from the Thanksgiving Hymns (1QH 45:3) contains an interesting use of NFW, but the text is so fragmentary that the context is indefinite:

The New Testament writers do not further develop this characterization of the accuser, though Satan’s actions in the temptation narratives (Mt 4; Mk 1:13; Lk 4) somewhat reflect his role in the Old Testament. Though Satan’s function in this story may be to act as the adversary, one can interpret his role differently. As in Job 1, Satan appears and proceeds to test a righteous man, wanting to see if he is worthy of God’s “patronage.” Indeed, to many New Testament writers, Satan’s “primary function was the proving of the faith and steadfastness . . . of the pious.”[37] He might even function as God’s agent. Lk 4:13 seems especially to support this view: “the devil had finished every trial (peirasmo\n).” Peirasmo\n is traditionally translated as “temptation” in this passage, but can also mean “proof” or “test,” as in 1 Pet 4:12. Similarly, peira/zwn is usually translated “the tempter” in these passages (such as Mt 4:3), when the translation “the tester” would be justified – and perhaps even more appropriate.

Did the writers of the Synoptic Gospels intend for the temptation narrative to parallel the story of Job? One can find rather vague parallels between Job 1-2 and the temptation narrative in Matthew 4.[38] The first calamity to befall Job is the sudden death of his children, his servants, and his livestock. One by one, messengers report the bad news, including the facts that the donkeys were feeding (Job 1:14) and that his sons and daughters were drinking wine and eating (Job 1:18). Jesus’ first trial is to turn a stone into bread and satisfy his hunger. In Job 2:4, Satan next proposes that he should attack Job’s body; in Mt 4:6, Satan tells Jesus to jump from the pinnacle of the temple in order to prove that the angels will prevent him from bodily harm. After Job’s great misfortunes, his wife urges him to curse God, but he refuses, thus passing Satan’s test. Likewise, Jesus passes Satan’s test in Mt 4:10 by refusing to bow to anyone but God. Job 2 ends with the scene of Job’s friends surrounding him to comfort him, while at the end of Matthew’s temptation narrative, angels come to wait on Jesus.

Satan’s characterization as the accuser did not end with the writings of the biblical period. In the third century, Origen popularized the ransom theory of atonement, which seems to portray Satan as a prosecutor. Mt 20:28 provides the scriptural basis for the theory: “the son of man came . . . to give his life, a ransom (lu/tron) for many.”[39] According to the theory, God was obligated to pay Satan a ransom in order to save the human race. Because Satan would accept only a blameless person, God was forced to offer Jesus. In accepting the “payment,” Satan violated justice because of the very fact that Christ was blameless.[40] Thus God seems like a trickster, and Satan acts as a fool. Russell points out, however, that

Subsequent to Origen, theologians introduced the concept of “the trial of the human race . . . in which Christ and Satan dispute in hell, Christ arguing for mercy against the Devil’s claim of strict justice.”[42] Here again one sees the dynamic identified in Job by Meir Weiss, in which Satan wants justice, while God dispenses mercy. The trial of the human race was a common image in early medieval thought. Satan took his Old Testament role of accuser/prosecutor, God presided as the judge, and either Jesus or Mary acted as defense attorney. Using original sin as the basis for his case, Satan argues “suavely and cleverly, pulling every legal trick, quoting and glossing scripture.”[43] One recalls Alter’s observation of the satan’s elevated language in Job. The court scene always ends with God judging in favor of humanity. Maximus Confessor (580-662) believed that Satan is God’s enemy, driven chiefly by his envy of God and humanity. However, he asserted that Satan also appears as God’s “servant” and “vindicator,” sent by God to “help us distinguish between virtue and sin.”[44]

Satan is not often characterized as the accuser in modern times. Though “Accuser” is the dominant presentation of Satan in the Old Testament, the New Testament contains only one text in which he vaguely serves this role. Apart from the biblical writings, there are a few obscure “accuser” characterizations from the early Middle Ages. This view of Satan now rarely appears in Christian literature.

The Adversary

Though Satan never appears as God’s adversary in the Old Testament, this is his primary role in the New Testament and in “orthodox” Christianity ever since—“in complete contradiction to the Satan of the Hebrew Bible.”[45] While the New Testament church was giving Satan “considerable importance, Jewish thought was moving decisively in the other direction . . . [Evil does not result] from the machinations of a cosmic enemy of the Lord.”[46]

Wis 2:23-24 seems to equate the devil (diabo/loj) with the serpent in Eden:

This passage is the first suggestion in the Bible, including the Apocrypha, that the devil was involved in the fall of humankind. Protestants who do not read the Apocrypha find no biblical proof that Satan should be identified with the serpent in Eden, though the New Testament makes two very vague references. Rom 16:20 assures the reader that God “will crush Satan under your feet,” and Rev 12:9 calls Satan “that ancient serpent.”

The New Testament writers portray Satan as God’s enemy, a change subtly reflected in the terminology used in the shift from Hebrew to Greek. When NFW is translated dia/boloj, “the accuser” becomes “the slanderer,” and there is “a thin line that divides accusation and slander.”[47] In John 13, Satan slanders Jesus: “The devil had already put it into the heart of Judas son of Simon Iscariot to betray [Jesus] . . . Satan entered into him” (13:2, 27; see also Lk 22:3). For the first time in the Bible, Satan is prompting a person to sin. Far from acting as the agent of God, Satan seems to be attempting to undermine God, taking on an adversarial position which becomes much less passive in the book of Revelation. However, perhaps Satan is God’s agent in this passage; the Gospel writer makes it clear that God has planned Jesus’ death, and that Jesus knows the plan and intends to carry it out willingly: “I do as the father has commanded me” (Jn 14:31). In the Hebrew Bible, it is God who hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex 4:21). Now in John’s Gospel, Satan can turn a person’s heart, perhaps acting again as the Gnostics’ “problem side” of God.

Satan appears several times in the New Testament epistles. According to Paul, he can disguise himself as “an angel of light” (2 Cor 11:14). Christians need “the whole armor of God” in order to defend against “the schemes (meqodei/aj) of the devil” (Eph 6:11). Satan may be the “the man of lawlessness” (o( a!nqrwpoj th~j a)nomi/aj) in 2 Thessalonians 2, who is “the son of destruction,” exalting himself in the temple of God by saying that he is God (v. 4) until the Lord destroys him (v. 8). Paul then refers directly to Satan, who employs deception by “all power, signs, [and] lying wonders” (v. 9). 1 Tim 3:7 mentions “the snare of the devil.” 1 Pet 5:8 calls Satan “a roaring lion, your adversary (a)nti/dikoj)” who “prowls around, looking for someone to devour.” Jude refers to “a lost apocryphal account”[48] in which Satan fights with the archangel Michael over the body of Moses (v. 9), stating “his legal claim.”[49] Caird points out that

In the book of Revelation, however, Satan is an entirely different character. To appreciate the effect of the disjointed narrative, one might imagine reading Les Miserables[51] and discovering that Javert, the police inspector obsessed with merciless justice, in the last chapter leads a rebellion against the king. Perhaps it is Satan’s obsession with “merciless justice” that propels him to lead armies of angels against God, who desires to pardon every crime. After Satan is cast out of heaven (Rev 12:9), a voice in heaven shouts, “The accuser (o( kath/gwr) of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God!” The character Satan leaves the biblical narrative on an ironic note, when the Accuser himself is condemned to be “tormented day and night, forever and ever” (Rev 20:10).

Early Christian tradition focused on Satan as Lucifer, the fallen angel who still fights against God by tempting humanity to sin. Some argued whether the great adversary could or would ever return to God; Origen called this conversion “apocatastasis,” and the idea was later condemned by Justinian.[52]

In the medieval period, the adversary was transformed into a fool. Christ, at his death, descends into hell, fools Satan, and frees all the blameless people who died before the incarnation.[53] Medieval folklore contains many stories of people outwitting Satan the fool, including the popular fairy-tale Rumpelstiltskin. The peasant girl, in paying Rumpelstiltskin to spin gold for her, is essentially selling her soul to the devil, though she manages to outwit him in the end. “The message was clear: an ordinary person, using his native wit, could make a fool of the Prince of Darkness.”[54]

Of all the characterizations of Satan, “the adversary” has become the most popular in modern times. Reading New Testament passages and influenced more than they know by church tradition, people have gradually accepted this characterization over the others. Some people who understand Satan as the adversary also believe that his downfall was precipitated by a cosmic battle against God, ending in Satan’s banishment from heaven.

The Hero/Antihero

Before any discussion of Satan’s characterization as the hero/antihero, it is first important to clarify the literary terminology. A hero functions as the main character in a story. Several literary conventions are associated with the hero of a tragedy – the genre which best seems to fit the Satan tradition. Perhaps the most important of these conventions is the hero’s “tragic flaw” – the trait which may be his only weakness, but eventually leads to his downfall. Often the tragic flaw may actually be a virtue carried too far, such as Brutus’ strong sense of honor in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar.[55] An antihero is a character who functions as the villain, yet holds the reader’s sympathy; the classic example of an antihero is Satan in Milton’s Paradise Lost.[56] This role of Satan as hero/antihero is not found in the Bible, though the characterization developed from elaboration of biblical passages.

The key passage for the hero/antihero’s downfall is Isa 14:12-15, a text written about the king of Babylon. Satan’s classic epithet, Lucifer, originates from the Latin translation of the Hebrew llyh, which means “morning star.” llyh may refer to a Canaanite god of the crescent moon called hll, or the Isaiah passage may parallel a Ugaritic myth, in which ‘Athtaru the Rich attempts to usurp the throne of Ba’lu (Baal), but fails and becomes the king of the earth:

The Septuagint translates llyh as o( e(wsfo/roj; the writer of 2 Pet 1:19 uses a similar word (fwsfo/roj) to call Jesus the “morning star.” In the Latin translation of the New Testament, fwsfo/roj becomes lucifer.[58] The name Lucifer was also well-known because of a fourth-century bishop, a “most beloved brother, the Bishop and Confessor Lucifer.”[59] In Isa 14:12, llyh is not a title for Satan, though its Latin translation came to be regarded as such. Verses 12-15, “nestled among a series of oracles aimed primarily at foreign nations,” are unlikely to “suddenly speak of Satan.”[60] Jung writes, “Satan and his rebellious ranks owe their existence to a mistake, not of any Creator, but of the commentator of a prophetic passage.”[61] Church writers would later connect this passage with Satan, partly because they associated it with Lk 10:18, in which Jesus says, “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning.” The church fathers combined this passage with Isa 14:12-15, though it is

Jesus’ description of Satan’s “fall from heaven” may also be interpreted as a fall from “the height of prosperity and power.”[63]

Tertullian was the first church father to write about Satan’s fall from heaven. Though he acknowledged that Isa 14:12 was a reference to the prince of Tyre, he added that it “properly belongs to the transgression of the angel . . . for none among human beings was . . . born in the paradise of God.”[64] In the third century, Origen was the first to identify Satan with Lucifer, “bringing together a number of diverse Old Testament traditions.”[65] In his Treatise on First Principles, Origen maintained that Lucifer and his followers fell because of pride before the creation of humanity, and that the fallen angels chose Lucifer to be their leader.[66] Origen also believed that because of free will, “Satan could choose to return to God’s favor.”< [if !supportFootnotes]>[67] More than a century later, Augustine would support the Lucifer interpretation as well:

The Koran uses two names for Satan: Iblis (probably derived from dia/boloj), which refers to his relationship with God, and Shaytan, which refers to his relationship with humanity.[69] Though Iblis falls from heaven as Satan does in Christian tradition, Iblis is a much more sympathetic character—in fact, he is admirable. Iblis had to leave heaven because he refused to obey God’s command to bow before Adam:

In later Islamic thought, he actually became “the model of the perfect lover who would rather be separated from God and God’s will than united with God against God’s will . . . a model of perfect loyalty and devotion.”[71] In this tradition, Satan’s “tragic flaw” is actually his loyalty to God.

One more text is essential for understanding Satan’s role as Hero/Antihero, and it is the latest text addressed in this paper—John Milton’s Paradise Lost. Published in 1667, it is included because of its great importance in the tradition of Satan’s characterization. God acts as the hero of the work, though Milton’s Satan proves to be much more attractive as the courageous, stubborn antihero.[72] In one of the most famous quotes in the work, Satan declares, “The mind is its own place, and in itself / Can make a Heav’n of Hell, a Hell of Heav’n . . . Better to reign in Hell, than serve in Heav’n.”[73] Readers know they are supposed to be on the side of God, Jesus, and the angels, but soon find themselves more intrigued by the complex character of Satan and leave the work feeling sympathy for the devil. As an Arminian,[74] Milton wrote from the perspective that Satan chose his path and orchestrated his own downfall; “he shows persistence and guile in his undercover mission to subvert the world.”[75] Milton never gives the impression that Satan was predestined to fall from heaven, exploring instead “the tragedy of Satan . . . the sadness of lost potential.”[76] In the end, however, Milton “knows his Satan well enough to reject him.”[77] While Milton does not condone Satan’s actions in the story, he seems to have sympathized more and more with his creation, much as Leo Tolstoy gradually began to love his Anna Karenina.[78]

The “Lucifer tradition” arose from a Latin translation and a mistaken interpretation of Isaiah 14. Since Tertullian and Origen first popularized the identification of Satan with Isaiah’s “morning star,” a complex mythology, culminating in Paradise Lost, has arisen regarding the battle in heaven.

The Other God

While many early Christians understood Satan as God’s adversary, the Gnostics believed that Satan was part of God himself. Because Gnostics believed that the world, being material, is evil, logic led them to assert that the creator of the material world must be evil. A good God “would never have created the gross world in which we live,” so Gnostics “assumed that the creator of the world was a spirit who had originally been good, but who had devolved or fallen into evil.”[79] They identified this spirit with the devil, also calling him the “demiurge” or “partial mover,” since God was the “prime mover.”[80] Some Gnostics believed that this demiurge was the God of the Old Testament, and that he “began to create a man according to his image.”[81] The account of the temptation in Eden troubled Gnostics, who pointed out that the serpent seems to have told the truth, while the demiurge lied:

Who is this God, they wondered, who calls evil “good” and good “evil”?[83] The writer of the Testimony of Truth asks,

The writer goes on to use Num 21:9 as his basis for claiming that the serpent in Eden “is Christ; [those who] believed in him [have received life].”[85] Gnostics, therefore, did believe that Satan was in Eden—though not in the person of the serpent, but in the person of Christ!

In Bogomil thought,[86] God had two sons: his firstborn was Satanael, and the younger was Christ. Dissatisfied with his subordinate position in his father’s world, Satanael created a second world (the cosmos), thus becoming the creator God of the Old Testament and composing the Pentateuch himself.[87] Satanael proceeded to form Adam, but had to ask his enemy, God, to bring Adam to life; thus “the human soul, a creation of the true, good God, is trapped in the human body, which is a creation of Satanael.”[88] God eventually saves the world by sending Christ (born through Mary’s right ear!), and Satanael is cast out, “losing the divine suffix -el (‘Lord’) and becoming merely Satan.”[89]

In these writings, Satan’s role appears to be somewhat similar to his role as the accuser in the Old Testament—he represents the “problem side” of God. Gnostics were troubled by the problem of evil, and by making Satan “the other God,” they were able to clear God’s name, so to speak.


There are four characterizations of Satan in the Bible and in later church tradition. To put them into categories that are perhaps too broad: the Accuser was Hebrew, the Adversary was Greek, the Other God was Gnostic, and the Hero/Antihero was Medieval. The Bible and the other texts reviewed do not settle the dispute over Satan’s literary function, as all of the texts present differing ideas. One can trace, however, a rough outline of how these concepts developed, each one an elaboration of the familiar traditions. Hellenized Jews, perhaps influenced by the dualism in Zoroastrianism, essentially discarded their idea of Satan as God’s agent, adopting instead the view that Satan was God’s enemy. Gnostics carried this dualism even further by suggesting that Satan was a god himself, and was in fact the evil, deceptive creator-god of the Old Testament. Finally, some early church fathers explained the origin of the adversary by connecting him with llyh / lucifer in Isaiah.

With so many differing literary presentations, what can one conclude about the character of Satan? There may be elements of each of the four roles in Satan’s character, or perhaps Satan is none of those things. Some readers may be troubled by Satan’s changing nature in the texts presented—the Bible itself does not provide a consistent view—while others may enjoy the puzzle. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales is intriguing because different stories, genres, and personalities form a balanced whole. In As I Lay Dying, Faulkner tells a story using an eccentric cast of characters who give conflicting, sometimes incoherent, narrations. In the same way, Satan emerges from biblical and extra-biblical literature as a character composed of varying accounts, a character made more interesting, perhaps, because the texts offer so many different insights into his nature.


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________. The World of Biblical Literature. New York: Basic Books, 1992.

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Augustine. The City of God Against the Pagans. Vol. 3. Translated by David S. Wiesen. In the Loeb Classical Library. Edited by G. P. Goold. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Bierlein, J. F. Parallel Myths. New York: Ballantine, 1994.

Caird, G. B. New Testament Theology. Edited by L. D. Hurst. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.

Campbell, Joseph. Creative Mythology: The Masks of God. New York: Penguin, 1968.

________. Occidental Mythology: The Masks of God. New York: Penguin, 1964.

Coogan, Michael D., ed. The Oxford History of the Biblical World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Cook, Edward, trans. “Thanksgiving Psalms.” In The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation. Edited by Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook. New York: Harper San Francisco, 1996.

Corns, Thomas N. Regaining Paradise Lost. London: Longman, 1994.

Crouzel, Henri. Origen. Translated by A. S. Worrall. San Francisco: Harper & Row,1989.

Damrosch, David, ed. The Longman Anthology: British Literature. Vol. B. New York: Longman, 2000.

Day, Peggy L. An Adversary in Heaven: satan in the Hebrew Bible. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988.

De Moor, Johannes C. An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit. New York: E. J. Brill, 1987.

“Devil.” In The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. 2d Ed. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. New York: Oxford University Press, 1984.

Ehrman, Bart D. The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Eichrodt, Walther. Theology of the Old Testament. 2 Vols. Translated by J. A. Baker. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967.

Eissfeldt, Otto. The Old Testament: An Introduction. Translated by P. R. Ackroyd. New York: Harper & Row, 1965.

Elliger, K. and W. Rudolph, ed. Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia. Münster/Westphalia: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997.

Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path. New York: Oxford University Press, 1991.

Finegan, Jack. Myth & Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989.

Fitzmyer, Joseph A. The Gospel According to Luke (X-XXIV). In The Anchor Bible. Edited by William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1985.

Gibson, J. B. The Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995.

Giverson, Soren and Birger A. Pearson, trans. The Testimony of Truth. In The Nag Hammadi Library. Rev. Ed. Edited by James M. Robinson. New York: Harper San Francisco, 1990.

Graves, Robert and Raphael Patai. Hebrew Myths. New York: Anchor Books, 1964.

Greenberg, Moshe. “Job.” In The Literary Guide to the Bible. Edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Hamilton, Victor P. “Satan.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 5. Edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

Holy Qur’an. Translated by M. H. Shakir. Elmhurst: Tahrike Tarsile Qur’an, Inc., 1985.

Hugo, Victor. Les Miserables. New York: Signet, 1991.

Jung, Leo. Fallen Angels in Jewish, Christian, and Mohammedan Literature. New York: Ktav Publishing House, 1974.

Kuemmerlin-McLean, Joanne. “Satan in the Old Testament.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 5. Edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday, 1992.

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Migne, Jacques-Paul, ed. WRIGENOUS TA EURISKOMENA PANTA-ORIGENIS OPERA OMNIA. Saeculum III. In Patrologia Latina. 221 Vols. Paris, 1857.

Milton, John. Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained. New York: Signet, 1968.

Mounce, Robert H. The Book of Revelation. Rev. Ed. In The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Edited by Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998.

Pagels, Elaine. Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. New York: Vintage, 1988.

________. The Gnostic Gospels. New York: Vintage, 1989.

________. The Origin of Satan. New York: Vintage, 1995.

Pelikan, Jaroslav. The Christian Tradition. 5 Vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978.

Plummer, Alfred. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Luke. In The International Critical Commentary. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960.

Pope, Marvin H. Job. In The Anchor Bible. Edited by William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1973.

Priest, J., trans. Testament of Moses. In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol. 1. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1985.

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Rajan, B. Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader. New York: Ann Arbor, 1967.

Ringgren, Helmer. Religions of the Ancient Near East. Translated by John Sturdy. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1973.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984.

________. Satan: The Early Christian Tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981.

Schneemelcher, Wilhelm, ed. New Testament Apocrypha. 2 vols. Translated by R. McL. Wilson. Westminster: James Clarke & Co., 1989.

Shakespeare, William. Julius Caesar. In Shakespeare: The Complete Works. Edited by G. B. Harrison. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968.

Sharma, Arvind. “Satan.” In The Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 13. Edited by Mircea Eliade. New York: MacMillan, 1987.

Talmon, Shemaryahu. “1 and 2 Chronicles.” In The Literary Guide to the Bible. Edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987.

Tertullian. Against Heresies. Christian Classics Ethereal Library. Accessed 21 September 2000.

Tolstoy, Leo. Anna Karenina. New York: Signet, 1987.

Trigg, Joseph Wilson. Origen: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century Church. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983.

Turner, John D., trans. A Valentinian Exposition. In The Nag Hammadi Library. Rev. Ed. Edited by James M. Robinson. New York: Harper San Francisco, 1990.

Watson, Duane F. “Devil.” In The Anchor Bible Dictionary. Vol. 2. Edited by David Noel Freedman. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1992.

Weiss, Meir. The Story of Job’s Beginning: Job 1-2: A Literary Analysis. Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1983.

Wintermute, O. S., trans. Jubilees. In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Vol. 2. Edited by James H. Charlesworth. New York: Doubleday and Co., 1985.

Youngblood, Ronald F. “Fallen Star: The Evolution of Lucifer.” Bible Review 14 (December 1998):22-31.

[1]Jeffrey Burton Russell, Lucifer: The Devil in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), 26.

[2]Num 22:22; 1 Sam 29:4; 1 Kgs 5:4; 1 Kgs 11:14; 1 Kgs 11:23, 25; Zech 3:1-2; Ps 109:6; Job 1:6-9, 12; Job 2:1-4, 6-7; 1 Chr 21:1.

[3]Victor P. Hamilton, “Satan,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1992), 986.

[4]Hamilton, “Satan,” 989.

[5]Jack Finegan, Myth & Mystery: An Introduction to the Pagan Religions of the Biblical World  (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989), 40.

[6]Duane F. Watson, “Devil,” in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 2, ed. David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1992), 183.

[7]Hamilton, “Satan,” 988.


[9]Arvind Sharma, “Satan,” in The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 13, ed. Mircea Eliade (New York: MacMillan, 1987), 796.

[10]Greek and Hebrew translations are the student’s from Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, and Bruce M. Metzger, ed. The Greek New Testament, 4th rev. ed. (Münster/Westphalia: United Bible Societies, 1994); K. Elliger and W. Rudolph, ed., Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia (Münster/Westphalia: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1997); and Alfred Rahlfs, ed., Septuaginta, vol. 2 (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1935).

[11]Elaine Pagels, The Origin of Satan (New York: Vintage Books, 1995), xvi.

[12]The characterizations are not exclusive of one another; a text might portray Satan as both Adversary and Antihero (cf. Rev 12:9).

[13]“Quomodo cecidisti de caelo lucifer qui mane oriebaris corruisti in terram qui vulnerabas gentes,” from Latin Vulgate Bible, ARTFL Project, Accessed 22 March 2001.

[14]Leo Jung, Fallen Angels in Jewish, Christian, and Mohammedan Literature (New York: Ktav Publishing House,1974), 25.

[15]Peggy L. Day, An Adversary in Heaven: satan in the Hebrew Bible (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 65.

[16]The serpent in Eden is excluded for reasons which will be discussed below. Even if one does choose to identify the serpent with Satan, it is indisputable that Satan is not identified by name (NFW) until Num 22. The Septuagint translates NFWh in Num 22:32 as diabolh/n sou.

[17]The Septuagint translates NFWh as o( dia/boloj in Job 1-2.

[18]Day, Adversary in Heaven, 1.

[19]Marvin H. Pope, Job in The Anchor Bible, gen. ed. William F. Albright and David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1973), 10.

[20]Day, Adversary in Heaven, 76.

[21]Meir Weiss, The Story of Job’s Beginning: A Literary Analysis (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1983), 39.

[22]Jeffrey Burton Russell, Satan: The Early Christian Tradition (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981), 28.

[23]Baba Batra 16a, as quoted in Russell, Satan, 28.

[24]Robert Alter, The Art of Biblical Narrative (New York: Basic Books, 1981), 74.

[25]Moshe Greenberg, “Job,” in The Literary Guide to the Bible, ed. Robert Alter and Frank Kermode (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1987), 286.

[26]Day, Adversary in Heaven, 86.

[27]Day, Adversary in Heaven, 117.

[28]Ibid., 124.

[29]For a full discussion, see Day, Adversary in Heaven, 128-132. Because Satan/the satan performs his Old Testament role as an agent of God in this passage, it is irrelevent for the purpose of this paper to discuss whether NFW should be rendered as a proper name. If NFW is not a proper name in Chronicles, “then there is no Satan in the Hebrew Bible,” Day, Adversary in Heaven, 62.

[30]“There were available to the Chronicler . . . our books of Samuel and Kings,” Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, trans. P. R. Ackroyd (New York: Harper & Row, 1965), 532.

[31]Day, Adversary in Heaven, 144.

[32]Ibid., 144.

[33]Ibid., 128. See also Hamilton, “Satan,” 987.

[34]O. S. Wintermute, trans., Jubilees, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 2, ed. James H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1985), 102. Day, Adversary in Heaven, 128, and Hamilton, “Satan,” 987, also understand “the Devil” in Testament of Moses as a proper name for “Satan”:

For this quote, see J. Priest, trans., Testament of Moses, in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha vol. 1, ed. James H. Charlesworth (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1985), 931.

[35]Day, Adversary in Heaven, 129.

[36]Edward Cook, trans., “Thanksgiving Psalms,” in The Dead Sea Scrolls: A New Translation, ed. Michael Wise, Martin Abegg, Jr., and Edward Cook (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1996), 112.

[37]J. B. Gibson, The Temptations of Jesus in Early Christianity (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press , 1995), 58.

[38]Mark’s account contains no details, and Luke presents a different order of events from Matthew’s account. In Luke, Satan tempts Jesus to bow down before he tempts him to jump from the temple. The passage in Luke does not include angels coming to Jesus at the end.

[39]See also Mark 10:45.

[40]Origen, Commentary on Romans, in Patrologia Graeca, ed. Jacques-Paul Migne, 2.13, 3.7, 4.1. Russell cites Gregory of Nyssa’s metaphor, in which God goes “fishing” for Satan, using Jesus as bait, Satan, 86.

[41]Russell, Satan, 140.

[42]Russell, Lucifer, 86, mentions specifically Eznik of Armenia (fifth century) and his work Against the Sects.

[43]Russell, Lucifer, 86.

[44]Maximus Confessor, Questions To Thalassios, in Patrologia Graeca, ed. Jacques Paul Migne, 90.243 – 786, as quoted from Russell, Lucifer, 36.

[45]Jung, Fallen Angels, 32.

[46]Russell, Satan, 27.

[47]Robert H. Mounce, The Book of Revelation, rev. ed. in The New International Commentary on the New Testament, ed. Ned B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, and Gordon D. Fee (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1998), 237.

[48]Bart D. Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997), 327.

[49]G. B. Caird, New Testament Theology, ed. L. D. Hurst (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 108.


[51]Victor Hugo, Les Miserables (New York: Signet, 1991).

[52]Russell, Satan, 148.

[53]Russell, Lucifer, 108.

[54]Ibid., 76.

[55]William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar, in Shakespeare: The Complete Works, ed. G. B. Harrison (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1968).

[56]John Milton, Paradise Lost and Paradise Regained (New York: Signet, 1968).

[57]Johannes C. De Moor, An Anthology of Religious Texts from Ugarit (New York: E. J. Brill, 1987), 85.

[58]Kurt Aland and Barbara Aland, ed., Novum Testamentum Latine (Münster/Westphalia: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1986), 610.

[59]Athanasius, First Letter to Lucifer Letter L.

[60]Ronald F. Youngblood, “Fallen Star: The Evolution of Lucifer,” Bible Review 14 (December 1998):27.

[61]Jung, Fallen Angels, 28.

[62]Joseph A. Fitzmeyer, The Gospel According to Luke, in The Anchor Bible, ed. William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1985), 860.

[63]Alfred Plummer, A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Luke in The International Critical Commentary (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1960), 278.

[64]Tertullian, Against Heresies II:10. Accessed at Christian Classics Ethereal Library <> 21 September 2000.

[65]Russell, Satan, 131.

[66]Henri Crouzel, Origen, trans. A. S. Worrall (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1989), 213.

[67]Joseph Wilson Trigg, Origin: The Bible and Philosophy in the Third Century Church (Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1983), 89.

[68]Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans, vol. 3, trans. David S. Wiesen, in the Loeb Classical Library, ed. G. P. Goold (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1988), 486.

[69]Russell, Lucifer, 54.

[70]Holy Qur’an, Surah XV:30-39.

[71]Russell, Lucifer, 61.

[72]“Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell . . . because he was a true Poet and of the Devils party without knowing it,” William Blake, “The Voice of the Devil,” in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell, in The Longman Anthology: British Literature vol. B, ed. David Damrosch (New York: Longman, 2000), 1410. Blake’s writings, such as The Marriage of Heaven and Hell and Milton, provide interesting characterizations of Satan, but their dates (late eighteenth to early nineteenth century) are beyond the scope of a paper of this length.

[73]Milton, Paradise Lost, I:254.

[74]Thomas N. Corns, Regaining Paradise Lost (New York: Longman, 1994), 53.

[75]Ibid., 52.

[76]Ibid., 53.

[77]B. Rajan, Paradise Lost and the Seventeenth Century Reader (New York: Ann Arbor, 1967), 106.

[78]Leo Tolstoy, Anna Karenina (New York: Signet, 1987).

[79]Russell, Satan, 55.


[81]John Turner, trans., A Valentinian Exposition, in The Nag Hammadi Library, rev. ed., ed. James M. Robinson (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1990), 486.

[82]Pagels, Origin of Satan, 159.

[83]Elaine Pagels, Adam, Eve, and the Serpent (New York: Vintage, 1988), 69.

[84]Soren Giverson and Birger A. Pearson, trans., The Testimony of Truth, in The Nag Hammadi Library, rev. ed., ed. James M. Robinson (New York: Harper San Francisco, 1990), 455.

[85]Giverson and Pearson, Nag Hammadi Library, 455.

[86]One of the “dualist heresies,” Bogomil thought “was founded about 950 by a man named Bogomil, “Beloved of God,” who took previously existing ideas from Gnosticism, Manicheism, and possibly Paulicianism and Messalianism, and wove them into a new heresy,” Russell, Lucifer, 43.

[87]Russell, Lucifer, 46.


[89]Russell, Lucifer, 47.