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Notes from Limmud 2004

Satan in Biblical Israel

Irit Printz

Standard disclaimer: accuracy of transcription is not guaranteed.

Despite popular myth, the Devil is a Jewish concept. [The popular myth presumably being that the source of temptation in Jewish thought, the יצר הרע, is internal to oneself.] This talk examined the origin and development of this concept in Jewish writings.


Satan, or the Adversary, appears two times, in the Bible. One is from Job:

6. Now there was a day when the sons of G-d came to present themselves before the LORD, and the Adversary came also among them. 7. And the LORD said unto the Adversary, Whence comest thou? Then the Adversary answered the LORD, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it. 8. And the LORD said unto the Adversary, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth G-d, and escheweth evil? 9. Then the Adversary answered the LORD, and said, Doth Job fear G-d for nought? 10. Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land. 11. But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face. 12. And the LORD said unto the Adversary, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So the Adversary went forth from the presence of the LORD. ו ויהי היום ויבאו בני האלהים להתיצב על ה׳; ויבוא גם השטן בתוכם׃ ז ויאמר ה׳ אל השטן, מאין תבא? ויען השטן את ה׳ ויאמר משוט בארץ ומהתהלך בה׃ ח ויאמר ה׳ אל השטן, השמת לבך על עבדי איוב ,כי אין כמהו בארץ, איש תם וישר ירא אלהים, וסר מרע׃ ט ויען השטן את ה׳ ויאמר, החנם ירא איוב אלהים׃ י הלא את שכת בעדו ובעד ביתו ובעד כל אשר לו מסביב? מעשה ידיו ברכת, ומקנהו פרץ בארץ׃ יא ואולם שלח נא ידך, וגע בכל אשר לו, אם לא על פניך, יברכך׃ יב ויאמר ה׳ אל השטן, הנה כל אשר לו בידך, רק אליו אל תשלח ידך; ויצא השטן מעם פני ה׳׃

The other is from Zechariah 3:1-2:

1. And he shewed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and the Adversary standing at his right hand to thwart him. 2. And the LORD said unto the Adversary, The LORD rebuke thee, O the Adversary; even the LORD that hath chosen Jerusalem rebuke thee: is not this a brand plucked out of the fire? א ויראני את יהושע הכהן הגדול עמד לפני מלאך ה׳; והשטן עמד על ימינו, לשטנו׃ ב ויאמר ה׳ אל השטן, יגער ה׳ בך השטן, ויגער ה׳ בך הבחר בירושלם; הלוא זה אוד מצל מאש׃

[Actually, there's a third mention too, in I Chron 21:1: ויעמוד שטן על ישראל ויסת את דויד למנות את ישראל׃ "Satan stood up against Israel, and provoked David to number Israel."]

In these quotations, Satan is depicted as effectively doing G-d's work, as a prosecutor in the Heavenly Court. This is a necessary role; the Heavenly Court can't operate without a prosecutor. (Ms Printz said, when I questioned her about the use of the definite article - the Adversary - that this implied there was only one.)

There are no connotations of evil associated with Satan here. In Zechariah he is doing his job in Heavenly court system; in the excerpt from Job he shows some more initiative; he is more independent.

The Apocrypha

The Book of Jubilees is an Apocryphal work covering the period from Genesis to the Revelation at Sinai, expanded with מדרשים. The book was possibly written at the time of the Hasmoneans; it was evidently considered important by the Essenes: fourteen copies of it were found amongst the Dead Sea Scrolls as against just two of the Book of Samuel.

Book of Jubilees 10:1-10 (abridged a bit):

And in the third week of this Jubilee the unclean spirits1 began to lead astray the sons of Noah, to seduce them, and to cause their downfall. So [Noah] prayed before the LORD his G-d, and said, "G-d of the spirits of all flesh, who has shown me kindness and saved me and my sons from the waters of the flood. May You show mercy to your children so that these evil spirits no longer be able to rule them or cause their destruction. May they no longer rule over the spirits of the living, for You alone shoud rule. And may they not rule over the children of the righteous now and forever." So the LORD our G-d commanded us2 to detain all of these [unclean spirits]. But Mastema3, the angel of spirits, said, "Master Who has created me, leave some of them for me so that they may listen to me and do all that I wish to the people, for these [are the spirits that] cause destruction, death5 and deception in accordance to my rule for people are very evil." So [G-d] said, "Let there remain a tenth and the rest shall be taken down to the place of Judgement4." And to one of us He said that we should teach Noah all the ways to heal [the effects of these spirits]. ובשבוע השלישי ליובל הזה החלו הרוחות הטמאים להטעות את בני נח ולפתותם ולאבדם׃ ויתפללו לפני ה׳ אלקינו ויאמר: ק׳ל הרוחות לכל בשר אשר עשית עמדי חסד ותצל אותי ואת בני ממי המבול, יעלו רחמיך על בני בניך לאל ימשלו בהם רוחות רעים פן ישחיתו אותם מן הארץ׃ ואל ימשולו בנפש החיים כי אתה לבדך תדע משפטם׃ ואל ישלטו בבני הצדיקים מעתה ועד עולם׃ ויצוני ה׳ אלקינו לאסור את כולם׃ ויבוא משטמה מלאך הרוחות ויאמר אדני הבורא, השאר מהם לפני ושמעו לקולי ועשו כל אשר אומר אליהם כי אם לא ישארו לי כהם לא אוכל עשות ממשלת רצוני בבני האדם כי הם המה להשחית ולאבד ולהתעות לפני משפטי כי רבה רעת בני האדם׃ ויאמר תשאר לפניו עשיריתם וירדו תשעה חלקים אל מקום הדין׃ ולאחד מאיתנו אמר כי נלמד את נח את כל רפואתם׃

1. The offspring of the בני אלהים and mortal woman.
2. The book is narrated by an angel.
3. Ms Printz alleged this word comes from the same root as "Satan", but my dictionary disagrees, and says the word, which is attested in the Bible, means "hatred" or "animosity".
4. They were put somewhere where they could not interfere with the world. This does not mean Hell.
5. Unnatural death.

In this excerpt the Devil has moved from prosecution to entrapment (which is illegal in civil law!) - this is an active role. It is still, however, a job he is given by G-d. Also, the chaos and evil in the world here is part of how the world works; it is not particularly bad. But Man also has the knowledge (see the last line of the text) of how to heal these effects. Note how G-d is choosing to let evil remain in the world. Also note the phrase "in accordance with my [Satan's] role" - Satan is his own [?d[r]man].

This society was affluent enough to have the time to worry about theodicy and so forth. They didn't accept the idea of Satan as a minion of G-d so started developing a more independent role for him. (Note also the text's assertion that Noah wrote down what he had learned and passed the knowledge on - by the second century BCE there was already an expectation of literacy in Judaean society.)


Serach HaYachad

This is an unique work. Twelve copies of it were found in Qumran. Judaism is characterised by non-classification texts. They are no texts arranging things in sequential order or enumerating them. We don't have laws of the same type all in the same place either in the Torah or in the Talmud. Unless you know the whole of the Talmud off by heart you can't find where particular laws are - or couldn't, at least, before the Mishne Torah was written. This text, the שרך היחד, however, does do this. It was a kind of constitution for the Qumran sect (which is what the title means).

Column c:
G-d created people to occupy [G-d's] realm. Then G-d set loose two spirits to walk among the people until the Day of Judgement - the spirits of truth and evil 1. The Angel of Light controls all the righteous. They follow the path of Light. The Angel of Darkness controls all the evil and they follow the path of darkness. It is because of the Angel of Darkness that the righteous stumble and sin and do wrong and are guilty. Their crimes are due to the rule of Darkness in accordance with G-d's secret will until the End. All the afflictions and schemes of the rule of Mastema4 and all his evil spirits are aiming to cause the Sons of Light3 to stumble. But the G-d of Israel and His Angel of Truth helps all of the Sons of Light. And G-d created the spirits of Light and Dark and based on them all actions. וה׳ ברא אנוש לממשלת תבל וישם לו שתי רוחות להתהלך בם עד מועד פקודתו - רוחות האמת ועול׃ ביד שר אורים ממשלת כל בני צדק׃ בדרכי אור יתהלכו׃ וביד מלאך החושך כל ממשלת בני עול ובדרכי חושך יתהלכו ובמלאך חושך טעות כל בני צדך וכל חטאתם ועוונותם ואשמתם ופשעי מעשיהם בממשלתו לפי רזי ק׳ל עד קצו וכל נגועיהם וצועדי צרותם בממשלת משטמתו וכל רוחי גורלו להכשיל בני אור׃ וק׳ל ישראל ומלאך אמתו עזר לכל בני אור וה׳ ברא רוחות אור וחושך ועליהן יעד כל מעשה׃
1. Lit. "wrongness" (āvel).
2. Named elsewhere in the book as Michael.
3. Which as far as the Qumran sect was concerned meant them alone. And if you were not a Son of Light you were autmatically a Son of Dark.
4. Typing up the Hebrew, it occurs to me that maybe "Mastema" should not be capitalised here, since the Hebrew actually reads משטמתו rather than מטשמה, but rendered "his animosity". The problem with this is that the direct antecedent is not the Angel of Dark, but G-d, which is theologically thorny to say the least. :o)

I can't remember if Ms Printz said this thinking came from Zoroastrianism - it's not in my notes - but it looks pretty evident to me! :o)

As far as the Qumran sect was concerned, without G-d fighting on their side, they would not win the battle against evil. They also believed the struggle against evil had to be fought at three levels - at the personal level, the societal level, and the cosmic level. The idea of the split between dark and light was part of mainstream Judaism at the time but did not survive as part of the mainstream Judaism we have since inherited.

Book of Adam and Eve

This is a long quotation and I don't have the patience to type it all up in Hebrew.

Eve told them: Listen my sons and I will tell you how the Enemy tricked us when we were keeping the Garden - each of us the portion given by G-d and I was keeping my portion in the west and south. The Adversary went to Adam's portion where the male animals were (for G-d divided the animals between us, giving the male ones to your father and the female animals to me). The Adversary spoke to the snake, saying: "I have seen that you are wilier than all the other animals. Why should you be fed by Adam instead of eating the fruit of the garden? Let us cause him to be expelled from the garden! Be my instrument and I shall speak through you." So the snake climbed over the garden wall at the time that the angels rose to praise G-d.

The Adversary looked just like an angel and he praised G-d as one of the angels. And I saw him and he seemed as an angel and he said to me, "Are you Eve?" and I said "I am." He asked me, "What are you doing in the garden?" and I explained that G-d put us in it to keep it and to eat its fruit.

The Adversary then answered me through the snake, saying "I feel sorry for you, because you seem as one of the cattle and I don't want to remain ignorant. Come, listen - eat of the fruit of the tree so you may realise its value."

I refused, saying, "G-d will be angry with us."

But he replied, saying, "Do not fear for on the day you shall eat from it, your eyes will open and you will become like G-d, knowing good and evil. Indeed, G-d knows that you will become like Him and He is gealous. That is why he said 'do not eat from it.'" ... Then he said, "I will not allow you to eat until you swear to me that you will give some to your husband."

I replied, "I don't know what oath I should use, but I can swear on G-d's throne, and on the Cherubim, and on the Tree of Life that I will give my husband to eat." So he bent the branch down, and I took from the fruit and I ate.

Then my eyes were opened and I saw that I was naked of the righteousness G-d had clothed me in until then, and I cried and asked "What have you done to me?" and I cried over the oath I had made. But he climbed down from the tree and was gone.

In the Book of Adam and Eve [Ms Printz has no information on its date], Satan is completely independent and working directly against G-d.


The modern view of Satan depends on whom you ask. At one extreme he is believed to be everywhere - an active force in the world - by the Breslov Chasidim. They see him as something that G-d created, but they have to pray to G-d for protection from him.

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2005-01-04 01:05 pm (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
Ooooh, this is brill! Thanks so much for typing it up. Especially since it means we have texts of obscure bits of Psuedepigrapha (love that word) so we can study it properly. Are you on for tonight, by the way?

Did Irit Printz discuss at all why she's excluded the other instances of the Adversary that occur in Torah? Is it that he / it is not really Satan in those contexts? The one that springs to mind immediately is in the Balaam story, but I don't have references to hand and I'm rushing through, so proper citations to follow.

Date: 2005-01-04 01:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
That's just an unspecified angel of the LORD, IIRC.

Date: 2005-01-04 01:52 pm (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
Yes and no; God sends an angel to oppose - לשטן - Bilam. You could discount it on the grounds that it's a verb, not a noun, but I think you have to at least put the case. KJV gives 'for an adversary' and it's a perfectly valid reading that it's a predicate here. It's a rare enough word anyway to be noteworthy. Num 22:22; I can't find an online Hebrew text that I can link to sensibly, but this shouldn't be a big problem.

Date: 2005-01-08 08:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snjstar.livejournal.com
Interesting and new information. If she is at Limmud next year I will try to go to one of her sessions.


Date: 2008-08-24 04:06 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
I'm new here, just wanted to say hello and introduce myself.


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Lethargic Man (anag.)

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