The Co-evolution of Pre-Christian Satan

This is the third post in the guest series “Who is Satan?” by Arcamaede. An index for all posts in the series is here.

~ Steve


As we discovered in Part 2, the concept of Satan that we find in the New Testament is missing from the Old Testament.  If it’s not all from there, where did the rest of it come from?

I know my answer until a few months ago might have been that it represented a change in the world of the New Testament and that it didn’t require any explanation from the Old Testament.

But what if we had information that pre-dated the New Testament and yet post-dated the Old Testament?  Information that describes Satan (and demons, spirits, etc.) and allows explanations of their evolution?

We don’t have to wonder — the writings of the Jewish pseudopedigrapha contain stories which sound tantalizingly like those we find in the New Testament (and later Christian literature). These pre-Christian conceptions are vital to understanding New Testament conceptions of Satan (and demons, spirits, etc).

Copies of pseudopedigraphical books such as 1 Enoch have been found among the Dead Sea Scrolls; in fact, it is the third most plentiful work among the DSS — surpassed only by Psalms and Deuteronomy.

For an example of how this literature has impacted the New Testament writers, a few illustrative passages are important.

Jude 14-15 quotes from Enoch …

It was also about these men that Enoch, in the seventh generation from Adam, prophesied, saying, “Behold, the Lord came with many thousands of His holy ones,

to execute judgment upon all, and to convict all the ungodly of all their ungodly deeds which they have done in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.”

compared to 1 Enoch 1:9 …

And behold! He cometh with ten thousands of His holy ones

To execute judgement upon all,

And to destroy all the ungodly:

And to convict all flesh

Of all the works of their ungodliness which they have ungodly committed,

And of all the hard things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.

It is clear that the writer of Jude knew about the book of Enoch.  More importantly the audience of Jude knew about Enoch’s stories.   I’ve read different spins on this:  the author knew but didn’t believe it or both the author and the audience knew but didn’t believe it.  Neither of these spins are meaningful.  What is meaningful is that the stories had some kind of explanatory power — otherwise what’s the use of even telling them?

Within the book of 1 Enoch we find two critical characters in the possible story of Satan.  The first I’d like to discuss is Azazel who is presented as a chief angel.

1 And Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all 2 colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they 3 were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways. Semjaza taught enchantments, and root-cuttings, ‘Armaros the resolving of enchantments, Baraqijal (taught) astrology, Kokabel the constellations, Ezeqeel the knowledge of the clouds, Araqiel the signs of the earth, Shamsiel the signs of the sun, and Sariel the course of the moon. And as men perished, they cried, and their cry went up to heaven . . . (1 Enoch 8) [ Ahem…that would be “1 Enoch 8”! Thanks, James! ]

You can see that the writer of Enoch clearly envisioned a rebellious group of angels.  This is a totally foreign idea to angels we find in the Old Testament.  To my knowledge, we never find an angel opposing YHWH.   As we have seen in the older presentations of Satan, he was not generally depicted in the role of naked opposition to God.  It’s worth noting, though, that Enoch does not make the connection between Satan and the rebel angels.

It has been speculated that seeking a solution for the problem of evil (theodicy) encouraged the adaptation of Satan as a character upon which to blame evil in the world.   The above passage from Enoch hints at it.  The next one does as well.

Enoch 10.1-8 exposes us to a few critical ideas …

1 Then said the Most High, the Holy and Great One spake, and sent Uriel to the son of Lamech, and said to him: 2 ‘Go to Noah and tell him in my name “Hide thyself!” and reveal to him the end that is approaching: that the whole earth will be destroyed, and a deluge is about to come upon the whole earth, and will destroy all that is on it. 3 And now instruct him that he may escape and his seed may be preserved for all the generations of the world.’ 4 And again the Lord said to Raphael: ‘Bind Azâzêl hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dûdâêl, and cast him therein. 5 And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there for ever, and cover his face that he may not see light. 6, 7 And on the day of the great judgement he shall be cast into the fire. And heal the earth which the angels have corrupted, and proclaim the healing of the earth, that they may heal the plague, and that all the children of men may not perish through all the secret things that the Watchers have disclosed and have taught their sons. 8 And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azâzêl: to him ascribe all sin.’

First of all, these fallen angels were before the Great Flood of Genesis (as witnessed by the Noah and deluge references in v2) and they are held responsible for the corrupted earth (v6). Second, we should see something that looks awfully familiar: an angel is ordered to throw the chief fallen angel (Azazel) into a pit and be sealed away in darkness under rocks (Revelation 20:3) until he is brought to a judgement of fire (Revelation 20:10).

How could these incredible tales have come to be told?  We can only speculate, but one possible explanation is that as the ancient world went through great upheavals of politics and ideology the role of the Accuser was influenced by Persia and its Zoroastrian beliefs. The people in Judea appear to have absorbed the elements of Zoroastrian teaching in a few significant ways: angels, an idea of a purely good god (named Ahura Mazda), and an opponent who was totally evil (named Angra Mainyu).

Regardless of how they came to make these connections, it’s easy to see that Satan seems to have been adapted to fulfill the role of absolute evil using both biblical and extra-biblical sources.

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