Jewish demonology

While Zoroaster and his Mazdaist followers are the first to have embodied the principle of evil within one personality, the concept of the Devil is of definite Hebrew origin. Early Judaism was, of course, utterly monistic. The god Yahweh encompassed both good and evil, mercy and justice, yet could not be assigned a specific moral character.

As in Zoroastrianism, however, the evil in the god’s nature was eventually differentiated from him and ascribed to a malignant spirit. As always, the Devil is a figure who actively inflict suffering and pursues wholesale destruction for its own sake. During the second exodus, the Jews were confronted them with evil in a new, more powerful way, and the existence of the Devil made their suffering more explicable.

When we turn from the Avesta to the Sacred Books of the Jews, that is to say to the canonical Scripture, we are struck by the absence of an elaborate demonology such as that of the Persians and Assyrians.

There are large descriptions of the hosts of heaven, the seraphim and cherubim, and other spirits who stand before the throne or minister to men, but the mention of the evil spirits is comparatively slight. Not that their existence is ignored, for we have the temptation by the serpent, in which Jews as well as Christians recognize the work of the Evil Spirit.

In Job, again, Satan appears as the tempter and the accuser of the just man; in Kings it is he who incites David to murder the prophet; in Zacharias he is seen in his office of accuser. Saul is afflicted or apparently possessed, by an evil spirit. The scapegoat is sent into the wilderness to Azazael, who is supposed by some to be a demon .

A further development of the demonology of the Old Testament is seen in the Book of Tobias, which though not included in the Jewish Canon was written in Hebrew or Chaldean, and a version in the latter language has been recovered among some rabbinical writings. Here we have the demon Asmodeus who plays the part assigned to demons in many ethnic demonologies and folk-legends and became a prominent figure in later Hebrew demonology.

The rabbinical demonology of the Talmud and Midrashim is very far from the reticence and sobriety of the canonical writings in regard to this subject. Some modern critics explain this rich growth of demonology among the Jews by the effects of the Captivity, and regard it as the result of Babylonian or Persian influence. The influence of Apocalyptical sects during the captivity makes it a clear case of appropriation.

The rabbinical demonologists have carefully selected a number of demons from external systems and drew forth by means of their subtle and ingenious methods of exegesis in order to fill the missing point of the Scriptures.

Thus, Lilith who was for the Babylonians a mysterious female night spirit apparently living in desolate places, became in Jewish mythology the demon wife of Adam and the mother of demons.