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Satan (שָׂטָן Standard Hebrew Satan, Tiberian Hebrew Śāṭān; Aramaic שִׂטְנָא Śiṭnâ: both words mean "Adversary; accuser") is an angel, demon, or minor god in many religions. Satan plays various roles in the Qur'an, the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha and the New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is an angel that God utilizes to test man for various reasons usually dealing with his level of piety (i.e. the test of Adam and Eve in Genesis, and the Book of Job). In the Apocrypha and New Testament, Satan is portrayed as an evil, rebellious demon who is the enemy of God and mankind.

In modern Abrahamic religions, Satan is generally viewed as a supernatural entity who is the central embodiment of evil. Satan is also commonly known as the Devil, the "Prince of Darkness," Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, or Lucifer. In the Talmud and some works of Kabbalah Satan is sometimes called Samael; however most Jewish literature is of the opinion that Samael is a separate angel. In the fields of angelology and demonology these different names sometimes refer to a number of different angels and demons, and there is significant disagreement as to whether any of these entities is actually evil.

In Islam, Satan is known as Iblis or Shaitan, who was the chief of the angels until he disobeyed Allah by refusing to prostrate himself before Adam because he refused to accept Man as his superior. Islam describes Satan as a Jinn, an entity made of fire, and not of the angels made from light.

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In Thelema

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In the Hebrew Bible

In the Hebrew Bible Satan is better understood as a "troublemaker" than as an embodiment of "evil." The term is applied both to divine and human beings.

Different uses of the word "Satan"

The Hebrew word "Satan" is used in the Hebrew Bible with the general connotation of "adversary," being applied to:

Satan as an accuser

Where Satan does appear as an angel, he is clearly a member of God's court and plays the role of the Accuser (possibly one of a number), much like a prosecuting attorney for God. Such a view is found in the prologue to the Book of Job, where Satan appears, together with other celestial beings, before God, replying to the inquiry of God as to whence he had come, with the words: "From going to and fro on the earth and from walking in it" (Job 1:7). Both question and answer, as well as the dialogue which follows, characterize Satan as that member of the divine council who watches over human activity, but with the purpose of searching out men's sins and appearing as their accuser. He is, therefore, the celestial prosecutor, who sees only iniquity; for he persists in his evil opinion of Job even after he has passed successfully through his first trial by surrendering to the will of God, whereupon Satan demands another test through physical suffering (Job 2:3-5).

It is evident from the prologue in Job that Satan has no power of independent action, but requires the permission of God, which he may not transgress. Satan is not an opponent of God. This view is also retained in Zech. 3:1-2, where Satan is described as the adversary of the high priest Joshua, and of the people of God whose representative the hierarch is; and he there opposes the "angel of the Lord," who bids him be silent in the name of God. In both of these passages Satan is a mere accuser who acts only according to the permission of the Deity.

In 1 Chron. 21:1 Satan appears as one who is able to provoke David to destroy Israel. The Chronicler (third century B.C.) regards Satan as an independent agent, a view which is the more striking since the source whence he drew his account (2 Sam. 24:1) speaks of God Himself as the one who moved David against the children of Israel. Since the older conception refers all events, whether good or bad, to God alone (1 Sam. 16:14; 1 Kings 22:22; Isa. 45:7; etc.), it is possible that the Chronicler, and perhaps even Zechariah, were influenced by Zoroastrianism, even though in the case of the prophet Jewish monism strongly opposed Iranian dualism.

In Rabbinic literature

Early rabbinic Jewish statements in the Mishnah and Talmud show that Satan played little or no role in Jewish theology. In the course of time, however, Judaism absorbed the popular concepts of Satan, which doubtless forced their way gradually from the lower classes to the most cultured. The later a rabbinic work can be dated the more frequent is the mention therein of Satan and his hosts.

An example is found in Genesis: The serpent who had Eve eat the forbidden fruit. The consensus of the Biblical commentators in classical Judaism is that the serpent of the narrative in Genesis, was literally a serpent. They differ regarding what it represented: The evil inclinaction (Yetzer HaRa), Satan, or the Angel of Death. According to the Midrash, before this cunning beast was cursed, it stood erect and was endowed with some faculty of communication.

The Palestinian Talmud, completed about 450 CE, is more reticent in this regard; and this is the more noteworthy since its provenience is the same as that of the New Testament.

The Babylonian Talmud (Bava Bathra 16a) states that the Evil Inclincation (Yetzer ha-Ra), the Angel of Death and Satan are identical.

In a midrash (Genesis Rabbah 19) Samael, the lord of the satans, was a mighty prince of angels in heaven. Satan came into the world with woman, that is, with Eve (Midrash Yalkut, Genesis 1:23), so that he was created and is not eternal. Like all celestial beings, he flies through the air (Genesis Rabbah 19), and can assume any form, as of a bird (Talmud, Sanhedrin 107a), a stag (ibid, 95a), a woman (ibid, 81a), a beggar, or a young man (Midrash Tanchuma, Wayera, end); he is said to skip (Talmud Pesachim 112b and Megilla. 11b), in allusion to his appearance in the form of a goat.

In some works some rabbis hold that Satan is the incarnation of all evil, and his thoughts are devoted to the destruction of man. In this view, Satan, the impulse to evil and the angel of death are one and the same personality. Satan seizes upon even a single word which may be prejudicial to man; so that "one should not open his mouth unto evil," i.e., "unto Satan" (Talmud Berachot 19a). In times of danger likewise he brings his accusations (Palestinian Talmud, Shabbat 5b). While he has power over all the works of man (Talmud Berachot 46b), he can not prevail at the same time against two individuals of different nationality; so that Samuel, a noted astronomer, physician and teacher of the Law (died at Nehardea, 247), would start on a journey only when a Gentile traveled with him (Talmud, Shabbat 32a).

Satan's knowledge is circumscribed; for when the shofar is blown on New-Year's Day he is "confounded" (Rosh Hashana 16b, Targum Yerushalmi to Numbers 10:10). On the Day of Atonement his power vanishes; for the numerical value of the letters of his name (gematria and Hebrew numerals) is only 364, one day being thus exempt from his influence (Yoma 20a).

If Satan does not attain his purpose, as was the case in his temptation of Job, he feels great sorrow (Bava Bathra 16a); and it was a terrible blow to him, as the representative of moral evil, that the Torah, the incarnation of moral good, should be given to Israel. He endeavored to overthrow it, and finally led the people to make the golden calf (Shabbat 89a, Targum Yerushalmi to Exodus 32:1), while the two tables of the Law were bestowed on Moses of necessity without Satan's knowledge (Sanhedrin 26b).

One rabbi notes that Satan was an active agent in the fall of man (Midrash Pirke de-Rabbi Eliezer 13, beginning), and was the father of Cain (ibid, 21), while he was also instrumental in the offering of Isaac (Midrash Tanchuma, Wayera, 22 [ed. Stettin, p. 39a]), in the release of the animal destined by Esau for his father (ibid, Toledot, 11), in the theophany at Sinai, in the death of Moses (Deuteronomy Rabbah 13:9), in David's sin with Bath-sheba (Sanhedrin 95a), and in the death of Queen Vashti (Megilla 11a). The decree to destroy all the Jews, which Haman obtained, was written on parchment brought by Satan (Esther Rabba 3:9). When Alexander the Great reproached the Jewish sages with their rebellion, they made the plea that Satan had been too mighty for them (Tamid 32a).

In the Apocrypha

In Wisdom ii. 24 Satan is represented, with reference to Gen. iii., as the father of all lies, who brought death into the world; he is apparently mentioned also in Ecclus. (Sirach) xxi. 27, and the fact that his name does not occur in Daniel is doubtless due merely to chance. Satan was the seducer and the paramour of Eve, and was hurled from heaven together with other angels because of his iniquity (Slavonic Book of Enoch, xxix. 4 et seq.). Since that time he has been called "Satan," although previously he had been termed "Satanel" (ib. xxxi. 3 et seq.).

The doctrine of the fall of Satan, as well as of the fall of the angels, is found also in Babylonia. Satan rules over an entire host of angels (Martyrdom of Isaiah, ii. 2; Vita Adæ et Evæ, xvi.). Mastema, who induced God to test Abraham through the sacrifice of Isaac, is identical with Satan in both name and nature (Book of Jubilees, xvii. 18), and the Asmodeus of the Book of Tobit is likewise to be identified with him, especially in view of his licentiousness. As the lord of satans he not infrequently bears the special name Samael.

It is difficult to identify Satan in any other passages of the Apocrypha, since the originals in which his name occurred have been lost, and the translations employ various equivalents. An "argumentum a silentio" can not, therefore, be adduced as proof that concepts of Satan were not wide-spread; but it must rather be assumed that reference to him and his realm is often implied in the mention of evil spirits.

In the New Testament

Satan figures much more prominently in the New Testament and in Christian theology generally. In the New Testament, Satan appears as a tempter for Jesus for example (see Matt. 4: 3-9). In John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, the theme is further developed—Satan is believed to have been an archangel named Lucifer who turned against God before the creation of man. (Prophesies in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are sometimes thought to be referring to Satan, rather than to the earthly king that a plain or literal reading of the text suggests.) According to this view, Satan waged war against God, his creator, and was banished from Heaven because of this.

In the creation story found in the book of Genesis a serpent tempted Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. In the Jewish tradition, the serpent was always taken to be literally a snake; the story tells us the origin of how the snake lost its legs. Later Christian theologies interpreted this serpent to be Satan, to the point where many Christians are unaware that the actual Hebrew text does not identify the serpent as Satan. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Satan is one of humanity's three enemies, along with sin and death.

According to most Christian eschatology, Satan will wage a final war against Jesus, before being cast into Hell for "aeonios." (Aeonios, literally translated, means of or pertaining to an age, which is incorrectly translated as "all eternity." It is impossible to apply the meaning of a span of time to eternity since eternity, itself, is not bounded by time.) The Unification Church teaches that Satan will be restored in the last days and become a good angel again (see Lucifer, A Criminal Against Humanity ( A few early Church Fathers are known to have prayed for Satan's eventual repentance; it was not generally believed that this would happen. On the other hand, the Seventh-day Adventist Church teaches that when Jesus returns to earth to reclaim the righteous dead and living to meet Him in the air (see 1 Thess 4:17), Satan will be bound on this Earth for a thousand years, after which he will be “loosed for a little season” (a short time, see Rev 20:1-3)—this is when the battle of Armageddon (the final confrontation between good and evil) will be waged—and Satan and his followers will be destroyed once and for all, the Earth will be cleansed of all evil and there will be “a new Heaven and a new Earth” where sin will reign no more (see Rev 21:1-4).

In various Gnostic sects, Satan was praised as the giver of knowledge, sometimes with references to Lucifer, “the light-bringer.” Some claimed that the being imagined as God by Christians and Jews was in fact Satan, as a world as imperfect as ours could not be created by a perfect God.

See also


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