The evolution of the Devil

Image from Dante’s Inferno

For most people raised in the United States, the story of the Devil is learned from a very young age. Even children raised in secular households learn about him through fairy tales or due to friends whose family happen to be Christian (Geggel, 2016). The story is almost always the same: The Devil tempted Eve in the garden of Eden to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge. The Devil then went on to torment Job, and later to tempt Jesus during his time in the desert. The Devil is the one who tempts people to do evil and stray from good. But what if people knew that the Devil as he’s known today not only didn’t exist in the Bible, but comes from the 14th century (Kohler, 1923, p. 139)? What if people knew that all the references to the Devil (or Satan) in the Bible weren’t originally referencing a specific being, but were later changed or shoehorned to fit through reinterpretation and transliteration?

The Devil is supposedly referenced many times throughout the Bible, yet it is only within the New Testament that one reads of a specific being who later becomes Satan or the Devil. The ancient Hebrews had no concept of the Devil or of Satan in their mythologies or in their scripture (Rudwin, 1931, p. 1, 17) meaning that the Old Testament examples of the Devil only exist due to people going back and changing text or stating that a portion of the text refers to the Devil and not whoever it originally refers to within the story. Even the reference to Lucifer in Isaiah 14 is in reference to the planet Venus in reference to an unnamed Babylonian king (assumed to be Nebuchadnezzar II or Nabonidus) and not a fallen angel (Wallace, 2010). When the Old Testament was translated to Latin the title Hebrew name for Venus was changed to Lucifer, who in Roman mythology was personified as a winged male carrying a torch or jar of light.

As Christianity grew, so did the need to justify the problem of evil. Church fathers began looking for ways to explain how evil didn’t come from God, but from another being, drawing from outside mythologies and eventually using the misinterpretation of Lucifer with a capital L to personify the morning star to cement the Devil and Satan (Russell, 1994 p. 129–132). Numerous theologians, apologists, and eventually St. Augustine continued to search through the approved canonical scripture as well as the apocrypha for proof of the Devil, who they now claimed was the fallen angel Satan, better known as Lucifer, to provide as evidence that God was not only omnipotent and omnipresent, but omnibenevolent. God couldn’t be the cause of anything evil in the world, it was the Devil and his introduction of sin through the temptation of Eve that caused evil to exist in the world. Because of this, only redemption through the Church could save a person from an eternity in the newly developed Christian Hell that was ruled over by Satan (Sweeney, 2013). Characters that began as either references to literal people, such as the verses in Ezekiel and Isaiah, to creations of God such as the serpent in Genesis became mashed into a single being to justify the apocalyptical writings of Peter and Paul; only to be expanded upon through passion plays, writings such as Dante’s Inferno and Milton’s Paradise Lost, and the incorporation of pagan mythologies to entice people into the Christian/Catholic religion. Through transliteration and transposing of terms and names throughout the centuries we’ve come to see not only the creation of the Christian Devil, but the creation of an entire branch of mythology based not on the holy books within the religion, but on clerical errors and misinterpretations.

Geggel, L. (2016, October 02). “Where did Satan come from?” Retrieved from https://www.livescience.com/56341-where-did-satan-come-from.html

Kohler, K. (1923). Heaven and Hell in comparative religion: With special reference to Dante’s Divine comedy. New York, NY: The MacMillan Company.

Rudwin, M. (1931). The devil in legend and literature. La Salle, IL: Open Court.

Russell, J. B. (1994). Satan: The early Christian tradition. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Sweeney, L. (2013, November 25). “The history and origins of Satan — A study”. Retrieved from https://www.iup.edu/WorkArea/DownloadAsset.aspx?id=161917

Wallace, D. B. (2010, March 22). “Is “Lucifer” the devil in Isaiah 14:12? — The KJV argument against modern translations”. Retrieved from https://bible.org/article/lucifer-devil-isaiah-1412-kjv-argument-against-modern-translations

Queer|Pronouns he/they. Owner of Illuminatus Design. Degrees in Interdisciplinary Studies (GSWS, Psychology, English) & Theology (M:Div)

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