Satanological terminology in the Synoptics: Satan

This entry is part 3 of 8 in the series The Yetzer in the Wilderness: Jesus and the Evil Inclination

Three terms are used to describe Christ’s adversary in the Synoptic temptation accounts; ‘satan’ (ho satanas in Mark 1:12, with the vocative satana without the definite article only in Matthew 4:10), ‘the tempter’ (ho peirazwn, only in Matthew 4:3), and ‘the devil’ (ho diabolos). Elsewhere in Matthew (and only Matthew), the term ‘the evil one’ (ho ponēros), may also be used (Matthew 5:37; 6:13; 13:19, 38), though this is debated in the literature.1

Lexicographical evidence contradicts the assumption that these terms normatively referred to a supernatural evil being in the first century. In Second Temple Period literature the term ‘satan’ (whether in Hebrew or Greek), is predominantly used as a common noun rather than a personal name, the term ‘the devil’ (ho diabolos), is rarely if ever used to refer to a supernatural evil being, and the terms ‘the tempter’ (ho peirazwn), and ‘the evil one’ (ho ponēros), have no pre-Christian witness with such a meaning.

The term satan, whether in Greek (satanas), or Hebrew (śāṭān), is used rarely in pre-Christian literature2 and never as a proper name.3 Consequently, Laato notes that ‘we lack an established tradition whereby the name of the personal Evil or the leader of demons is Satan’.4

In Wisdom of Sirach (21:27), the Greek term is used of the evil inclination.5 In 1 Enoch6 the term appears only four times (41:9; 53:3; 54:6),7 and is not used as a proper name;8 instead Shemihazah and Azâzêl are the names of the supernatural evil opponent.9 Additionally, the satan in 1 Enoch is an obedient servant of God, not an evil adversary.10

In Jubilees 10:11 the term ‘satan’ as a proper name was interpolated into the text by later scribes; textual evidence indicates the original word was Mastema,11 and all other instances of the term in Jubilees (23:29; 40:9; 46:2; 50:5), use it as a common noun.12

In the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs the term is rarely (and never as a proper name); in contrast with less than half a dozen uses of satan, the term Beliar is used around thirty times.13 This very likely reflects the composite nature of the work, which scholars agree contains both Jewish and Christian material.14 Although much of the material is pre-Christian,15 scholarship is divided on whether the work is a Jewish text which has been interpolated by a Christian editor, or a Christian work which has borrowed from earlier Jewish material.16

The overwhelming use of Beliar suggests the work of a Jewish writer, since this is a term virtually unique to Jewish literature, used only once in the New Testament (2 Corinthians 6:15), and found in subsequent Christian literature only as a quotation from the New Testament. However, the textual history of this work is highly complex and in its current form it is not possible to date either the original form of the text or its subsequent layers, with any degree of reliability.

Although the Testament of Job uses the terms ‘the satan’ (3:6; 4:4; 6:4; 7:1; 16:2; 20:1; 23:1; 27:1; 41:5), and ‘the devil’ (3:3; 17:1; 26:6), its very uncertain date17 precludes its use as a reliable source of contextual data for the New Testament.18 However, it is significant that this text never uses ‘satan’ as a proper name. The term occurs once in the Life of Adam and Eve (17:1), known as the Greek Apocalypse of Moses, a composite Jewish and Christian work of uncertain date,19 surviving in texts of several languages (Greek, Armenian, Georgian, Latin, Slavonic), most likely written near the end of the first century and therefore not a pre-Christian source.20

In the Qumran literature the Hebrew śāṭān is used rarely, and only as a common noun.21 Despite suggestions that it is used as a proper noun in the Prayer of Deliverance (11Q5 xix 13-16),22 the context of the passage and comparison with related texts indicates it is not used as a proper noun or name here;23 in fact Tigchelaar has argued that here it is used of the evil inclination.24

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  1. ‘The century-old exegetical debate, whether to read at Matt. 6:13b a neuter abstract noun, ‘evil’, or a masculine noun ‘the Evil One’ (Satan), is still reflected in modern exegesis and translation (e.g. rsv ‘from evil’, mg. ‘the evil one’, neb ‘from the evil one’, mg. ‘from evil’); and exegetes and translators now, as in the patristic period, are just about as evenly divided as these two modern versions.’, Matthew Black, “The Doxology to the Pater Noster with a Note on Matthew 6:13b,” in A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History (ed. Richard T. Davies, Philip R. White; vol. 100; Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series; Sheffield: JSOT Press, 1990), 333. []
  2. ‘Being a transliteration from the Hebrew or Aramaic and almost lacking in the LXX, the Greek form of the name “Satan” is rarely used in Jewish literature of the Second Temple Period (cf. T. 12 Patr., T. Job and Life of Adam and Eve 17:1).’, C. Breytenbach (I, IV) and (I–III) Day P. L., “Satan,” ed. Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, and Pieter W. van der Horst, Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 731; ‘Actually, however, the majority of these deuterocanonical texts refer to other demons by name, but seldom use the name śāṭān.’, Victor P. Hamilton, “Satan,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 987. []
  3. ‘”Satan” occurs only occasionally in this literature: Jub 10:11; 23:29; 50:5; MartIs [Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah] 2:2; 1 Enoch 41:9; 53;1ff; 54:1ff. As was evident in the passages from Jubilees and MartIs cited just above, Satan was one of the titles, but not the preferred name, for the leader of the evil angels. It seems to have been more a role description than a proper name in this period, as is also seen in the following passages from Jubilees.’, Gregory Charles Jenks, The Origins and Early Development of the Antichrist Myth (Walter de Gruyter, 1991), 134. []
  4. ‘On the other hand, it should be observed that Satan was not the self-evident name of the leader of demons in early Jewish writings. For example, in 1 En. 1-36 the leader of the fallen angels is called Shemihazah (1 En. 6-7) or ‘Asa‘el (1 En. 8). Other significant names appear in the Book of Jubilees: Mastemah (from the Hebrew root śātām which is a biform of śātān), in Qumran writings: Mastemah and Belial (in Greek: Beliar), and in rabbinical writings: Sama‘el. Thus we lack an established tradition whereby the name of the personal Evil or the leader of demons is Satan.’, Antti Laato, “The Devil In The Old Testament,” in Evil and the Devil (ed. Erkki Koskenniemi and Ida Fröhlich; Library of New Testament Studies; A&amp;C Black, 2013), 4. []
  5. ‘Ben Sira knows about Satan, for a few chapters earlier he says: “When the godless man curses Satan [ho satanas], he is cursing himself” [Sirach 21.27]. This probably means that he identifies Satan with a person’s own bad impulses, and when one blames an external tempter or adversary, one is really condemning oneself.’, Paolo Sacchi, The History of the Second Temple Period (vol. 285; A&C Black, 2004), 351; ‘Ben Sira claimed also that evil in this world derives from God’s will and is intended as a test of humanity (2,4-9). So, “when a wicked man curses the satan (or: Satan, tòn satanân), it is himself that he curses” (21,27). Ben Sira means that Satan is, therefore, nothing but an individual’s impulse to evil and does not exist as a material being who can act in this world according to his own decision.’, Piero Capelli, “The Evil One in Second Temple Judaism,” in “The Words of a Wise Man’s Mouth Are Gracious” (Qoh 10,12): Festschrift for Günter Stemberger on the Occasion of His 65th Birthday (ed. Mauro Perani; Walter de Gruyter, 2005), 142. []
  6. ‘The book that has come down to us as 1 Enoch is actually a composite work. The main literary components of 1 Enoch are: The Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36), the Similitudes (or Parables) of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71), the Book of the Heavenly Luminaries (Astronomical Book; 1 Enoch 72–82), the Book of Dreams (1 Enoch 83–90) and the Epistle of Enoch (1 Enoch 92–105).’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  7. All references to satan are found in the Aramaic texts at Qumran, since the available Greek text ends at chapter 32 (there are no uses of the Greek word satanas in this text). []
  8. ‘It is not a proper name in Enoch or at Qumran.’, John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Volume Two: Israel’s Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2006), 55. []
  9. ‘Again, in 1 En. 6–11 (3d century b.c.), the ringleader of the angels who were punished because of their sexual activity with the daughters of men is called Shemihazah (chap. 6) or Azazel (8:1–2).’, Victor P. Hamilton, “Satan,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 987. []
  10. ‘Although Azazel and Semyaza occupy prominent places among the evil angels,1 Enoch does refer to Satan (53:3), not as an evil being, but as one carrying out the commands of God to punish evildoers – the traditional biblical view of Satan as adversary – yet it also refers to the servants of Satan as evil (54:6).’, Joseph F. Kelly, Who Is Satan?: According to the Scriptures (Liturgical Press, 2013), 45. []
  11. ‘Jubilees 10:11 refers to a figure “the satan” or “Satan,”, but this is easily corrected to “Mastema” on the basis of the Book of Asaph the Physician. This work, though late, is clearly related to the book of Jubilees (arguably from a common source, a dependent book, or Jubilees itself).”’, Todd R. Hanneken []
  12. ‘Still, as we noted earlier, in the book of Jubilees, ‘satan’ was not so much a proper name as a description of Mastema’s role on behalf of God as the accuser or the adversary.’, Philip C. Almond, The Devil: A New Biography (I.B.Tauris, 2014), 16; ‘it would be strange if Jubilees introduced ‘Satan’ as a proper name once and once only, without due explanation, while elsewhere employing the word as a common noun;’, Eric Eve, The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles (A&C Black, 2002), 170; ‘While the Greek and Ethiopic transmitters of Jubilees could easily, based on later associations, have confused “Satan” for “Mastema,” it is less likely that a medieval Jewish physician would have substituted “Mastema” for “Satan.” Even without recourse to the Hebrew Book of Asaph the Physician, an emendation would be easily justified. The context clearly refers to Mastema (thus, if 10:11 did read “Satan,” there would be no doubt that Jubilees identifies the two names as one figure). The fact that Jubilees uses “satans” differently in four other places makes clear that a transmitter, and not the author, made the identification. Thus we can say confidently that the original composition of Jubilees only used “satans” to refer to adversaries in the most general sense.’, Todd R. Hanneken, The Subversion of the Apocalypses in the Book of Jubilees (Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2012), 74. []
  13. ‘Satan figures relatively infrequently in T12P (TDan 3:6; 5:6; 6:1; TGad 4:7; TAsh 6:4, in α text), whereas Beliar appears more than thirty times (depending on which textual tradition is used as the basis for the count).’, James H. Charlesworth, ed., The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: Volume 1 (New York; London: Yale University Press, 1983), 782; an additional use of satan (not counted by Charlesworth nor included in the translation by Kee in Charlseworth), is also found in the Greek text of Testament of Levi 16:10 (in Kee’s translation Testament of Levi ends at 16:5), presented by Penner and Heiser,  ‘καὶ μὴ κατισχυσάτω με πᾶς σατανᾶς πλανῆσαί με ἀπὸ τῆς ὁδοῦ σου.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  14. ‘The textual situation is complicated by the undeniable presence of Christian interpolations in the body of the work. There are several overtly messianic passages that bear clear relationship to Jesus of Nazareth. For example, the Testament of Levi 4:1 and 14:2 speak of the violent treatment of the “Son” or “Savior of the World.” The Testament of Asher (7:3) has God coming in the form of a man. The Testament of Benjamin (9:3) has this same divine personage “raised up on wood.” In Testament of Levi 16:3 Jesus is referred to as “the man who renews the law in the power of the Most High.”’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  15. ‘The date can be pushed back well before the Christian era due to the discovery of the fragmentary Aramaic Levi texts from the Cairo Genizah and the later discovery of fragments that appear to reflect the same document at Qumran.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  16. ‘There are two views: (1) The work is an originally Jewish document that has been interpolated by Christians; (2) the work is a Christian document written originally in Greek but based on some earlier Semitic material.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  17. ‘Most scholars consider the work to be Jewish in origin at some time between 100 b.c. and 200 a.d., and originally written in Hellenistic Greek.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  18. ‘If the book could be securely dated to the 1st century a.d. or slightly before, some of its content features take on added importance for contextualizing New Testament theology. For example, the reference to Satan as the devil would clearly anticipate New Testament understanding of Satan as a personal figure of definite identity, as opposed to the word’s meaning as a title in the Hebrew Bible (“the satan”; i.e., “the adversary”) because of the presence of the definite article.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  19. ‘Content allusions to other pre-Christian pseudepigraphic ideas, Josephus, and rabbinical traditions have moved scholars to postulate an origin ca. 100 b.c.–a.d. 200.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  20. ‘Given the relationship with the Pseudepigrapha, Josephus, rabbinic traditions, and perhaps Paul, the most natural span for the original composition would be between 100 b.c. and a.d. 200, more probably toward the end of the first Christian century.’, M. D. Johnson, “Life of Adam and Eve: A New Translation and Introduction,” in James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament, Volume 2: Expansions of the “Old Testament” and Legends, Wisdom, and Philosophical Literature, Prayers, Psalms and Odes, Fragments of Lost Judeo-Hellenistic Works (vol. 2, New Haven; London: Yale University Press, 1985), 252; ‘The Apocalypse of Moses, which reports the last words of Moses to Joshua, is known only from a Latin fragment, translated from the Greek, which in turn derives from a Semitic original of the first to second century a.d.’, Sever J. Voicu, Apocrypha (ed. Thomas C. Oden; vol. 15; Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), xxviii. []
  21. ‘In the Qumran literature śāṭān occurs only three times (1QH 4:6; 45:3; 1QSb 1:8), and never as a proper name.’, Victor P. Hamilton, “Satan,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 988.; ‘When we step back and look at all of the Qumran remains, one striking fact appears: there are only two or three fragmentary occurrences of the word satan, and then only as a common noun.’, Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 43; ‘As is well known, the term satan means “accuser” or “one who brings charges against.” There are five occurrence of the term in the Hebrew Dead Sea texts. In two, perhaps three, of these instances, the word is preceded by the adjective all or, with the negative, any (kol satan; cf. 1QH a 4.6, 45.3; 1QSb i 8?). In this case, we do not have to do with “satan” as a proper name, but rather with a figure that could as well include a human as an angelic adversary. The same may also be inferred from the negative that precedes it in Words of the Luminaries at 4Q504 1–2 iv 12: “and there is no satan or evil plague” (wa-’eyn satan wa-pega‘ ra‘). Jubilees offers a similar picture: The little apocalypse in chapter 23 anticipates that in the end of days “there will be neither satan nor any evil who [or better: which] will destroy” (23:29), in which satan generically denotes someone—anyone—who destroys by cutting short the life of human beings. Less clear is Jubilees 10:11: the angels of the presence are made to say that, “[a]ll the evil ones [i.e. the spirits from the Giants] who were savage we tied up in the place of judgement, while we left a tenth of them to exercise power on the earth before the satan.” Here, “the satan” refers to the chief of evil spirits who has just previously been mentioned by name as “Mastema”; the expression, then, describes a function associated with Mastema.’, Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “The Demonic World of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Evil and the Devil (ed. Erkki Koskenniemi and Ida Fröhlich; Library of New Testament Studies; A&C Black, 2013), 62-63. []
  22. ‘In the one remaining occurrence, the “Prayer of Deliverance” mentioned above, the word may function as a proper noun.’, Loren T. Stuckenbruck, “The Demonic World of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” in Evil and the Devil (ed. Erkki Koskenniemi and Ida Fröhlich; Library of New Testament Studies; A&C Black, 2013), 63. []
  23. ‘One of these uses has been wrongly rendered as a proper noun (the same kind of improper rendition that occurs in most translations of the Book of Job). The passage in question occurs in a “new psalm” found in Cave 11 [11QPsa 19.15]. In the edition by Florentino García Martínez, it is translated thus: “May Satan not rule over me, or an Unclean Spirit; may neither pain nor evil purpose take possession of my bones.” But the term used in the original is ha-satan, which should be translated here as “a satan.”’, Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 43-44; ‘It is not a proper name in Enoch or at Qumran.’, John Goldingay, Old Testament Theology, Volume Two: Israel’s Faith (InterVarsity Press, 2006), 55. []
  24. ‘In addition, Tigchelaar considers the juxtaposition of a satan and an “evil inclination” in the Plea for Deliverance to be parallel to the identification of Satan with the evil inclination in the Babylonian Talmud (b. B.B. 16a).’, Miryam Brand, Evil Within and Without: The Source of Sin and Its Nature as Portrayed in Second Temple Literature (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 21. []

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