Satanological terminology in the Synoptics: the devil

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series The Yetzer in the Wilderness: Jesus and the Evil Inclination

The term ‘the devil’ (ho diabolos), is virtually never used in pre-Christian Second Temple literature outside the Old Greek texts of the Hebrew Scriptures. In the Old Greek texts1 it is found in in 1 Chronicles 21:1 (of the adversary which attacks Israel, prompting David’s census), Esther 7:4; 8:1 (of Haman), Psalm 108:6 (of a human slanderer), Job 1:6-9, 12; 2:1-4, 6-7 (of Job’s adversary), and Zechariah 3:1-2 (of the accuser of Joshua).

In each case it translates the Hebrew term śāṭān,2 indicating śāṭān was not understood as a personal name at this time. Even in Job and Zechariah (where some scholars consider it to refer to an angelic servant of God), it is not used of a supernatural evil being, still less a tempter.

It appears once in 1 Maccabees (1:36), used of human adversaries. It appears once in Wisdom of Solomon (2:24), where death is said to have entered the world due to the envy of the devil. The lack of any other use of the term in this work represents a challenge to its interpretation, but it is significant that it is interpreted in 1 Clement as a reference to Cain,3 which many scholars believe is the meaning here.4 This is more likely than a supernatural referent, since the idea of the devil being prompted by envy to tempt Eve ‘is likewise not attested before the first century C.E., at the earliest’.5

The term is found five times in the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs (T Naph 3:1; 8:4, 6, TAsh 1:9; 3:2). In Philo it appears in Questions and Answers on Genesis (II:36), in the phrase ‘Moreover, the devil proceeds with great art, speaking by the mouth of the serpent’.6 Whilst this appears to indicate Philo understood the devil as a supernatural evil being which spoke through the serpent, Philo never indicates a belief in such a being.

The term was apparently used in a now lost work called the Ascension of Moses (or ‘Assumption of Moses’), often confused with the ‘Testament of Moses’ (which does not contain any reference to the devil at all), with which it shares a complex history.7 The text is of uncertain date,8 though a first century date is preferred;9 there is only one confirmed use of ‘the devil’, but the late first century Epistle of Jude uses text which later Christian writers attribute to the Ascension of Moses.10 No pre-Christian witness of this text or the phrase used by Jude, has been found.

Although the term is used once in the extant Greek fragments of Book of Jubilees (10:8),11 all of these date from the second century of the Christian era onward.12 There is no equivalent word in the Ethiopic text (which differs significantly from the later Greek fragments in this verse),13 which is significant since the Ethiopic text was translated from a pre-Christian Greek text, which it rendered very literally.14 There is therefore no evidence that the term is found in a pre-Christian text of Jubilees. In Joseph and Aseneth (12.9), the term is found only in manuscripts from the tenth century onwards, and is absent from the sixth-seventh century Armenian translation, as well as several late Greek manuscripts;15 consequently, it is not included in the standard scholarly English translation.16

In Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (3:3), the term appears in one of the late Greek fragments,17 but it is not in the earlier Ethiopic text, which reads very differently;18 significantly, one of the other late Greek fragments agrees with the Ethiopic text in this verse, and does not contain the term diabolos.19 However, since even the earliest part of the Martyrdom and Ascension of Isaiah (the Matyrdom of Isaiah), is typically dated to the early second century,20 this text is not a pre-Christian witness.

Although the term is found in History of the Rechabites (19:1; 20:1; 21:2), this work cannot be dated with certainty before the second century,21 the text has been interpolated heavily by Christians,22 and the Syriac and Greek texts frequently differ markedly, the Greek containing numerous expansions and language demonstrating it is a Christian text.23 The term occurs several times in the Life of Adam and Eve (15:3, 16:1-2, 17:4, 21:3), written at the end of the first century. It is used just once in the Testament of Solomon (15:11), typically dated to the second century and most likely written by a Christian who may have used earlier sources.24

The term became widely used in Christian literature from the second century as a reference to a supernatural evil being, and was used in many apocryphal and pseudepigraphal works such as Apocalypse of Sedrach (4:5; 5:3), a second century work consisting of a Jewish text with Christian edits,25 3 Baruch (4.8), a text of the third or fourth century,26 and Apocalypse of Daniel (14:15), a ninth century Christian work.27

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  1. Second Temple Period translations of the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek; the text known as the Septuagint (abbreviated as LXX), belongs to the body of texts known collectively as the Old Greek, but the term ‘Old Greek’ does not refer exclusively to the Septuagint. []
  2. ‘This noun (διαβολή) could also mean ‘enmity’ or ‘quarrel’, and the verb διαβάλλω (meaning literally ‘to throw across’ or ‘to cross over’) could mean ‘to be at variance’, ‘to attack’, and ‘to accuse’ (cf. Luke 16:1), as well as ‘to slander’. So the Septuagint used the verb (ἐν)διαβάλλειν of the →Angel of the Lord who ‘opposed’ Balaam (LXX Num 22:22), and the noun διάβολος to mean ‘enemy’ (for the Hebrew ṣorēr in LXX Est 8:1) and ‘adversary’ (for śāṭān LXX Ps 108:6).’, C. Breytenbach and G.J. Riley, “Devil,” in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (ed. Pieter Willem van der Toorn, Karel; Becking, Bob; van der Horst; 2nd extensively rev. ed.; Leiden; Boston; Köln; Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: Brill; Eerdmans, 1999), 244. []
  3. ‘Clement is quoting Wis 2:24 and his placement of the verse like book ends for the Genesis 4 citation demonstrates that he interpreted it as referring to Cain and not the devil.’, John Byron, Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the First Sibling Rivalry (Brill, 2011), 223. []
  4. ‘Cf. Wisdom 2.24; ‘it was through the devil’s envy that Death entered into the cosmic order’ has been taken by many interpreters to refer to Cain (cf. D. Winston, The Wisdom of Solomon [AB], 121 for discussion). The interpretation gains some support from Wisdom 10.1-3, which contrasts Adam with Cain, ‘the wicked man… on whose account the earth was flooded.’, Philip R. Davies, “Sons of Cain,” in A Word in Season: Essays in Honour of William McKane (ed. Philip R. Davies and James D. Martin; Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supplement Series 42; Bloomsbury Publishing, 1987), 56.; ‘It is in fact likely that Clement interpreted Wisdom correctly in identifying the diaboloV of 2.24 as Cain and not as Adam or anyone connected with the sin of Adam.’, Henry Ansgar Kelly, Satan: A Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2006), 78; ‘In Wisdom 10:1-2, the author does not consider the sin of Adam as particularly grievous, but in 10:3-4 blames Cain for three instances of death: the death of Abel, Cain’s own spiritual death of exile, and the death of almost the entire human race by flood. It is likely therefore that death entered the world through Cain’s murder of Abel.’, Richard J. Clifford, Wisdom (New Collegeville Bible Commentary; Liturgical Press, 2013), 21; ‘So while it is possible that Wis 2:24 is referring to the serpent/devil’s deception of Eve, it is not certain. If this is an allusion to Eve’s deception in Gen 3:4 then it is one of the earliest extant Jewish documents to equate the serpent with the devil. But if diaboloV is translated as “of the enemy,” then it is possible that 2:24 constitutes an allusion to Cain’s murder of Abel.’, John Byron, Cain and Abel in Text and Tradition: Jewish and Christian Interpretations of the First Sibling Rivalry (Brill, 2011), 220; ‘Levison’s theory is that “the enemy” (for this is how he translates this instance of diaboloV) is actually Cain, as is more explicitly the case in 10:3-4.’, Peter Bouteneff, Beginnings: Ancient Christian Readings of the Biblical Creation Narratives (Baker Academic, 2008), 19. []
  5. ‘The notion that the devil was motivated by envy is likewise not attested before the first century C.E., at the earliest, when it appears in The Life of Adam and Eve 12-17 (cf. 2 Enoch 31).’, David Collins and John Joseph Collins, Jewish Wisdom in the Hellenistic Age (A&C Black, 1998), 190. []
  6. Charles Duke Yonge with Philo of Alexandria, The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1995), 798. []
  7. Aside from one Latin manuscript of the sixth century, the text is found only in fragmentary quotations in other works; ‘Ancient lists of books (e.g., Nicephorus Stichometry) bear witness to both an Assumption of Moses and a Testament of Moses. The two may have been joined together during the first century a.d. (Charles). Gelasius quotes Testament of Moses 1:14 (Gelasius Hist. Eccl. 2.17, 17) as part of the Assumption and goes on to refer to the dispute between Michael and the devil over Moses’ body as also being from the Assumption (Charles; J. J. Collins 1984). He appears thus to have known a work that combined the Testament with a now entirely lost pseudepigraphon about the Assumption. Ceriani, following such early church usage, thought he had discovered the Assumption of Moses, and many scholars will refer to the Testament by this name. It is more probable, however, that this is an erroneous designation. The extant Testament expects a natural death for Moses (T. Mos. 1:15; 3:3; 10:12, 14), not an assumption like Enoch’s or Elijah’s. The Assumption has been lost to posterity save for brief references to its contents in, for example, Jude 9 and Gelasius.’, David A. De Silva, “Testament of Moses,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (ed. Craig A. Porter, Stanley E.; Evans; electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1193. []
  8. ‘Widely differing estimates have been proposed for the date of the document, but these may be classified into three broad categories: (1) in the first half of the second century a.d., most likely in the period just following the war of a.d. 132–135; (2) during the period of the Maccabean revolt, i.e. 168–165 b.c.; and (3) in the first century a.d., before the fall of Jerusalem in a.d. 70 and most likely during the first three decades of that century.’, James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1; New York;  London: Yale University Press, 1983), 1920.’ ; ‘Most scholars favor a date during the Hellenization crisis of 175–164 b.c. or during the period soon after Herod’s death (a.d. 7–30). Some have suggested that the work was composed during the earlier period but revised and updated for use in Herodian times.’, David A. De Silva, “Testament of Moses,” in Dictionary of New Testament Background: A Compendium of Contemporary Biblical Scholarship (ed. Craig A. Porter, Stanley E.; Evans; electronic ed.; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 1193. []
  9. ‘Consequently, it is better to retain the first-century date of the document, with the recognition that some of the materials may have had a considerable prior history in either oral or written form.’, James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1; New York;  London: Yale University Press, 1983), 921. []
  10. Jude 9 But even when Michael the archangel was arguing with the devil and debating with him concerning Moses’ body, he did not dare to bring a slanderous judgment, but said, “May the Lord rebuke you!”, Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006), Jude 9. []
  11. Jubilees 10:8 ‘ὁ δὲ διάβολος ᾐτήσατο λαβεῖν μοῖραν ἀπʼ αὐτῶν πρὸς πειρασμὸν τῶν ἀνθρώπων’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  12. ‘Only fragments of the Greek text survive, in the form of quotations and summaries in Greek sources.’, O. S. Wintermute, “Jubilees: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: 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), 242; ‘The Greek Version is lost save for some fragments which survive in Epiphanius περὶ Μέτρων καὶ Σταθμῶν 22 (ed. Dindorf, vol. 4:27–8). This fragment, which consists of 2:2–21, is published with critical notes in Charles’s edition of the Ethiopic text. Other fragments of this version are preserved in Justin Martyr, Origen, Diodorus of Antioch, Isidore of Alexandria, Isidore of Seville, Eutychius, Patriarch of Alexandria, John of Malala, Syncellus, Cedrenus.’, Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (vol. 2; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2004), 2; ‘The Greek text used here is derived from citations in various Greek and Latin writings from the patristic and Byzantine eras.’, Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  13. Jubilees 10:7-8 (English translation of the Ethiopic text) ‘And the chief of the spirits, Mastema, came and he said, “O Lord, Creator, leave some of them before me, and let them obey my voice. And let them do everything which I tell them, because if some of them are not left for me, I will not be able to exercise the authority of my will among the children of men because they are (intended) to corrupt and lead astray before my judgment because the evil of the sons of men is great.”’’, 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), 76. []
  14. ‘It is unfortunate that the Greek text has not survived in its entirety because both the Latin and Ethiopic versions were translated from it. The primary basis for assuming that both of the later versions are based upon a Greek text is the internal evidence of Greek loanwords, idioms, and obvious mistranslations.’, , O. S. Wintermute, “Jubilees: A New Translation and Introduction,” in The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha and the New Testament: 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), 242; ‘The Ethiopic Version. This version is most accurate and trustworthy and indeed as a rule servilely literal.’, Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (vol. 2; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2004), 2-3. []
  15. ‘FG c Arm. 436; “the devil” added a d; gaps rest.’, 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), 221. []
  16. Joseph and Aseneth 12:9 ‘ And the lion their fatherf2 furiously persecutes me,g2’, 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), 221. []
  17. ‘καὶ ἐξέκλινε πάντα τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ ἀπὸ τῆς τοῦ θεοῦ λατρείας καὶ προσκυνήσεως. καὶ ἐλάτρευσαν τῷ διαβόλῳ καὶ τοῖς ἀγγέλοις αὐτοῦ μετὰ καὶ τῶν βεβήλων καὶ ἀκαθάρτων εἰδώλων,’, Legenda Graeca, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  18. (English translation of the Ethiopic text) ‘this youth escaped and came to Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah king of Judah, but he did not walk in the ways of his Samaritan father because he feared Hezekiah.’, 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), 159. []
  19. (Amherst Papyrus) ‘οὗτος ἦν νεώτερος, καὶ ἔφυγεν καὶ ἦλθεν εἰς Ἱε(ρου)σαλὴμ ἡμ(έρ)αις (Ἑζε)κίου βασ(ιλέως Ἰ)ούδα. κα(ὶ οὐκ ἐ)πάτει εἰς Σαμαρίαν ἐν ὁδῷ τοῦ πατρὸς αὐτοῦ, ὅτι τὸν Ἑζεκίαν ἐφοβεῖτο.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  20. ‘The Ascension of Isaiah is a Jewish-Christian apocalypse which was written (so far as we know) in Syria between about 112 and 138 ce.’, Jonathan Knight, The Ascension of Isaiah (Guides to Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha; Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 9. []
  21. ‘At this stage in our work it is best to suggest only that sections of this document are Jewish or heavily influenced by Jewish traditions, and that they may antedate the second century a.d.’, 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), 445. []
  22. ‘Comparison of the Syriac manuscripts reveals that the document, like many pseudepigrapha (viz. 4 Ezra), has received interpolations by Christians; the same observation results from a mere cursory examination and comparison of the Greek manuscripts, and by the recognition that the Greek is expanded by chapters 19 through 23, which are certainly Christian.’, 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), 444. []
  23. ‘In its present Greek form, the document is clearly Christian; vv 12:9a–13:5c mention the virginal conception of the Word and Lent. Chap. 16:1b–8 is also clearly Christian, as are chaps. 19–23, but the latter are found only in the Greek version.’, James H. Charlesworth, “Rechabites, History of,” in The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (ed. David Freedman; vol. 5; The Anchor Bible Reference Library; Yale University Press, 1992), 632. []
  24. The Testament of Solomon may well be a second-century Christian composition, at least in its extant form, and although many scholars have taken The Lives of the Prophets to be a first-century ce Jewish text (see, e.g., the discussion of dating in Anna Maria Schwemer, Studien zu den frühjüdischen Prophetenlegenden Vitae Prophetarum: Einleitung, Übersetzung und Kommentar [TSAJ, 49; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1995], I, pp. 68–69).’, The Testament of Solomon may well be a second-century Christian composition, at least in its extant form, and although many scholars have taken The Lives of the Prophets to be a first-century ce Jewish text (see, e.g., the discussion of dating in Anna Maria Schwemer, Studien zu den frühjüdischen Prophetenlegenden Vitae Prophetarum: Einleitung, Übersetzung und Kommentar [TSAJ, 49; Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1995], I, pp. 68–69).’, Eric Eve, The Jewish Context of Jesus’ Miracles (A&C Black, 2002), 170; ‘Rather widespread Jewish legends about Solomon’s magical wisdom in antiquity raise the possibility that the author had a Jewish background (Duling 1975; 1984; 1985); yet, clear Christian references (6:8; 12:3; 15:10; 22:20), if these are not later additions, indicate that the author was (also?) Christian (Duling 1988). The near absence of Semitisms points to final composition in Greek, specifically the koinē. Similar magical traditions in other ancient literature suggest that the Testament of Solomon was written by the early 3d century (McCown 1922b: 3, 59–66, 106–11), but that it probably contains earlier sources, some perhaps as early as the 1st century c.e. when the legend of Solomon’s magical wisdom was already well established (esp. Ant 8.2. 5).’, Dennis C. Duling, “Solomon, Testament Of,” ed. David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Yale Bible Dictionary (New York: Doubleday, 1992), 118. []
  25. ‘A date of anywhere from the mid-2nd century to the 5th century a.d. is accepted by those who have focused on the work. Despite the date, scholars generally see the work as originally a Jewish composition with later Christian editing.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  26. ‘Dates range from the 3rd–4th century a.d., depending on what one makes of the affinity of the work to 2 Baruch and whether Origen indeed quotes the book (De principiis 2.3.6), a suggestion that has not been universally accepted since Origen may be referring to another of the books that bear the name of Baruch.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []
  27. ‘As noted above, the writer was most likely a Greek speaking person living shortly after the turn of the 9th century a.d.’, Ken Penner and Michael S. Heiser, Old Testament Greek Pseudepigrapha with Morphology (Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, electronic ed. 2008). []

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