Satanological terminology in the Synoptics: the evil one

This entry is part 5 of 8 in the series The Yetzer in the Wilderness: Jesus and the Evil Inclination

The term ‘the evil one’ (ton ponērou), has no Second Temple pre-Christian witness as a reference to a supernatural evil being. It is found in one fifteenth century Ethiopian manuscript of 1 Enoch (manuscript A, 1 Enoch 69:15), but not the other two main recensions (manuscripts B and C).1

Evidence against the reading ‘the evil one’ is that Satan in 1 Enoch is not described as one of the evil angels, and is represented as the obedient servant of God rather than an evil being. In Slavonic Enoch there is only reference to ‘the worship of evil’ (2 Enoch 34:2), though Charlesworth adds a gloss, ‘the worship of (the) evil (one)’;2 regardless, there is evidence the text here has been interpolated by Christian scribes.3

The Book of Jubilees shows only a generic use of ‘evil one’; 23:29 has ‘and there will be no Satan and no evil (one) who will destroy’,4 40:9 has ‘And there was no Satan and there was no evil [alternatively ‘no evil person’]’,5 46:2 has ‘there was no satan or anything evil [alternatively ‘or any evil one’] all the days of the life of Joseph’,6 and 50:3 has ‘And then it will not have any Satan or any evil (one)’.7

Although the term is found in the Armenian recension8 of the pre-Christian Story of Ahikar,9 it is absent from the earliest textual witnesses (Syriac texts MS. Syr.2 and MS. Syr.g, and the Arabic version). In the Testament of Job 7:1; 20:2, it appears only in an eleventh century manuscript.10 In the History of the Rechabites 7.8, it appears only in a corrupt form of the text.11

The term appears in Pseudo-Ezekiel, a second century work reconstructed from a number of Qumran texts, but it is unclear whether the original text dates to the Qumran community and the Qumran source texts on which the reconstruction is based only describe a ‘son of Belial’ as an ‘evil man’ rather than ‘the evil one’, thus not a reference to a supernatural being. The term also appears in the Christian era texts 2 Baruch 70:2 and Odes of Solomon 14:5; 33:4, which post-date the Synoptics.

Summarizing the lexicographical evidence, Black notes ‘this term or designation for Satan is, outside the New Testament and dependent patristic writings, nowhere attested in classical, Hellenistic, or Jewish Greek sources’, which he gives as the reason against reading it as ‘the evil one’ even in Matthew.12

In the Talmuds the term ‘the evil one’ is used of specific human individuals; Nebuchadnezzar,13 Haman,14 Esau,15 Tronianus,16 and a Samaritan.17 It is also used without an explicit referent in the phrase ‘We are the sons of the evil one’, in a passage contrasting the wicked with the righteous (described as ‘sons of the righteous one’, a messianic human figure).18 However, it is never used any satanic or demonic figure.19 The term ‘evil one’ is used several times to address the evil inclination.20

Thus the balance of evidence in the Talmuds indicates that the term ‘the evil one’ was used of human evildoers not supernatural evil beings, and that the yetzer ha ra was addressed as ‘evil one’. Care must always be taken not to assume Talmudic content is representative of first century Jewish beliefs, given the composite nature of the Talmuds and the lateness of their final form, but if the term ‘the evil one’ was a normative term for a supernatural evil satan or ‘the devil’ in the first century, it is extraordinary that this does not appear anywhere in the Talmudic literature.

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  1. The uncertainty in the manuscript tradition is noted in a footnote in Charlesworth, who identifies ‘the evil one’ as the reading of recension A; ‘So A. B: ʾAkdʿ. C: ʾAkaʾ, which may be proper names or corruptions of the ʾekuy of A, or vice versa. Cf. EC, p. 125, n. 14.’, James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1; New York;  London: Yale University Press, 1983), 48. []
  2. 2 Enoch 34:2 ‘And all the world will be reduced to confusion by iniquities and wickednesses and |abominable| fornications |that is, friend with friend in the anus, and every other kind of wicked uncleanness which it is disgusting to report|, and the worship of (the) evil (one).’, James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1; New York;  London: Yale University Press, 1983), 158. []
  3. ‘This seems to be a later, probably Christian, interpolation into the original text.’, Andrei Orlov, Gabriele Boccaccini, and Jason Zurawski, New Perspectives on 2 Enoch: No Longer Slavonic Only (Brill, 2012), 223. []
  4. ‘And all of their days they will be complete and live in peace and rejoicing and there will be no Satan and no evil (one) who will destroy, because all of their days will be days of blessing and healing.’, James H. Charlesworth, 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), 102. []
  5. ‘And the kingdom of the Pharaoh was upright. And there was no Satan and there was no evil.’, James H. Charlesworth, 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), 130; ‘and there was no Satan and no evil person (therein).’, Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (vol. 2; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2004), 71. []
  6. ‘ And there was no Satan or anything evil all the days of the life of Joseph which he lived after his father, Jacob, because all of the Egyptians were honoring the children of Israel all the days of the life of Joseph.’, James H. Charlesworth, 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), 137; ‘And there was no Satan nor any evil’, Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (vol. 2; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2004), 77. []
  7. James H. Charlesworth, 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), 142. []
  8. ‘Son, give ear unto the laws of God, and be not afraid of the evil (one), for the commandment of God is the rampart of man.’, Story of Ahikar 2:33 (Armenian recension), Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (vol. 2; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2004), 734. []
  9. ‘And lastly, the story of Aḥiḳar is found in a fragmentary papyrus recently recovered from the ruins of Elephantiné, and without doubt belonging to the fifth century before Christ.’, Robert Henry Charles, ed., Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament (vol. 2; Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2004), 716. []
  10. ‘in V only “the evil one” (7:1; 20:2) and “wretched one” (27:1).’, James H. Charlesworth, The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha (vol. 1; New York;  London: Yale University Press, 1983), 839. []
  11. ‘D: “Behold, I am almost like the counsel of this one to Adam and Eve in Paradise, who through the counsel of the Evil One transgressed [restored later; this singular form is incorrect here] the commandment.” D is corrupt.’, James H. Charlesworth, 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, electronic ed. 1985). []
  12. ‘One reason given for rejecting the masculine, ‘the Evil One’, is that this term or designation for Satan is, outside the New Testament and dependent patristic writings, nowhere attested in classical, Hellenistic, or Jewish Greek sources. In the monumental and invaluable Concordance Grecque des Pseudépigraphes d’Ancien Testament of Père Albert-Marie Denis (Louvain, 1987), no single instance of ὁ πονηρός in this sense is cited; an apparent exception occurs in inferior manuscripts of the Testament of Job 7:1, but this is almost certainly a correction of Σατανᾶς, the usual term in the Testament, introduced by a Christian redactor. he situation is no different when we turn to Hebrew or Aramaic sources, which have their own distinctive terms for the devil, ‘Belial’, ‘Beelzebul’, ‘Mastema’, etc., not to mention ‘Satan’ itself (Greek ὁ διάβολος, ‘the slanderer’, a noun based on one of Satan’s classic roles). Dalman rendered ὁ πονηρός in the Pater Noster back into Heb. הרע, Aram. בישא, but stated that ‘The designation “the Evil One” (der Böse) for Satan never appears in Jewish literature (Heb. hā-rā‘)’. ’, 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. []
  13. Talmud Babylon, b. Meg. 1:13, VII.1.B, b. Meg. 1:13, VII.1, b. Meg. 1:13, I.1.B, Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (vol. 7b; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 50, 52, 187. []
  14. Talmud Babylon, b. Meg. 1:13, VI.1.I, Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (vol. 7b; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 80. []
  15. Talmud Babylon, b. Meg. 4:3, II.10.E, Jacob Neusner, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (vol. 7b; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 146; Talmud Jerusalem y. Ned. 3:8, I.1.G, Jacob Neusner, The Jerusalem Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, electronic ed. 2008). []
  16. Talmud Jerusalem, y. Sukk. 5:1, I.7.A, y. Sukk. 5:1, I.7, Jacob Neusner, The Jerusalem Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, electronic ed. 2008). []
  17. Talmud Jerusalem, y. Moed Qat. 3:7, I.8.G, Jacob Neusner, The Jerusalem Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, electronic ed. 2008). []
  18. Talmud Babaylon, b. Sanh. 4:5, IV.1.H, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (vol. 16; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 187; Talmud Jerusalem, y. Sanh. 4:9, I.1.I, y. Sanh. 4:10, I.1, Jacob Neusner, The Jerusalem Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, electronic ed. 2008). []
  19. ‘In the Talmud in a saying of R. Shimeon b. Laqish (3rd cent.) the evil impulse is brought into relation to Satan and the angel of death, but Satan is not called the evil one.’, Geoffrey William Kittel, Gerhard; Friedrich, Gerhard; Bromiley, ed., “Πονηρός,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (vol. 6; Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 1985), 552. []
  20. Talmud Babylon b. Ned. 1:1g, II.2.H, b. Naz. 1:2d, I.4.D, The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (vol. 10a; Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2011), 22 (vol. 10b), 12, .; Talmud Jerusalem y. Ned. 1:1, V.2.D, y. Naz. 1:5, II.1.P, Jacob Neusner, The Jerusalem Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, electronic ed. 2008). []

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