The embodiment of evil, Satan is considered to be the cause of wars, strife, political and social upheaval and everything and everyone in between. He prowls like a lion waiting to devour unguarded and unsuspecting victims for Hell.
Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Russian tsar Peter the Great, Benito Mussolini, Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama and countless others have all been accused of being or in league with the Devil himself. Martin Luther, the Protestant reformer accused the papacy of being the antichrist. The Jewish people for centuries have been violently accused of being aligned with the Prince of Darkness with egregious defamations, lies, and misinformation. The same has been done to Muslims and Middle Eastern individuals. The names and people groups are endless.
However, is the public and those who profess to know who and what the devil is and where he lurks aware of who this figure is or his origins? I’ll attempt to give a history of The Satan and in part 2 explain what modern Satanists are and whether or not they worship the modern understanding of Satan.
Zoroastrianism was the ancient religion of the Persians and had a very profound influence on the Jewish understanding of good and evil. The Persians controlled the Middle East, including Israel from 539-332 BCE. During that time the concept of dualism, the idea that evil cannot originate from good, took hold in the Jewish faith.
Zoroaster was the prophet and founder of Zoroastrianism which acknowledged Ahura Mazda, the wise lord, and Ahriman, the fiendish spirit. Ahriman, also known as Angra Mainya was said to be the one who brought death, diseases, and lies into the world.
This idea spread into the Jewish faith who’s adherents struggled with theodicy, that is the question of why a good God allows or creates suffering. In the Jewish faith this later developed into the belief that God doesn’t personally cause suffering, but chooses lowly characters to do it with his approval. This eventually evolved into the figure of Satan.
It is believed by scholars that the idea of this being was adopted from the Persians and a result of Hellenistic influences.
Satan in modern Jewish understanding is not a separate individual having equal power and status with God, but he is an adversary designed to put human beings on the path to God.
In the early Jewish text the Life of Adam and Eve 17:4 the text retells the story of Adam and Eve, but reprises the serpents role to make him the single embodiment of evil, Satan. During this time in 1 CE, the Greeks and Romans had conquered the land and its people, including Israel. The violence and oppression coupled with the fact that many of their own people were starting to work with the Romans set the stage for the final development of Satan. In the Life of Adam and Eve 12:3, the text describes the fall of Satan and cites the cause as being a failure on the the part of Satan and his followers to worship God and Adam as the Image of God.
Elaine Pagels, a professor of religion at Princeton University and author of “The Origin of Satan” (Random House, 1995) states that the idea of the character Satan originated from the Hasids, a Jewish sect which separated from Jewish society and started preaching about the end of the world. They asserted that the Romans and the Jews working with them were of the dark side or the Devil. Pagels says that while researching this she had a revelation. Satan appears when communities are divided. She says that it’s easier to disassociate and condemn people with whom you disagree when they are seen as the personification of evil. Pagels believes that the Hasids may have influenced Jesus and John the Baptist who shared many of the same ideas about the end times and God’s intolerance of the wicked.
For the Jewish people today, Satan is an obstacle or adversary attempting to make humans sin, but he is not the sentient being that other faiths claim he is. The power of good and evil lie within God according to Jewish sources and the faith is strictly monotheistic.
Stay tuned for Part 2 on Satanists.