Who is the Satan?


#1

In OT scholarship, it’s essentially agreed that there is no outright mention of Satan anywhere in the Old Testament. The Hebrew word satan (pronounced saw-tawn) means accuser, and is used in contexts like 1 Samuel 29:4, where it is said David should not enter a battle against the philistines because he might become a satan and in many other legal type texts such as Psalm 109:6. This is all explained in a paper I just read Satan in the Old Testament by Marvin Tate (which can be freely accessed here). Now, Tate does say something that I disagree with, that the snake in Genesis is not some sort of divine being but just an animal. I think in light of ancient near eastern scholarship and passages in Isaiah and Ezekiel, it definitely is.

This brings me to another point of Tate’s paper which I found surprising. The only real contendor for a mention of Satan in the OT is in 1 Chronicles 21:1, which is a version of the same story in 2 Samuel.

2 Samuel 24:1: Again the anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and he incited David against them saying, “Go count the people of Israel” (NRSV).

The same version in 1 Chronicles 21:1 reads;

1 Chronicles 21:1: Satan stood up against Israel and incited David to count the people of Israel
(NRSV).

In one passage, the earlier text of Samuel probably authored in the pre-exilic period, God tells David to take a census. Later, in Chronicles, written anywhere from the late 6th to 4th centuries BC, the author changes it to say satan did this instead. Since Kings and Chronicles contradict each other elsewhere, I just accepted this as a contradiction, but an interesting perspective seems to have come up in this paper. Tate writes after a bit of technical discussion;

Day’s conclusion is that satan is not being used in 1 Chron. 21:1 as a proper name and that the phrase should be read as “and an accuser took a stand against Israel.” Her conclusion seems persuasive to me. We may conclude that a celestial court scene has been assumed with an angelic adversary/accuser having been sent forth to set in notion a judgment against Israel, using David as an earthly agent. Once the action is underway, the satan is no longer important and is not mentioned again. We may guess that the readers of 2 Sam. 24:1 understood that Yahweh incited David through the means of a satan or other divine agent. Thus there is probably no Devil/Satan in the later sense in this passage, just as there is none in Num. 22:22-35; Job 1-2; and Zech. 3:1-7. (pp. 465-6)

This seems especially intriguing, since an outright reference to the name Satan appears nowhere else in the OT. It looks to me as if 1 Chronicles is not contradicting or changing the story of Samuel, but this is part of the larger fact that there is no explicit mention of Satan in the OT, and that the figure of Satan is only really revealed in the NT. Also interesting for others and @Reggie_O_Donoghue I think would be Tate’s discussion on the relationship between the fallen divine being in Isaiah 14 to Canaanite myths on pp. 468-9 (though reading the full paper is important). The paper is also important for understanding texts like the Book of Job, Zechariah, etc.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #2

I don’t buy the notion that Isaiah 14 is talking about a divine being, when it is clearly talking about a human rebel. I don’t even see enough evidence that it is drawing on Ugaritic divine material. The God Athtar did not try to usurp the throne of Baal, he was elected by the gods in his absence. Also, whilst Athtar becomes the ‘ruler’ of the underworld (great earth, which I suspect is related to the Sumerian term Ki-gal), the shining one is just another Repha’im, a spirit of a dead King.

I don’t entirely buy Heiser’s view on Genesis 3 either, since it is explicitly stated elsewhere that snakes lick dust in the bible. Furthermore, ‘he will bruise your head and you will bruise his heel’ sounds most like an actual serpent. I’ll concede however that it is possible that the serpent was a Seraph, turned into a snake as a punishment.


#3

I see satan/the devil in the bible as some kind of plot device for parables, though I’m not very knowledgeable in the bible to say that for sure. Take his participation in the book of Job for instance, it really looks like he is just a character used to put foward the plot point that man could be good for the wrong reasons if God compensated goodness with prosperity always. Since God is unchanging and perfect, it wouldn’t make sense for God himself to have a monologue about that matter (am I right in doing things that way? Of course he is, he is God, he can’t do wrong), so we need an “accuser” in order to convey that point. But that is just a personal guess, I haven’t studied any of that in depth.


(Jennifer Thomas) #4

I don’t think the snake in Genesis is either a divine being or just an animal. I’m of the view that Genesis was written quite late, in the early 3rd century BCE. So when I read Genesis 2-3, I see a parable about the dangers of heeding Hellenistic thought and choosing the fruits of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil rather than a trusting relationship with God.

Ancient Greek and Hellenistic religious practices included many well known snake symbols related to Greek gods and sacred figures (e.g. Pythia, the oracle at Delphi; the serpent-entwined rod of Asclepius) and these would be widely familiar throughout the regions conquered by Alexander the Great. I think it’s pretty interesting that canonical Jewish texts have a lot to say about earlier conquerors such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, but are mute on Alexander and his heirs. The Maccabean texts give us some of the Hellenistic history, but these books aren’t part of the TANAKH.

My best guess is that the author of Genesis 2-3 was warning faithful Jews to stay well away from the lies of Greek and Hellenistic philosophy if they wanted to stay on good terms with their God. So the villain of Eden was a competing – and very powerful – philosophical and religious stream of thought that had to be resisted by God’s men and women. (In the wisdom parable of Genesis, Adam and Eve obviously didn’t do a very good job of resisting the allure of Greek and Hellenistic thought.)


#5

The book of Job is probably allegorical all over, since Job is written as one of the righteous men of antiquity in Ezekiel 14. But that doesn’t mean the figures can’t be interpreted. The paper I mentioned explains the role of the satan as an accuser in the book against Job, not Satan.


#6

I don’t buy the notion that Isaiah 14 is talking about a divine being, when it is clearly talking about a human rebel. I don’t even see enough evidence that it is drawing on Ugaritic divine material. The God Athtar did not try to usurp the throne of Baal, he was elected by the gods in his absence. Also, whilst Athtar becomes the ‘ruler’ of the underworld (great earth, which I suspect is related to the Sumerian term Ki-gal), the shining one is just another Repha’im, a spirit of a dead King.

I don’t know if it is “clearly” talking about a human rebel. Isaiah 14 says “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn, You have been cast down to the Earth, You who once laid low the nations!” How do you explain that? It looks to me like Tate’s comments might be correcct.

In the taunt song, the king’s fall is described in almost cosmic terms: a descent from heaven to the netherworld in Sheol. But the tyrant is clearly an earthly king in vv. 16-20: a man who had shook kingdoms, overthrown cities, refused to let prisoners of war go home, and left the dead to lie on the battlefield as rotting and unburied corpses (vv. 18-20). The portrayal of the tyrant is paradigmatic. If I may adapt a statement about the hero figure from the mythologist Joseph Campbell, this is “the tyrant of a thousand faces.” His name is Legion, and his kind has plagued the history of humanity. Obviously the tyrant in Isa. 14 is not Satan, though his hubris, arrogance, and fall is described in terms influenced by ancient ideas about the rebellion of a lower divine being against the reign of a high god. In this way of thinking, a lower divine being aspires to the status and power of a high deity, but fails in rebellion, or through lack of power, and is cut down to the ground and even down to the depths of Sheol. In Isa. 14, the tyrant is greeted in Sheol by the taunts of tyrant kings who have gone before him (Isa. 14:9-11): “You have become like one of us!” (pg. 14)

So, while in context, the passage is obviously about the ruler of Babylon, Tate argues that Isaiah was creating a poetic text based on the fall of a divine being, and applying it to the ruler himself to ‘poetically’ describe the fall, in a sense. I think the idea of a divine being present is supported by all the similarities mentioned in the video I originally posted. I must learn more about Mesopotamian and Ugaritic beliefs to make a judgement about Isaiah’s connection to such things.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #7

Okay, but since Isaiah is using divine language to describe a human figure, I see no reason why the Shining One must be a real divine being.


#8

Wait, I’m lost. Whose the shining one? The character of Isaiah 14?


(Christy Hemphill) #9

What, you didn’t carefully study all 140+ posts in this thread? I think you are slacking. Michael Heiser Serpent, Son’s of God, Nephilim, Watchers and Genesis


#10

I’d hate too sound too heretical but I didn’t even know of that thread until now. Perhaps the stake can wait another day?


(Christy Hemphill) #11

Don’t feel bad, I didn’t read it either. :wink: Just checked in every once in a while to make sure everyone was playing nice.


(George Brooks) #12

I favor a more three-dimensional interpretation of the snake:

It is a snake, it is a tree, it is a deity. It is wise. It is immortal.

It is a lot like Ningishzida was to the Sumerians. In some Sumerian texts, Ningishzida and Tammuz are the same “entity”.

In this famous image, Ningishzida is a two-headed dual-gendered adrogene , guarded by two cherubim.

Ningishzida-pics


#13

Yes, I agree with the divine interpretation. Also, for @Reggie_O_Donoghue’s comment;

Okay, but since Isaiah is using divine language to describe a human figure, I see no reason why the Shining One must be a real divine being.

Well, Isaiah may or may not be just as metaphorical as Genesis. But I think the text is using language of the fall of a divine being the describe the fall of Babylon’s leader. Fair?


(RiderOnTheClouds) #14

Fair. The point I’m trying to make is that Isaiah is describing Nebuchadnezzar as a rebellious divine being.


(RiderOnTheClouds) #15

Why the serpent was a common symbol among pagans. It is seen as a symbol of rebirth and immortality, because it sheds it’s skin. I hold that it is an allegory for Israel’s entire history, being seduced into worshipping foreign gods, rather than it being directed against any particular group.


(Jennifer Thomas) #16

Just got an email from Bible History Daily about a post called “Who Is Satan?” It overlaps with some of the information mentioned in the OP by @Korvexius. Thought others might be interested: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/biblical-topics/bible-interpretation/who-is-satan/?mqsc=E3954850&utm_source=WhatCountsEmail&utm_medium=BHD+Daily%20Newsletter&utm_campaign=ZE8A5GZ30

I hope the link works!


#17

That Nebuchadnezzar is divine, or is being described in divine terms?


(RiderOnTheClouds) #18

The latter, he is using divine language to describe a mortal king. Isaiah 14:16-17 outright calls him a ‘man’.


#19

Yep, I’m on board on that.


(Scott koshland) #20

Maybe the snake is the Gnostics Demiurge.