Asmodeus, Ashmodei: King of Demons, Solomon's Alter Ego
Asmodeus: (Heb: Ashmodei, Ashemdei) An evil spirit. The name Asmodeus may be derived from the Zoroastrian Aesmadiv, the “spirit of anger” who serves Ahriman, the Persian god of evil. Asmodeus is first mentioned in the apocryphal book Tobit, where he slays seven grooms of a young girl before being bested by the hero, who with the help of Raphael, drives him off using the gall of a river fish.
In Pesach 110a he is dubbed the “king of demons.” The locus classicus for Asmodeus is the wonderful Talmudic tale of how he usurps the throne of Solomon (Git. 68a-b) after the king initially binds him to service by means of a magical ring. Surprisingly, the demon is treated rather sympathetically. He both morally instructs Solomon and provides him with the shamir worm, a wondrous creature that helps the king build the Temple. His foreknowledge of human destiny is credited to his daily Torah studies in heaven. The tale reflects an effort by the Sages to reconcile their belief in the demonic with monotheism, portraying evil spirits as yet another tool of God’s inscrutable will (on demonic respect for God, see Megillah 3a). The passage also highlights the belief that magical practitioners can summon and “bind” demons and use their powers for their own purposes, a staple belief of medieval sorcery. The theme of Solomon as the archetypal magician, master of Demons is more fully explored in the apocryphal Testament of Solomon. Again here we see the dual themes of the demon teaching the king humility and so serving as a dark agent of the one God:
In Kabbalistic works such as Treatise of the Left Emanation, Asmodeus is portrayed as a deputy, or even the offspring off Samael (See Samael: Demon Prince, Consort of Lilith). He is also assigned a consort demoness, Lilith “the lesser.”Like Rabbinic literature, medieval Jewish tales report Asmodeus interacting with august Jewish figures, such as Simon bar Yochai, the Talmudic mystic. In one such story, Asmodeus is portrayed as doing what he does in order to serve both the Sage and God. The bar Yochai story and other references to Asmodeus in Kabbalistic texts, where his name is occasionally invoked to beneficent purposes, reflect the on-going effort among Jews to reconcile the existence of demons with God's undisputed spiritual power.
Zal G'mor: To learn more, consult the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism - http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050