Sunday, December 17, 2006

Did Satan Fall?: The Devil is in the Details

I just received a call from a university student doing a research paper on Judaism. Fielding such calls is part and parcel of the everyday duties of a congregational rabbi, but I suspect I do more of these then your average rabbi simply because the greater Dallas area has a whopping population of Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians who are looking for ways to incorporate religious topics into their school assignments and research papers (in my duties as a teacher at the University of North Texas I deal with this phenomenon from the other end also, deciding whether to green-line student proposals). Anyway, you never know which way these interviews are going to turn. In this case, the student became very hung up on the idea that Judaism has Satan but no Devil. At first she didn't understand what I was saying, and followed up by asking, "So how did Satan fall, in your tradition?" "Well, he didn't fall - that's what I meant when I said we have Satan but no Devil. Jews don't believe there is any spiritual force that opposes God (except us). Satan is God's prosecuting attorney." (Long silence on the other end of the phone). "I don't understand..." "Do you ever watch Law and Order?" I ask. "Sure." "Well, you've seen how Jack McCoy presses and wheedles, manipulates, even deceives people to uncover their guilt? He's mean as a snake, but still works for the good side?" "Yes, I guess." "Well, in Jewish tradition, Satan is Jack McCoy" (the very Hebrew word, ha-satan, means "the adversary" - but that's the adversary of man and his sin, not God). And just as Jack never takes a fall for his highhanded but necessary work, so too Satan remains in good standing with the Bar On High." "But the Bible tells of his fall," She responds, sounding defensive. "Well, actually, no, the Hebrew Bible doesn't." "I'm sure it does." "And where exactly does it say that 'Satan was expelled from heaven'?" I ask helpfully. "Wow" is all she says and we move on to another topic.

Actually, in the spirit of Law and Order, I did not provide her with a full 'discovery' on falling from heaven, primarily because I don't consider these verses truly exculpatory. For I know that according to Christian exegesis, Satan’s fall from heaven is said to be found in Isaiah 14:12-14 and Ezekiel 28:12-18. But that requires a highly exegetical (deriving something from a text that isn't explicitly stated) reading and could arguable be called 'eisogetical' (projecting something into the text that isn't there). For these two passages are explicitly referring to the king of Babylon and the king of Tyre, respectively. Christians argue that they also reference the spiritual power that was behind those kings - Satan. But neither text ever speaks of Satan, even in an allusive fashion. Instead, both texts are laser focused on these kings and both use the image of falling out of heaven as a literary trope for how low these two powerful kings are going to be brought down. The connection to Satan is (in my opinion) entirely inferred by Christian readers. In Judaism, we do not read these passages as referring to Satan.

While he is indeed a dark and menacing figure (would you want to be in Jack McCoy's sights?), he is still God's agent, just like the other two major mythic and personified 'dark' forces in Jewish tradition, the Malach ha-Mavet and the Yetzer ha-Ra (the Angel of Death and the Evil Desire). All three of these forces are the 'severe' aspect of God's inscrutable will, but part of God's will they are, nonetheless. All of them are subordinate and subservient to the Blessed Holy One.

Zal g'mor - to own the Encyclopedia of Jewish Myth, Magic, and Mysticism, go to: http://www.amazon.com/Encyclopedia-Jewish-Myth-Magic-Mysticism/dp/0738709050

[Illustration: Detail of dark angel from E.M. Lilien's "Die Engel"]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On the other hand there are mentions of fallen angels (or the sons of G-d) and the Prince of the Kingdom of Persia. Are you stating that G-d has no supernatural enemies, or are you simply pointing out the whole Satan (the Adversary) controversy?

I am fascinated by your article, but I would love to know more on why it is believed Satan is the Adversary of men rather than G-d. Furthermore, what possible role this Adversary of men could or would play in G-d's Divine plan for His people.

12:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I may also add that in the Book of Job, Satan is apparently re-admitted to heaven as he talks with I Am That I Am about His servant Job.

So, after the "war" in heaven, Satan and I Am That I Am are at least back on speaking terms.

"As for the Divinity of Jesus, I think I shall find the answer after I'm dead, with much less turmoil." ~ Benjamin Franklin

3:53 AM  
Blogger Geoffrey Dennis said...

To Hillbillie Hippie - There are traditions of falen agnels in some traditions, but they have not become a significant part of rabbinic Judaism. So the answer is - yes, there are no aupernatural enemies of God. If we are truly monotheistic, then how can there be? One has to be a dualist if one believes otherwise.

9:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

the fall of satan and his rebellious angels is from the uncanonized apocrypha book of enoch. A nonprotestant teaching as you wont find any apocrypha or lost book references in the canonized version of the bible. Indeed isa and eze are trope verses that too much is read into. Demonology surrounded israel since mankind left the garden so i assume much or some of it has interjected itself into jewish lore but i believe all demonology comes from false religions since satan and his hoard cannot be responsible. The apocrypha books can be found and read online but im my humble estimation they are all a bunch of crap.

11:54 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

addendum. the forgotten book of adam and eve, book 1 chapters 6,13,14,17, 22,27,28 refer explicitely to the fall of the angels.
The book of job written approx. 200bc if ficticious. Nowhere do the sons of god present themselves in the bible but in job, satan cannot call fire down from heaven or cause a whirlwind or a house to fall because he is only "the accuser", Angels cause destruction ususally with swords and god can call fire down but job says specifically that satan did it. There are a few other inconsistencies in it also.. notice how job didnt mention satan, it is almost like job never heard of satan, everything was blamed or alotted to god, because the jewish word satan means adversary not the personalized satan we gentiles percieve.

1:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"And where exactly does it say that 'Satan was expelled from heaven'?"


"I saw Satan like lightning falling from heaven." (Luke 10;18)

9:56 PM  
Blogger Geoffrey Dennis said...

Excellent, thank you for that citation from the Gospels. That's Christian Scriptures, however. Our topic is Jewish tradition. Nowhere in Jewish Scriptures (Old Testament)is there the claim that Satan fell.

8:43 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's true that there's no mention of the fall of Satan in Old Testament scripture, but given that Jesus was speaking to his Jewish apostles in (Luke 10;18), it would seem to indicate he's appealing to Jewish tradition.

His claim of witnessing Satan falling from Heaven in Luke 10;18 is akin to his claim in John 8:58, "before Abraham was made, I am."

The claim has no weight unless it hinges on a known tradition.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Geoffrey Dennis said...

A thoughtful response, but it does get you to the fall appearing in the TaNaKH. As ABrotherJohn notes in an earlier comment, the tradition Jesus is actually drawing on a belief rooted in non-canonical works, such as Enoch, that circulated in his time, but did not gain normative status. I'm afraid I don't understand how the same logic applies to Luke 8:58. Assuming that Jesus actually uttered these words (I regard the Gospels as literary constructs of Jesus, rather than a transcript of Jesus' words and acts), they too may depend on a cluster of non-canonical beliefs among Jews known to Jesus that did not survive Jesus' own time. But this is taking us far beyond the scope of this entry. Still, I appreciate your thoughtful comments.

2:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We're in agreement that the fall of Satan isn't mentioned in Tanakh and that Jesus must have been referencing oral tradition or apocrypha as the support for his claim to have seen Satan fall from Heaven.

But if this is the criteria by which a tradition stands or falls--direct mention in Tanakh--many traditions of Orthodox Judaism would have to be dismissed as well.

I only say this because the context is Evangelical Christians believing the fall of Satan is biblical. To them, it is, directly mentioned in Luke 10;18.

"'But the Bible tells of his fall,' She responds, sounding defensive."

12:17 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hillbilly hippie. If you do a search for sons of God, you will find in every instance, people are the subject (NT). The holy scriptures are not broken therefore i submit that in each case of sons of god in the OT they are people to.
If we look at job.. we can see the adversary as being a person and cursing job. Curses to the jewish people are powerful things, Job deals with it and shows that even curses uttered by humans are "up to God" if they occur or not. We see also the acts upon job are all attributes of God who in the OT did not hesitate to bring evil upon his own people to clear up their wrongs. Fire from God, Wind, hail is a trademark lol (joshua book) and neighboring enemies (frequently in the OT), boils (God UNhealing power). Satan i believe is used only metaphorically in the NT.
God clearly says:
Isaiah 45:7 I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things. We can interpret the word evil here as satan but that would cross over into the area of inference.

I have to mention luke 10:18 "I beheld satan as lightning fall from heaven". Lightning in strongs = candle flame being snuffed out. Satan or satanas = adversary. I beheld adversity as being snuffed out. Fall from heaven is a coloquialism meaning quick justice from God or a huge demise. This script now takes on a metaphoric meaning. In verse 20 "rejoice not the SPIRITS are subject unto you... We do not see disembodied spirits floating around anywhere in the OT. There just aren't any, no ghosties, no phantoms. One might say the "spirit" of the world has changed since i was a child. Spirit is an attitude or a character but not a possession. If possession were true that would be one thing more that satan and his fallen angels can do, that GOD cannot do. Again there are no examples of angels possessing any people, fallen or otherwise.

9:38 PM  
Blogger Geoffrey Dennis said...

Anonymous, you are right, all faiths develop traditions beyond the explicit content of their Scriptures. Such non-biblical traditions, as in the case of Christianity - the Trinity, Sunday worship, Christmas and Easter - are the flesh of lived observance all faiths attach to the frame provided by their sacred texts. We just need to be self-conscious about where our traditions do, or don't, come from. As always, I appreciate your input.

9:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isaiah 14:12 is where the supposed fall of Lucifer (satan) is mentioned but if you replace, created with coronated you will understand that we are talking about a man and not some proud angel, or the prince of tyre being crowned king. The costly robes that kings wear and the music played at the crowning ceremony adequately describes the tabarets and musical instruments and the jewels the prince being crowned king, wore in his attire is not uncommon. Isaiah speaks of a man, prince then king. When the prince became king then his pride got to him and he became flawed.
Also the covering cherubium is another term for tyres role to israel under sammuels leadership which continued during the princes lifetime but ended when he became king.
No fallen angel just catholic interpretation again.
hope this helps.

10:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Thank you, I've been wondering about this for a while. As a Christian I have always believed Satan fell but then I wondered why G-d would let that happen. Having Satan as a prosecutor makes a lot more sense. Learning about Judaism is changing how I view Christianity. (It's nice to finally have my questions answered). Thanks again.

Also, on behalf of the defensive Christian on the phone I apologize. Your beliefs should be at least respected (and in my opinion they should be honored).

8:51 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Think about it mate.. All things live and have their being in God.. Nothing is separate from God. He used nothing to create except his own word. Everything relys on god for continued existence.. Why would God not just think Satan out of existence? Its a hard thing to grasp but its true.. Why would god put knowledge of good and evil in a tree. And put it smack dab in the middle of the garden and order them not to eat.. But being omnipotent actually knows beforehand that they will.. Maybe they were supposed to eat of it. Or do u think he'd rather us be ignorant of both good and evil like the animals who only know instincts.. Satan or the adversary is that part of us that holds us back from our divine purpose and from reaching enlightenment, aka salvation, or Godhood. Keeping us trapped in the physical. That is Hell. In johns revelation when he experiences a door opening in heaven it was the higher spiritual centers opening up in his brain during elevated states of consciousness. When he says there was silence in heaven for a half hour he is stating that the mind is completely calm and quiet. It takes half an hour of this to achieve any sort of mystical experience. Therefore during Jesus's meditations in the wilderness he beheald the the acussing limiting thoughts which is the only Satan there is leave his mind as quick as lightning.

12:23 PM  

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