"A Short History of the Devil"

Did you know that:

  1. Most of what American Christianity believes about the Devil comes from Dante's Inferno and Milton's Paradise Lost, not from the Bible?
  2. Nowhere in the Bible do the words "Devil" and "Hell" occur in the same sentence?
  3. The word "Satan" is a Persian word, originally?
  4. "Satan" and the "Anger of the Lord" are used interchangeably in one place in the Old Testament? (II Samuel 24:1 and I Chronicles 21:1)
  5. "Satan," transliterated into Hebrew, means "the Accuser"?
  6. In the Prologue of Job, Satan shows up in the heavenly court of YHWH, along with the other "Sons of God"?
  7. In the gospel accounts of the temptation of Jesus, Matthew refers to "the Tempter", Mark to "Satan", and Luke to "the Devil"?

There was no concept of a devil in ancient Hebrew thought as an adversary of God. Prior to 500 BCE, there was no concept of an adversary of God in any known religion in the world. In Hebrew thought, God is one and there is no other immortal being with superhuman powers (read "god") permitted.

In Persia around 500 BCE, there arose a teacher named Zoroaster who taught that everything was split into two, a thorough-going dualism. Until this time, all religions had taught that all reality came together into the One. But Zoroaster said that there was a good god, named "Ahura Mazda," and a bad god, named "Angra Mainyu."  Both of these gods had first lieutenants: "Mithras" (on the good side) was one of six "Holy Immortals," and "Satan" (on the bad side) was one of six "Chief Devils." "Mithras" was a human-divine savior figure, and "Satan" was the embodiment of temptation. In addition, the good side had legions of angels and the bad side had hordes of devils or demons.

The idea was that there is a constant, cosmic battle going on between the forces of good and the forces of evil. This idea caught the imagination of the people of the Middle East, particularly after Persia under Cyrus the Great conquered the Middle East. The Jews in captivity in Babylon were freed by Cyrus to go back to Jerusalem. Hebrew thought was seriously affected by Zoroastrianism, as we see in Job.

By the time of Jesus, Persian thought has been brought into Greek thought by way of Gnosticism. When the New Testament was written, Greek thought forms and Hebrew thought forms were competing for priority. In Matthew and Mark, Hebrew thought forms win by a slight majority, but in Luke, John, and the writings of Paul, Greek thought is predominant. Revelation is especially Greek in thought and is the main source of "information" about the Devil.


For further information, contact Dr. Ray Dykes, 405-728-2844 or e-mail.