We've seen that there are few traces of the Lucifer we’ve all come to know and loathe in the Old Testament. We will have to dig through the somewhat obscure books of intertestamental literature to find the sketchy outlines of a familiar likeness. The intertestamental period covers the 400 or so years that span the writing of the last book of the Old Testament and the composition of the New Testament. Two works that date from this epoch, The Book of Enoch and The Book of Jubilees, have their roots in Genesis and The Book of Daniel.
Genesis 6.1–6.4 recounts how the “sons of God”—angels—chose mortal wives: There were Giants on the Earth in those days and also afterward when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. However momentous the mingling of human and divine might seem, the Bible closes the topic as soon as it is opened.
Similarly, in Daniel, angels called Watchers receive their first and last canonical mention. Although we learn virtually nothing about them in this cameo, the Watchers will become major players in Enoch and Jubilees.
Enoch, the sixth patriarch after Adam, reputedly lived to the age of 365 before ascending to heaven. The book named after him was composed over some four centuries. Its deepest roots, Forsyth maintains, reach back to the third century BCE, while, according to Pagels, the last section was added as late as the beginning of the first century CE. The Watchers from Daniel reappear in The Book of Enoch as a group of 200 angels led by Semihazah, and they are inexplicably linked with the angels in Genesis. In this version their lust for the daughters of men is an act of deliberate sin, whereas in Genesis they go unjudged. In Enoch their giant offspring are called nephilim, “fallen ones,” and they “sin and do violence against all the beasts of the Earth” until they eventually kill one another off.
While Genesis 6.5 locates men as the primary source of evil (“Then the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great …”) and sends a flood to purge the world, angelic lust is the origin of evil in this narrative thread of Enoch. Later in Enoch, however, the story of the archangel Azazel, who seems to have equal standing with Semihazah, offers a very different theodicy: Azazel teaches men the secrets of metallurgy, “a pernicious revelation that inspired men to make weapons and women to adorn themselves with gold, silver, and cosmetics.” [Pagels p. 50] It is hard here not to see echoes of the Greek story of Prometheus, especially when we recall that Palestine had been under Greek rule since Alexander the Great drove the Persians out around 333 BCE. In any event, in direct contrast to Genesis, Enoch absolves men of wickedness and places the blame for evil on angelic doings.
Yahweh, ever in the mood to smite, decrees that
Azazel is to be covered with darkness, ‘that his face may not see the light,’ while Michael is to ‘bind’ Semihazah and his cronies ‘for seventy generations in the valleys of the earth until the day of their judgment.’ On the great Day of Judgment they are to be thrown into … ‘the abyss of fire and torture and perpetual imprisonment.’ [Forsyth p.179]
For the first time, we have something vaguely resembling the popular conception of angels who rebel against God and are punished with darkness and fire.
The Watchers put on another performance of lust and sin in the Book of Jubilees, which shouldn’t be surprising given that the author of Jubilees admits that he has read and borrowed from Enoch. Composed around 160 BCE, Jubilees is a reimagining of Genesis and Exodus. Giants once again wreak havoc (even after they are dead, their ghosts go on with the mischief-making) but Semihazah and Azazel are replaced by Mastema and Satan.
The pivotal moment in Jubilees occurs when Noah prays to God, beseeching Him to imprison “these spirits which are living … and hold them fast in the place of condemnation …” [Jubilees 10.5, Forsyth p. 185] The Lord agrees, but Mastema does some beseeching of his own:
Lord, Creator, let some of them [the spirits] remain before me, and let them hearken to my voice and to all that I say unto them; for if some of them are not left to me, I shall not be able to execute power of my will on the sons of men for these are for corruption and leading astray before my judgment, for great is the wickedness of the sons of men. [Jubilees 10.8]
God grants Mastema’s wish, allowing one tenth of the spirits to remain under his supervision. Mastema and Satan are distinct entities in Jubilees, but before the book is over they merge. This isn’t too surprising given that the Hebraic root of Mastema is “stm,” which means “hate” or “enmity” and is related to “stn,” the root of Satan (“adversary”). Or, put another way, “enmity” and “enemy” become essentially one and the same. By the time we get to Jubilees 10.11, a tenth of the “malignant evil ones” are left “that they might be subject before Satan on the earth.” So at this point Satan has replaced Mastema as the Grand Poobah.
Jubilees, like Enoch, presents us with some semblance of the familiar fallen angels, although this is inter-testamental, not biblical, literature, and the story we get is still distant from the epic presented by Milton and commonly linked with the name Lucifer. While the angels disobey God, they do not take up arms against Him, there is no war in heaven, and Mastema ends up on his knees begging God for a favor—behavior hardly befitting the eternally defiant hero of Milton’s poem.
It is important to recognize that while Enoch and Jubilees are obscure to us, they were bestsellers in their day. Kelly points out they are the two most popular (in terms of number of copies) of the surviving Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran, and Pagels agrees these texts were well known to the early Christians. The Epistle of Jude, in fact, actually quotes a verse of Enoch. [Jude 15–16] Thus, by the time the Gospels were written, Satan had evolved from an adversary in general to God’s adversary. While all of the Satan sightings in the New Testament are too numerous to deal with here, there are a few worth considering.
In the Pauline letters Satan is referred to as the Tester, which recalls his role in Job. He is also called the Devil and Beliar (once). Picking up where Mastema left off, Satan (always used as a name now) is ruler of the world—not Hell—with God’s approval.
In Mark, Jesus is “tested by Satan” in the wilderness. (While “tested” here is generally translated “tempted,” Kelly points out that the Greek peirasmos can mean test or temptation.) We know this is part of God’s plan because Jesus is whisked off for his sessions with Satan not by demons or treachery but by the Holy Spirit.
In Matthew Jesus is “led” (rather than “driven”) into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit and here, too, faces the Tester, who offers him the kingdoms of the world. Jesus doesn’t object that the kingdoms are not Satan’s to give, he simply replies that God is the only one worthy of worship.
Luke makes Satan’s legitimate ownership still more explicit: “I will give you all this power and all the glory of these Kingdoms. For it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please.” It is a continuation of Satan’s role in Jubilees in which he ruled over evil spirits and roamed the Earth with God’s permission. Interestingly enough, in the Epistle of Jude, “when the Archangel Michael contended with the Devil and disputed about the corpse of Moses, [Michael] did not dare to bring a blasphemous denunciation against [Satan]. Instead, he said, ‘The Lord rebuke you.’” In other words, Michael himself doesn’t have authority to overrule Satan since the place Satan occupies has been granted by God.
There are two other important passages in the New Testament that need to be addressed. The first is in Luke, where Jesus says, “I was watching Satan falling like lightning.” This is sometimes taken to be corroboration that Satan, not a pair of kings, was referred to in Ezekiel and Isaiah, but this is pretty flimsy evidence. Numerous things that have nothing to do with heavenly rebellion fall—empires, cities, warriors, and, yes, kings. More importantly, Satan is compared to lightning; his fall is not tragic or lamentable. Further proof that these are utterly unrelated falls can be found in John, where Jesus says, “[The Devil] was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth because there is no truth in him.” [John 8:44] In other words, the Devil was never good; hence, he could never have fallen and become corrupt.
Indeed, Kelly interprets this passage to mean that the fall Jesus mentions will take place in the future, and it is simply a reference to Satan losing his position as ruler of the world. In other words, there will come a time when God no longer has need of a Tester.
The other passage is Revelation 12, in which John sees
a great, fiery red dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads.
His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. [12:3–12:4]. […]
And war broke out in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon and his angels fought, but they did not prevail, nor was a place found for them in heaven any longer. So the dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the Earth, and his angels were cast out with him.
While here we are much closer to the tragic hero of Milton’s Paradise Lost, there is still a huge gap here between the fetching Lucifer of popular imagination and a dragon with seven heads. And again we have to bear in mind that Jesus calls Satan “the father of lies” in John while here in Revelations Satan “deceives the whole world”; there is nothing noble about him nor was there ever. What we have at best is a version of Mastema, “Hatred/Enmity,” who is backed by angels rather than the spirits of dead Giants. This “rebellion” is also very late in the game; Revelations is a prediction of the future written in the past tense. So the idea that the angels fell before the beginning of time and that Satan later deceived Eve is impossible based on biblical scripture.
Finally, any attempt to identify Lucifer with Satan and posit a fall before Creation runs aground on the Old Testament itself: If Satan had been cast out of heaven for rebelling against God, what’s he doing hanging around God’s court in the Book of Job? While we can’t be sure where the first scene in Job takes place, it does not seem to be set on Earth since that is where the satan says he has just come from. Presumably we are in heaven—from which Satan was supposedly evicted. We could also ask why an exiled satan does a good deed by preventing Balaam from cursing the Israelites in Numbers. It simply makes no sense.
Clearly enough, the satan began as an office filled either by an angel who was part of the heavenly court or by a human being on earth. Beginning with Chronicles, Satan got his capital letter, so to speak, and began to evolve both into the personification of Hate (found in Enoch and Jubilees) and God’s opponent. The New Testament exhibits completely contradictory versions of Satan: Sometimes he is the Tester—as he was in Job—as well as in Mark, Matthew, and Luke. In his sanctioned role, even the archangel Michael refuses to oppose him, but at other times, as in Revelations, Persian dualism seems to hold sway, and Michael and Satan go toe to toe somewhere in the stratosphere.
Vincent Czyz received an MA in comparative literature from Columbia University, and an MFA in creative writing from Rutgers University. He is the author of the collection Adrift in a Vanishing City and the novel The Christos Mosaic, and is the recipient of the 1994 Faulkner-Wisdom Prize for Short Fiction. His short stories and essays have appeared in Shenandoah, AGNI, The Massachusetts Review, New England Review, Boston Review, and many other publications.