Alternate meaning: Satan is also the name of a genus of catfish. See: Satan eurystomus.

Satan (from the Hebrew שטן satan or Aramaic שטנא satana meaning "accuser, adversary") is an angel, demon, or minor god in many religions. Satan plays various roles in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocrypha and the New Testament. In the Hebrew Bible Satan is presented as an angel (messenger) sent by God to test mankind; in the Apocrypha and New Testament Satan is portrayed as an evil rebellious demon who is the enemy of God and mankind.

Satan is generally viewed as a supernatural entity who is the central embodiment of evil. Satan is also commonly known as the Devil, the "Prince of Darkness", Beelzebub, Mephistopheles, and Lucifer. In the Talmud and some works of Kabbalah Satan is sometimes called Samael; however most Jewish literature is of the opinion that Samael is a separate angel. In the fields of angelology and demonology these different names sometimes refer to a number of different angels and demons, and there is significant disagreement as to whether any of these entities is actually evil. In Islam, Satan is known as Iblis, who was the chief of the angels until he disobeyed Allah by refusing to prostrate himself before Adam.

Table of contents
1 Images of Satan
2 In the Hebrew Bible
3 In the Apocrypha
4 In the New Testament
5 Satanists
6 Among polytheists
7 In rabbinic literature

Images of Satan

In art and literature, Satan has been depicted in numerous ways throughout history. According to one interpretation of the book of Genesis, Satan is identified as the serpent to convinced Eve to eat the forbidden fruit; thus, Satan has been depicted as a serpent.

A popular image of Satan, adopted from the Greek God Pan, is as a horned, hoofed goat-like monster holding a trident. In modern times, the goat-like image of Satan has been adapted into a more human-looking form of a dark, foreboding man wearing a goatee. Satan has also been depicted as a charming and attractive man, as symbolic of the popular mythology that Satan acquires human souls by appealing to their vanity and presenting them with appealing and attractive temptations. Rarely, Satan has also been depicted as a conniving woman, such as in the movie Bedazzled (2000).

In the Hebrew Bible

The concept of Satan as being an evil entity is one that evolved over many centuries.

Different uses of the word "Satan"

The Hebrew word "Satan" is used in the Hebrew Bible with the general connotation of "adversary," being applied to:

Satan as an accuser

Where Satan does appear as an angel, he is clearly a member of God's court and plays the role of the Accuser (possibly one of a number), much like a prosecuting attorney for God. Such a view is found in the prologue to the Book of Job, where Satan appears, together with other celestial beings, before God, replying to the inquiry of God as to whence he had come, with the words: "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it" (Job i. 7). Both question and answer, as well as the dialogue which follows, characterize Satan as that member of the divine council who watches over human activity, but with the purpose of searching out men's sins and appearing as their accuser. He is, therefore, the celestial prosecutor, who sees only iniquity; for he persists in his evil opinion of Job even after he has passed successfully through his first trial by surrendering to the will of God, whereupon Satan demands another test through physical suffering (ib. ii. 3-5).

It is evident from the prologue that Satan has no power of independent action, but requires the permission of God, which he may not transgress. Satan is not an opponent of God. This view is also retained in Zech. iii. 1-2, where Satan is described as the adversary of the high priest Joshua, and of the people of God whose representative the hierarch is; and he there opposes the "angel of the Lord," who bids him be silent in the name of God. In both of these passages Satan is a mere accuser who acts only according to the permission of the Deity.

In I Chron. xxi. 1 Satan appears as one who is able to provoke David to destroy Israel. The Chronicler (third century B.C.) regards Satan as an independent agent, a view which is the more striking since the source whence he drew his account (II Sam. xxiv. 1) speaks of God Himself as the one who moved David against the children of Israel. Since the older conception refers all events, whether good or bad, to God alone (I Sam. xvi. 14; I Kings xxii. 22; Isa. xlv. 7; etc.), it is possible that the Chronicler, and perhaps even Zechariah, were influenced by Zoroastrianism, even though in the case of the prophet Jewish monism strongly opposed Iranian dualism.

In the Apocrypha

In Wisdom ii. 24 Satan is represented, with reference to Gen. iii., as the author of all evil, who brought death into the world; he is apparently mentioned also in Ecclus. (Sirach) xxi. 27, and the fact that his name does not occur in Daniel is doubtless due merely to chance. Satan was the seducer and the paramour of Eve, and was hurled from heaven together with other angels because of his iniquity (Slavonic Book of Enoch, xxix. 4 et seq.). Since that time he has been called "Satan," although previously he had been termed "Satanel" (ib. xxxi. 3 et seq.).

The doctrine of the fall of Satan, as well as of the fall of the angels, is found also in Babylonia. Satan rules over an entire host of angels (Martyrdom of Isaiah, ii. 2; Vita Adę et Evę, xvi.). Mastema, who induced God to test Abraham through the sacrifice of Isaac, is identical with Satan in both name and nature (Book of Jubilees, xvii. 18), and the Asmodeus of the Book of Tobit is likewise to be identified with him, especially in view of his licentiousness. As the lord of satans he not infrequently bears the special name Samael.

It is difficult to identify Satan in any other passages of the Apocrypha, since the originals in which his name occurred have been lost, and the translations employ various equivalents. An "argumentum a silentio" can not, therefore, be adduced as proof that concepts of Satan were not wide-spread; but it must rather be assumed that reference to him and his realm is often implied in the mention of evil spirits.

In the New Testament

Satan figures much more prominently in the New Testament and in Christian theology generally. As reflected in John Milton's epic poem Paradise Lost, Satan is believed to have been an archangel named Lucifer who turned against God before the creation of man. (Prophesies in Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 are sometimes thought to be referring to Satan, rather than to the earthly king that a plain or literal reading of the text suggests.) According to this view, Satan waged war against God, his creator, and was banished from Heaven because of this.

The creation story found in the book of Genesis reports that a serpent tempted Adam and Eve to partake of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. In the Jewish tradition, the serpent was always taken to be literally a snake; the story tells us the origin of how the snake lost its legs. Later Christian theologies interpreted this serpent to be Satan, to the point where many American Christians are unaware that the actual Hebrew text does not identify the serpent as Satan. In Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Satan is one of humanity's three enemies, along with sin and death.

According to most Christian eschatology, Satan will wage a final war against Jesus, before being cast into Hell for all eternity. The Unification Church teaches that Satan will be restored in the last days and become a good angel again (see Lucifer, A Criminal Against Humanity). A few early Church Fathers are known to have prayed for Satan's eventual repentance, it was not generally believed that this would happen.

In various Gnostic sects, Satan was praised as the giver of knowledge, sometimes with references to Lucifer, "the light-bringer." Some claimed that the being imagined as God by Christians and Jews was in fact Satan, as a world as imperfect as ours could not be created by a perfect God.

Particularly in the Medieval period, Satan was often depicted as having horns and a goat's hindquarters. He has also been depicted as carrying a pitchfork, and with a forked tail. None of these images seem to be based on Biblical materials. Rather, this image is apparently based on the Horned God, specifically Pan/Dionysus, common to many western mythologies. Whether or not the horned Satan was created intentionally to discredit the God of other religions is unknown, but it has been alleged.


There are historical records of people worshiping Satan, though their authenticity is sometimes questioned. Today, some people identify themselves as Satanists. Of these, some claim that Satan is a real being, some view him as a symbol for the animal desires of humans, and some view him as a symbol for the rebellious or independent aspects of humanity. Some Christians believe that most or all other religions are satanic, that is, influenced by and supported by the power of Satan. Many Protestant Christians in the USA believe that all forms of Christianity other than their own are actually disguised versions of Satanism. The Catholic Church is the most common, but by no means the only, target of such accusations.

Among polytheists

Paganism is one of the religions most often seen as satanic by some Christians (see Jack Chick). However, this is a minority view and one not held by most mainstream Christians, and Neopagans are somewhat sensitive to these accusations. While Neopagans often include deities of other religions in their practice, they almost never include Satan.

Some individuals identifying themselves with the New Age thought process believe that Satan, or Lucifer, was the leader of extraterrestrials who came to Earth and waged a galactic war with another extraterrestrial group lead by one now referred to as "God". This is not necessarily the belief of those standing behind that system of thought.

In rabbinic literature

Early rabbinic Jewish statements in the Mishnah and Talmud show that Satan played little or no role in Jewish theology. In the course of time, however, Judaism absorbed the popular concepts of Satan, which doubtless forced their way gradually from the lower classes to the most cultured. The later a rabbinc work can be dated the more frequent is the mention therein of Satan and his hosts.

The Palestinian Talmud, completed about 450 CE, is more reticent in this regard; and this is the more noteworthy since its provenience is the same as that of the New Testament.

In a midrash (Genesis Rabbah) Samael, the lord of the satans, was a mighty prince of angels in heaven (Gen. R. xix.). Satan came into the world with woman, i.e., with Eve (Midrash Yalk., Gen. i. 23); so that he was created and is not eternal. Like all celestial beings, he flies through the air (Genesis Rabbah xix.), and can assumeany form, as of a bird (Talmud, Sanhedrin 107a), a stag (ib. 95a), a woman (Ḳid. 81a), a beggar, or a young man (Tan., Wayera, end); he is said to skip (Talmud Pesachim 112b; Meg. 11b), in allusion to his appearance in the form of a goat.

In some works some rabbis hold that Satan is the incarnation of all evil, and his thoughts are devoted to the destruction of man. In this view, Satan, the impulse to evil and the angel of death are one and the same personality. Satan seizes upon even a single word which may be prejudicial to man; so that "one should not open his mouth unto evil," i.e., "unto Satan" (Talmud Berachot 19a). In times of danger likewise he brings his accusations (Palestinian Talmud, Shabbat 5b). While he has power over all the works of man (Talmud Berachot 46b), he can not prevail at the same time against two individuals of different nationality; so that Samuel, a noted astronomer and teacher of the Law (d. at Nehardea 247), would start on a journey only when a Gentile traveled with him (Shab. 32a).

Satan's knowledge is circumscribed; for when the shofar is blown on New-Year's Day he is "confounded" (R. H. 16b; Yer. Targ. to Num. x. 10). On the Day of Atonement his power vanishes; for the numerical value of the letters of his name (See gematria) is only 364, one day being thus exempt from his influence (Yoma 20a).

If Satan does not attain his purpose, as was the case in his temptation of Job, he feels great sorrow (B. B. 16a); and it was a terrible blow to him, as the representative of moral evil, that the Torah, the incarnation of moral good, should be given to Israel. He endeavored to overthrow it, and finally led the people to make the golden calf (Shab. 89a; Yer. Targ. to Ex. xxxii. 1), while the two tables of the Law were bestowed on Moses of necessity without Satan's knowledge (Sanh. 26b).

One rabbi notes that Satan was an active agent in the fall of man (Midrash Pirke R. El. xiii., beginning), and was the father of Cain (ib. xxi.), while he was also instrumental in the offering of Isaac (Tan., Wayera, 22 [ed. Stettin, p. 39a]), in the release of the animal destined by Esau for his father (Tan., Toledot, 11), in the theophany at Sinai, in the death of Moses (Deut. R. xiii. 9), in David's sin with Bath-sheba (Sanh. 95a), and in the death of Queen Vashti (Meg. 11a). The decree to destroy all the Jews, which Haman obtained, was written on parchment brought by Satan (Esther R. iii. 9). When Alexander the Great reproached the Jewish sages with their rebellion, they made the plea that Satan had been too mighty for them (Tamid 32a).