Asmodeus (Ασμοδαίος) or Ashmedai (אַשְמְדּאָי) is a lord of demons mostly known from the Book of Tobit, in which he is the primary antagonist. The demon is also mentioned in the story of the construction of the Temple of Solomon.
Asmodeus is supposed by some Christians to be the King of the Nine Hells or one of the seven princes of Hell. In Binsfeld’s classification of demons, each one of these princes represents one of the seven sins (Lust, Gluttony, Greed, Sloth, Wrath, Envy, and Pride). Asmodeus is the demon of lust and is therefore responsible for twisting people’s sexual desires.
It is said in Asmodeus; Or, The Devil on Two Sticks that people who fall to Asmodeus’ ways will be sentenced to an eternity in the second level of hell.
The name Asmodai is believed to derive from the Avesta as *aēšma-daēva (aēšma means “wrath”, daēva mreaning “demon” or “divine being”). Daēva Aēšma is the demon of wrath and is also well attested as such, and it is likely that the Book of Tobit’s “Asmodaios” (Ἀσμοδαῖος) copied it.
The spellings Asmodai, Asmodee, and Osmodai have also been used. Other forms are based on the basic vowels אשמדאי, ʾŠMDʾY. Hashmodai,, Hammadai, Shamdon, and Sidonai.
The Book of Tobit.
According to Tobit iii. 8, vi. 14, the evil spirit Asmodeus—”king of the demons,” fell in love with Sarah, the daughter of Raguel, and for that reason prevented her from having a husband. After killing seven men successively on the nights of their marriage to her, he was rendered harmless when Tobias married her, following the instructions given him by Raphael. Asmodeus “fled into the utmost parts of Egypt and the angel [Raphael] bound him” (ib. iii. 8, vi. 14 et seq. viii. 2-4).
Testament of Solomon.
Asmodeus in the Testament of Solomon, a pseudepigraphic work dated to the . Asmodeus answered 1600s. King Solomon’s question concerning his name and functions as follows:
“I am called Asmodeus … and my business is to plot against the newly wedded, so that they may not know one another. And I sever them utterly by many calamities; and I waste away the beauty of [these] virgins and estrange their hearts. . . . I transport men into fits of madness and desire when they have wives of their own, so that they leave them and go off by night and day to others that belong to other men; with the result that they commit sin and fall into murderous deeds.”
Solomon obtained the further information that it was the archangel Raphael who could render Asmodeus innocuous, and that the latter could be put to flight by smoke from a certain fish’s gall (compare Tobit viii. 2). The king availed himself of this knowledge, and by means of the smoke from the liver and gall he frustrated the “unbearable malice” of this demon. Asmodeus then was compelled to help in the building of the new Temple; and, fettered in chains, he worked clay with his feet, and drew water. Solomon would not give him his liberty “because that fierce demon Asmodeus knew even the future” (ib. p. 21).
The Haggadah relates that Solomon, when erecting the Temple, did not know how to get the blocks of marble into shape, since, according to the law (Ex. xx. 26), they might not be worked by an iron tool. The wise men advised him to obtain the “shamir” (), a worm whose mere touch could cleave rocks. But to obtain it was no slight task; for not even the demons, who knew so many secrets, knew where the shamir was to be found. They surmised, however, that Ashmedai, king of the demons, was in possession of the secret, and they told Solomon the name of the mountain on which Ashmedai dwelt and described his manner of life. On this mountain there was a well-head from which the arch-demon obtained his drinking-water. He closed it up daily with a large rock, and secured it in other ways before going to heaven, whither he went every day in order to take part in the discussions in the celestial house of study (“Metibta”). Thence he would presently descend again to the earth in order to be present—invisibly—at the debates in the earthly houses of learning. Then, after investigating the fastenings of the well, to ascertain if they had been tampered with, he drank of the water.
Benaiah Captures Ashmedai.
Solomon sent his chief man Benaiah ben Jehoiadah to capture Ashmedai. For this purpose he provided him with a chain, a ring on which the Tetragrammaton was engraved, a bundle of wool, and a skin of wine. Benaiah drew off the water from the well through a hole that he bored, and, stopping up the source with the wool, filled the well with wine. When Ashmedai descended from heaven, to his astonishment he found wine instead of water in the well, although everything seemed untouched. At first he would not drink of it, and cited the Bible verses against wine (Prov. xx. 1, and Hosea iv. 11), in order to inspire himself with moral courage. At length Ashmedai succumbed to his consuming thirst, and drank until his senses were overpowered and he fell into a deep sleep. Benaiah then threw the chain about the demon’s neck. Ashmedai on awaking tried to free himself, but Benaiah called to him: “The Name of thy Lord is upon thee.”
Ashmedai’s Journey to Solomon.
Though Ashmedai now permitted himself to be led off unresistingly, he acted most peculiarly on the way to Solomon. He brushed against a palm-tree and uprooted it; he knocked against a house and overturned it; and when, at the request of a poor woman, he was turning aside from her hut, he broke a bone, and asked with grim humor: “Is it not written, ‘A soft tongue [the woman’s entreaty] breaketh the bone’?” (Prov. xxv. 15). A blind man going astray he set in the right path, and a similar kindness he did for a drunkard. He wept when a wedding company passed them, and laughed at one who asked his shoemaker to make him shoes to last for seven years, and at a magician who was publicly showing his skill. Having finally arrived at the end of the journey, Ashmedai, after several days of waiting, was led before Solomon, who told him that he wanted nothing of him but the shamir. Ashmedai thereupon informed the king where it could be obtained.
Solomon then questioned him about his strange conduct on the journey. Ashmedai answered that he judged persons and things according to their real character and not according to their appearance in the eyes of human beings. He cried when he saw the wedding company, because he knew the bridegroom had not a month to live; and he laughed at him who wanted shoes to last seven years, because the man would not own them for seven days; also at the magician who pretended to disclose secrets, because he did not know that under his very feet lay a buried treasure.
Ashmedai remained with Solomon until the Temple was completed. One day the king told him that he did not understand wherein the greatness of the demons lay, if their king could be kept in bonds by a mortal. Ashmedai replied that if Solomon would remove his chains and lend him the magic ring, he (Ashmedai) would prove his own greatness. Solomon agreed. The demon then stood before him with one wing touching heaven, and the other reaching to the earth. Snatching up Solomon, who had parted with his protecting ring, he flung him four hundred parasangs away from Jerusalem, and then palmed himself off as the king.
After long wanderings Solomon returned to reclaim his throne. At first the people thought him mad; but then the wise men decided it would be well to regard Ashmedai more closely. It appeared on inquiry that not even Benaiah, the first in the service of the king, had ever been admitted to his presence, and that Ashmedai in his marital relations had not observed the Jewish precepts. Moreover, the declaration of the king’s women that he always wore slippers, strengthened suspicion; for demons proverbially had cocks’ feet. Solomon, provided with another magic ring, at length suddenly appeared before Ashmedai, who thereupon took flight (Giṭ. 68; parallel passages, Midr. Teh. on Ps. lxxviii. 45; Yalḳ. ii. 182; compare Num. R. xi. 3; Targ. on Eccl. i. 12, and the extract from a manuscript Midrash in “Z. D. M. G.” xxi. 220, 221).
Elements of the Ashmedai-Solomon Legend.
Although the number of incidents concerning Ashmedai related by this Haggadah is fairly large, the fact must not be disregarded that many details grouped about him are of later origin and do not pertain to Ashmedai at all. Ashmedai, as the false Solomon, is a Babylonian elaboration of the Palestinian Haggadah concerning Solomon’s punishment for his sins, which punishment consisted in the assumption of the throne by an angel; Solomon meanwhile having to wander about as a beggar (Yer. Sanh. ii. 6; Pesiḳ., ed. Buber, 169a; Tan., ed. Buber, iii. 55; Eccl. R. ii. 2; Simon b. YoḦai of the middle of thesecond century is quoted as the authority).
Similarly, Ashmedai’s service in the construction of the Temple is probably an echo of the elaborate legend in the Testament of Solomon, according to which the demons were the chief laborers at the building of the Temple. Testament of Solomon is the source also of the myth concerning the wonderful ring whose inscription tames the demons, as well as of the incident that by virtue of the ring the demons were forced to assist in erecting the Temple. (Test. Solomon v.; compare vi.: “Throw this ring at the chest of the demon and say to him, ‘In the name of God, King Solomon calls thee hither.'”)
Furthermore, it is improbable that the shamir legend was originally an element of the Ashmedai legend. The Testament of Solomon (ix.) narrates how a demon, forced by Solomon to hew stones for the Temple, was afraid of the iron instruments; and, as Conybeare rightly observes (“Jew. Quart. Rev.” xi. 18), the fear of iron on the part of evil spirits is a feature common to both old and recent folk-lore. In the Talmud this fear is given a Jewish setting by connecting it with the legal precept against the use of iron tools, and by causing the demons to render the blocks of stone fit for use in the Temple structure without the use of iron.
A comparison of the Ashmedai legend with the Testament of Solomon reveals also that many other points in the representation of demons by the former are general characteristics of demons. Thus Ashmedai’s wings correspond to the wings of Ornias in the Testament (x.). Ornias likewise daily visited heaven; and just as Ashmedai learned the fate of human beings in heaven, so, according to the Testament (cxiii.), did all the demons. Consequently, Ornias could laugh at the king who was on the point of condemning a youth to death who was destined to die at the end of three days (cxi.), just as Ashmedai laughed at the man who ordered shoes to last seven years, when he had not seven days to live.
Hence it follows that the passage in the Talmud provides little information concerning the more particular characteristics of Ashmedai. That he overturned a house and uprooted a tree indicates nothing; for with any demon, however insignificant, such things are trifles. Ashmedai is not represented as doing these things from a mere desire to destroy, but apparently through carelessness. The common opinion that in the Talmud, Ashmedai is depicted as particularly lustful and sensual, has no sufficient basis. The Talmud simply states that Ashmedai, while playing the part of Solomon, did not observe the Jewish precepts pertaining to the separation of women (), and that he attacked Bath-sheba, Solomon’s mother. These facts, in reality, were to prove only that Ashmedai was not Solomon.
The question now arises whether Asmodeus and Ashmedai may be considered as closely allied with each other, and identical with the Persian archdemon, Æshma or Æshma-dæva, as was first suggested by Benfey, and developed by Windischmann and Kohut.
In regard to Æshma, very frequently mentioned in the Zend-Avesta and the Pahlavi texts, Darmesteter says:
Asmodeus, Ashmedai, and Æshma.
“Originally a mere epithet of the storm fiend, Æshma was afterward converted into an abstraction, the demon of rage and anger, and became an expression for all wickedness, a mere name of Ahriman [“Introduction to Vendidad,” iv. 22]. This description of Æshma, as he appears in the Zend-Avesta, tallies with the dominant conception in Pahlavi writings. Thus in Dabistan, i., Dink, xxxvii. 164: ‘The impetuous assailant, Wrath (Æshm), when he does not succeed in causing strife among the righteous, flings discord and strife amid the wicked; and when he does not succeed as to the strife even of the wicked, he makes the demons and the fiends fight together.'”
In “Shayast ha-Shayast” (xviii.) Æshm is described, quite unlike Ahriman, as the “chief agent of the evil spirit [Ahriman] in his machinations against mankind, rushing into his master’s presence in hell to complain of the difficulties he encounters.”
A consideration of the linguistic arguments does not support the hypothesis of an identification of Ashmedai with Æshma-dæva, as “dai” in Ashmedai hardly corresponds with the Persian “dæva,” in view of the Syriac form “dawya” (demon) with the consonant “w”; nor is there any instance of the linking of “Æshma” and “dæva” in Persian texts. The Asmodeus of the Apocrypha, and Æshma, however, seem to be related. In the Testament of Solomon Asmodeus appears as seducing man to unchaste deeds, murder, and enmity, and thus reveals many points in common with Æshma. The “Bundehish” (xxviii. 15-18) furnishes the most striking resemblance: “There, wherever Æshm lays a foundation, many creatures perish.”
Ashmedai and Shamdon.
Ashmedai of the Solomonic legend, on the other hand, is not at all a harmful and destructive spirit. Like the devil in medieval Christian folk-lore, he is a “king of demons” (Pes. 110a), degraded and no longer the dreaded arch-fiend, but the object of popular humor and irony. The name “Ashmedai” was probably taken as signifying “the cursed,” (compare Nöldeke, in Euting’s “Nabatäische Inschriften,” pp. 31, 32), just as “la’in” (the cursed), is the Arabic name of Satan. Thus the name “Shamdon” (), is found in Palestinian Midrashim.
It is related of Shamdon that at the planting of the first vine by Noah he helped with the work, but said to Noah: “I want to join you in your labor and share with you; but have heed that you take not of my portion lest I do you harm” (Gen. R. xxxvi. 3); in the legend in Midrash Abkir, and cited in Yalḳ. i. 61, Satan figures as the chief personality. The second thing told of this Shamdon is that in the Golden Age he had an encounter with a new-born child wherein he was worsted (Lev. R. v. 1, according to the reading of the ‘Aruk, s.v. ).
Ashmedai in Later Sources.
In later sources, Shamdon is held to be the father of Ashmedai, whose mother they say was Naamah, sister of Tubal Cain (NaḦmanides on Gen. iv. 22; from this comes the same statement in BaḦya b. Asher, Zioni, and Recanati in their commentaries, ad loc.). This legend of Ashmedai’s birth tallies with the assertion of Asmodeus in the Testament of Solomon: “I was born of angel’s seed by a daughter of man” (xxi.). In the Zohar, Ashmedai is represented as the teacher of Solomon, towhom he gave a book of magic and medicine (Zohar Lev. pp. 19a, 43a; ib. Num. 199b, ed. Wilna). In a more recent Midrash Ashmedai is identified with Shamdon (Midr. Shir ha-Shirim, ed. Grünhut, 29b; a story similar to the one here given of Solomon’s ring and the fish is found in “Emeḳ ha-Melek,” 14a-15a, and in the German “Maasebuch”; the story is reprinted in Jellinek, “B. H.” ii. 86). A recent source gives the following legend cited by the Tosafists in Men. 37a from an anonymous Midrash, which has probably been lost:
(This legend is given at length in Jellinek, “B. H.”iv. 151, 152.)
“Ashmedai brought forth from the earth a two-headed man, who married and produced both normal and two-headed children. When the man died a quarrel arose among the children concerning their inheritance, the two-headed ones demanding a double portion.”
In the Malleus Maleficarum
In the Malleus Maleficarum (1586), Asmodeus was considered the demon of lust. His adversary is St. John. Some demonologists of the 1600s assigned a month to a demon and considered November to be the month in which Asmodai’s power was strongest. Other demonologists asserted that his zodiacal sign was Aquarius but only between the dates of January 30 and February 8.
He has 72 legions of demons under his command. He is one of the Kings of Hell under Lucifer the emperor. He incites gambling, and is the overseer of all the gambling houses in the court of Hell. Some Catholic theologians compared him with Abaddon. Yet other authors considered Asmodeus a prince of revenge.
In the Dictionnaire Infernal
In the Dictionnaire Infernal by Collin de Plancy, Asmodeus is depicted with the breast of a man, a cock leg, serpent tail, three heads (one of a man spitting fire, one of a sheep, and one of a bull), riding a lion with dragon wings and neck, all of these animals being associated with either lascivity, lust or revenge. The Archbishop of Paris approved his portrait.
In the Lesser Key of Solomon
Asmodai appears as the king ‘Asmoday’ in the Ars Goetia, where he is said to have a seal in gold and is listed as number thirty-two according to respective rank.
He “is strong, powerful and appears with three heads; the first is like a bull, the second like a man, and the third like a ram; the tail of a serpent, and from his mouth issue flames of fire.” Also, he sits upon an infernal dragon, holds a lance with a banner and, amongst the Legions of Amaymon, Asmoday governs seventy two legions of inferior spirits.
– Jewish Encyclopedia (2019-asmodeus)