Systematic knowledge concerning demons or evil spirits. Demons (Greek, δαίμονες or δαιμόνια; Hebrew, [Deut. xxxii. 17; Ps. cvi. 37] and [Lev. xvii. 7; II Chron. xi. 15; A. V. “devils”; Luther, “Feldgeister” and “Feldteufel”]; Aramaic, or rabbinical, and as spirits animating all elements of life and inhabiting all parts of the world, have their place in the primitive belief of all tribes and races. When certain deities rose to be the objects of regular worship and became the rulers of the powers of life, demons, or spirits, were subordinated to them. But inasmuch as they were still feared and occasionally worshiped by the populace, they became the objects of popular superstition.
Jewish demonology can at no time be viewed as the outcome of an antecedent Hebrew belief. While the nomadic Hebrews had much in common with the Arabian Bedouins in their belief in spirits (see Wellhausen, “Reste Arabischen Heidenthums: Skizzen und Vorarbeiten,” 1887, iii. 135 et seq.; Smith, “Rel. of Sem.” 1889, pp. 112-125, 422 et seq.), Canaanite practise and belief were greatly influenced by ancient Chaldea, whose demonologyis in the main pre-Semitic (see Lenormant, “Chaldean Magic,” 1877, pp. 23-38; German transl., 1878, pp. 22-41; Jastrow, “Religion of Babylonia and Assyria,” pp. 260 et seq.; Zimmern, in Schrader’s “K. A. T.” 1902, ii. 458-464).
In Babylonia the [Hebrews] came under the influence of both the Chaldean and the Persian belief in good and in evil spirits, and this dualistic system became a dominant factor of Jewish demonology and Angelology. In Europe, Teutonic, Celtic, and Slavonic demonology in the form of superstition permeated Jewish practise and belief.
Demons in the Bible.
The demons mentioned in the Bible are of two classes, the “se’irim” and the “shedim.” The se’irim (“hairy beings”), to which the Israelites sacrificed in the open fields (Lev. xvii. 7; A. V. “devils”; R. V., incorrectly, “he-goats”), are satyr-like demons, described as dancing in the wilderness (Isa. xiii. 21, xxxiv. 14; compare Maimonides, “Moreh,” iii. 46; Vergil’s “Eclogues,” v. 73, “saltantes satyri”), and are identical with the jinn of the Arabian woods and deserts (see Wellhausen, l.c., and Smith, l.c.). To the same class belongs Azazel, the goat-like demon of the wilderness (Lev. xvi. 10 et seq.), probably the chief of the se’irim, and Lilith (Isa. xxxiv. 14).
Possibly “the roes and hinds of the field,” by which Shulamit conjures the daughters of Jerusalem to bring her back to her lover (Cant. ii. 7, iii. 5), are faunlike spirits similar to the se’irim, though of a harmless nature. The (Job v. 23. A. V. “stones of the field”), with which the righteous are said to be in league—obviously identical with, if not a corruption of, the (Mishnah Kil. viii. 5), explained in Yer. Kil. 31c as “a fabulous mountain-man drawing nourishment from the ground” (see Jastrow, “Dict.,” and Levy, “Neuhebr. Wörterb.” s.v. )—seem to be field-demons of the same nature. The wilderness as the home of demons was regarded as the place whence such diseases as leprosy issued, and in cases of leprosy one of the birds set apart to be offered as an expiatory sacrifice was released that it might carry the disease back to the desert (Lev. xiv. 7, 52; compare a similar rite in Sayce, “Hibbert Lectures,” 1887, p. 461, and “Zeit. für Assyr.” 1902, p. 149).
The Israelites also offered sacrifices to the shedim (Deut. xxxii. 17; Ps. cvi. 37). The name (believed by Hoffmann, “Hiob,” 1891, to occur in Job v. 21), for a long time erroneously connected with “the Almighty” (), denotes a storm-demon (from , Isa. xiii. 6; A. V. “destruction”; compare Psxci. 6, , “that stormeth about”; A. V. “that wasteth”). In Chaldean mythology the seven evil deities were known as “shedim,” storm-demons, represented in ox-like form; and because these oxcolossi representing evil demons were, by a peculiar law of contrast, used also as protective genii of royal palaces and the like, the name “shed” assumed also the meaning of a propitious genius in Babylonian magic literature (see Delitzsch, “Assyrisches Handwörterb.” pp. 60, 253, 261, 646; Jensen, “Assyr.-Babyl. Mythen und Epen,” 1900, p. 453; Sayce, l.c. pp. 441, 450, 463; Lenormant, l.c. pp. 48-51).
It was from Chaldea that the name “shedim” = evil demons came to the Israelites, and so the sacred writers in tentionally applied the word in a dyslogistic sense to the Canaanite deities ‘in the two passages quoted. But they also spoke of “the destroyer” () Ex. xii. 23) as a demon whose malignant effect upon the houses of the Israelites was to be warded off by the blood of the paschal sacrifice sprinkled upon the lintel and the door-post (a corresponding pagan talisman is mentioned in Isa. lvii. 8). In II Sam. xxiv; 16 and II Chron. xxi. 15 the pestilence-dealing demon is called = “the destroying angel” (compare “the angel of the Lord” in II Kings xix. 35; Isa. xxxvii. 36), because, although they are demons, these “evil messengers” (Ps. lxxviii. 49; A. V. “evil angels”) do only the bidding of God, their Master; they are the agents of His divine wrath.
The Nether World in the Clutches of a Demon. (From an Assyrian bronze tablet in the collection of M.deClerq.)
But there are many indications that popular Hebrew mythology ascribed to the demons a certain independence, a malevolent character of their own, because they are believed to come forth, not from the heavenly abode of Yhwh, but from the nether world (compare Isa. xxxviii. 11 with Job xiv. 13; Ps. xvi. 10, xlix. 16, cxxxix. 8). “The first-born of Death who devours the members of his [man’s] body” and causes him to be brought “to the king of terrors” (Job xviii. 13, 14, Hebr.), is undoubtedly one of the terrible hawk-like demons, portrayed in the Babylonian Hades-picture (see illustration above, and Roscher, “Lexikon der Griechischen und Römischen Mythologie,” s.v. “Nergal”), and the “messengers of death” (Prov. xvi. 14) are identical with the “servants of Nergal,” the King of Hades and god of pestilence and fever in Chaldean mythology (see Jeremias, “Die Babylonisch-Assyrischen Vorstellungen vom Leben nach dem Tode,” 1887, pp. 71 et seq.; Zimmern, l.c. pp. 412 et seq.; Jensen, l.c. pp. 478, 557).
‘Alukah (Prov. xxx. 15; A. V. “horseleech”), the bloodsucker or vampire, whose two daughters cry “Give! Give!” is none other than the flesh-devouring ghoul of the Arabs, called by them “‘aluḳ” (Wellhausen, l.c. pp. 135-137). She has been rendered in Jewish mythology the demon of the nether world (= see ‘Ab. Zarah 17a), and the names of her two daughters have in all probability, as familiar names of dreaded diseases, been dropped (compare Ewald, Delitzsch, and Wilderboer’s commentaries, ad loc., and the description of the demon “Labartu” in “Zeit. für Assyr.” 1902, pp. 148 et seq.).
Deber (“pestilence”), originally the death-dealing sting of the midsummer sun-god Nergal (see Roscher, l.c. iii. 257), and Keṭeb (“smiter”), the deadly hot wind (Deut. xxxii. 24; Isa. xxviii. 2; A. V. “destruction,” “destroying”), are demons, the one walking in darkness, the other storming along in midday (A. V. “that wasteth at noonday”), against which God’s protection is invoked in the incantatory psalm “Shir shel Pega’im,” ascribed to Moses by the Rabbis (Ps. xci. 5, 6; compare Midr. Teh. ad loc.; Tan., Naso, ed. Buber, 39; Num. R. xii.). Possibly the evil spirit that troubled Saul (I Sam. xvi. 14 et seq.) was originally a demon (compare Josephus, “Ant.” vi. 8, § 2), turned into an evil spirit coming from Yhwh in the amended Masoretic text (see Smith, Commentary, ad loc.).
None of these demons, however, has actually a place in the system of Biblical theology; it is the Lord who sends pestilence and death (Ex. ix. 3, xii. 29); Deber and Reshef (“the fiery bolt”) are His heralds (Hab. iii. 5). The shedim are “not-gods” (Deut. xxxii. 17); there is no supernatural power beyond Yhwh (Deut. iv. 35; compare Sanh. 67b). It is possible, however, that, as at a later stage in the development of Judaism the idols were regarded as demons, so the Canaanite deities were, either in disparagement, or as powers seducing men to idolatry, called “shedim” by the sacred writers (Deut. xxxii. 17; Ps. cv. 37); all the more so as the latter ascribed a certain reality to the idols (Ex. xii. 12; Isa. xix. 1, xxiv. 21; see Baudissin, “Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgesch.” 1876, i. 130).
Time and Place of Appearance.
In Rabbinical Literature:
It was the primitive demonology of Babylonia which peopled the world of the Jews with beings of a semi-celestial and semi-infernal nature. Only afterward did the division of the world between Ahriman and Ormuzd in the Mazdean system give rise to the Jewish division of life between the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom of evil. Rabbinical demonology has, like the Chaldean, three classes of, demons, though they are scarcely separable one from another. There were the “shedim,” the “mazziḳim” (harmers), and the “ruḥin” or “ruḥotra’ot” (evil spirits).
Besides these there were “lilin” (night spirits), “ṭelane” (shade, or evening, spirits), “ṭiharire” (midday spirits), and “ẓafrire” (morning spirits), as well as the “demons that bring famine” and “such as cause storm and earthquake” (Targ. Yer. to Deut. xxxii. 24 and Num. vi. 24; Targ. to Cant. iii. 8, iv. 6; Eccl. ii. 5; Ps. xci. 5, 6; compare Ps. lxx. and Is. xxxiv. 14). Occasionally they are called “mal’ake ḥabbalah” (angels of destruction) (Ber. 51a; Ket. 104a; Sanh. 106b).
“They surround man on all sides as the earth does the roots of the vine”; “a thousand are on his left, and ten thousand on his right side” (compare Ps. xci. 7); if a man could see them he would lack the strength to face them, though he can see them by casting the ashes of the fetus of a black cat about his eyes, or by sprinkling ashes around his bed he can trace their cock-like footprints in the morning (Ber. 6a). They hover around the house and the field (Gen. R. xx.), particularly in the lower regions of the air (Num. R. xii.; Tan., Mishpaṭim, ed. Vienna, 99a; compare Diogenes Laertius, viii. 32, ix. 7). Their main abode is in the northern part of the earth (Pirḳe R. El. iii., after Jer. i. 14). Their sporting-places are caper-bushes and spearworts, where they dwell in groups of sixty; nut-trees, where they form in groups of nine; shady spots on moonlight nights, especially the roofs of houses, under gutters, or near ruins; cemeteries and privies (there is a special demon of the privy, “shed shel bet ha-kisse”); water, oil, and bread-crums cast on the ground; and they harm persons and things coming near them (Pes. 3b; Ber. 3a, 62b; Shab. 67a; Giṭ. 70a; Ḥul. 105; Sanh. 65b).
R. Johanan knew of 300 kinds of shedim living near the town of Shiḥin (Giṭ. 68a). It is dangerous to walk between two palm-trees (Pes. 111a). Demons are particularly hurtful at night. It is unsafe to salute a person in the dark, for he might be a demon (Meg. 3a); to sleep alone in a house, as Lilith may seize one (Shab. 151b); to walk alone in the night or in the morning before cockcrow (Ber. 43a; Yoma 21a; compare Cock); to take water from one whose hands have not been washed in the morning (Ber. 51a).
Especially dangerous are the eves of Wednesday and of the Sabbath, for then Agrat bat Maḥlat, “the dancing roof-demon” (Yalḳut Ḥadash, Keshafim, 56), haunts the air with her train of eighteen myriads of messengers of destruction, “every one of whom has the power of doing harm” (Pes. 112b). On those nights one should not drink water except out of white vessels and after having recited Ps. xxix. 3-9 (the verses mentioning seven times “the voice of the Lord”) or other magic formulas (Pes. 3a).
Another perilous season is midsummer noon from the 17th of Tammuz to the 9th of Ab. Then the demon Keṭeb Meriri reigns from ten in the forenoon to three in the afternoon. He has the head of a calf, with one revolving horn in the middle, and an eye on the breast, and his whole body is covered with scales and hair and eyes; and whosoever sees him, man or beast, falls down and expires (Pes. 3b; Lam. R. i. 3; Midr. Teh. to Ps. xci. 3; Num. R. xii.).
Demons assume the shape of men, but have no shadow (Yeb. 122a; Giṭ. 66a; Yoma 75a). At times they are black goat-like beings (; Ḳid. 72a); at other times, seven-headed dragons (Ḳid. 29a). “Like angels, they have wings and fly from one end of the world to the other, and know the future; and like men they eat, propagate, and die” (Ḥag. 16b; Ab. R. N. xxxvii.). They cause the faintness of students and the wear and tear of their dress in the schoolhouses and assemblies of the learned (Ber. 6a).
But they are not always malign spirits. As they, by virtue of their semi-celestial nature, can overhear the decrees of heaven, they may be consulted by men as to the future; this can be done by means of oil and eggshells; only on Sabbath is this forbidden (Shab. 101a). Hillel and Johanan ben Zakkai understood their talk just as King Solomon did (Mas. Soferim, xvi. 9; B. B. 134a; Suk. 28a; Giṭ. 68b; Ker. 5b; Pesiḳ., ed. Buber, 45b).
The saint Abba Jose of Zaintor saved his town from harm, when informed by a water-demon living near by that a harmful fellow demon made his dwelling there, by causing the inhabitants to go down to the water’s edge at dawn, equipped with iron rods and spits, and beat the intruder to death; blood marked the spot where he was killed (Lev. R. xxiv.).
The magicians in Egypt made use of demons to perform their miracles, as all witchcraft is the work of demons (Sanh. 67b; ‘Er. 18b; Ex. R. ix.), though demons can not create, but only transform existing things (Sanh. 67b). Egypt was considered the stronghold of such witchcraft as worked by means of demons (Ḳid. 49b; Shab. 104b; Men. 85a; Tan., Wayera, ed. Buber, 17, 27; Tosef., Shab. xi. 15; compare Friedländer, “Sittengesch. Roms,” i. 362, iii. 517).
Some of the Babylonian amoraim employed shedim as friendly spirits, and received useful instruction from them, calling them by familiar names, such as “Joseph” or “Jonathan” (Pes. 110a; Ḥul. 105b; Yeb. 122a; ‘Er. 43a; regarding see Schorr in “He-Ḥaluẓ,” 1865, p. 18). Demons were regarded by antiquity as beings endowed with higher intelligence (see Friedländer, l.c. iii. 562). They were said to have been created at the twilight of the Sabbath (Abot v. 9); “after the souls were created the Sabbath set in, and so they remained without bodies” (Gen. R. vii.).
Nature of Demons.
In the main demons were workers of harm. To them were ascribed the various diseases, particularly such as affect the brain and the inner parts (compare Rhode, “Psyche,” 1894, p. 385). Hence there was a constant fear of “Shabriri” (lit. “dazzling glare”), the demon of blindness, who rests on uncovered water at night and strikes those with blindness who drink of it (Pes. 112a; ‘Ab. Zarah 12b); “ruaḥ ẓeradah,” the spirit of catalepsy, and “ruaḥ ẓelaḥta,” also “ruaḥ palga,” the spirit of headache (megrim or meningitis ?), hovering on palmtrees (Pes. 111b; Ḥul. 105b; Giṭ. 68b); “ben nefilim,” the demon of epilepsy, and “ruaḥ ẓeḥarit,” the spirit of nightmare (Bek. 44b; Tosef., Bek. v.3; Schorr, in “He-Ḥaluẓ,” 1869, p. 15); “ruaḥ tezazit,” the spirit of delirious fever and madness, befalling man and beast (Pesiḳ., Parah, 40a; Yer. Yoma viii. 45b; Yoma 83b; Gen. R. xii.; see Aruch and Dictionaries, s.v. ); “ruaḥ ẓara’at,” the spirit of leprosy (Ket. 61b); “ruaḥ ḳardeyaḳos,” the spirit of melancholy (καρδιακός; Giṭ. vii. 1, p. 67b; Yer. Giṭ. 48c); “shibbeta,” a female demon, bringing croup to persons, especially children, who leave their hands unwashed in the morning (Ḥul. 107b; Ta’an. 20b; Yoma 77b), probably identical with the “bush-asp,” the Parsee demon “with long hands,” who lulls men to sleep and attacks them (“Vendidad,” xviii. 38; “Bundahish,” xxviii. 26); “bat ḥorin” (daughter of freedom; possibly a play on “ḥiwar,” a euphemistic expression for blindness), a demon bringing a disease of the eye to one who fails to wash his hands after meals (see Brüll’s “Jahrb.” i. 157); “kuda,” a demon of disease which attacks women in childbirth (‘Ab. Zarah 29a); “eshshata,” the demon of fever, (ib. 28a; Shab. 66b); “ruaḥ zenunim,” the spirit of sexual desire (Pes. 111a); “she’iyyah,” an ox-like demon dwelling in desolate houses (B. Ḳ. 21a, after Isa. xxiv. 12); and many others mentioned in Rabbinical lore, only part of which has been preserved in Shab. 66 et seq., 109 et seq.: Pes. 109-113; Giṭ. 68-70; Sanh. 67 et seq.; see Brüll, l.c. i. 154 et seq., who refers also to “puta” or “pura,” the spirit of forgetfulness, mentioned in Siddur Rab Amram, i. 31b; see also Blau, “Das Altjüdische Zauberwesen,” 1898, pp. 71-85. On the demon “ben temalyon” (probably a euphemism for St. Vitus’ dance) see Ben Temalion; Exorcism.
These demons were supposed to enter the body and cause the disease while overwhelming (“kefa’o shed,” R. H. 28a; Sifre, Debarim, 318) or “seizing” the victim (“aḥazo,” Shab. 151b; Yoma 83a, 84a); hence the usual name for “epileptic” is “nikpeh” (Bek. 44b; Yeb. 64b: Ket. 60b; Pes. 112b). The Greek word is δαιμονίζεσΘαι, meaning the condition of being in the power of a demon. To cure such diseases it was necessary to draw out the evil demons by certain incantations and tailsmanic performances, in which the Essenes excelled. Josephus, who speaks of demons as “spirits of the wicked which enter into men that are alive and kill them,” but which can be driven out by a certain root (“B. J.” vii. 6, § 3), witnessed such a performance in the presence of the emperor Vespasian (“Ant.” viii. 2, § 5), and ascribed its origin to King Solomon.
In the Book of Wisdom, Solomon claims to have received from God power over the demons (Wisdom vii.20). The same power of curing by exorcism such diseases as dumbness, blindness, epilepsy, mania, and fever was exercised by Jesus and his disciples (Matt. viii. 16, ix. 32, xi. 18, xii. 22; Mark i. 25; v. 2 et seq.; vii. 32 et seq.; ix. 17, 27; Luke iv. 33, 39 et seq.; viii. 27; ix. 39; xi. 14; xiii. 11; Acts xvi. 16), as also by their Jewish contemporaries (Acts xix. 13 et seq.). It remained for a long time a practise among the early Christians (see Irenæus, “Hæreses,” ii. 4, 32; Origen, “Contra Celsum,” iii. 24; Friedländer, l.c. iii. 572, 634).
King and Queen of Demons.
The demons were believed to be under the dominion of a king or chief, either Ashmodai (Targ. to Eccl. i. 13; Pes. 110a; Yer. Shek. 49b; Lev. R. v., where is a corruption of ) or, in the older Haggadah, Samael (“the angel of death”), who kills people by his deadly poison (“sain ha-mawet”), and is called “head of the devils” (“rosh saṭanim”; Deut R. xi.; Pirḳe R. El. xiii.). Occasionally a demon is called “saṭan”: “Stand not in the way of an ox when coming from the pasture, for Satan dances between his horns” (Pes. 112b; compare B. Ḳ. 21a). The name “mashḥit” (“destroyer,” Ex. xii. 23) seems to refer to the head of the demons in the sentence: “When permission is given to the destroyer to do harm, he no longer discriminates between the righteous and the wicked” (Mek., Bo, 11; B. Ḳ. 60a).
The queen of demons is Lilith, pictured with wings and long flowing hair, and called the “mother of Ahriman” ( B. B. 73b; ‘Er. 100b; Nid. 24b). “When Adam, doing penance for his sin, separated from Eve for 130 years, he, by impure desire, caused the earth to be filled with demons, or shedim, lilin, and evil spirits” (Gen. R. xx.; ‘Er. 18b), and according to Pseudo-Sirach (“Alphabetum Siracidis,” ed. Steinschneider, p. 23) it was Lilith, as Adam’s concubine, who bore them (compare “Chronicles of Jerahmeel,” ed. Gaster. xxiii. 1).
Whether identical with Lilith or not, a more familiar personage, as queen of the demons, is Igarat bat Maḥlat (Num. R. xii.; Pes. 112b), with herchariot and her train of eighteen myriads of demons. According to Yalḳuṭ, Ḥadash, Keshafim, 56, she dances at the head of 478 (), and Lilith howls at the head of 480 (= ), companies of demons. The cabalists have as a third queen of the demons and wife of Samael, “Na’amah,” the sister of Tubal Cain and the “mother of Ashmodai” (Gen. iv. 27; see Beḥai’s commentary, and Yalḳuṭ, Reubeni, ad loc.).
Agrat bat Maḥlat seems to be “the mistress of the sorceresses” who communicated magic secrets to Amemar (compare Pes. 110a, 112b). Yoḥane bat Reṭibi, who, according to Soṭah 22a. prevented women by witchcraft from giving birth to their children, seems to be the same mythical person mentioned by Pliny as “Iotape” or “Lotape” in “Historia Naturalis” (xxx. 1, 2), together with Jannes (Jambres) and Moses (see Reinach, “Texte d’Auteurs Grecs et Romains,” 1895, p. 282).