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Hebrew   Mythology:  Gods & Demons of the Old Testament


       The priest who in the 3rd century BC, translated into Greek the various works deemed inspired by the Jews and thus gave us the Septaguent Bible, and thus they fixed the Old Testaments (hereafter OT) ancient elements.  Their vision of the world was as strange to us as those of the Ancient Greeks as found in the two books of Homer and the collection (Theogony) by Hesiod (5 centuries earlier).  And just as by the time of Euripides much of these ancient elements were an embarrassment to the educated Greek, so too were they to the later educated Hebrews and Christians.  The Christians hold that the Pagan description of the gods is patently false.  Those who are modern in thought hold the same about the Hebrew (and Christian) fantastic passages found in their Bible.

         There are two related fundamental problems with the Hebrew-Christian view of the OT given their claim as to Yahwehs role in its production.  Yahweh directly guided the production of the laws found in the Pentateuch.  He also inspired the OT authors in their production of the description of demons, heaven beasts--and all else found in the OT.  A conflict arises in that nearly all Christians and Jews do not believe that there are such spiritual creatures inhabiting the realm of the gods.  They hold that there is only one Godthough the prophets and Moses wrote of many gods.  Current Hebrew and Christian creed and the content of the Bible are in a conflict that wont go away.  To make this conflict perfectly clear, I have set down what the Hebrews after the captivity have told us about the realm of the gods. 



Gods,  Demigods,  Spirits,  Supernatural Monsters


ANGELS:  Gods council and messenger.

      In Israels early traditions, God was perceived as administering the cosmos with a retinue of divine assistants. . . .  The only two Angles named [Gabriel & Michael] in the Hebrew Bible are in the book of Daniel. . . .  Angels are sexual being (Gen 6:4, Zech 5:9).  Jacob wrestled with an Angel, see Gen 32:23-32


ANIMISM:  Animistic notions may be discerned in the recognition of spirits inhabiting trees, animals, mountains, rivers, and storms (OCB 162).  {List for citations abbreviations at end}


ASHERAH:  The Canaanite fertility goddess who was worshiped as Yahwehs concert once widely worshiped by the Hebrews.  Judging from OT references to her worship, it was surprised.  1 Kings 16:3 2 Kings 13:6, 18:4, 21:7, 23:4, 6-7, 15. 

      The archaeologists found many pieces of pottery and fragments of wall plaster which have cultic motifs drawn on them or inscriptions, sometimes both.  Some mention Yahweh of Samaria and his Asherah (WOB 53).  Asherah stood in the Temple in Jerusalem. . . .  An Asherah also stood in Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom of Israel and in Yahwehs temple in Bethel (OCB 62). 


AZAEL:  A demon

      Various considered a fall angel (Ethiopian book of Enoch) and in the Mishnah as a demon unto whom the scapegoat was sent (OCB 69).  Another deity, Khem-Azazel, to whom along with Yahweh an offering (specified in Leviticus 16:10) was made (GOGK 158).


BAAL:     A common Semitic word meaning owner, lord, husband. . . . Although the head of the Canaanite pantheon was El, Baal was the most important god because of his association with the storms that annually brought revival of vegetation and fertility. . . . By the ninth century BC, Baalism had deeply pervaded Israelite life. . . . Even Saul and David had sons with Baal names (1 Chron, 8:33, 14:7). . . . Opposition to Baalism was led by Israels prophets (OCB 70).


BEHEMOTH:  A beast conquered by Yahweh.

      Behold now Behamoth, which I made with thee; he eateth grass as an ox (Job 40:15).   In the apocrypha and pseudopigrapha, it is more likely that it is a form of the primeval monster of chaos, defeated by Yahweh at the beginning of the process of creation. . . (See Esd. 6:52) OCB 76-77. 


CHERUB:   A supernatural creature (pl. Cherubim) Gen 3:24; Ezk 28:14-16; Exod 25:18-20, 25:22; Num 7:89; 2 Sam 22:11.

    [h]ybrid supernatural creatures associated with the presence of God . . . . Among the nearly one hundred occurrences of the word in the Bible, the usual image is that of a huge eagle-winged, human-faced bull-lion . . . .  Four interrelated roles for the cherubim can be identified:  guardian of paradise . . . protective bearers of Gods throne . . . decorative element . . . means of Yahwehs mobility (OCB 107-108).


DEMON:  An evil lesser god.  Gen 4:7, 6:1-4; Num 5:14; Judg 9:25; 1 Sam 16:14; 1 Kings 22:22; Hos 4:12, elsewhere, and throughout the NT.

    Ideas about demons in the Hebrew Bible are too diverse to be systematized.  Animistic notions may be discerned in the recognition of spirits inhabiting trees, animals, mountains, rivers, and storms.  Allusions are found to belief in fertility deities, or in divine beings, who through sinning lost their heavenly home (OCB 162).  And Yahweh said to Cain and Abel:  If you do well, you can hold up your head; but if not, sin is a demon lurking at the door:  his urge is towards you, yet you can be his master (Gen 4:7). 


GODS:  Other spirit being not of the court of Yahweh.  References are to be found on nearly every page of the Pentateuch, Psalms, Prophets, and Histories.  For the Lord, your God, is the God of gods, the Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome. . . (EX 10:18).  You shall have no other gods besides me (Ex 5:8; the first of the Ten Commandments).  Bel bows down and Nebo [of Babylon] stoop (Is 47:1).  Our Lord is greater than all gods (Ps 135:4).


LEVITHAN:  A beast whom Yahweh conquered Ps 74:14-17, 104:26; Is 27:1; 2 Esd 6:49-52; Job 41.

    On that day, the Lord will punish with his sword that is cruel, great, and strong, Leviathan the fleeing serpent, Leviathan the coiled serpent; and he will slay the dragon that is in the sea (Is 27:1).


LILITH:  A female demon

    Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another.  There shall the Lilith repose (Is. 3*4:14).  Post biblical stories develop Lilith into the first wife of Adam.  Noting that she and Adam were created from the earth, Lilith flies away from Adam after unsuccessfully demanding that she be regarded as his equal. In some postbiblical Jewish midrashic texts, she is depicted as a slayer of infants and women in pregnancy and childbirth, for which reason amulets were used against her destructive powers (OCB 437).


RAHAB:  A name for a primeval adversary of Yahweh in the battle prior to creation (OCB 642).  ; Isa 51:9; Ps 89:10; Job 9:13, 26:12; Sir 42:23-25.

    This name unlike the others in not found in ancient Near Eastern sources outside the Bible[1].  Was it not you who crushed Rahab, you who pierced the dragon (Isaiah 41:9).  With his angry breath he scatters the water, and he hurls the lightening against them relentlessly; his hand pierces the fugitive dragon as from his hand it strives to flee (Job 26:12). 


REPHAIM:  Giants, isa 26:14; Prov 2:18; Deut 2:20, 3:11-13; Josh 12:4, 13:12.

    A race of fearsome giants who once lived in parts of Palestine (OCB 647).    


ROBES:  A demon

      Demon luring: in Hebrew, robes, Literally croucher, is used here, like the similar Akkadian term rabisu. To designate a certain kind of evil spirit (CB 5).


SERAPH:   A supernatural, winged beast (pl. Seraphim).  Num 21:6-8; Deut 8:15; Isa 6:6, 14:29, 30:6.

        The noun sarap is usually related to the verb sarap, to burn.  Because the term appears several times with reference to the serpents encountered in the wilderness, it has often been understood to refer to fiery serpents.  In Isaiah 6:6 one of the seraphs brings the prophet a live coal from the fire on the altar: note however, that the seraph uses tongs.  Isaiah saw the Lord on his throne, surrounded by seraphim in the same way that early rulers were surrounded by a courtly retinue (Isa 6).[2]  Post-biblical tradition identified them with one of the choirs of angels (OCB 687).  So Moses prayed for the people and the Lord said to Moses, Make a Saraph and mount it on a pole. And if anyone who has been bitten looks at it, he will recover, (Num 21-8).


SATAN:  Early uses are to a human who played the role of an accuser or enemy (and thus often referred in translation to such rather than using the name satan).  1 Sam 29:4; 2 Sam 19:22; 1 Kings 5:4, 11:14. 

In Numbers 22:32 Satan refers to a divine messenger who was sent to obstruct Balaams rash journey (OCB 678).  In Job 1-2, the Satan seems to be a legitimate member of Gods council.  In Zechariah 3:1-7 may refer to a member of Gods council who objected to the appointment of Joshua as chief priest (OCB 679).  Most scholars agree that in the writings of the third/second centuries BCE are the first examples of a character who is the archenemy of Yahweh and humankind (OCB 679).  Given this evolution of Satan, the holding of the snake in Genesis as Satan is without foundation.  Moreover, the passage Because you have done this, you shall be banned from all the animals and from all the wild creatures.  On your belly shall you crawl, . . . He will strike at your heal, while you strike at his head (Gen 3:14).


SATYR:  Another of the supernatural foes.[3] 

            An empty waste for satyrs to dwell in (Is 34:11).  No longer shall they offer their sacrifices to the satyrs (Lv 17:7).  Satyrs shall dance (Is 13, 21).



Earthly  Characters


DRAGON:    A fearsome, reptilian like beast of huge size.  Daniel 14.

    Part of the Septuagint Bible (see intro) it has been included both in the Anglican and Catholic Bibles, but labeled apocrypha.  Such books are held as inspired, but not canon.  Then Daniel took some pitch, fat, and hair:  these he boiled together and made into cakes.  He put them into the mouth to the dragon, and when the dragon ate them, he burst asunder (Dan 14:27).


HEROES:  Samson, Moses, Gideon, Joshua, David, Saul, and the Maccabbees.


NEPHILIM:  Giants, the mortal sons (and daughters) of male gods. 

    When men began to multiply on earth and daughters were born to them, the sons of heaven saw how beautiful the daughters of man were, and so they took for their wives as many of them as they chose. . . . At that time the Nephilim appeared on earth (as well as later), after the sons of heaven had intercourse with the daughters of man, who bore them sons.  They were the heroes of old, the men of renown (Gen 6:1-6).  [V]eritable giants; we felt like mere grasshoppers, and so we must have seemed to them (Nu 12:33). 


GIANTS:   Mentioned 13 times in the bible, various peoples who inhabited Canaan, including the Nephilim (above). Emites (terrors), a warlike tribe of giants who were defeated by Kedorlaomer and his allies in the plain of Kiriathaim (PAR, Emites).  See Gen 6:4; Num 13:33; Deut 1:28, 2:10; 2 Sam 21:14, 16, 18, 20, 22; 1 Chron 20:4, 6, 8. 


SONS OF GOD:   The offspring of Yahweh and Asherah  When mankind began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, the Sons of God saw the daughters of men were beautiful, and they took wives of them (Gen 6:1-4).  This union gave rise to the giants (see Nephalim above) where are mentioned.  Mentioned also in Deut 32:8; Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7; Ps 29:1, 89:7.  In Deut. 32:8 is again the sons of God, often mistakenly translated the sons of Israel.  The sons of God were given the duty to oversee the to be established nation of Israel.* The sons of God translation is consistent with the oldest version of the bible, the Septuagint.  


YAHWEHS FAVORITIES:  Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob Israel), Judah, Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Elisha, Elijah, Ezra, and Daniel.


WITCHES:  Several Hebrews terms are associated with the English word witch.  These can also be translated sorcerer, sorceress, medium, or necromancer (OCB 805).  Ex 22:18; Deut 18:9-11; 1 Kings 23:24; 2 Kings 9:22 1; Sam 28:7; Leviticus 20:27; Jer 27:9; Mic 5:11; Ma 3:5.

Thou shall not suffer a witch to live (Ex 22:18).  Then Samuel said to his servants, Find me a woman who is a medium, to whom I can go to seek counsel through he. . . . Tell my fortune through a ghost; conjure up for me the one I ask you to. . . . I see a preternatural being rising from the earth (1 Sam 28:4-14, The Witch of Endor).



*  This view of overseers was convincingly put forth by Professor of Religious studies at Southern Methodist University, Ronald S. Hendel.  It is found in Chapter 13, by Hendel, in Understanding the Dead Sea Scrolls, Hershel Shanks editor, Random House, New York, 1992, pages 167-77.  The need for overseers is consistent with Yahwehs need for messengers (angels), council, guards, etc., as described in the OT.  The same was held coincidentally by the other religions of the Levant region, which are preserved in detail in the Ugartic libraries dating from the 14th century.




Parsons Guide to the Bible (PAR), (disc version).


The New American Bible (CB, for Catholic Bible), Catholic Bible Press, Nashville, 1979.


The Oxford Companion to the Bible (OCB), Bruce Metzger & Michael Coogan editors, Oxford University press, New York, 1993.  I chose this work because it is a product of that compromised produced by those of faith who teach religion in universities.  A comparable source book by true scholars is not available.


The World of the Bible (WOB), Roberta L. Harris, Thames and Hudson, New York, 1995.

[1]   Christian scholarship acknowledging the borrowing from older sources. 

[2]   This image of Yahweh as having a retinue, like that of the early Mesopotamian heavenly accounts, is quite different than both later Jewish and Christian teachings.  This issue of mine is confirmed by Christian scholars make note of this parallel.

[3]   Satyr is a type of Greek demigod.  The Philistines have been shown through their pottery a Greek peoples.  After being repulsed by the Egyptians in the 14th century, they settled in the Levant region.  (There is NO non-biblical evidence of the worship of Yahweh before the 9th century.)

Voltaire said:  "The first priest was the first wise person to meet a fool."