Thursday, January 22, 2015

The Devil In The Land Of Canaan (Part 1)

AP: The Canaanite world, where the Hebrews settled, basically makes up a good part of what we know today as Palestine, Phoenicia, and part of Syria. What did they believe about the devil? Well, they also believed in demons. Evidence of their belief in demons can be found in some Ugaritic texts discovered in the last century in Canaan, which are slowly but surely being translated. They speak of many highly developed magical practices employed by the inhabitants in order to defend themselves against demons. In other words, we've found a lengthy catalog of exorcisms and incantations against the evil demons used in the land of Canaan.

With all of that said, we don't know very much about the devils of the Canaanite world. However, we think they are reflected in some way, shape, or form in the evil beings of ancient Hebrew folklore. Within the Israelite cult, there were no official ways to ward off demons, neither did they compose prayers to beg the Lord to protect the people from demonic attacks.  Still we realize that the Hebrews believed in the existence of evil beings.

In Lev. 17:7 we are told that the Israelites sacrificed to the se'irim (the "hairy ones"), a type of dangerous beings who lived among the sands or the ruins.

Historically, the Jewish people also believed that early evening circulated a dangerous devil called Lilith, related no doubt with the Babylonian demon Lilith, the "Night Creature," who was also the god of storms.

Deuteronomy 32:17 says that the Israelites worshiped the shedim, a term translated as "demons" in general because it lacks a more precise translation. It is now thought that these shedim would have been assistants or those that prepared ceremonies (i.e., the plural of God Shedu in the Babylonian pantheon, which was a kind of divinity taking the shape of a bull who appeared to some as good and to others evil). The name of Shedu is connected to the root shud ("to be strong"). In Hebrew the verb shadad means "to devastate," and for Jews shedim would be "the 'devastating spirits' par excellence."

Also, in the desert there lived other evil beings, known as the iyyim or tsiyyim (the "thirsty ones"), which, according to popular imagination, had to take the form of jackals and wild cats.

According to Gen. 4:7 there was a demon named robets (related to the Babylonian rabitsu "squatting") who attacked men and, in this particular case, was the one who prompted Cain to kill his brother.

Based on Leviticus 16 we know that all the people believed in the existence of a powerful demon named Azazel, who dwelt in the wilderness and to whom were sent all the sins of the people on the great day of purification. On that day sin entered into the body of a goat thanks to a magical act, the laying on of the hands of the High Priest.

In the primitive world of the Canaanites, we find many demons. What we don't find is an organized structure or a "boss" to exercise control over all of them.


  1. Hi, Thomas. Waiting for the following post.

    In the meanwhile, and sorry for the off-topic, I've recently known that a 1st century fragment of the gospel of Mark was found glued in a mummy mask. Do you know something about it? Is it possible that this is the fragment Wallace talked about during his debate with Ehrman some years ago?

    1. J.P., I saw an article about this today in fact. You can read about it here:

      I'll be interested to see how this one develops. Is it as early as they say? Only time will tell. And I'll probably be retired before they let us know what the manuscript contains in the text (just kidding). Whether or not it is the one Wallace talked about, I'm not sure. They are reporting that this is a rather recent find, at least what I have read so far. If that's the case, it wouldn't be something that Wallace mentioned before. It is very interesting.