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11 December 2005 @ 08:29 am
Job and the satan  

In Alan F. Segal, Life After Death: A History of the Afterlife in the Religions of the West (Doubleday, New York, 2005), we read on page 148:

Many scholars have pointed to the character of Satan in the story of Job to explain evil, suffering, and death. Since Christianity, especially evangelical and fundamentalist Christianity, lives with a lively sense of Satan’s kingdom in opposition to God, it naturally seeks confirmation for these beliefs in the book of Job. But the character of Satan, as he appears in Christianity and apocalyptic literature, is totally lacking in the book of Job. The character, who appears in the prose introduction, is not Satan but “the satan,” a phrase which in Hebrew means only “the antagonist” or “the adversary,” not a proper name of a character, and must be taken as a technical courtroom term such as “the prosecuting attorney.” In any event, since “the antagonist” appears consistently with the definite article (the), no one with the proper name Satan appears here. Hebrew usage of the definite article is quite like English in this one respect. That means there is no consistent evil character in the drama of Job, only one of God’s courtiers. The hassatan seems to designate the job description for a nameless member of God’s divine council, the heavenly court whose responsibility it is to argue against proposals. The title designates something like our term the “Attorney General,” referring to the office rather than the proper name of any particular attorney general, like John Ashcroft or Janet Reno.

In my opinion, the title designates someone much more like John Ashcroft than like Janet Reno, but I guess there are those who would disagree…

Current Mood: awakeawake
kip_wkip_w on December 11th, 2005 04:56 pm (UTC)
Devil's Advocate?
Fred A Levy Haskell: eyes of the Fredcritterfredcritter on December 15th, 2005 02:59 am (UTC)

I guess so, although I'm not an expert in Church law and/or Church procedures and couldn't say for sure. If so, perhaps the Pope got the idea for the office of Devil's Advocate from hassatan.

Sharon Kahndreamshark on December 11th, 2005 11:52 pm (UTC)
Isn't the character of Satan as an avatar of evil missing from the Old Testament entirely? Whoever that guy in the Book of Job is, he certainly doesn't have much in common with the Christian avatar of evil. Fundies like to talk about him because they like to talk about the Devil, and that's the closest they can find in the Hebrew Bible.

Of course they also make some kind of connection between the unnamed serpent in the Garden of Eden and the Devil, but I've never been able to figure out where that came from. There isn't anything in my Bible that indicates that the serpent is anything but a talking snake.
Fred A Levy Haskell: eyes of the Fredcritterfredcritter on December 15th, 2005 03:11 am (UTC)

Just so. Got it in one. The belief in two divinities—one good and one evil—is a Zoroastrian belief, not a Jewish one. Cf: Hear O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord is One.

Which is to say, yuppers, no Satan in the Tanach (the Hebrew Bible). Not even the snake in the Garden. As Segal says, "But, difficult as it may be to explain, the snake of Genesis 2 and 3 is merely a snake, albeit a wonderful snake with the power of speech." —page 158.

Sharon Kahndreamshark on December 15th, 2005 08:02 pm (UTC)
Of course, snakes aren't exactly neutral metaphors in terms of old time religion. They certainly had a prominent place in Greek religion. I can't actually name an example, but I'm willing to bet that snakes were deities or servants of deities in some of the Middle Eastern religions that were rivals to the Hebrew tradition.

Gilgamesh has some run-ins with snakes that smack of the same thing. He vandalizes some mysterious objects (shrines?) by the Shores of the Lake of the Dead, which pisses off some snakes, and later they get even by stealing his immortality plant. The whole episode is a little baffling to modern scholars, but I'm guessing there was some religious rivalry involved that made perfect sense to the story's original audience.