The simplest answer is most often the correct one.
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One of the most recognized demon names in the Bible and as well as Jewish Rabbinical texts is that of Beelzebub. In many medieval and even modern writings, Beelzebub is treated as supreme evil or a prince of Hell. But before Beelzebub hit main stream media, his resume was slightly different. The name Beelzebub is a corruption of the Canaanite name Baal Hahdad. While some of you may have heard of Baal, it is as the demon Beelzebub that he has retained fame. As I mentioned a moment ago, the Jewish culture preserved itself by making the gods of neighboring cultures into the bad guys. The more popular the god, the more evil it had to be made. Baal Hahdad was the Canaanite storm god. In fact, his name Baal Hahdad literally means “Lord of Thunder”. If you look carefully through Middle Eastern stories there are dozens of Baals mentioned from the Phoenicians to the Egyptians (where he was aspect of Set).
When you are talking about demons, names matter. Just as important in distinguishing the name is understanding the meaning of the name as in this case where a common title is arbitrarily used as a proper noun in translation. So for instance, in research, one might unknowingly assume a mention Baal Sammin, the “Lord of Heaven” to the ancient Syrians, Carthagens and Mesopotamians, is the same as Baal-Hammon who is the “Lord of Censer Alters” of Phoenicia and demands children as sacrifices.
As the Babylonian culture’s sphere of influence expanded, many of the gods and demons were adopted by the Sumerians. With a demon for every ailment, the Sumerians were seeming overrun by the supernatural. Every physical and mental illness was attributed to some form of demon. As a result, a uniformed methodology evolved to deal with the demons. It became the tradition that the use of the demon’s name could bind it and force the demon from its host. If the specific name of the demon was unknown, then the recitation of a number of frequently encountered demons was performed believing that one of the names would apply.
It was through Sumerian exorcisms that the use of animal substitutes for the possessed individuals developed. The name of the demon was used to force it into its surrogates that would then be sacrificed. In some versions of the exorcism ritual black and white yarn is spun and placed around hosts bed with black on the left and white on the right. The exorcist would then invoke the name of the god Asari-alim-nunna to wash the victim. They would wash the victim twice seven times.
The Sumerian exorcisms formed the basis of most western exorcism formulas that would follow.
The next major source of demonic texts comes from the Jews that eventually settled in Israel.
Asserting that all things come from god, many Hebrew texts including elements in the Old Testament have Spirits acting as Yahweh’s or Elohim’s servants to issue punishments. I just want to make note of the contrast here. In this case there is a distinction between a spirit as an agent of God and the term demon as a harmful force.
For example in Judges 9:23
and God sendeth an evil spirit between Abimelech and the masters of Shechem, and the masters of Shechem deal treacherously with Abimelech,
וַיִּשְׁלַ֤ח אֱלֹהִים֙ ר֣וּחַ רָעָ֔ה בֵּ֣ין אֲבִימֶ֔לֶךְ וּבֵ֖ין בַּעֲלֵ֣י שְׁכֶ֑ם וַיִּבְגְּד֥וּ בַעֲלֵי־שְׁכֶ֖ם בַּאֲבִימֶֽלֶךְ׃
In the Hebrew we find the use of ר֣וּחַ (ru-ah) for spirit and evil רָעָ֖ה (ray-ayh). אֱלֹהִים֙ (ĕlōhîm) for God
Here is a second example from 1 Samuel 16:14
And the Spirit of Jehovah turned aside from Saul, and a spirit of sadness from Jehovah terrified him;
וְר֧וּחַ יְהוָ֛ה סָ֖רָה מֵעִ֣ם שָׁא֑וּל וּבִֽעֲתַ֥תּוּ רֽוּחַ־רָעָ֖ה מֵאֵ֥ת יְהוָֽה׃
Like in the first example we see the spirit as רֽוּחַ־ (ru-ah) and evil רָעָ֖ה (ray-ayh). In this passage God is named as יְהוָֽה׃ (Yahweh).
Now if we take a look at the passage in Deuteronomy 32:17 that I mentioned earlier with the Shedim:
They sacrifice to demons -- no god! Gods they have not known -- New ones -- from the vicinity they came; Not feared them have your fathers!
יִזְבְּח֗וּ לַשֵּׁדִים֙ לֹ֣א אֱלֹ֔הַ אֱלֹהִ֖ים לֹ֣א יְדָע֑וּם חֲדָשִׁים֙ מִקָּרֹ֣ב בָּ֔אוּ לֹ֥א שְׂעָר֖וּם אֲבֹתֵיכֶֽם׃
Here the word demon is used as a direct object לַשֵּׁדִים֙ (laš·šê·ḏîm). Like in the verse from Judges that I just mentioned, in this passage we find God named as אֱלֹ֔הַ (’ĕ·lō·ha).
Beyond the sacred texts there are literally hundreds of Rabbiac texts that discuss demons and their hierarchies. Many of these form the basis of the Quabbalah which is a Jewish tradition featuring the tree of life as a metaphor for better understanding of god. The tree is sort of a mystic ladder that has 10 sephiroth or levels. Each of these jewels represents advancement from the lowest level of understanding, being the physical world, to the highest level, being a vision of the throne of god.
In studying demons in literature, the basic structure of the Quabbalah lays the foundations for the understanding of almost every Christian and magical text written after the fall of Rome. To a large extent even books like Dante’s Comedy embrace the structural order of the universe presented in the tree of life.
At this point, I am going to switch gears a bit and discuss the New Testament versions of demons.
The Christian New Testament has a number of references to demons. One of the great confusions, however, is the number of divergent translations. If we assume that the early Greek versions of the New Testament are the closest to the original text, then there are 3 distinct terms used to describe spirits:
The term demon is derived from the Greek “daimonion” (δαιμόνιον). This is the neuter singular form of the adjective “daimonius”. Though it is an adjective, in the early versions of Greek Biblical text it is used as a noun.
While the word daimonius is clearly related to the word Daimon (δαίμων), the usage in Biblical text clearly defines a difference. When compared to traditional Greek text, the distinction becomes a little clearer.
In the classic Greek organization of religions, the divine universe was divided into 3 hierarchies:
When Greek culture met the rising Christian cult, it was only natural that the terminology and thought processes converged. So when looked at Greek organization of the Divine from a Christian perspective:
The word daimon only appears once in the Bible in Matthew 8:31 while the term daimonion is found at least 60 times.
The term pneuma akathartos (πνεῦμα ἀκάθαρτον), “unclean spirit”, is used about 20 times in Luke, Acts, and Revelations.
An additional term, pneumatōn ponērōn (πνευμάτων πονηρῶν), meaning “evil spirits”, is used 6 times in Luke and Acts.
While generally speaking the three terms for demons are used interchangeably, curiously there is one use of two of these terms combined in Luke 4:33 where there is mention of a “spirit of an unclean demon,” (πνεῦμα δαιμονίου ἀκαθάρτου as pneuma daimoniou akathartou). The subtle inference here could be that all demons are not unclean.
Another point of translational confusion that has persisted in English Bible versions is the use of the term “daimonizo.” Most English translations have changed this verb into meaning “to be possessed by a demon.” There is, however, no sense of ownership in the original uses of this verb. It is more properly translated as “to be influenced by a demon.” There is a subtle difference between being owned and being influenced.
Influence allows the possibility that the victim retains a degree of free will in the situation.
Two other terms that are important in understanding the Biblical references to demons are ekballo and exorkizo. With only 1 exception Biblical Greek texts use the term ekballo ἐκβάλλει, which means “to push out”, to describe the removal of a demon. The term exorkizo ἐξορκιστῶν (or exorcism) meaning to “adjure or command” is used only once in the New Testament in Acts 19:13 when referring to non-Christians expelling demons.
This first new testament reference in Matthew 4:24 sets the tone for the majority the encounters with demons.
And his fame was heard in all Syria, and they brought to him all those who had become ill with various diseases, those who were afflicted with severe pain, and the demon possessed, and lunatics and paralytics, and he healed them.
For the most part demonic influence is treated like any other common illness.
While there are many examples of Jesus casing out demons, Mark 1:23-27 provides a simple version of removing a demon.
And in their synagogue there was a man who had a vile spirit in him, and he cried out And he said, “What business do we have with you, Yeshua the Nazarene? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, The Holy One of God.” And Yeshua rebuked him and said, “Shut your mouth and come out of him.” And the foul spirit threw him down and he cried out in a loud voice and came out of him. And all of them marveled and they were inquiring with one another, saying, “What is this?”, and “What is this new teaching? For he commands even the foul spirits with authority and they obey him.”
In Mark 6:7 followers of Jesus are specifically granted power over unclean spirits.
And he called his twelve and he began to send them two by two and he gave them authority over vile spirits to cast them out.
Quabbalahic Tree of Life
Louis August Gustave Doré, Depiction of Satan, the antagonist of John Milton's Paradise Lost c. 1866
Image of Zeus the Thunderer
Sumerian clay model of a bed similar to the one used in their exorcism rituals.
Disclaimer: This work has been completed as an educational tool for students of history, religious and paranormal studies. The author wishes to discourage any use of this work in conjunction with paranormal field investigations of demons.
Nos tibi credere.
Presented by Kyle T. Cobb, Jr. to the audience of Dragon-Con 2013
A Literary History
|Ouija and Zozo|
|Christian Demon texts|
|Roman Rite 1614|
|Roman Rite 1998|