Re: Is the lack of demons in OT unusual?
Posted: Mon Nov 12, 2018 5:59 pm
Thanks for this. The interesting thing is that it's quite easy (relatively) to impose our worldview on the OT texts, and that's really what I'm wondering about. I mean when the OT texts speak about diseases they simply describe that someone gets sick, or that Yahweh makes them ill. It is my impression that every culture in the Mediterranean through the millenia had the idea of illness being the result of spiritual beings, but maybe I'm wrong? In any case, what we get in the OT is a window into a religious culture.DCHindley wrote: ↑Mon Nov 12, 2018 11:50 amStefan,
Let's not import too much of our own worldview when interpreting theirs. Mainly the Jewish scriptures speak of angels who have some powers on the authority of the one (God) who sends them. It speaks very little about how physical changes (weather, illnesses, etc.) occur.
While the pagan world seemed to venerate the local deities of this or that place, I don't know if they had a rigid hierarchy for the spirit world that controlled these things. It was all God.
Plato (5th century BCE) accepted that there were, in fact, local deities or spirits that controlled mundane things in this world, which were created as parts of the "World Soul" that came to be when the universe of necessity came into being, upon the direction of divine "principals" that are eternal. I think there were three (The One, the Craftsman, and Matter itself, IIRC).
This seemed to be the case for a while, but in the "middle platonic" period there was a lot of speculation about whether the divine beings that did the grunt work (the spirits created as part of the world soul) were by nature evil or not-good. I think, though, that most Platonists continued to believe it was part of the one World Soul or something similar. Aristotle did not seem to seriously question its existence, nor did the Stoics, and most of the others except maybe the Epicureans(?).
I think that continued Greek contact with Persia after the war with them had introduced Greeks to Zoroastrian beliefs about Good/Evil, and their hierarchy of good & bad elemental beings. Yet I have heard that the Dualism usually attributed to Zoroastrians with the highly developed angelology and demonology was a product of the middle ages (about 500 CE on to about 11th century CE), so the sacred Zoroastrian scriptures that mention it are really later works written to seem seminal. Zoroastrians had their problems too.
For instance the Magi, priests of Media who were believed to be highly proficient at influencing the actions of angels and demons so were often given really important duties within the governments, fell out of favor for a while and the usually tolerant political leaders became intolerant (same as happened in Islamic Spain and N. Africa at a later time, I think) towards Jews and Christians.
So there you go. Blame syncretistic influence of Zoroastrian ideas on the cosmological beliefs both Greeks (incl Romans) and the Judean diaspora who remained in Mesopotamia. The latter transmitted it to Judaea and the traditionally Judean regions. It probably took a while for them to get to the Hellenized Judeans of the Greek and Latin Diaspora, but the Greeks/Romans were long influenced by them already.
A dizzying array of spiritual beings were believed to exist in the background carrying out orders from on-high like soldiers in an army or slaves/freedmen in a royal household.
I have seen no systematic analysis of the literature, but there have been some studies in "Angelology" (Judean and Christian POV) and "Demonology" for the popular Judean and Christian beliefs about spirits that cause pain and suffering.
Some of this did not even form into complex hierarchies until 1-2 Century CE, even in Parthian controlled territories like Mesopotamia! Magic spells from 2nd-3rd century CE are best known for their very precise interest in controlling spirits, both good and evil.
But the angelic hierarchies of Judean heavenly ascents/throne mysticism was also becoming very complex and the secret orders that must be given to the functionary angels were ever more exactly precise. This may go back to 1st or 2nd centuries CE, but most place it around 400-600 CE.
Tobit knows a bit of this lore for controlling the functionary beings.
In one of the books of Enoch there is a variant mystic ascent known as Palace mysticism, where the heavenly palaces within palaces take the place of the multiple heavens of throne mysticism.
DCH (Fun fun!)
In this regard the OT is a different phenomenon than the religio-philosophical speculations of the learned elites that we get in the writings of Plato and Aristotle and the platonists and stoicists etc.
Of course, in the OT texts quite often the situation is that Yahweh is angry with his people because they practice sorcery and necromancy etc. along with idolatry, and these texts are obviously written by some kind of intellectuels who are apart from the unlearned mob. However, there are so many diverse texts in the OT from so many different time periods, and every single one of them has the same worldview: there are no demons or evil spirits who are the cause of disease. The OT, therefore, seems to witness a long-standing religious culture or a general worldview of a specific culture where there are no spiritual beings apart from God's divine servants and the spirits of the dead.
I think it's striking when you think about it. The OT texts often speak about people getting sick, but not once, not in a single instance, is it even as much as remotely indicated that the disease is caused by an evil spirit. Well, maybe two or three times, such as the evil spirit send to torment the deposed king Saul, and this spirit is still an instrument of Yahweh and seems to represent some kind of mental anguish rather than normal, everyday physical disease. Apart from those very, very few unique instances, not a word. Doesn't this tells us that we're dealing with a religious and cultural worldview shared by all the authors of the OT texts that generally there existed no such demons?
I the DSS and the pseudepigrapha we suddenly have a worldview where the universe is populated with all kinds of evil spirits and demons and evil angels, and apparantly it posed no problem for these later writers that the texts of Scripture never speaks about such beings. The same with the gospels, especially the synoptics: suddenly the world is full of evil spiritual beings even though Scripture mentions not a single word about it. Think of the synoptic narratives about Jesus as based on the Elijah/Elisha stories, but now suddenly full of demons and "unclean spirits". They must have wondered sometimes why Scripture doesn't mention all these beings in a single word?