Good resources on ancient Jewish demonology?

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Good resources on ancient Jewish demonology?

Post by rgprice »

Anyone have some good resources or recommendations on ancient Jewish demonology, angelology and magic?

I know a lot of it involved invoking the Lord using various names and codes. I know it was thought that the name of the Lord itself was powerful, but was forbidden from being spoken.

Also, any links with Greek God-fearers is of interest.
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Re: Good resources on ancient Jewish demonology?

Post by ConfusedEnoch »

As far as I know, "demons" are virtually non-existent in ancient Israelite religion. The oldest quasi-demon I know of is Beelzebub and that one has a complex and idiosyncratic story. Originally a Philistine equivalent of "Baal" with the name Baal-berit (Lord of the Covenant), his identity was distorted into that of an evil "Lord of Flies" (Zebub = Flies) to suit the Israelites' depiction of Philistines as "unworthy" of God.

I guess the Watchers of 1 Enoch could also be classified as "demons" since their purpose is ambiguous and the result of their mingling with mortals is negative, but I doubt they were ever seen as "evil" at all.

For more info about exilic and post-exilic Israelite demonology, check this article:

"Concepts of "Demons" in Ancient Israel"- Henrike Frey-Anthes
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Re: Good resources on ancient Jewish demonology?

Post by DCHindley »

rgprice wrote: Wed Mar 03, 2021 5:50 am Anyone have some good resources or recommendations on ancient Jewish demonology, angelology and magic?

I know a lot of it involved invoking the Lord using various names and codes. I know it was thought that the name of the Lord itself was powerful, but was forbidden from being spoken.

Also, any links with Greek God-fearers is of interest.
Belief that the world "works" due to semi-divine beings known as daimons, actually comes from Platonic and some earlier forms of ancient Greek Philosophy with some overlap with the Median concept of "jinn."

Basically, the world was imagined to be set up like an army or large household, where the ultimate divine principal gives orders and his worker bee daimones do his or her bidding. They technically were not good or bad in themselves but the ones that caused illnesses and troubles were feared. The Magi from Media believed that they had the power (through spells and incantations) to control them by pretending to be the lawful representatives of the king/god. In the Greek world, this kind of world view was very popular among a class of magicians called goetes. Tons of magical spells have been unearthed from ancient Egyptian garbage dumps of the 2nd-3rd-4th centuries CE.

From a 2018 post of mine:
Being handed over to a demon is a commonplace in ancient magical texts. The ones we have from Egypt date to around the 2nd century or later, but share a common "demonology." They portray a military-like hierarchy of all spiritual beings (daimones) who carried out elemental tasks, including control ailments, wind, sun, rain, etc., and some that promote good. They are treated much like soldiers and some are officers and some are grunts, even gold-bricks. Orders from the higher order demons are communicated down the chain of command, the receiver passing down those orders only if the proper passwords, salutes and "seals" (images) are presented.

The common magician can interfere with this chain of command by knowledge of the passwords, salutes and seals, essentially impersonating a soldier, and have the target elemental being stop or start their elemental work on a specific individual or class of people.

Now Paul does not seem to be interfering, but as a person with authority, maybe in consequence of his vision experience, essentially acting as an officer in the angelic/elemental army. This would correspond to the Persian Magus, who assumes an almost god-like authority about him, a high officer specially authorized by the most powerful gods. These could commandeer units of elementals for his immediate use for a special project.

(Smith, Morton) Jesus the Magician (1978)
(Betz, Hans Dieter, ed) The Greek Magical Papyri in Translation-Including the Demotic Spells (1986)
(Mirecki, Paul & Marvin Meyer) Magic and Ritual in the Ancient World (2002)

For an example of a thoroughly Jewish magical recipe book, where demons tend to be impartial soldiers carrying out elemental tasks, see:

(Morgan, Michael A, tr) Sepher Ha-Razim The Book of Mysteries (1983)

This book is very much in the model of the Greek/Demotic Magical papyri when it comes to angelology/demonology

The Judean Pseudepigrapha tended to group these elementals as good Angels and the others as bad Demons. I'm thinking that the elemental beings are simply assumed to be doing their jobs, impartial to who gives them orders. See R H Charles' various comments about Demonology and its parallels in the NT in his introductions to his translations of 1 Enoch and Jubilees, in:

(Charles, R H) Apocrypha & Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, volume 2 (1913).

Sometimes the whole command system is simply called Angelology, and when the concentration is on bad actors like the fallen angels and their offspring, it may be called Demonology. The sins of the Watcher Angels (1 Enoch, Book of Watchers) was not confined to disobedience to god, but also teaching their human wives how to manipulate the activities of the elemental beings that still go about their duties unaffected by the revolts among the angelic commanders.

You might also find of interest D C Duling's translation of the "Testament of Solomon" in:

(Charlesworth, James H, ed) The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, vol 2 (1985)

Solomon commandeers demons and puts them to work building his famous temple.

For an example of a thoroughly Jewish magical recipe book, where demons tend to be impartial soldiers carrying out elemental tasks, see:

(Morgan, Michael A, tr) Sepher Ha-Razim The Book of Mysteries (1983)

This book is very much in the model of the Greek/Demotic Magical papyri when it comes to angelology/demonology
Have fun.

DCH. You can see my guardian daimon watching over me in my icon.
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Re: Good resources on ancient Jewish demonology?

Post by Ben C. Smith »

DCHindley wrote: Tue Mar 09, 2021 10:51 amYou can see my guardian daimon watching over me in my icon.
Your guardian daemon looks like of grouchy....
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Re: Good resources on ancient Jewish demonology?

Post by rgprice »

Thanks DCH!

Certainly, the description of the activates in Acts of the Apostles strikes me as demonology. Casting out spirits by calling on the name of the Lord Jesus would seem to be an act of demonology.

What I find interesting, and I haven't read Morton Smith yet, but I've ordered his book, is that of course it would have been impossible to call on Yahweh. One could have called literally on the "Name" of the Lord, "Spirit come out in the Name of the Lord," but one could not say , "Spirit come out in the Name of the Lord Yahweh."

In Acts, the various actors cast out spirit and heal "in the name of Jesus."
Then Peter said, “Silver or gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk.”
It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
“Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up.
Paul became so annoyed that he turned around and said to the spirit, “In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!”
Some Jews who went around driving out evil spirits tried to invoke the name of the Lord Jesus over those who were demon-possessed. They would say, “In the name of the Jesus whom Paul preaches, I command you to come out.”
The interesting thing about this is that the use of "the Name" of the Lord is related to the prohibition against saying the name of the Lord.

So, I was curious about practices of Jewish demonology that may have looked similar to what we see in Acts, but being done in the "Name" of Yahweh or other figures. Are there known parallels to these practices that employ, instead of "Jesus", Michael or other pronounceable names, i.e. “In the name of Michael I command you to come out!"

Were there known uses of simply, "In the Name of the Lord I command you to come out!"?

What ways were there, if any, of invoking Yahweh or the angel of Yahweh?
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Re: Good resources on ancient Jewish demonology?

Post by Ethan »

Demons are personifications of spirit

Numbers 5:14 (רוח-קנאה)
The spirit of jealousy come upon him

The noun קנאה is homologue of φθόνος "envy, jealousy" also personified as Phthonus.

Numbers 5:14 could then be read as "the influence of Phthonus come upon him'
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Re: Good resources on ancient Jewish demonology?

Post by StephenGoranson »

From < ... lOP3Q18Wjs$ >:


Book Note | Demons, Angels, and Writing in Ancient Judaism
by Amit Gvaryahu in Book Notes

Annette Yoshiko Reed,
Demons, Angels, and Writing in Ancient Judaism.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.
DOI: 10.1017/9781139030847. x+353 pp.

They said about Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, that he took up scripture
and Mishnah, halakha and aggada, minutiae of Torah and scribal
minutiae, arguments a fortiori and synkrisis pros ison, astronomy and
geometry, parables of launderers and parables of foxes, the speech of
palms and the speech of reeds, the speech of demons and the speech of
angels, a big matter and a little matter […] to uphold that which is
said (about Wisdom, Prov 8:21): Endowing with wealth those who love
me, and filling their treasuries. (b. Bab. Bat. 134a = b. Sot. 28a =
AdRN A 14, ed. Schechter 29a)

This tradition, about a legendary prominent Rabbi in the first
century, lists a curriculum for exceptional people: scripture and
Mishnah, yes, but also astronomy and geometry, angelology and
demonology. In the rabbinic imagination, it is clearly meant for
exceptional people: the bulk of rabbinic literature concerns itself
more with scripture and Mishnah than with fox-parables and talking
trees. Angels and demons exist, clearly, but traditions about them and
how to get rid of them, are outnumbered by the more rarefied interests
of the rabbis (and admittedly only rabbis would care more about
minutiae of halakha than about demons).

Annette Reed, in Demons, Angels, and Writing in Ancient Judaism, opens
a door to a world in which this curriculum is turned entirely on its
head: where demons and angels, astronomy and geometry, are at the
center of a scholarly enterprise of codifying and organizing knowledge
about life, the universe, and everything. Angels and demons are actors
in this curriculum as well, revealing important knowledge to
exceptional humans. These humans are scribes, whose skill in writing
allows them to have this knowledge transcend their own existence.
Writing enables the transmission of this heavenly knowledge to other
scribes, including the ones creating and copying the literature at the
center of Reed’s work.

Reed’s primary focus is the Aramaic Dead Sea Scrolls, a rather small
corpus within the Qumran library. Some of these works, like parts of
the book that later became 1 Enoch, were known in late antiquity.
Others, like the Aramaic Levi Document, found their way to the Cairo
Genizah, only to be subsequently forgotten. These works are perhaps
the earliest of all Jewish literature not included in the Biblical
canon. Reed holds them up as a foundational moment in the history of
Jewish knowledge-ordering: the moment when knowledge production such
as heurematography (the writing and recording of who discovered what),
angelology and demonology, astronomy and medicine, assumed prominence.
This moment, sometime in the third century BCE, when the Ptolemies
ruled the land known as Yehud or Ioudaia, moved some scribes to begin
to reflect on the role angels and demons might play in human history
and existence, and, for the first time, to organize this knowledge
with lists, narrative, and systematization.

This very description — an attempt to paraphrase Reed — is a novelty.
Often, “Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha” are lumped together, studied as
a repository of traditions about biblical material and interpretations
of it, in the four centuries during which the Second Temple stood. But
Reed claims that placing the Bible, a canon whose boundaries were
fluid enough to admit the book of Daniel in the second century BCE, at
the center of the discussion, blinds us to time-bound dynamics and
currents that shaped these works. In her introduction, Reed admonishes
us not to follow contemporary canons in our inquiries. “Post-biblical”
or “intertestamental” are not useful categories unless your focus is
on the Hebrew Bible or the two Testaments. Context, says Reed over and
over in the book, matters. And so she offers us this study of one
corpus — one of the earliest ones that survived — and it is an
impressive example of what we might see if we peer at these exciting
new forests, instead of constantly collating trees with those that we
know from “our” bibles.

What happened at this moment? Reed points to the Hellenistic empires
that strove to acquire knowledge, to systematize it, and to catalogue
it in libraries and compendia. This urge was picked up and adopted by
a cadre of scribes fluent in Official Aramaic, who — having been put
out of the business of imperial bureaucracy since the language of
empire changed suddenly to Greek— put their talents to a similar
endeavor. (Reed is careful not to use the word “influence,” and hedges
often on the nature of this relationship, but the resemblances are
there, and they are interesting.) Supernatural actors are not only the
subject of these inquiries but also their transmitters, offering the
Aramaic works a claim to primacy and authenticity that Greek ones do
not. This lends a subversive air to this endeavor: “us” Aramaic
scribes know more and have better sources than “those” Greek ones.

The ambit of the book is thus much broader than what Reed makes it out
to be in her preface and conclusion: it is not only about the
development of Jewish angelology and demonology — it is about the
first stage of a long and complex encounter between Jewish scribal
élites and the reflective knowledge of the Greek-speaking world writ
large. The systematic inquiry into angels and demons, as well as into
the stars and the planets, are products of this encounter. In some
places local knowledge was translated into Greek — think of figures
such as Berossus and Mantheo, and of the Septuagint — and in others,
Greek knowledge was cast into the narratives and modes of transmission
of local scholarly élites.

The book is divided into five chapters: the first lays the groundwork
for the book by offering two overviews: one of the image of God,
angels and demons, in the Hebrew Bible, and a description of scribal
techniques used in ancient Israel to preserve and create memories,
most notably lists. This provides readers with the requisite tools to
understand all three components of the title — angels, demons and
writing — in their various roles in the subsequent chapters. The
second chapter is a reflection on what changed in the second temple
period which prompted a creative outpouring of interest in angelology
or astronomy. Reed rejects the usual theological explanation of divine
distance (an easy cop-out if there ever was one) in favor of a
cultural revolution born of the Ptolemaic period, in which we find
“Hellenistic-era Jewish scribes newly asserting their own authority”
(114). The Aramaic Dead Sea scroll corpus features, for the first
time, first-person claims to total knowledge by scribes (mythical
ones, yes, but scribes). Reed finds intriguing parallels for this in
the Hellenistic authors Berossus (who wrote in Greek about Babylonian
lore) and Ps.-Eupolemus (who did the same for Jewish traditions).

Chapters 3 and 4 are each studies of a different text embedded in the
late ancient compendium 1 Enoch and offers both a genealogy of the
work itself and a comparison with a different contemporary corpus.
Chapter 3 focuses on the Astronomical Book, using Aratus’s Phaenomena
as a comparand; chapter 4 focuses on the Book of the Watchers, using
what Reed terms “practical efforts […] to combat demonic forces,” i.e.
psalms of protection, as a comparand. In both cases, says Reed,
knowledge — about demons, about planets and stars — becomes a
privileged object of inquiry, systematization and narrative in a
certain time and place.

Chapter 5, shows, through a careful reading of Jubilees just how
different its concerns are from the earlier Astronomical Book and the
Book of the Watchers. Jewish pride supplants scribal pride; Hebrew
regains new prestige and standing over Aramaic; demons are now
associated with gentiles; time management is a new concern, as are
practical matters of Torah observance. Jubilees and the Aramaic Qumran
corpus are so different: by the time I finished chapter 5, I wondered
why Second Temple Literature could even be thought of as a thing.

What I did understand however was another rabbinic tradition: that the
early sages were called “scribes” (b. Kid. 30a). Finding the precise
thumbprint of these scribes in later Jewish tradition has been a hobby
of scholars of Rabbinics for generations. Reed’s book highlights what
might be finally termed a true period of the scribes: a time during
which literature was produced not only by scribes but about them and
for them, highlighting their special status and privileged lineage.
Far from the text-critical function the rabbis attribute to them,
these scribes were creative and cosmopolitan, creating brave new
worlds that had existed forever. To lift a statement out of context:
“the scribes created a new thing” (m. Kel. 13:7).

The book is built on a broad foundation of secondary literature and
primary research, in which Reed is fluent and expert, and which she
explains encouragingly to her readers. She cites generously,
acknowledging her agreements, disagreements, and influences often and
in the body of the text. The book creates the impression of being
built on many layers of other research, reflecting a true appreciation
of scholarship as a collective and cumulative effort. Its tone is
collegial and friendly even when it disapproves of certain ideas, and
when patiently explaining others.

Reed offers two paradigm shifts that future scholarship will need to
contend with: first, we should stop talking about “Second Temple
Literature” and start thinking about smaller, time-bound corpora and
their relationships both to each other and to their contexts. Biblical
interpretation cannot (just) be excerpted out of its context and
served up next to similar excerpts. Second: Jewish angelology and
demonology are not the legacy of the Jewish “Barbarian” past. Rather,
they came into being in close contact with, if not under the influence
of, Hellenization. They are the first stage of an attempt at an
authentically Jewish “science.” This is thus a landmark for the study
of so many fields: the Aramaic Qumran corpus, Enochic literature, the
Jewish literature produced in the Hellenistic period, angelology,
demonology and magic. Reed also offers novel ideas about the emergence
of halakha. The result is broad and all-encompassing as it is
textually rigorous.

Amit Gvaryahu is a fellow at the Martin Buber Society of Fellows at
the Hebrew University In Jerusalem.
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