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Evolution of the Devil

Updated on May 11, 2011

Early demons and evil spirits

The Devil, like God, has changed and evolved over the centuries within different religious traditions and belief systems. Malignant supernatural forces were used in early cultures to explain disease, psychological disorders and bad luck. They were one type of supernatural influence on human affairs, others being benign or positive. Many spirits could have a good or bad effect in people's lives, and sacrifices, spells or prayers could be used to control them.

Precursors to the Devil

Zoroastrianism, which gave many ideas to Judaism, identifies Angra Mainyu as the principal evil and destructive deity in the universe. He acts as a counterweight to Ahura Mazda, the creator and source of all good.

In Manichaeism, which grew directly from Zoroastrianism, this dualistic vision continues as darkness and evil are associated with the material world and light and goodness with the spiritual. As in Zoroastrianism, Angra Mainyu is the supreme ruler of the darkness.

Jewish Satan

Judaism does not recognize a specific character known as the "Devil," but rather identifies a number of beings, some human and some supernatural, called by the title "satan." These "satans" act as obstacles, challengers or adversaries to human worship and commitment to God. In this way, the Jewish conception of a malevolent force restraining people's journey to God bears a striking resemblance to the Buddhist idea of "Mara."

Buddhist Mara

When the Buddha was meditating and trying to gain enlightenment, he was tempted by Mara, a demon who is the embodiment of ignorance and the death of spiritual life. In defying Mara's seduction, the Buddha was able to achieve enlightenment. In many Buddhist traditions Mara is an ever-present force tempting humans away from the path of enlightenment and truth.

Like Satan, Mara is often present in the hearts and minds of people. However, lacking a more developed consciousness or personality, Mara is more closely related to the Jewish "satan" than the Christian Satan.

"The Temptation of Christ" by Ary Scheffer
"The Temptation of Christ" by Ary Scheffer | Source

Christian Devil

Satan is the leader of the angels who rebelled against God, and constitutes the principal enemy of the human race, always ready to tempt people away from God. Satan, in the form of the serpent, tempted Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the forbidden fruit that God had warned them not to eat. As Adam and Eve disobeyed God's command, all humans became cursed with original sin. Satan was a crucial factor in the fall of humankind away from God's grace, and continues to play a malevolent role in human affairs.

The Devil unsuccessfully tempted Jesus, has the power to possess human beings, and is able to grant special powers to witches and sorcerers, according to different passages of the Bible and various Christian traditions. Catholicism holds that demons can be combatted through prayer and exorcism.

In the Middle Ages, the Devil was closely tied to pagan and other non-Christian beliefs. Muhammad and Islam were considered evil and Satanic influences drawing mankind away from the truth of Jesus.

"The Fall of Man" by Michelangelo
"The Fall of Man" by Michelangelo

Islamic Devil

Similar to the Christian Satan, the prideful Muslim Iblis was cast away from God for disobeying him. The Devil's crime was not bowing to Adam, the first man, at God's command. Seeing himself as superior to the man, Iblis has become not the enemy of God, but of humankind, as he blames humankind for his punishment. He therefore seeks to entice human beings away from loyalty to God, in the hopes of getting them to suffer in hell as he will suffer on the Day of Judgment.

The Modern Devil

Recently the Devil has shed his negative reputation in some quarters and gained a positive role worthy of worship. Satanism emphasizes the rebellious, liberating, pleasure-seeking and antiestablishment character of the Devil. Some refer to Satan merely as a metaphorical figure, while others actively worship him.

Today, when not busy during church sermons or demonic possessions, the Devil is employed by Halloween costumes and sporting events.

The Devil has evolved from a vague negative influence affecting luck and health, to a disembodied obstacle lying between humanity and God, to a supernatural entity with a personality and goals for people.

Only time will tell where he goes next.

New Jersey Devils fans
New Jersey Devils fans


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    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 6 years ago from New York City

      Hmmm, how do you figure that, peanut roaster?

    • peanutroaster profile image

      peanutroaster 6 years ago from New England

      God could kill the devil but then God would no longer exist.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 7 years ago from Ottawa


      Yes. Gods changed depending on what religion was talking about them. Religions often put down the other gods as demons.

      This is most evident in Enoch where a lot of parallels can be drawn between drawn between the Sumerian gods that Judaism originated from and the fallen angels that mated with the daughters of Cain.

      In the Sumerian stories the gods did come to earth via the towers or Ziggurats set up for that purpose. (One of which became the Tower of Babel) They taught us all kinds of things like making wine, hair dye, makeup, making bread, and making tools and weapons. They also occasionally mated with us. The Sumerians were originally mountain people and the towers represented a mountain which the gods could use to come up to earth from the netherworld, or come down from heaven. Hence why the Jewish god was afraid we could come up.

      In Enoch's story the gods become first sons of god, and then angels, divorcing the the Jews from their Sumerian roots. In Enoch, the former gods that come to earth are cursed by god for giving us weapons and makeup and giving away those secrets which had been the domain of heaven.

      Clearly Enoch was explaining that all these so called gods of Sumer and Babylon were now demons or fallen angles, not gods, because there was only one.

      To keep this in context with the topic of the hub, there was not one fallen angel but without looking it up again I think there were 10 or 15 satans (accuser angels) who had been sent to earth to watch man kind.

      So yes, gods were often turned into demons by competing religions.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 7 years ago from Ottawa


      Too right. All the pantheons of Babylon, Assyria, Greece and Rome as well Judaism stem from the Sumerian Pantheon. Most of the stories like the flood and the garden of Eden are found in writings from that culture well before the Semitic tribes were in the region. We're talking 3000 + bce for the written stories, and they date back to as far as 5 to 7000 bce. Abraham is dated to 2000 to 2500 bce and he came from the Sumerian city of Ur. By the way, the patron god of Ur was the Sumerian Nanna, the moon god. He was a major god at the time, and the tradition of people leaving Sumerian cities was to take their god with them. Abraham would likely have done exactly that. Later he became known as Sin by the Greeks. The Arabs worshiped Nanna/Sin outright before Mohammad. Some think Mohammed changed the religion but he really didn't.

      It is most evident by the fact that Mohammed kept the original symbol, a crescent moon. So it is thought that the god of Judaism and Christianity was originally Nanna. Only through Moses around 1200 to 1500 BCE did he become the only god. And then again he became the only god for Islam around 600 CE.

    • kathryn1000 profile image

      kathryn1000 7 years ago from London

      I find this fascinating.Thanks for writing about it.I also read that the gods of one religion like Pan could turn into devils in the next religion hence the devil having hooves or cloven feet.

    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 7 years ago from New York City

      Slarty--indeed. It is probably just as well, since most Christians would not be able to stomach the actual pagan roots of many of their beliefs and customs.

      The Garden of Eden, the global flood, concepts of sin, salvation, a messiah/ savior, virgin birth, resurrection--there are so many that have clearly discernable and identifiable precedents in other faiths it's ridiculous.

      To say nothing of the arbitrariness with which "God's word" was constructed by the early church leaders. And they didn't even get it right--it's still full of holes and contradictions! Lol. It's like a Monty Python routine.

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 7 years ago from Ottawa

      What astounds me is that so few Christians know the history of their religion or care. The original Christians were Jews. They kept to Jewish law and beliefs for the most part. But the Gentiles, particularly those preached to by Paul, took the religion in another direction. They weren't Jews. When Rome took over the religion it changed direction again. Constantine merged the sun with Jesus as Rome had merged the sun with Apollo. All his currency, till the day he died had a representation of Sol on the back, not Jesus or a Christian symbol. Constantine was the first to make Sunday a holiday, not for the Christian sabbath, for the day of the sun. This was after he converted Rome to Christianity. Hence Jesus halo and the idea of him being part of a trinity. In Rome, trinities were common among their gods.

      Jesus and Christianity came at just the right time in a sense. The emperor before Constantine, can't remember his name off hand, had decided to go with, in his words, "one emperor, one god" which was a real departure from Roman costume. Sol was to be that god. But while Constantine always believed in Sol, his mother was a Christian.

      I could go on for pages but I'll stop here since it's all a bit off topic.

    • kathryn1000 profile image

      kathryn1000 7 years ago from London

      That is so fascinating.I've never heard that before.I shall have to look it up

    • Slarty O'Brian profile image

      Ron Hooft 7 years ago from Ottawa

      Good hub. The satan in Jewish tradition is an accuser usually working for god. Like a cop he lays charges and brings them to god. Kind of like Black Pete does for Santa in the European version of Saint Nick. Satans are not evil in the Jewish traditions though like cops they can go rouge and falsely accuse.

      However, there is no evidence of the Cristian devil in Judaism. He is a complete fabrication of Christianity based. The only angels in Jewish lore who fell were the sons of god who came to earth to mate with human woman. Specifically the woman of the clan of Cain. They caused god to create the flood.

      But this is from the book of Enoch which is not Jewish cannon and not Christian cannon. In fact it is considered heretical by both but the Christians get their idea of evil satans and "the watchers" from it. it was first written down 200 BCE and though it probably derives from oral tradition that is older, it doesn't seem to have ever been taken as part of main stream Judaism. It seems to be just an explanation of the cryptic two or three lines the bible gives just before god decides to kill us all.

      Anyway, the Christians probably derive more of their idea of satan from the Roman sun god, Sol, and his eternal fight with darkness.

      To the Jews, god did it all. He didn't have to be all good, he was god. He did what he liked. He created good and evil.

      I think most, though not all, of the ideas of evil personified come from Sun worshipers. Even Zoroastrianism had a period of sun worship in an offshoot in the form of Persian Mithraism. (may not be the same as Roman Mithraism which was definitely a form of sun worship, as Mithra was part of a trinity which included the sun.

      The Christian devil has no basis in the OT or any Christian Cannon, yet it is a very big part of Christian life.

      It's a fascinating topic. I did several hubs on it and wrote a book about it.

    • kathryn1000 profile image

      kathryn1000 7 years ago from London

      Is it all a way of avoiding responsibility?That's interesting about the Latin languages.

    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 7 years ago from New York City

      I'm not sure, Austinstar. That would make sense, but in my brief research just now of the etymology it's not clear if that's the relationship. Some seem to say that there is definitely no relationship, others seem to indicate there is.

      If there is such a relationship, it would probably originate in the northern European languages like German or Norse that affected English. Because in the latin languages there is no such relationship, for instance in Spanish evil=mal and devil=diablo; in French evil=mal and devil=diable.

    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 7 years ago from New York City

      Kathryn, interesting point--just like the supernatural in general has been used to explain things humans didn't understand, the Devil has been used to explain bad things happening that humans didn't grasp, or indeed to explain the source of bad actions so that individual humans wouldn't bear the full blame.

      The phrase "the devil made me do it" comes to mind.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      Do you think it's a coincidence that God and Good are almost the same word? And Devil and evil are really close too?

      I think that's deliberate. But I am a lowly poet.

    • kathryn1000 profile image

      kathryn1000 7 years ago from London

      We should grow up and accept we are responsible for most of the evil in the world.We don't want to pay tax to help the poor or for medical care for those with no insurance.Political acts can cause the treaty of Versailles was too harsh on Germany and was partly to blame for the rise of fascism.There is no devil.It's a projection of our own sinfulness as individuals but more importantly as a society that is called the Devil,so we can avoid the blame.

    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 7 years ago from New York City

      Three exclamation points in two comments--I think that's a record!

      Austinstar, probably the same folks who forbid their kids from reading Harry Potter books.

      The fruit was from the tree of *knowledge*--very appropriate isn't it? I always thought that was poetic indeed, since religion thrives in an environment of lack of knowledge, so naturally God would want to keep knowledge out of the picture! Haha!

      And not all "bad" things are truly bad--indeed. In these faiths, the greatest evil is not harming other people, but not obeying God. "Good" is simply equated with "God" no matter what God says. Which is very logical for the religions in question, but still just a tad disturbing, to say the least.

    • Austinstar profile image

      Lela 7 years ago from Somewhere in the universe

      I wonder how many Christians see Satan as their personal nemesis? Very much like they see Jesus as their personal savior.

      In my book, the devil was created by man to explain "bad" things in the world. The problem is that not all "bad" things are truly bad. Actually, the fruit of the tree of knowledge was supposed to be "good" and fruit is now considered to be a good thing. I guess it's ok to change your mind about things.

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image

      schoolgirlforreal 7 years ago

      He hasn't really evolved, he's just found new tricks to deceive !!

    • travel_man1971 profile image

      Ireno Alcala 7 years ago from Bicol, Philippines

      And now, many of us are exalting Devil's name for FUN, which should not be the case. Our lives are at stake eternally!!!


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