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#18 - Lucifer, satan, hell, angels, devil: Are these terms from captivity in Persia?
by Robert Nguyen Cramer
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Question/insight #18: "It is my understanding that the early Hebrews did not have the concepts for Lucifer, satan, hell, angels, devil, and that they learned these things from the Zoroastrians when in captivity in Persia. The Persian god was Ahura-Mazda (Mazda as in light bulbs) the god of light. They had a very advanced religion. When the Hebrews came back to Jerusalem they tried to convey the awfulness of hell, for these terms were not part of the Hebrew language at the time. The worst thing they could think of was the city dump, down the Kidron Valley, it burned continuousy and smelled of sulphur. So they called hell "gehenna", their term for the dump. The other Persian terms came into the Hebrew vocabulary also at that time." (8/28/98)
This is largely correct, but some clarification might be helpful. You mentioned the terms "Lucifer, satan, hell, angels, devil." Below are some comments on each of these.
LUCIFER: "Lucifer" in the KJV simply means "morning star" and refers to the King of Babylon, though traditionally erroneously associated with Satan. Harper's Bible Dictionary (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985) writes:
Lucifer, the English translation in the kjv (Isa. 14:12) of the Hebrew word meaning 'light bringer' or 'shining one,' sometimes designating the morning (or day) star, that is, Venus (cf. rsv: 'Day Star'). The English word 'Lucifer' comes from the Latin for 'light bearer.' In Isa. 14:12, the King of Babylon, in an apparent reference to Canaanite mythology, is tauntingly called 'Day Star, son of Dawn' because he has fallen from his lofty but temporary position of power. In the Christian church, this passage from Isaiah came to be connected with Jesus' saying in Luke 10:18: 'I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven.' Thus the connection was made (erroneously) between Lucifer and Satan, and Lucifer was popularly understood as another name for Satan.
SATAN and DEVIL: Satan (Hebrew: satan, Greek satanas) and the devil (Greek, diabolos) are virtually synonymous terms, as described on the BibleTexts webpage on "Satan" at http://www.bibletexts.com/terms/satan.htm. It should be noted that what the KJV New Testament always incorrectly translates "devils" should have been translated as "demons," not as "devils." This is true for many of the KJV's references to "devil" as well. (All modern translations have made those corrections.)
HELL: In the Old Testament the Hebrew word translated "hell" in the KJV is "sheol." In the Greek Old Testament Septuagint (the Bible used by Paul and most of the early Christian church), more than 100 times "sheol" is translated "hades." The Greek word "geheena" is not used at all in the Septuagint. In the Hebrew Old Testament the Valley of Hinnom is referred to 12 times, including 4 times in the older book of Joshua. The Valley of Hinnom is translated in Aramaic as Gehinnom, which the New Testament Greek referred to as "gehenna." In the KJV New Testament, "gehenna" is translated as "hell," but some modern translations (Goodspeed, Moffatt, NAB, and others) use the word "gehenna" in the text instead of "hell." Harper's Bible Dictionary writes:
Gehenna, hell or hellfire. The word is derived from Hebrew ge-hinnom, meaning 'valley of Hinnom,' also known in the ot as 'the valley of the son(s) of Hinnom.' Located west and south of Jerusalem and running into the Kidron Valley at a point opposite the modern village of Silwan, the valley of Hinnom once formed part of the boundary between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (Josh. 15:8; 18:16; Neh. 11:30). During the monarchical period, it became the site of an infamous high place (called 'Topheth' and derived from an Aramaic word meaning 'fireplace'), where some of the kings of Judah engaged in forbidden religious practices, including human sacrifice by fire (2 Chron. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Because of this, Jeremiah spoke of its impending judgment and destruction (Jer. 7:32; 19:6). King Josiah put an end to these practices by destroying and defiling the high place in the valley of Hinnom (2 Kings 23:10). "Probably because of these associations with fiery destruction and judgment, the word 'Gehenna' came to be used metaphorically during the intertestamental period as a designation for hell or eternal damnation. In the nt, the word is used only in this way and never as a geographic place name. As such, Gehenna is to be distinguished from Hades, which is either the abode of all the dead in general (Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 20:13-14) or the place where the wicked await the final judgment. By contrast, the righteous enter paradise, or a state of bliss, immediately upon death (Luke 16:19-31; 23:43; 2 Cor. 12:3). Jesus warned his disciples of committing sins that would lead to Gehenna (Matt. 5:22, 29-30; 23:33; Mark 9:45; Luke 12:5). In the nt, Gehenna designates the place or state of the final punishment of the wicked. It is variously described as a fiery furnace (Matt. 13:42, 50), an unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43), or an eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
ANGELS: References to "angels" go all the way back to Genesis and are found throughout the Old Testament. As with "satan" and many other terms, the concept of "angels" continued to evolve in Jewish and Christian literature, especially during the Exile period, to which you referred. Gerhard von Rad in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Abridged in One Volume (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), writes:
malak [angel] in the OT.
1. Used for both human and angelic messengers, malak is often combined with Yahweh to denote a special angelic being: the "angel of the Lord." This angel has a special commission to help and guide Israel or individual Israelites (cf. Ex. 14:19; Num. 22:22; 1 Kgs. 19:7). He is not so much a mere messenger as an instrument of the covenant and personification of divine aid, turning against Israel only in exceptional circumstances (cf. 2 Sam. 24:17). Sometimes (e.g., Gen. 16:7ff.; Ex. 3:2ff.) he is so closely identified with God as to be almost indistinguishable. He is God, as it were, entering human apperception (cf. the alternation in Gen. 21: 17ff.).
2. With the angel of the Lord are other heavenly beings, though these are seldom called angels. Forming God's entourage, they seem to have no autonomous functions and are in no sense objects of worship.
3. Angelology increased after the exile, perhaps under outside influences, or to maintain the divine transcendence. In Job the angels, who are not wholly pure (4:17-18), witness creation (38:7), and help in time of need (5:1). In Ezekiel and Zechariah they are interpreters (Ezek. 40:3ff.). Daniel depicts opposing heavenly forces; Michael is the angel of Israel (Dan. 10:13, 20). Myriads of angels surround God's throne (Dan. 7:10). They are depicted in human form and without wings. Strictly the seraphim and cherubim are not angels (though cf. Is. 6). Demons are not presented as heavenly beings and in view of God's omnipotence have no ultimate religious significance.
Copyright 1996-2002 Robert Nguyen Cramer
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