De-demonising the Old Testament : an investigation of Azazel, Lilith, Deber, Qeteb and Reshef in the Hebrew Bible
Blair, Judit M.
The subject of demons and demonology has fascinated scholars and non-scholars, ancient and modern alike; it is not surprising that much work has been done on the topic by biblical scholars too. Chapter 1 places the present study within the existing scholarship showing that the early works on ‘OT demonology’ were influenced by comparative religion, anthropology, and an increasing interest in Mesopotamian and Canaanite parallels as well as a concern to seek and find vestiges of ancient religious beliefs in the Old Testament. The consensus of early 20th century scholars regarding what constitutes a ‘demon’ in the Old Testament has not been challenged by modern scholarship. Chapter 2 shows that biblical scholars still commonly turn to the ancient Near Eastern religions and cultures to explain difficult passages in the Hebrew Bible, to find parallels or the ‘original’ of difficult terms and concepts. Since it is generally accepted without challenge that azazel, lilith, deber, qeteb and reshef are the personal names of ‘demons’ appearing in the Hebrew Bible, the necessity arises to return to the texts in order to examine each term in its context. The present study seeks to answer the question whether these five terms are names of ‘demons’ in the Hebrew texts as we have them today. To accomplish its goal the present study will provide an exegesis based on Close Reading of all the relevant biblical passages in which the terms azazel (chapter 3), lilith (chapter 4), deber (chapter 5), qeteb (chapter 6), and reshef (chapter 7) appear. Attention is paid to the linguistic, semantic, and structural levels of the texts. The emphasis is on a close examination of the immediate context in order to determine the function (and if possible the meaning) of each term. The reading focuses on determining how the various signals within the text can guide towards meaning, noting how the (implied) poet/author uses the various poetical/rhetorical devices, especially personification, but also parallelism, similes, irony, and mythological elements. The present study shows that contrary to former and current scholarship there is nothing in the texts to support the view that azazel, lilith, deber, qeteb and reshef are the names of ‘demons’. Azazel appears as the personification of the forces of chaos that threaten the order of creation; his role is to stand in contrast to Yahweh. The context requires that lilith is regarded as a bird, a night bird being the most plausible explanation of the term. Deber, qeteb and reshef are personifications of destructive forces and appear as agents of Yahweh, members of his ’Angels of Evil’ who bring punishment (death) on the people of Israel for disobedience. There is no evidence to suggest that there are mythological figures behind azazel, lilith or the personifications of deber and qeteb. In case of reshef there is a possible connection to the Semitic deity Reshef. However, the mythological motifs are used merely as a poetic device.