When we turn from the Avesta to the Sacred
Books of the Jews, that is to say to the canonical Scripture, we
are struck by the absence of an elaborate demonology such as that
of the Persians and Assyrians. There is much, indeed, about the
angels of the Lord, the hosts of heaven, the seraphim and
cherubim, and other spirits who stand before the throne or
minister to men. But the mention of the evil spirits is
comparatively slight. Not that their existence is ignored, for we
have the temptation by the serpent, in which Jews as well as
Christians recognize the work of the Evil Spirit.
In Job, again, Satan appears as the tempter and the accuser of the just man; in Kings it is he who incites David to murder the prophet; in Zechariahs he is seen in his office of accuser. An evil spirit comes upon the false prophets. Saul is afflicted or apparently possessed, by an evil spirit. The activity of the demon in magic arts is indicated in the works wrought by the magicians of Pharaoh, and in the Levitical laws against wizards or witches. The scapegoat is sent into the wilderness to Azazel, who is supposed by some to be a fallen angel, and to this may be added a remarkable passage in Isaias which seems to countenance the common belief that demons dwell in waste places: "And demons and monsters shall meet, and the hairy ones shall cry out one to another, there hath the lamia lain down, and found rest for herself" (Isaias, xxxiv, 14). It is true that the Hebrew word here rendered by "demons" may merely mean wild animals. But on the other hand, the Hebrew word which is rendered very literally as "hairy ones" is translated "demons" by Targum and Peshitta, and is supposed to mean a goat shaped deity analogous to the Greek Pan. And "lamia" represents the original Lilith, a spirit of the night who in Hebrew legend is the demon wife of Adam.
A further development of the demonology of the Old Testament is seen in the Book of Tobias, which though not included in the Jewish Canon was written in Hebrew or Chaldean, and a version in the latter language has been recovered among some rabbinical writings. Here we have the demon Asmodeus who plays the part assigned to demons in many ethnic demonologies and folk-legends. He has been identified by some good authorities with the Aeshmo Daeva of the Avesta; but Whitehouse doubts this identification and prefers the alternative Hebrew etymology. In any case Asmodeus became a prominent figure in later Hebrew demonology, and some strange tales told about him in the Talmud are quite in the vein of "The Arabian Nights".
The rabbinical demonology of the Talmud and Midrashim is very far from the reticence and sobriety of the canonical writings in regard to this subject. Some modern critics ascribe this rich growth of demonology among the Jews to the effects of the Captivity, and regard it as the result of Babylonian or Persian influence. But though in its abundance and elaboration it may bear some formal resemblance to these external systems, there seems no reason to regard it as simply a case of appropriation from the doctrines of strangers. For when we come to compare them more closely, we may well feel that the Jewish demonology has a distinctive character of its own, and should rather be regarded as an outgrowth from beliefs and ideas which were present in the mind of the chosen people before they came into contact with Persians and Babylonians.
It is certainly significant that, instead of borrowing from the abundant legends and doctrines ready to their hand in the alien systems, the rabbinical demonologists sought their starting point in some text of their own scriptures and drew forth all they wanted by means of their subtle and ingenious methods of exegesis.
Thus the aforesaid text of Isaias furnished, under the name of Lilith, a mysterious female night spirit who apparently lived in desolate places, and forthwith they made her the demon wife of Adam and the mother of demons. But whence, it may be asked, had these exponents of the sacred text any warrant for saying that our first father contracted a mixed marriage with a being of another race and begot children other than human? They simply took the text of Genesis, v: "And Adam lived a hundred and thirty years, and begot a son to his own image and likeness". This explicit statement they said, plainly implies that previous to that time he had begotten sons who were not to his own image and likeness; for this he must needs have found some help meet of another race than his own, to wit a demon wife, to become the mother of demons.
This notice of a union between mankind and beings of a different order had long been a familiar feature in pagan mythology and demonology, and, as will presently appear, some early Christian commentators discovered some countenance for it in Genesis, vi, 2, which tells how the sons of God "took to themselves wives of the daughters of men". One characteristic of Jewish demonology was the amazing multitude of the demons. According to all accounts every man has thousands of them at his side. The air is full of them, and, since they were the causes of various diseases, it was well that men should keep some guard on their mouths lest, swallowing a demon, they might be afflicted with some deadly disease.
This may recall the common tendency to personify epidemic diseases and speak of "the cholera fiend", "the influenza fiend", etc. And it may be remarked that the old superstition of these Jewish demonologists presents a curiously close analogy to the theory of modern medical science. For we now know that the air is full of microbes and germs of disease, and that by inhaling any of these living organisms we receive the disease into our systems.
Assyrian and Akkadian Demonology
Early Christian Demonology
Medieval to Modern Demonology
The Book of Enoch