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al-A’raf: Satan’s Fall in the Bible

October 14, 2010 Leave a comment

As a secular humanist in a Christian culture, I've always known that Satan was a fallen angel, and if I know that, then it must be in the Bible somewhere. I mean, it is all over pop culture in the west, from Good Omens to the His Dark Materials trilogy to the Incarnations of Immortality series, even to the movie Dogma (yes, my popular culture tends to poke fun at Christian esoterica). So when I encountered this bit in the Qur'an, I thought it would be interesting to compare the Bible and the Qur'an.

I checked in Genesis in my first edition copy of the New Jerusalem Bible, the Catholic Church's modern translation of the Bible from 1985 (I "borrowed" this bible from my father at least a decade ago). Just a snake in Genesis. So I look in the 'Index of Persons,' and check every single reference for Satan and Lucifer. Only three have some relevance: Isaiah, Ezekiel and the Apocalypse of John.

Isaiah 14 discusses the fall of the king of Babylon:


How did you come to fall from the heavens
Daystar, son of Dawn?
…You who used to think to yourself:
"…I shall rival the Most High."
Now you have been flung down to Sheol (Hell/grave/pit),
into the depths of the abyss!
"When they see you, they will scrutinise you
and consider what you have become,
"Is this the man who made the world tremble…?
…All other kings of nations, all of them,
lie honourably, each in his own tomb;
but you have been thrown away, unburied,
like a loathsome branch…

The key here is "Daystar, son of Dawn" which refers to Lucifer according to several websites I found. But the entire text is about the king of Babylon; a man, not an angel. And even if this passage refers to a fallen angel, it's pretty clear that Daystar had no subsequent career of power. He was a figure of pity and scorn, not Satan.

Ezekiel 28:11-19 is the next, and here there is a bit more about what we would consider an angel that has fallen, though it is in an elegy to the king of Tyre, and could just as easily be hyperbole for a man who has passed from this world.

You used to be a model of perfection,
full of wisdom,
perfect in beauty;
you were in Eden, in the garden of God…
I made you a living creature with outstretched wings, as guardian…
Your behaviour was exemplary from the day you were created
until guilt first appeared in you,
because your busy trading
has filled you with violence and sin.
I have thrown you down from the mountain of God
and destroyed you, guardian winged creature…
Your heart has grown proud…
Your wisdom has been corrupted…
So I have brought fire out of you to devour you;
I have reduced you to ashes on the ground…
You are an object of terror;
gone for ever."

Again, this is a final ending of one "gone forever," not a rebirth as the Devil, or as Neil Gamon and Terry Pratchett put it "the Adversary, Destroyer of Kings, Angel of the Bottomless Pit, Great Beast that is called Dragon, Prince of This World, Father of Lies, Spawn of Satan, and Lord of Darkness." (OK, this is the Anti-Christ, but you get what I mean)

Revelation/Apocalype of John:12 is a text that Katie tells me was probably written as a complex allegory to the reign of Nero from 54 to 68 CE (probably written down a few years after Nero's death). The exact bit (from my New Jerusalem Bible) is as follows:

Now a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman… pregnant and in labour… Then a second sign appeared in the sky: a huge red dragon… The dragon stopped in front of the woman as she was at the point of giving birth, so that he could eat the child as soon as it was born. The woman was delivered of a boy, the son was to rule all the nations with an iron sceptre, and the child was taken straight up to God.

And now war broke out in heaven, when Michael with his angels attacked the dragon. The dragon fought back with his angels, but they were defeated and driven out of heaven. The great dragon, the primeval serpent, known as the devil or Satan, who had led all the world astray, was hurled down to the earth and his angels were hurled down with him.

If there's a casting out of the "primeval serpent" in this passage, it sure as hell was millenia after the creation of the world and of man.

And there's no reference to the Dragon being tossed out of Heaven or Eden or what have you at some earlier date. It's quite possible that the Dragon existed independently of God.

 In short, in the Bible that I've got, Satan wasn't listed as an angel, nor did he fall from grace.

Fascinating.