Ecclesia Diaboli: The Demonization of the Gentile Religion in Jewish and Christian Thought

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By: Aleksander Michalak, Independent Researcher, Poland, Andrew W. Mellon Fellow

My preliminary examination of several Second Temple texts, 1 Enoch, the Book of Jubilees, Joseph and Aseneth, Testament of Job, the First Epistle to the Corinthians, and the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs indicates that there is already at this time a connection between demons and the cult of foreign gods, although they are not always explicitly identified with one another. Sometimes the demonic spirits are said only to lead people astray, that is, to lead people toward Gentile worship and toward idolatry, whereas in other cases it is the demonic spirits who are the objects of worship, or the pagan gods themselves. The inanimate material of the idolatrous objects is frequently juxtaposed with the demonic power that is hidden behind them. The association of the Gentiles with the demonic realm in Jubilees is understood to be the result of the subordination of all foreign nations to the rule of spirits. According to the texts of the Testament of Job and, arguably, the Book of Revelation, it was Satan/the Devil himself who was worshipped in the Gentile temple. In these texts, he is also closely connected with idolatry and is, in fact, responsible for it. In Joseph and Aseneth, however, he is the protector (monarch) of the Gentile (Egyptian) gods. Both the Testament of Job and Joseph and Aseneth indicate that iconoclastic action against the Devil or even his protégées can be followed by his vengeance. In addition, in Jubilees and the 4QPseudo-Daniel the pre-exilic gods of Canaan, to whom Israelites offered child sacrifices, are imagined to be demons. Despite the demonization of the Gentiles, there is no call for the destruction of the pagan temples in the literature, although the passages from Jubilees as well as those from the Testament of Job may reflect, to some extent, an anti-Gentile atmosphere at the time that the work was created. In the texts examined, there are no references to any specific Gentile gods. It seems, rather, that their Jewish authors were inclined to associate them simply and generally with the demonic realm.

Together, these passages from Second Temple texts show that the religion of the Gentiles was perceived to be a religion under demonic (or diabolical) authority.  A fuller understanding of the nature of this influence will be the subject of my continuing research.

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