dianoigo blog

Saturday, 15 July 2017

What "Yetzer in the Wilderness"? A response to Jonathan Burke on the Devil in the Synoptic Gospels

Burke’s series The Yetzer in the Wilderness

Christadelphian apologist Jonathan Burke and I have had several written exchanges over the years, especially on the subject of (the) Satan. Much of it has focused on the wilderness temptation narrative from the Gospels (Matt. 4:1-11; Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-13).1 One of Burke’s main contributions to this exchange has been an eight-part series entitled The Yetzer in the Wilderness: Jesus and the Evil Inclination. Burke subsequently pointed out that I had responded "to just one of [his] arguments." This was true,2 and there is a reason for it. I had long intended to do a detailed study of the Second Temple Jewish background of New Testament Satanology, and it made sense to reserve comment on Burke's arguments in this area until my study was complete. After much ado I submitted this study to the Journal of Theological Studies, which has accepted it for publication. Copyright rules prevent me from reproducing material from the manuscript here, so I will respond directly to Burke’s arguments here while referring the reader to my forthcoming publication for more detailed and fully referenced argumentation on some of the relevant Second Temple texts.
The Yetzer in the Wilderness does not commence with an introduction explaining the purpose, thesis or methodology of the study, nor does it end with a conclusion summarising the findings. The first installment, Literary genre of the wilderness temptation (to which I have responded in painstaking detail previously) jumps straight into the question of the genre of the Gospel temptation stories. The second installment, Identifying the adversary, reads somewhat like an introduction. Here Burke acknowledges that the entity referred to as “the devil” in the temptation stories is regarded by most scholars as a supernatural evil being. He states that “This conclusion is vulnerable to criticism” but does not state his own position up front. One can infer from the title of the series (and his other writings) that he identifies “the devil” with the yetzer ra, the evil inclination within each person’s heart.
Burke then offers three “lines of evidence” that, in his view, make the typical interpretation of the Satan in the Synoptic Gospels (as a transcendent being) untenable:
1. “the most common terms used in pre-Christian Second Temple literature for a supernatural evil being, are not used in the Synoptics… In contrast, the [Satanological] terms used in the Synoptic temptation accounts have almost no pre-Christian witness in Second Temple literature as a reference to a specific supernatural evil being.”
2. “Ethical dualism and psychological dualism are dominant in the Synoptics, rather than the cosmological dualism which would be expected if a supernatural evil being was present in the temptation accounts.”
3. “There are no Old Testament or Second Temple parallels to the temptation accounts; the earliest analogs appear in the Tannaitic literature of the second century.”
The third “line of evidence” is not a line of evidence at all, but an argument from alleged silence. Burke cites no scholarship in support of the alleged silence—and in fact there are several important Second Temple parallels to the temptation accounts.3
The second “line of evidence” is likewise an opinion not substantiated with any evidence. The eighth and final part of Burke’s study is entitled Dualism in the Synoptics, and it is here that one expects to find his second claim defended. Surprisingly, this section merely defines three types of dualism (cosmological, ethical and psychological) and then abruptly ends, offering no argumentation for Burke’s previously stated claim that ethical and psychological dualism are dominant in the Synoptics rather than cosmological dualism. One can add here that the claim itself is rooted in a false dilemma: it sets ethical and psychological dualism in antithesis with cosmological dualism, whereas all of these kinds of dualism are compatible. A similar false dichotomy (between anthropological and mythological aetiologies of evil) underlies and invalidates Burke’s methodology in his peer-reviewed article on Satan in the Apostolic Fathers.4
This leaves us with Burke’s religion-historical claim about terminology to address—the only one of his three claims for which he provides any supporting argumentation! The five remaining parts of The Yetzer in the Wilderness discuss four specific Satanological terms (Satan, the devil, the evil one, the tempter) followed by a summary. Before addressing Burke's arguments in detail, I need to point out some methodological problems with his study.

Methodological problems with Burke’s study

(1) Burke overemphasises terms to the neglect of concepts.
For example, Second Temple literature features figures—such as "Mastema" in Jubilees and Belial and related figures in Qumran texts—who are leading transcendent opponents with considerable conceptual similarity to the Synoptic Satan. Are these parallels irrelevant as religion-historical background to the Synoptic Satan merely because this leading transcendent opponent has a different designation?
(2) Burke neglects the wider Synoptic context of the Satanological terms he discusses.
Mark’s account of Jesus’s wilderness temptation (1:13) uses one Satanological term—satanas—that occurs five other times in this Gospel (3:23 [twice]; 3:26; 4:15; 8:33). Matthew’s account (4:1-11) uses three Satanological terms—peirazōn, satanas and diabolos—of which satanas occurs thrice more (12:26 [twice]; 16:23) and diabolos occurs twice more (13:39; 25:41). Luke’s account (4:1-13) uses only diabolos, which occurs once more in his Gospel (8:12) and twice in Acts (10:38; 13:10). If one concedes the equivalence of diabolos and satanas for Luke (which should be obvious from his redaction of Mark 4:15 in Luke 8:12), we can add Luke’s seven uses of satanas (Luke 10:18; 11:18; 13:16; 22:3; 22:31; Acts 5:3; 26:18).
Obviously, this data—the same terms, used by the same authors, within the same documents—is of crucial importance to correctly interpreting how the Synoptic writers understood the entity that tempted Jesus. Yet Burke’s study inexplicably ignores it!
The most extensive Satanological pericope in the Synoptic Gospels apart from the wilderness temptation is undoubtedly the Beelzeboul controversy and accompanying parable of the strong man (Mark 3:22-27; Matt. 12:24-29 cp. 9:34; 10:25; Luke 11:15-22). Here, Jesus implicitly identifies the Satan as the prince of demons, the strong man whom he is overcoming through his exorcisms.5 This pericope, present in all three Synoptic Gospels, presents a fundamental problem for Burke’s view that the Satan is the anthropological yetzer—a problem Burke's study makes no effort to address. Similarly, Matthew depicts the Devil as the object of eschatological punishment along with “his angels” (Matt. 25:41).6 That the Devil leads a group of angels clearly identifies him as a supernatural being rather than an anthropological abstraction, yet once again Burke’s study ignores this evidence. Luke reports Jesus’s statement, “I saw the Satan fall like lightning from heaven,” made in response to the disciples’ joyful report about their successful exorcistic ministry (Luke 10:17-19).7 The demons are implicitly identified with “the power of the enemy,” so here too the Satan is implicitly identified as a heavenly being who rules demons. Yet again, Burke neglects to explain how this passage squares with his view that the Satan is reducible to the evil yetzer within human nature.
(3) Burke relies heavily on negative arguments.
As the title of Burke’s study suggests, his central claim is that the Satan/Devil/tempter in the Synoptic wilderness temptation narrative is the yetzer ra, the evil inclination within the human heart. However, his study focuses primarily on arguing against interpreting the Satan/Devil/tempter as a supernatural opponent on the grounds of insufficient religion-historical precedent. Even if this negative argument were successful—as we shall see, it is not—we would still not have a "yetzer in the wilderness"; we would simply have a weaker case for a supernatural opponent (albeit one that could still stand based on the contextual data on the Satan/Devil within the Gospels). The positive evidence Burke offers from Second Temple Jewish literature for his yetzer interpretation is confined to two brief passages: Sir. 21:27 and 11QPlea for Deliverance 19.15 (discussed below).
These methodological shortcomings are already sufficient to invalidate Burke’s claims concerning the opponent in the Synoptic Gospels. Nevertheless, let us proceed to examine his discussion of four specific Synoptic Satanological terms.
Burke's religion-historical survey of Synoptic Satanological Terms
(1) (the) Satan
Burke states that “In Second Temple Period literature the term ‘satan’ (whether in Hebrew or Greek), is predominantly used as a common noun rather than a personal name.” I would agree that ‘satan’ does not clearly appear as a personal name in pre-Christian literature. Indeed, in my forthcoming study in JTS I argue that ho satanas is probably a title rather than a name in most New Testament occurrences, better translated “the Satan” than “Satan.” However, whether ‘satan’ is used as a personal name is distinct from whether ‘satan’—when preceded by the article—designates a particular transcendent being, the Adversary par excellence. Stokes, who also does not find evidence of ‘Satan’ as a personal name in Second Temple literature, nonetheless firmly asserts the latter point:
The Hebrew Scriptures contain several different kinds of satans. They speak of humans in the capacity of attackers or executioners as satans. They speak of heavenly satans, serving the Deity as executioners of the wicked. They also speak of a particular satan, the Satan, who serves God as attacker or executioner of the wicked and, in the case of Job, as attacker of a righteous person. While it was this individual, the Satan, who especially piqued the imaginations of earlier interpreters and who would become the best known of the satans, early Jewish literature would continue to speak of other satans as well… authors continued to use the title ‘the Satan’ to speak of a particular superhuman individual. This title seems to have been replaced by others in certain works, such as ‘the Prince of Mastema’ in Jubilees and ‘Belial’ in some of the Dead Sea Scrolls. It remained popular in other circles, such as those that produced the New Testament. In these writings, the title appears transliterated as ὁ Σατανᾶς or translated as ὁ διάβολος.8
Burke begins his discussion of the religion-historical background of ‘satan’ with Sirach, inexplicably neglecting to discuss the Hebrew Bible, which is obviously a crucial source for understanding this term. In the Hebrew Bible, as is well known, śāṭān appears numerous times as a common noun referring to humans. In Numbers 22:22, 32 it is used descriptively, though not as a designation, for the angel of YHWH. In 1 Chr. 21:1 the anarthrous term probably denotes an anonymous celestial adversary, though a minority of scholars regard this being as human. Most important for our purposes are the occurrences of the arthrous word haśśāṭān in Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2, which are—besides Sir. 21:27—the only unambiguously arthrous and pre-Christian occurrences of ‘satan.’9
There is a scholarly consensus that the setting of Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2 is YHWH’s divine council, and that haśśāṭān in both passages is therefore a celestial being. This is weighty evidence in support of interpreting ho satanas in the Synoptic Gospels as a supernatural being—the more so since the Synoptic writers likely regarded Job and Zechariah as Scripture10—so it is incomprehensible that Burke ignores it. (Numerous scholars have identified the Satan’s “demand” or “request” in Luke 22:31 as an echo of Job’s prologue.)11
Two points concerning haśśāṭān in Job 1-2 and Zech. 3:1-2 that are disputed amongst scholars12 are the figure’s moral character and whether the term denotes a specific being or an office or role that hypothetically could be filled by different beings. Most scholars regard haśśāṭān in Job and Zechariah as either morally ambiguous or evil; all agree however that haśśāṭān is subservient to YHWH. Burke makes much of the moral character issue (in 1 Enoch, since he does not discuss the Hebrew Bible), but it is not very important. The Satan remains subservient to God in the New Testament,13 and his evil character in the New Testament can be understood as an interpretive resolution of the moral ambiguity in Job and Zechariah. Whether haśśāṭān in Job and Zechariah designates a specific personal being or merely a specific portfolio in the divine council is also not very important, since later Second Temple texts (see below on Jubilees, Parables of Enoch and the LXX) and the New Testament clearly understand the Satan as a specific being.
Burke states as though factual that in Sir. 21:27, “the Greek term [ho satanas] is used of the evil inclination,” citing two scholars who take this position. This is far from factual, however. Burke fails to observe that numerous scholars regard ho satanas as denoting the proverbial (human) adversary here.14 I offer detailed exegesis of this text in my forthcoming JTS study, arguing that the original Hebrew (which does not survive at this point) probably used śāṭān for a generic human adversary, but that the Greek translator has taken it to refer to the Satan, a particular celestial being. I further argue that the translator does not oppose belief in the celestial Satan per se, but opposes cursing the Satan. This is all to some extent conjectural, given the very limited context we have for interpreting Sirach’s ho satanas, but I believe my interpretation is less conjectural than the ho satanas = evil yetzer interpretation. After all, Sirach uses the term yetzer in 15:14 (cf. Heb. MS A; Greek translation has diaboulion), and could have used it here had the author wished to make such an identification.
Burke states,
In 1 Enoch the term appears only four times (41:9; 53:3; 54:6) [sic],15 and is not used as a proper name; instead Shemihazah and Azâzêl are the names of the supernatural evil opponent. Additionally, the satan in 1 Enoch is an obedient servant of God, not an evil adversary.
Burke neglects to distinguish between the different parts of the Enochic corpus. This is significant since Shemihazah only appears in the Book of the Watchers (chapters 1-36), while the term satan occurs only in the Book of Parables (chapters 37-71), which was composed centuries later (usually dated to around the time of Herod the Great).16 Furthermore, Burke erroneously states that “All references to satan are found in the Aramaic texts at Qumran”. In fact, none of the references to satan are found in the Aramaic texts at Qumran. The Book of Parables survives only in Ethiopic; no fragments of it have been discovered at Qumran.
Azazel (Asael in the original Aramaic of the Book of the Watchers) is common to both the Book of the Watchers and the Book of Parables. In the Book of the Watchers he is one of the Watchers’ leaders, while in the Book of Parables he is the main supernatural opponent. The plural satans in 1 En. 40.7 and 65.6 are undoubtedly supernatural beings.17 The singular ‘[the] Satan’ seems to be a specific supernatural being in 1 En. 53.3 and 54.6, a point Burke apparently concedes since he contests only whether “the satan” is obedient or evil. In fact, “the Satan” may actually be a title of Azazel in 1 En. 54.6,18 in which case he is unambiguously evil. It is also worth noting here the striking parallel between 1 En. 54.5-6 and Matt. 25:41 (concerning fiery eschatological punishment prepared for the wicked angels), which has led some scholars to assert Matthew’s literary dependence on this text.19 In 1 En. 53.3 [the] Satan seems to be cast in the role of punisher of wicked humans, which also has New Testament parallels (e.g., 1 Cor. 5:5; 10:10; Heb. 2:14; 11:28).20
Coming to Jubilees, Burke deals with this important text in just one sentence:
In Jubilees 10:11 the term ‘satan’ as a proper name was interpolated into the text by later scribes; textual evidence indicates the original word was Mastema, and all other instances of the term in Jubilees (23:29; 40:9; 46:2; 50:5), use it as a common noun.
I agree with Burke that the last four occurrences of the word ‘satan’ in Jubilees are common nouns. They may refer to human or supernatural opponents or both. Concerning Jub. 10.11, Burke states as though factual that the original word was Mastema. I think it likely that the original text at Jub. 10.11 referred to “the Satan,”21 but the point is not important enough to pursue here. Certainly the primary designation for the supernatural opponent in Jubilees is Mastema, which is more correctly understood as a title, “the prince of hostility” (Heb. שר המשטמה, a term preserved in the Book of Asaph the Physician as well as in 4QPseudo-Jubilees, which depend on Jubilees.) This figure is important to interpreting the Synoptic Satan for two reasons. First, his designation as “prince” and his role as ruler of demons correspond to Beelzeboul in the Synoptic Gospels, who is identified by Jesus with the Satan. Second, the words “mastema” and “satan” derive from cognate Hebrew roots,22 so “Mastema’s” designation is probably dependent on the biblical haśśāṭān. More certain is the dependence of “Mastema’s” functions in Jubilees on the role of haśśāṭān in Job, which has been noticed by many scholars especially in Jubilees’ rewriting of the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac from Gen. 22.23 Thus in Jubilees we have a supernatural opponent with important connections to both “the Satan” in the Hebrew Bible and “the Satan” in the Synoptic Gospels—surely an important link between the two, but one that Burke’s study overlooks.
Significantly, the authors of both Jubilees and the Parables of Enoch appear to have understood haśśāṭān in the Hebrew Bible as a specific transcendent being. Therefore, regardless of whether the authors of Job and Zechariah themselves understood haśśāṭān as a specific individual, such an understanding of haśśāṭān is attested in pre-Christian Second Temple Judaism.
Burke rules three other texts—the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Testament of Job and the Greek Apocalypse of Moses—out of court, although they all use the term ho satanas for a supernatural opponent, because of uncertainties about their date and provenance. This is a sensible, conservative methodological step, and one I also take in my JTS study: I do not rely on these texts to reconstruct the pre-Christian background of the term ‘satan’ due to the risk of anachronism. However, Burke should be wary of making an opposite error. If he wished to argue from silence that “the Satan” positively did not denote a supernatural opponent in pre-Christian Judaism, the mere possibility that some of these works are pre-Christian or preserve pre-Christian Satanological traditions would pose a significant risk.
Concerning the Qumran literature, Burke probably correctly states that the word ‘satan’ “is used rarely, and only as a common noun.” However, he goes on to claim concerning the Plea for Deliverance, “Tigchelaar has argued that here [‘satan’] is used of the evil inclination.” In Burke’s later summary this changes to a factual statement: “in 11Q5 xix 13-16 (the ‘Prayer for Deliverance’), [the word ‘satan’] refers to the evil inclination.” In fact, not only does Burke have little scholarly backing for this interpretation; he appears not even to have the support of Tigchelaar, the only scholar he cites in support!24
A final notable omission from Burke’s religion-historical survey of the Synoptic term satanas is the Pauline corpus. The generally accepted Pauline epistles, which almost certainly pre-date the Synoptic Gospels and come from the same movement within Second Temple Judaism, use the term (ho) satanas seven times (Rom. 16:20; 1 Cor. 5:5; 7:5; 2 Cor. 2:11; 11:14; 12:7; 1 Thess. 2:18). If one is willing to accept disputed epistles as Pauline there are up to three additional occurrences (2 Thess. 2:9; 1 Tim. 1:20; 5:15). While exegesis of these passages cannot detain us here, several of them (e.g., 2 Cor. 11:14, 12:7, 1 Thess. 2:18 and 2 Thess. 2:9) appear to clearly depict the Satan as an external, quasi-angelic opponent and seem irreconcilable with an identification of the Satan with the anthropological yetzer.
(2) The Devil
Coming to the Greek term ho diabolos, Burke discusses the Septuagint and a few later texts. I agree with him that the relevant data is fairly meagre, but he has overlooked some important points.
In both Job and Zechariah, the LXX translators have rendered haśśāṭān with ho diabolos. As Wieger points out, ho diabolos (“the slanderer”) has a pejorative connotation that haśśāṭān lacks,25 indicating that the translator understood haśśāṭān to be evil. Furthermore, since “the slanderer” is an unlikely title for a portfolio in the divine council, it appears the translator (like the authors of Jubilees and Parables of Enoch) understood haśśāṭān as the designation of a particular being rather than as an office or role. Nevertheless, in the LXX ho diabolos is not yet a technical term reserved for the Satan, as it arguably is by the time of the NT. This is evident from the use of this term for Haman in Esth. 7:4, 8:1 LXX.26
Burke erroneously attributes the term ho diabolos to several other Second Temple texts where diabolos is actually anarthrous (1 Chr. 21:1 LXX; Ps. 108:6 LXX; 1 Macc. 1:36; Wis. 2:24). Of these, Wis. 2:24 has been identified as referring to the Devil, though as Burke observes this interpretation is increasingly challenged by scholars.27 I do not consider any of the proposed interpretations conclusive, but would not rely on Wis. 2:24 to reconstruct pre-Christian Jewish ideas about the Devil.
Burke mentions a reference to the Devil in Philo’s Questions and answers on Genesis (which survives only in an Armenian version), but relies on Yonge’s dated translation; Marcus’s more recent work omits this sentence,28 which looks like a late interpolation since Philo nowhere else refers to the Devil.
Burke again conservatively rules a number of texts out of evidence due to uncertain/late date and/or provenance (Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, Ascension of Isaiah,29 Greek version of Jubilees, History of the Rechabites, Greek Apocalypse of Moses, Testament of Solomon, etc.) or text-critical problems (Joseph and Aseneth 12.9). I have no objections here. I think Burke’s discussion of the Ascension of Moses is highly problematic, but while I deal with this text in some detail in my JTS study, the literary-historical problems with study of this text are too complicated to treat here. Anyway, regardless of the source of Jude’s allusion to a quarrel between Michael the archangel and the Devil (Jude 9), the allusion shows that the source existed in the first century and influenced the early church. The idea of a being who quarrels with an archangel must therefore be considered as part of the pre-Christian Jewish background on the term ho diabolos. This is significant since a quarrel between an archangel and an evil angel is a far more plausible scenario in a Second Temple Jewish setting than a quarrel between an archangel and the evil inclination.
(3) The Tempter
Burke states—correctly, as far as I can tell—that the term “the tempter” (Greek: ho peirazōn) has no pre-Christian Jewish witness. This is not very important, since peirasmos (testing or temptation) is unquestionably one of the Satan’s functions in Job 1-2. What the Satan proposes to God and then executes (Job 1:9-11; 2:4-5) is clearly a test of Job’s loyalty to God, even if the word peirasmos does not occur in the LXX text. The role of the anonymous satan in 1 Chr. 21:1—inciting a righteous man to commit a sinful act—can likewise clearly be described as temptation, as can some of the exploits of “Mastema” in Jubilees (cf. 17.15-18.12), Belial in the Damascus Document (cf. CD 4.12-19) and “the satans” in 1 En. 65.6. Here again, Burke focuses myopically on a term rather than the concept it denotes.
One can add that Matthew is not the first writer to use “the tempter” as a Satanological designation—Paul does so in 1 Thess. 3:5. Thus, what was said above about ho satanas in the Pauline corpus is also relevant here.
(4) The Evil One
I am not entirely sure of Burke’s rationale for discussing this Satanological term: he otherwise limits himself to terms that appear in the Synoptic wilderness temptation accounts and ignores other Synoptic Satanological terms that appear only outside the wilderness temptation accounts.30 Nevertheless, let us consider what he says about this term:
The term ‘the evil one’ (ton ponērou), has no Second Temple pre-Christian witness as a reference to a supernatural evil being.
To begin with, “ton ponērou” mangles the Greek, combining an accusative article with a genitive adjective. But what can we say of Burke’s assertion that “the evil one” is not attested as a Second Temple Jewish designation for a supernatural being? I will not object too strenuously to Burke’s dismissal of the instances in Jubilees—the term “evil one” is generic here and it is ambiguous whether it refers to human or supernatural opposition or both. Due to problems of date, provenance and text, I am happy with his dismissal of the instances in 2 Enoch, the Story of Ahikar, Pseudo-Ezekiel, History of the Rechabites, 2 Baruch and Odes of Solomon. I would, in similar fashion, dismiss his late Talmudic evidence.31 I will not quibble either with Burke’s dismissal of 1 En. 69.15, which possibly refers to “the evil one” but is text-critically problematic and can be interpreted in other ways.32
Burke misses some important evidence, however. Most significant is the apparent reference to Belial in 4QBerakhot as הרשע, “the evil one” (4Q286 7 ii 5; the fragmentary text truncates before the ayin, but no other construction seems possible).33 What is odd about this omission by Burke is that he cites Black, one of the scholars who pointed out this reference to “the evil one,” but erroneously cites him as supporting the claim that this Satanological designation has no pre-Christian witness.34
The name Melkiresa (literally “ruler of evil,”) which occurs in two Qumran texts (4QCurses and 4QVisions of Amram), is a close analogue of “the evil one”—both at least are Satanological designations with “evil” as the operative word. Finally, Philo refers to unholy angels as hoi ponēroi (“the evil ones”) in On the Giants 17.35
Burke states that the lack of Second Temple Jewish precedent for “the evil one” has prompted “many scholars to argue that ton ponērou [sic] should not even be read as ‘the evil one’ in Matthew.” He does not cite any of these “many scholars.” However, while a Satanological referent is uncertain in Matt. 5:37, 6:13 and 13:38 due to the ambiguous gender of the genitive tou ponērou,36 the nominative ho ponēros in Matt. 13:19 is unambiguously masculine and unquestionably refers to Satan, being a redaction of ho satanas in Mark 4:15.
The attestation of “evil one” for supernatural opponents in Second Temple Jewish literature is very sparse, but not absent as Burke claims. Moreover, even apart from religion-historical precedent, “the evil one” is a rather obvious way to refer to the ultimate opponent and leader of forces of evil. Burke's skepticism that “the evil one” was used as a Satanological designation by Matthew is unwarranted given that this designation occurs in numerous other early Christian texts.37
As noted earlier, the structure of Burke’s study does not seem to have a true conclusion. However, the following comes closest to a concluding statement:
The combined weight of this lexical evidence casts serious doubt on the suggestion that the original audience of the Synoptic temptation accounts would have understood the satanological terminology as a reference to a specific supernatural evil being well known within Second Temple Period Judaism and the early Judeo-Christian milieu.
In line with our methodological criticism earlier, we can again note the negative nature of this statement. Despite Burke’s study being entitled The Yetzer in the Wilderness, he does not even draw a positive conclusion about the Synoptic Satan being identifiable as the yetzer to the original audience. He restricts himself to “cast[ing] serious doubt” on whether the original audience would have understood the Satanological terminology as referring to a supernatural evil being.
Has Burke succeeded in even this more modest objective of casting serious doubt on the standard identification of the Synoptic Gospels’ wilderness tempter? In my judgment, not at all. First, he focuses exclusively on terminology whereas he should also consider concepts. Second, he incomprehensibly ignores the broader Synoptic Gospel context of the Satanological terminology used in the temptation stories. Third, his religion-historical survey of the terms “Satan,” “Devil,” “tempter” and “evil one” understates their footprint as Satanological terminology in Second Temple Jewish literature. Concerning “the Satan,” Burke ignores the important witness of the Hebrew Bible, takes as factual a disputed interpretation of ho satanas in Sir. 21:27 and an unattested interpretation of śāṭān in the Plea for Deliverance, downplays the significance of the Parables of Enoch, fails to recognise Jubilees’ “Mastema” as an intermediate development between “the Satan” of the Hebrew Bible and that of the New Testament, and neglects the evidence of the Pauline corpus. Concerning “the Devil,” Burke misses important clues in the LXX translation of Job and Zechariah, too easily dismisses the evidence of the “Ascension of Moses” and fails to properly address the evidence of Jude 9’s source (evidence that bears weight irrespective of the problem of identifying this source). Concerning “the tempter,” Burke focuses exclusively on the term and fails to notice that the function of temptation or testing is repeatedly attributed to superhuman opponents in Second Temple literature. Concerning “the evil one,” Burke misses the crucial evidence of 4QBerakhot.
On the whole, Burke’s study can be described as a methodologically flawed and exegetically tendentious effort to find a religion-historical foothold for Christadelphians’ idiosyncratic reading of the Gospel temptation narrative, and more broadly their unique doctrine of the biblical Devil. If these are the best exegetical arguments that can be mounted, one wonders that there are not more Christadelphians calling for an internal review of the matter. The traditional Christian doctrine of the Devil as a transcendent opponent has been vindicated by biblical scholarship of the past century—not that it was ever in doubt among those for whom the teachings of the Church, faithfully transmitted through the ages, are authoritative.


  • 1 Following a critique of Christadelphian interpretations of the temptation narrative that I wrote in December 2013 and a couple of blog articles on the subject thereafter (The temptations of Jesus and Roman law and Who tempted Jesus in the wilderness? Ten points to ponder), Burke wrote an eight-part online series under the heading The Yetzer in the Wilderness: Jesus and the Evil Inclination as well as a seven-part series under the heading Satan & demons: Thomas Farrar’s commentary. Most of the parts of the latter series do not advance any exegetical or theological arguments that merit a response. I have provided a detailed response to his comments on “the angels that sinned” (2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6). Responding to one line of Burke's argument in The Yetzer in the Wilderness, I then wrote a four-part blog series entitled Form, Genre, and Historicity of the Wilderness Temptations of Jesus in the Gospels: A Response to Jonathan Burke (parts 1, 2, 3 and 4). Burke responded further with an article entitled Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness, to which I in turn responded with A further reply to Jonathan Burke on the devil in the Gospel temptation stories.
  • 2 I would note, however, that I have numerous studies on Satan and demons going back to 2014 that have interacted critically with Burke's nearly 200-page tome Satan and Demons: A Reply to Anthony Buzzard (a comprehensive apologia for the Christadelphian position on this subject), to which to my knowledge neither Burke nor any other Christadelphian has responded to date. I would highlight, in particular, The Enemy is the Devil: The parables of Jesus and Christadelphian satanology and ‘When an unclean spirit goes out of a person’: An Assessment of the Accommodation Theory of Demon Possession and Exorcism in the Synoptic Gospels.
  • 3 Some of these are mentioned in part two of my series on Form, Genre, and Historicity of the Wilderness Temptations of Jesus in the Gospels.
  • 4 Jonathan Burke, "Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers: A Minority Report," Svensk Exegetisk Årsbok 81 (2016), 127-68. For an excellent critique of such false dichotomies, see James P. Davies, "Evil’s Aetiology and False Dichotomies in Jewish Apocalyptic and Paul," in Chris Keith and Loren T. Stuckenbruck (eds.), Evil in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity (WUNT 2/417; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 169-89.
  • 5 For further discussion of Beelzeboul and the strong man, see Thomas J. Farrar and Guy J. Williams, "Diabolical Data: A critical inventory of New Testament Satanology," JSNT 39 (2016), 46-47, 51.
  • 6 For a refutation of Christadelphian attempts to construe these angels as human "messengers," see my article When is an angelos not an angel?.
  • 7 For a survey of possible interpretations of the saying in Luke 10:18, see Simon J. Gathercole, "Jesus' Eschatological Vision of the Fall of Satan: Luke 10,18 Reconsidered," ZNW 94 (2003), 143-63.
  • 8 Ryan E. Stokes, "What is a Demon, What is an Evil Spirit, and What is a Satan?", in Jan Dochhorn, Susanne Rudnig-Zelt, and Benjamin Wold (eds.), Das Böse, der Teufel und Dämonen—Evil, the Devil, and Demons (WUNT 2/412; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 269-70.
  • 9 Since the Ethiopic language has no definite article, we cannot be sure whether the term ‘satan’ was arthrous or anarthrous in the Semitic originals of the Parables of Enoch and Jubilees, since the term survives only in Ethiopic versions.
  • 10 While the Synoptic Gospels do not explicitly cite Job, and a discussion of the formation of the biblical canon is beyond our scope, Matthew quotes Zechariah as prophecy in Matt. 21:5 (cf. 23:35; 27:9).
  • 11 See references in forthcoming JTS study.
  • 12 See further discussion and references in forthcoming JTS study.
  • 13 See especially Sydney H. T. Page, "Satan: God's Servant," JETS 50 (2007), 449-65.
  • 14 E.g., John G. Snaith, Ecclesiasticus (CBC; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1974), 110; Patrick W. Skehan and Alexander Di Lella, The Wisdom of Ben Sira (AB 39; New York: Doubleday, 1987), 311-12; Christian Kurzewitz, Weisheit und Tod: Die Ätiologie des Todes in der Sapientia Salomonis (TANZ 50; Tübingen: Francke, 2010), 166 n. 483.
  • 15 The four occurrences of the term are actually in 1 En. 40.7; 53.3; 54.6; 65.6.
  • 16 See James H. Charlesworth, "The Date and Provenance of the Parables of Enoch," in Darrell L. Bock and James H. Charlesworth (eds.), Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift (Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies 11; London: T&T Clark, 2013), 56.
  • 17 In 40.7 the satans are a class of accusers driven away by the angel Phanuel; in the latter the satans, set in parallelism with “the angels,” seem to be Watchers.
  • 18 So George W. E. Nickelsburg, "Chapters 37-71: The Book of Parables," in George W. E. Nickelsburg and James C. VanderKam, 1 Enoch 2: A Commentary on the Book of 1 Enoch Chapters 37-82 (Hermeneia; Minneapolis: Fortress), 45.
  • 19 Leslie W. Walck, The Son of Man in the Parables of Enoch and in Matthew (Jewish and Christian Texts in Contexts and Related Studies 9; London: T&T Clark, 2011).
  • 20 On these texts see Farrar and Williams, "Diabolical Data," 54-56.
  • 21 I discuss this text in greater detail in my JTS study and interact with Hanneken’s observations on the Book of Asaph the Physician, to which Burke refers.
  • 22 Devorah Dimant, History, Ideology and Bible Interpretation in the Dead Sea Scrolls (FAT 90; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2014), 147.
  • 23 E.g., Miryam T. Brand, Evil Within and Without: The Source of Sin and Its Nature as Portrayed in Second Temple Literature (JAJSup 9; Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2013), 183-84. See further references in forthcoming JTS publication.
  • 24 Tigchelaar does not say that the word “satan” is used of the evil inclination. What he says is that “the juxtaposition of satan and ‘evil inclination’ in the Plea for Deliverance reminds one of the identification of Satan and evil inclination in some Talmudic texts (b.BB 16a)” (E. Tigchelaar, "The Evil Inclination in the Dead Sea Scrolls, with a Re-edition of 4Q468i (4QSectarian Text?)," in Alberdina Houtman, Albert de Jong, and Magda Misset-van de Weg (eds.), Empsychoi Logoi—Religious Innovations in Antiquity [Leiden: Brill, 2008], 353). Other comments suggest that he regards ‘satan’ as an external entity in the Plea for Deliverance. Commenting on the Aramaic Levi Document, he writes, “The formulation in Levi’s Prayer, אל תשלט בי כל שטן, ‘Let not any satan rule over me’, as well as the formulations in other texts, indicate that שטן is a category of evil spirit, and not a proper noun. It is not entirely certain how the ‘evil inclination’ in the Plea for Deliverance is to be understood, whether as an outward or as an inward force, but in any case it seems to have gained a substance of its own, independent of a human’s heart” (Tigchelaar, "Evil Inclination," 350-51). Burke cites Tigchelaar second-hand via Brand but fails to state Brand’s own interpretation: “The petitioner asks to be saved from all evil that may afflict his person, physical and mental, external ‘satan’ and internal ‘inclination’” (Brand, Evil Within and Without, 210). Similarly, Lange: “11QPsa XIX:15 uses the term שטן without a determinative and mentions it in parallel with another type of demons, the spirit of impurity (רוח טמאה). The parallelism between ‘a satan’ and ‘a spirit of impurity’ shows that satan refers to a type or class of demons in the Plea for Deliverance and not to the leader of the antidivine world” (Armin Lange, "Satanic Verses: The Adversary in the Qumran Manuscripts and Elsewhere," RevQ 24 [2009], 40). Note also Stuckenbruck’s view, cited by Burke, that the Plea for Deliverance may have in view “a more specific malevolent being… that is, one called ‘Satan’” (Loren T. Stuckenbruck, "The Demonic World of the Dead Sea Scrolls," in in Ida Fröhlich and Erkki Koskenniemi (eds.), Evil and the Devil [LNTS 481; London: Bloomsbury T&T Clark, 2013], 63). Wold, far from seeing the Plea for Deliverance as internalizing ‘satan,’ views it as externalizing the yetzer ra: “I am convinced that the yetzer ra in these lines is not an inward part of a person, or at least not exclusively, but parallel to ‘satan’ and ‘unclean spirit’ and therefore also an outward force” (Benjamin Wold, "Demonizing Sin? The Evil Inclination in 4QInstruction," in Evil in Second Temple Judaism and early Christianity, 38).
  • 25 Madeleine Wieger, "«Celui qu’on appelle διάβολος» (Apocalypse 12,9): L’histoire du nom grec de l’Adversaire," in Michael Tilly, Matthias Morgenstern, and Volker Henning Drecoll (eds.), L’adversaire de Dieu—der Widersacher Gottes (WUNT 364; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2016), 208.
  • 26 I should point out, however, that the definite article need not be understood in a par excellence sense here; it is to be understood respectively cataphorically and anaphorically.
  • 27 In addition to scholars cited by Burke identifying this diabolos as Cain, Zurawski, in a detailed study, identifies this diabolos as a generic human adversary (Jason M. Zurawski, "Separating the Devil from the Diabolos: A Fresh Reading of Wisdom of Solomon 2.24," JSP 21 [2012], 366-399).
  • 28 Ralph Marcus, Philo, Supplement I: Questions on Genesis (LCL 380; Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953/1961), 21-2.
  • 29 Burke states that “the term appears in one of the late Greek fragments”. This is misleading, since the Greek Legend is not a “fragment” of the Ascension of Isaiah but an expanded reworking thereof. In any case, communis opinio now regards Ascension of Isaiah as a Christian composition.
  • 30 Cf. Beelzeboul (Mark 3:22; Matt. 10:25; 12:24; Luke 11:15, 18, 19), the prince of demons (Mark 3:22; Matt. 9:34; 12:24; Luke 11:15), the enemy (Luke 10:19), the power of darkness (Luke 22:53), and parabolic representations of the Satan, namely the strong man (Mark 3:27; Matt. 12:29; Luke 11:21-22), the birds (Mark 4:4 cp. 4:15; Matt. 13:4 cp. 13:19; Luke 8:5 cp. 8:12) and the enemy (Matt. 13:25, 28 cp. 13:39).
  • 31 Burke states, “Care must always be taken not to assume Talmudic content is representative of first century Jewish beliefs, given the composite nature of the Talmuds and the lateness of their final form, but if the term ‘the evil one’ was a normative term for a supernatural evil satan or ‘the devil’ in the first century, it is extraordinary that this does not appear anywhere in the Talmudic literature.” I agree with the first part, but there is a simple explanation for why Satan is never called “the evil one” in the Talmud—the rabbis did not believe Satan to be morally evil.
  • 32 See Nickelsburg, "Book of Parables," 304-307.
  • 33 Matthew Black, ‘The Doxology to the Pater Noster with a Note on Matthew 6.13b,’ in Philip R. Davies and Richard T. White (eds.), A Tribute to Geza Vermes: Essays on Jewish and Christian Literature and History (JSOTSup 100; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic, 1990), 334; James R. Davila, Liturgical Works (Eerdmans Commentaries on the Dead Sea Scrolls 6; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 59-61.
  • 34 Since 4QBerakhot date palaeographically from the mid-first century C.E. (Davila, Liturgical Works, 42), one cannot confidently call them “pre-Christian.” However, they almost certainly pre-date Matthew, since the Qumran community was destroyed by the Romans c. 68 C.E., and Matthew is generally dated post-70 C.E.—usually in the 80s.
  • 35 “And so, too, you also will not go wrong if you reckon as angels, not only those who are worthy of the name, who are as ambassadors backwards and forwards between men and God and are rendered sacred and inviolate by reason of that glorious and blameless ministry, but also those who are unholy and unworthy of the title. I have as witness to my argument the words of the Psalmist, where in one of the psalms we read ‘He sent out upon them the anger of His wrath, wrath and anger and affliction, a mission by evil angels’ (Ps. lxxvii. 49). These are the evil ones who, cloaking themselves under the name of angels, know not the daughters of right reason, the sciences and virtues, but court the pleasures which are born of men, pleasures mortal as their parents—pleasures endowed not with the true beauty, which the mind alone can discern, but with the false comeliness, by which the senses are deceived.” (F. H. Colson, trans. Philo. 10 vols. [London: Heinemann, 1929], 2:453-55).
  • 36 See Farrar and Williams ("Diabolical Data," 44-46) for arguments that these texts nonetheless do refer to the Satan.
  • 37 The expression is unambiguously masculine in 1 John 2:13-14, 5:18, Barn. 2.10 and Mart. Pol. 17.1. The gender is ambiguous in Did. 8.2, 2 Thess. 3:3, Eph. 6:16, 1 John 3:12, 5:19 and Barn. 21.3, but I would argue that these instances too all refer to the Satan. Burke ("Satan and Demons in the Apostolic Fathers", 157) concedes a Satanological referent in Barnabas, though not in Didache or Martyrdom of Polycarp.

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