Q. I have a question concerning the references to Satan in the Old Testament. I mentioned in my class that Satan is a figure from the Judeo-Christian tradition and one of my Jewish students adamantly stated that the Jews neither believe in Satan or hell and that references to Satan do not exist in the Torah. I know the Old Testament well enough, and referred my student to Genesis, as well as Job and he still would not acknowledge that Satan is a figure in Judaism. Can you help me understand this? Are the references to Satan in the Old Testament the result of Christian influence and interpretation of original Old Testament documents? I was really perplexed by this student’s statement and didn’t quite know how to appropriately respond. Thank you for your help and wisdom!
A. The Hebrew version of the word Satan appears 19 times in 15 Old Testament verses. Your student is correct in saying that none of these are in the Torah, but he’s referred to as the serpent 5 times in Genesis 3. He’s also called Lucifer in the King James version of Isaiah 14:12 (Hebrew Heylel ben Shachar), and the King of Tyre in Ezekiel 28:12. His presence in the Old Testament is beyond dispute. The name itself comes from the Hebrew haSatan, meaning “the adversary.”
There are two possibilities. Either your student has limited knowledge of Judaism, or his background is from the liberal traditions where the existence of Satan and Hell are allegorized. This is can also be said of liberal Christians even though Satan’s name appears 37 times in the New Testament in addition to several references by other names, such as “the evil one.”