WHY IS SATAN A “FALLEN ANGEL?”
If you asked any person off the street who Satan is, they’d probably say “I’ve got pepper spray, back the fuck up”…but if pressed, most would cede Satan is a “fallen angel,” cast out of Heaven for challenging god.
That one’s easy; but if you asked how they know this, things get dicey. People who have never read the Bible–so, everyone, plus or minus the equivalent populations of Texas, Florida, and North Carolina–would probably guess it says so there.
This of course is not true. There are some verses you could interpret this way, but only if you’ve already decided the conclusion ahead of time. Using this same method, I can argue that late jazz saxophonist Ernest Wiethe is the Beast of Revelation, since he did in fact have ten horns.
The real answer is longer, even more disappointing, and involves a lot of other impenetrable books–although, like the Bible, they’re books that most people who believe in such things have never read, so arguably it’s all the same anyway.
Now we could just argue that Satan has always been an angel; Job 2 says, “There was a day when the sons of god came to present themselves before the lord, and the Satan came also among them.”
Per the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia, “son of god” usually means “an angel or demigod.” It could also mean “anyone whose piety has placed him in a filial relation to god,” but this doesn’t really make sense here, since this is a heavenly realm, and the afterlife, like brevity, is a concept most Jewish scriptural authorities do not believe in.
So angels came before god, and (the) Satan was with them; notice this doesn’t actually say the Satan is an angel, so to get even that far we’ve go to cheat a little. Mamas, don’t let your children grow up to be theologians.
The Satan is not properly Satan as we think of him, but later books do describe more explicit devils in angelic terms. The Two Ways Treatise (one of the texts found in the Dead Sea Scrolls) warns of the “Angel of Darkness,” which sounds like a great Black Metal band, while the Damascus Document mentions the “Angel of Obstruction,” which sounds like a Heavenly Senate minority gig.
But in his book The Satan (catchy title), Bible scholar Ryan Stokes points out that devilish characters like Mastema, Belial, and Beelzebub were often conflated not with angels but with evil spirits. “Hebrew scriptures do not associate demons, evil spirits, and sons of god with one another,” Stokes writes, an unfortunate status quo that continued until we forcibly integrated Hell in 666 CE.
In apocryphal books like Watchers, that strange alternative universe Jewish scripture fanfic popular today only with the some Ethiopian sects and certain YouTube rabbitholes that shame the very name of Al Gore’s Internet, evil spirits were actually the sons of the sons of god.
No, scratch that: Watchers has it that these are the GHOSTS of the sons of the sons of god, after they died in Noah’s flood. Of course, right?
“The spirits of the Nephilim lead astray, do violence, make desolate, and attack and wrestle and hurl upon the earth and cause illnesses,” Watchers says, which isn’t helped by the fact that I usually picture them as the little blinking ghosts from Pac-Man.
All this because the sons of god were evidently not supposed to intermarry with human women– god makes a very overbearing in-law, it seems.
In her book The Origin of Satan, Princeton Professor Elaine Pagels suggests that this myth of angels led astray represented the fraught religious politics of the time, as apocalyptic extremists preached that too many of their fellows had been corrupted by worldly influences.
If even angels could fall into such sin, how much more the risk for mere mortals? It’s not surprising that later Christian preachers found this metaphor attractive; even today, I can only imagine the paralyzing church boner it would give them.
But books like Watchers and Jubilees, which spell out these “fallen angel” concepts, are not part of most modern Christian traditions. So where did it come from?
I can propose one guess. Although in truth, I may be happier if I don’t.
Remember a couple months back when we talked about how Justin Martyr, the father of Christian apologetics, might have accidentally conflated Satan with the serpent in Genesis via a translation error?
Well, he’s at it again.
Justin–who at this point I’m picturing as Patrick Warburton’s Kronk character from The Emperor’s New Groove–wrote in his Second Apology (Justin was a bit of a pioneer in the history of bad celebrity apologies…) around 150 CE of angels who “were captivated by love of women and begot children who are those that are called demons,” obviously recycling the Watchers myth but not alluding to it directly.
Justin does not use the name Satan in his Apology–but he did preserve the angel story for this new religious tradition, and many of those who later read his works filled in the Beelze-blanks.
Interestingly, the original myth of sinful angels and their demonic children fell out of fashion–fifth century Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus called it both “stupid” and “silly.” Stories like Watchers became apocrypha, some of it even heretical
But the notion of Satan as fallen angel was widely accepted, so it stuck around. No canonical text bolsters or even really references it, but it forms a kind of Terminator paradox loop of somehow engendering itself.
Apologetics is supposed to be the field that defends religion from criticism, so it’s remarkable that the original Christian apologist did much to illustrate how arbitrary many of the ideas we take for granted really are.
Why do most people believe most things? Simply, because they do.
If we can be even a little more reasoned and consistent in our own religious and philosophical thinking, then with just those few, small steps, we will have outpaced many millennia of conventional wisdom.
The bar is pretty low; but it still falls to us to make sure we step over it.