The Hebrews, Satan, and the Invention of "Lucifer"


The Hebrew scriptures, and Jewish theology, views Satan radically differently than does much Christian theology. 

1)      The character Satan or “Ha Satan” translates literally as “the accuser” or, in other contexts, "adversary", and that is what he is: he either tempts humans or brings their sins to God’s attention

2)      Satan is not the force of evil; God is the source of all things, including what humans conceive of as good and evil

3)      Satan works for, not against, God

4)      There are no references to Satan in the earlier books of the Hebrew Scriptures.

5)      There are very, very few references to Satan in the later books, and all of these are in just four of the later books: Chronicles, Job, Psalms, and Zechariah, written c. 600-500 BCE (see Ancient Israel and Texts Timeline).  Satan only occurs as a specific character once, however: in the book of Job.


Even today most Jews find the Medieval conception of Satan being the force of evil a rather blasphemous idea because it implies that God is not omnipotent; that is, it implies that God is not the force behind all things, both good and evil.  See here for more on Jewish conceptions of The Satan.


See  also The Absence of Satan In the Old Testament.

"Lucifer" as Satan

One of the reasons contemporary Christians believe there are references to Satan in the older books of the Hebrew Scriptures is due to a misunderstanding of the word "Lucifer".  It's worth covering this in depth because it shows how radically translation can change our perception of meaning. 

Isaiah 14:12: "Lucifer" and "Morning Star" (Venus)

The Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh) reads like (translates as) this:
"How are you fallen from heaven,
O Shining One, son of Dawn!
How are you felled to earth,
O vanquisher of nations!"
[and the footnote often reads "A character in some lost myth."]


The pre-Christian Septuagint Greek version of Isaiah 14:12 uses the phrase “ho heosphoros,” which translates as "morning star" (the star we call Venus).  This is similar to another Greek name for this star "phosphorus", which means "burning bright" (Venus is the third brightest object in the sky).

The latin name for this star is "Lucifer" and has the same root as lux; it essentially simply means "burning bright" or "bright light" or "day star" when the Greek gets translated into Latin....


Martin Luther’s German version (c. 1534)  had “schoener Morgenstern,” that is, “beautiful morning star” as the translation of the Hebrew phrase heylel ben-shachar. 


The King James (1611) reads like this:
“How you are fallen from heaven,
      O Lucifer, son of the morning!
      How you are cut down to the ground,
      You who weakened the nations!"

[In the original margin notes of the KJV, however, the original translators included the note that it could also read “O day-starre”.]


Because the KJV was used for hundreds of years as the basic English Bible, most modern versions continued to use the word "Lucifer", and they kept the Old English style of capitalizing it as a formal name.  In the 1600s this word began to be used as a synonym for "Satan".


And that is how it has passed into not only our own language but our very conception of not only evil but of how the Jews thought of Satan.  But  Jews do not conceive of Satan as the force of evil, much less as "Venus". 

However, Jesus was also referred to as the "Morning Star":

Revelation 22:16:
"I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you [1] this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star."

2 Peter 1:19,:
And we have the word of the prophets made more certain, and you will do well to pay attention to it, as to a light shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.

NIV:  Revelation 2:28:
I will also give him the morning star.