As counterproductive as it may seem, opposition can be a powerful motivator. Whether the race of humans was created for the sake of becoming slaves to work the earth—such as in the Sumerian tradition—or slaves to a deity, as the Hebrew model puts forth—it has a task. Any job needs sufficient motivation to get done, and as good as the promise of divine reward may seem, sometimes it cannot be good enough, as it is capable of being withheld or is promised in another time.

Even divine punishment can be withheld for many reasons, Divine mercy being probably the most well-known among modern readers. It cannot be a consistent punisher or a consistent motivator. As noted above, if the race of humans needed something to get its own job done, it would be an entity to call “other”—one outside of humanity and outside of the worshipped.

The monotheistic religions fulfill this requirement with the advent of Satan. Genesis has a primeval figure before Satan is mentioned anywhere—the Serpent in the Garden of Eden. He causes not only humanity to stumble, but he is demoted and put to shame. The force the serpent exerted in his form on earth remained in heaven as the Devil, who remained in power after the Serpent was, paradoxically, weakened by sin.

But G-d does not really need Satan. Humanity needs Satan. Why is the Devil necessary? For the sake of doing good, humanity’s hate must be controlled or otherwise directed somewhere. Despite the fact that in a monotheistic religion, G-d controls everything, an evil messenger in the form of Satan can contain the hatred that would otherwise be directed at the Supreme G-d.

For example, in the opera “Tales of Hoffman” the poet Hoffman blames the Devil for his shortcomings instead of displaying resentment towards G-d. But ultimately, the Devil says that he has little control in the situation—which is above all a fair assessment. “He makes me lose at cards”, the poet says, to which the Devil replies “That’s because you don’t know how to play!”

Satan does have power as a suggesting force—an advisor that wants to see things come to harm, which is illustrated in the Book of Job as he sways even G-d to his whim. Like the djinni and the efreets in “The Thousand and One Nights”, which largely play the same role as Satan and are translated by Husayn Haddawy as “demons”, Satan uses a system of justice and rationalization in order to cause malevolent deeds to come forth.

Unlike them, he has no true power to actively kill someone—although Satan himself hints at having this power in many stories throughout different traditions and in popular culture. The inability to kill is highlighted in some religions by an equation of the desire to commit evil and the Devil. The hate of humanity, which is directed at the Devil, is also directed at the source of all hate—which is the Evil Inclination and the same as Satan. By means of the Devil, hatred is used to weaken hatred. It is a weapon turned on itself.

The true salvation from the Devil does not come from Heaven, but instead from humans. In the Jewish tradition, for example, it is the Messiah—and not G-d—that puts forth Satan to utter shame. With enough love among humanity, we will need the Devil no longer, as he thrives on an audience, and without the audience he will old no power over anything.

About Ezra Silk

I have been interested in journalism ever since I was an editor at my high school student newspaper, where I was involved in a freedom of speech controversy that was covered in the local newspaper as well as local television and radio outlets. The ACLU became involved, and the ensuing negotiations lead to a liberalization of my school's freedom of expression policy. I worked as a summer intern at the Hartford Courant after my freshman year at Wesleyan, reporting for the Avon Bureau under Bill Leukhardt and publishing over 30 stories. At the Argus I have been a news reporter, news assistant editor, news editor, features editor, editor-in-chief, executive editor, blogger, and multimedia director. I have overseen the redesign of, founding the Blargus and initiating ArgusVideo at the beginning of my time as editor-in-chief during the spring of my junior year. During my senior year, I have co-edited the Blargus with Gianna Palmer and founded Argus News Radio, a 15-minute weekly show produced by WESU 88.1 on which I conduct a weekly segment interviewing seniors about their thesis topics. I have written over 70 stories at the Argus and continue to do reporting and blogging as much as I can.
  • Jared Gimbel

    As a minor favor: does anyone know what the proper plural of “efreet” is, in both English and in Arabic?

  • Pop Quiz

    what is the Hebrew word for ‘Truth’

  • Jared Gimbel


    “Emet” in Sephardic pronunciation, “Emes” in Ashkenazic, and odd-Septuagint-esque Hebrew “Emeth”.

  • Jared Gimbel

    Something comes to my attention: for my column on polytheism, they show a pantheon, and for the column on the End Times, the Four Horsemen. Given that the picture of the Satan column is MYSELF, WHAT are they trying to imply?