Asmodeus is described in the Talmud[1] as the "king of the demons." According to the scholar Rapoport,[2] the concept of such a personage originated in Babylonian myth, though the name is Hebrew, derived from the root [sh-m-d], to destroy. It is more likely, however, that the name derives from the Persian aesma daeva or aesmadiv.

i.e., "the spirit of anger" which accompanies the god of evil.

Asmodeus first appears in the aprocryphal book of Tobit[3], which describes how in a fit of jealousy he slew the successive husbands of a young girl. He is again depicted as a malefactor-and in particular as the sower of discord between husband and wife-in the Testament of Solomon.[4]

Throughout the later aggadah, however, Asmodeus is a gay creature, inclined at worst to drunkenness, mischief, and licentiousness. The Talmud nowhere identifies him as an evildoer, and in fact often assigns him the speific function of preserving the ethical order of the world. Asmodeus does, to be sure, usurp the throne of Kind Solomon in the celebrated talmudic account of his confrontation with the king [5]. But even here the demon is not vindictive: his actions are presented as opening the king's eyes to the emptiness and vanity of worldly possession. What is more, the Asmodeus of this story is the source of considerable benefit to Solomon. He provides the king with the shamir, a worm whose touch cleaves rocks, and so enables Solomon's builders to hew stones for the Temple without the use of prohibited iron tools.

Asmodeus is described in the Talmud as "rising daily from his dwelling place on the mountain to the firmament" where he "studies in the academy on high."[6] As a result of this practice, he possesses exact foreknowledge of the fate of human beings, knowledge which often prompts him to act in a seemingly inexplicable fashion. While on his way to Solomon, for example, Asmodeus weeps at the sight of a wedding party, only later explaining that the bridegroom has but a short time to live. Similarly, one the same journey, the demon goes out of his way to set a drunkard on the right path; "it was proclaimed in heaven," he later reveals, "that he is wholly wicked, and I have conferred a boon upon him in order that he may consume his share in the world to come in this world."[7]

" Asmodeus, king of the demons..."

Such stories of Asmodeus' enigmatic behavior provided the model for a long line of Jewish folktales in which the apparently unjust acts of an angel or prophet are eventually justified by circumstances and thus demonstrate the infinite wisdom of God. In Jewish folklore, though still the king of demons, Asmodeus often appears as a degraded hero-the butt of popular irony and humor. Typical stories relate how he is duped by the men with whom he enters into a partnership, or how his various lusts and loves on earth are exposed.

For the most part, however, Asmodeus is regarded as a beneficent demon and a friend of man. He plays a similar role in the Kabbalah, where his name is frequently invoked in spells and incantations. The story of Asmodeus' enigmatic deeds and sayings[8] are the narrative nucleus of the widespread international style type, known as "Angel and Hermit." The talmudic and the Jewishoral traditions of the Solomon-Asmodeus cycle penetrated the early Russian apocryphal literature and became the narrative archetype of the Solomon-Kitrovas folk-legends.

[1] BT Pesahim 110a [back]
[2] Solomon Judah Leib Rapoport (1790-1867), rabbi and scholar, pioneer of Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment movement) and Wissenschaft des Judentums. Born in Galicia, where he became known for his brilliance as a talmudist, he took an early interest in Haskalah and secular learning, studying classical, Semitic and modern languages, as well as science. One of his most important publications (and in which his discussion of Asmodeus appears) was Erekh Millin, a talmudic encyclopedia dealing mainly with historical and archaelogical aspects of the Talmud (1852, later completed 1914). [back]
[3] Book of Tobit 3:817 [back]
[4] first century CE [back]
[5] Git. 68a-b; Num. R. 11:3 [back]
[6] BT Git. 68a [back]
[7] BT Git. 68b [back]
[8] BT Git. 68a-b [back]
Asmodeus, Encyclopedia Judaica, Vol 3.
Keter Publishing House, Jerusalem, 1972.




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