By Rabbi Julian Sinclair, March 6, 2009

Its a long way from the first appearance of the root of the word Satan, in this weeks Torah reading, to the men (and it does seem to be mainly men) with long hair in leather and chains on motorbikes. The angel who appears to Balaam comes to him lsatan, meaning to obstruct or oppose him on his journey. This is the particular task for which the angel was sent. Theres no indication that its the angels permanent job.

In most biblical instances of the word Satan, it means a human adversary (eg I Samuel 29:4). In I Chronicles 21:1, Satan is an angel who tempts David to count the people; and most famously in Job, Satan becomes Jobs accuser in heaven.

In the Mishnah and Gemara, there are scattered references to Satan as the voice of temptation to sin. The Talmud Yoma 20a notes that the gematria (numerical equivalent) of Hasatan, the Satan, is 364 and infers from this that on one day a year, Yom Kippur, Satan has no power to seduce human beings. In Talmud Berachot 9a we meet the well-known phrase, to open your mouth to Satan, meaning to tempt fate.

Jewish sources dont contain the image of Satan as anti-Christ, the author and ultimate personification of evil, that has entered the popular imagination through the Gospels and Milton.

TheChristian Bible identifies Jews with Satan a couple of times, for example in terming them Synagogue of Satan (New Revelations 2:9).

Last updated: 12:31pm, March 6 2009