Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Fall of Satan & Jewish Legend

***WARNING: This post has been declared "Most Boring" by Mrs. Serviam! ... read at your own peril. ***

The Catholic Church owes a lot to the Jewish faith. She believes Herself to be the fulfillment of the work God started with them, and the Church maintains continuity with the past through Judaism. Everything from our Tabernacle and style of worship, to much of the Bible and salvation itself has been passed on to us through God’s chosen people.

I have been recently reading the book, The Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg. It’s a book filled with Jewish legends that tell stories about characters and events in the Bible that are, well, not in the Bible. These stories obviously do not stand on the same level as scripture, nor do they claim to, but they do a great job of giving clues to what the Jewish people of the time thought was important.

This style of writing, these legends, have also been handed down to us in some traditions (small "t") and pious stories. For example, the story of St. Peter’s friends pleading with him to flee the persecution in Rome. Peter finally agrees, but on condition that he would go alone. But when he comes to the gate of the city, Christ met him. Falling down in adoration he says to Him “Lord, where are you going?” And Jesus answers him “I am coming to Rome to be crucified again.” Stunned, Peter said to Him “Lord, I will return and will follow You.” Peter, afterwards thinking it over, understood that it was of his own passion that it had been spoken, because that in it the Lord would suffer. The Apostle then returned with joy to meet the death that awaited the martyr.

Judaism and Catholicism have qualities not only of religions, but also of cultures. They have a hierarchy which governs, an official language, a system of beliefs, … and a body of literature. While things like the Bible, Catechism, and Church documents would be included in the non-fiction area, I see these legends sitting comfortably beween the fiction and non-fiction sections. They are stories handed on through generations, mixing truth and fiction in a wonderful way. In a culture that tends to draw a clear and heavy line between the historical and allegorical, we should be careful not to assume the same line necessarily divides fact and fantasy. Jesus Himself used a mix of historical teaching and parables to communicate the beauty of truth.

One Jewish legend I like has to do with the fall of Satan.

The extraordinary qualities with which Adam was blessed, physical and spiritual as well, aroused the envy of the angels. They attempted to consume him with fire, and he would have perished, had not the protecting hand of God rested upon him, and established peace between him and the heavenly host. In particular, Satan was jealous of the first man, and his evil thoughts finally led to his fall.

After Adam had been endowed with a soul, God invited all the angels to come and pay him reverence and homage. Satan, the greatest of the angels in heaven, with twelve wings, instead of six like all the others, refused to pay heed to the behest of God, saying, “Thou didst create us angels from the splendor of the Shekinah*, and now Thou dost command us to cast ourselves down before the creature which Thou didst fashion out of the dust of the ground!” God answered, “Yet this dust of the ground has more wisdom and understanding than thou.”

Satan demanded a trial of wit with Adam, and God assented thereto, saying: “I have created beasts, birds, and reptiles, I shall have them all come before thee and before Adam. If thou art able to give them names, I shall command Adam to show honor unto thee, and thou shalt rest next to the Shekinah* of My glory. But if not, and Adam calls them by the names I have assigned to them, then thou wilt be subject to Adam, and he shall have a place in My garden, and cultivate it.” Thus spake God, and He betook Himself to Paradise, Satan following Him.

When Adam beheld God, he said to his wife, “O come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord our Maker.” Now Satan attempted to assign names to the animals. He failed with the first two that presented themselves, the ox and the cow. God led two others before him, the camel and the donkey, with the same result. Then God turned to Adam, and questioned him regarding the names of the same animals, framing His questions in such wise that the first letter of the first word was the same as the first letter of the name of the animal standing before him.

Thus Adam divined the proper name, and Satan was forced to acknowledge the superiority of the first man. Nevertheless he broke out in wild outcries that reached the heavens, and he refused to do homage unto Adam as he had been bidden. The host of angels led by him did likewise, in spite of the urgent representations of Michael, who was the first to prostrate himself before Adam in order to show a good example to the other angels.

Michael addressed Satan: “Give adoration to the image of God! But if thou doest it not, then the Lord God will break out in wrath against thee.” Satan replied: “If He breaks out in wrath against me, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God, I will be like the Most High! “At once God flung Satan and his host out of heaven, down to the earth, and from that moment dates the enmity between Satan and man.’

*Shekinah - the dwelling or settling presence of God.


Laura The Crazy Mama said...

OH! I disagree with Mrs.. (Sorry Mrs., I still love you) I love the relationship and parallels between us and the Jewish people. This sounds like a fascinating book. It's no different (sounds like) than the story of how we got the rosary, or almost all the stories of the saints, or miraculous stories of the Eucharist. They are legends but some of them are truthful or based on truth. Therefore, we ought to give them a place in our history of the faith (even though they are not scripture).

Fr. Abe, CRS said...

I have heard this story from my childhood and remember reading it more than 20 years ago. Im glad to see this story again in written form. I hope you can mention to us particular sources of the story. A Talmud book or scroll for instance or a book written by a prominent scholar attesting to the antiquity of the story.

Please allow me to post this in my own Blog: www.thesplendorofthechurch.blogspot.com but I will put a link so that you are properly cited.

Thanks a lot and God bless you.